• Literary Elements




            I.                  Character:  a person or animal that takes part in a literary work.


    A.     Main Character (Protagonist):  the most important character in the work who often

    changes as a result of events.

    B.     Minor Character:  a person or animal who is involved with the major characters, but plays a secondary role in the conflict.

    C.     Antagonist:  a major character who opposes the protagonist in the conflict.

    D.     Characters may be classified as dynamic (round) or static (flat).

    1.      A dynamic or round character displays many different traits and faults as well as virtues, and develops and grows as the conflict progresses.

    2.      A static or flat character represents a “type” of person who is constantly the same.  In fact many are “stereotypes.”  That is, they represent a certain trait or personality which is either laughable, negative, or easily recognized to make it easier for the author to tell the story.

    E.      Foil:  a character who is contrasted with another to emphasize certain character traits.

    1.  Example:  Eeyore and Tigger from Winnie the Pooh



              II.        Characterization:  an author’s creation and 

               development of a character


    A.     Direct Characterization:  when an author states directly a character’s traits

    B.     Indirect Characterization:  when an author explains what a character is like in the following ways:

    1.      What the character says

    2.      What the character does (actions)

    3.      How the character looks (description of appearance)

    4.      How the character reacts to others

    5.      How the other characters talk about and react to the character

    6.      How the character relates to his surroundings

    7.      What the character thinks and feels

    C.     Motivation:  a reason that explains or partially explains a character’s thoughts,  

    feelings, actions, or behavior, which is the result of the character’s personality and the  circumstances he or she must deal with in a conflict.



             III.        Conflict:  the struggle between opposing forces (two people, two groups, or two ideas)


    A.     In an external conflict, the protagonist struggles against an outside force.

    B.     In an internal conflict, the protagonist is in a psychological struggle with himself or herself.

    C.     The basic conflicts in fiction are:

    1.      Person versus (vs.) self

    2.      Person vs. society / society’s institutions

    3.      Person vs. nature / environment

    4.      Person vs. person

    5.      Person vs. fate / supernatural


    IV.      Flashback:  is an interruption in a sequence of events to relate an event from an earlier time.

    A.     Hint: in movies/TV shows, the screen gets blurry or voices get muffled when a flashback occurs.


    V.      Foreshadowing:  is the use of clues, in a literary work, that suggest events that have yet to occur.


    VI.    Imagery:   the words or phrases a writer selects to create a certain picture in the reader's mind.


    A.     Sight…

    B.     Hearing…

    C.     Touch…

    D.     Taste…

    E.      Smell…



    VII.   Irony:  using a word or phrase to mean the exact opposite of its literal or normal meaning.


    A.     Dramatic Irony:  The reader or audience sees a character's mistakes or misunderstandings, but the character himself does not.  For example, in Romeo and Juliet, we know that Juliet isn't really dead at her own funeral…but Romeo doesn't.

    B.     Verbal Irony:  The writer says one thing but means another.  For example, one could say, "What a beautiful day" while looking out the window at the blizzard.

    C.     Situational Irony:  There is a great difference between the purpose of a particular action and the result.  The cause of this difference is a force (or forces) that operates beyond human control, which could be social, political, environmental, or fate.


    VIII.   Metaphor:  a figure of speech in which one thing is spoken of as though it were something else. Unlike a simile which uses like or as, a metaphor states a comparison directly.


    A.     Example:  “Hold fast to dreams/ For if dreams die/ Life is a broken-winged bird/ That

          cannot fly.”  - Langston Hughes


              IX.    Mood or Atmosphere:  the feeling created in the reader by a literary work or passage.


    A.     The setting can help create the mood.

    B.     The mood is often suggested by the author through the use of descriptive details.



    X.     Oxymoron:  a figure of speech in which words of opposite meaning or suggestion are used together.


    A.  Examples:  fiery ice, bittersweet, pleasing pain, wise fool



    XI.    Personification:  a type of figurative language in which a nonhuman subject is given human characteristics.


    A.     Example:  “Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;/ Ambition called to me, but

          I dreaded the chances.”  - Edgar Lee Masters


            XII.  Plot:  the plan of events by which conflict is introduced, developed, and resolved.


    A.     Exposition:  the part of the play or story that helps the reader understand the background information or situation in which the work is set.  The exposition brings the conflict or problem to the reader’s attention.

    B.     Rising Action (development or complication):  the conflicts develop and grow through the action in the story.  This is the major portion of the story.  

    C.     Climax (crisis):  the point in the story where the battling forces meet head-on and a final showdown takes place.  (Minor climaxes may take place during the story too.)

    D.     Falling Action:  the action of a play or story that works out the decision arrived at during the climax. 

    E.      Resolution:  this is the point at which the conflict is finally settled.  The resolution is achieved when one force succeeds, fails, or gives up, and is meant to bring the story to a satisfactory ending.


            XIII.   Point of View:  the writer’s choice of narrator for a work, which determines the type and amount of   

                         information the writer reveals to the reader.


    A.     First Person Subjective:  The narrator is a major or minor character that reports the events as if they have just happened.  This narrator appears to be unaware of the full meaning of the events.  (The reader knows more than the narrator does.)

    B.     First Person Detached:  The narrator is a major character in the story who recalls the events from the vantage point of maturity.  S/He has had time to reflect on the meaning of the events.

    C.     First Person Observer:  The narrator is a minor character in the story who has the role of eyewitness and confidant.  His/Her sources of information are what s/he hears and sees and what the main character tells him/her.

    D.     Third Person Objective:  The narrator is an anonymous person outside the story who reports only what the characters do and say.

    E.      Third Person Limited:  The narrator is an anonymous person outside the story who reports what the characters do and say AND can get inside the mind of one particular character to report what that character is thinking and feeling.  (Imagine a mind-reading parrot perched on one character’s shoulder.)  

    F.      Third Person Omniscient:  The narrator is an anonymous person outside the story who plays an all-knowing role.  S/He not only reports what the characters do and say, but also enters the minds of the characters (more than one of them), reveals their thoughts and feelings, and comments on their actions.



    XIV.  Setting:  the time and place of the action


    A.     Time:  The setting usually establishes when action takes place, such as the historical period (past, present, or future), or a specific year, season, or time of day.

    B.     Place:  Place involves where the action occurs, such as a region, country, state, or town, or may even be more specific.

    C.     Setting also refers to the social, economic, or cultural environment of the action.  This includes moral patterns, class distinctions, ancestral attitudes, religious and other beliefs.



    XV.     Simile:  a figure of speech in which like or as is used to make a comparison between two basically  

                unlike subjects.


    A.  Example:  Claire is as flighty as a sparrow.  (Claire = sparrow)



              XVI.      Symbol (Symbolism):  a symbol is anything that stands for or represents something else.


    A.     An object that serves as a symbol has its own meaning, but it also represents abstract ideas.

    B.     Symbols are always related to the theme of the literary work.



             XVII.  Theme:  a central message or insight into life revealed in the

               literary work.


    A.     The theme may be stated directly or implied.

    B.  When it is implied, readers think about what the work seems to say about the  

          nature of people or about life.

    C.     The literary work can be viewed as a specific example of the generalization the writer is trying to communicate.