GLOSSARY OF LITERARY TERMS,
PLACE AND HISTORICAL REFERENCES
Dialogue: A conversational passage between characters in a narrative
or play. Written discussion between two or more people.
Example [from Catch-22, p. 20]:
"The put poison in everybody's food," Clevinger explained.
"And what difference does that make?"
"And it wasn't even poison," Clevinger cried heatedly, growing
emphatic as he grew more confused.
Example [from Hamlet]:
Gertrude: Hamlet, thou hast they father much offended.
Hamlet: Mother, you have my father much offended. [Kristen Fraisse,
Diction: The way words are selected in a particular literary work,
usually poetry. The appropriate selection of words in a poem is
poetic diction. The choice of words, phrases, sentence structure,
and even figurative language, which give regards to clarity and
"Thy Naid airs have brought me home To the glory that was Greece,
And the grandeur that was Rome." "To Helen" by Edgar Allan Poe.
Naiad refers to nymphs who lived in and gave life to rivers, lakes,
springs, and fountains in Classical Greek Mythology. This is an
unusual form of diction which gives a specific meaning to the
sentence. It is necessary that the reader knows the meaning of Naiad.
[Sean Morin, '99]
Didactic Literature: Derived from the Greek word "to teach." Works
that are written for the purpose of instructing or pressing some
moral purpose. This has developed into the modern pedagogical novel.
Examples include Nicholas Nickleby (UNDERLINED), which argues
against such social abuses as youth exploitation, and "A Psalm of
Life" by Henry Longfellow. I have included a segment of that poem
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait. [Jamie Ellis-Simpson, '99]
Elegy: A lyric poem lamenting death which first appeared in 1501.
One famous example is Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country
Churchyard" (1751) Another example is the final third of "Beowulf."
In ancient times an elegy was a poem written in distinct couplets.
Poets such as Callimachus and Catullus used the elegiac form. But
now it is content and tone that makes a poem elegiac. Key Words to
remember about an elegy: Death and Sadness. [Elizabeth Trace, '99]
Epic: A long story usually told in poetry. Epics contain elements of
myth, legend, folk tale, and history. Epics have very serious themes,
and present portraits of the cultures which produced them. A larger
than life hero embodies the values of the particular society and
undertakes a quest to achieve something of great value for the
people and himself. Some classic examples are Beowulf, Paradise Lost,
the Iliad and the Odyssey. [Grant Aldrich, '99]
Epithet: In literature, a word or phrase preceding or following a
name which serves to describe the character of that name. Poetry is
essentially a combination of the familiar and the surprising, and
the most successful surprises are achieved by the use of carefuly
descriptive words or epithets. An epithet is a word which makes the
reader see the object described in a clearer or sharper light.
Normally, an epithet refers to an outstanding quality, but may also
be used with a negative connotation.
In Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, as Jane first meets Mr.
Brocklehurst, she feres to him as the "stony stranger."
In the same novel is a reference to Mr. Rochester by Mrs. Fairfax,
as she says, "Old Mr. Rochester . . ." [Joel Carlson, '99]
Euphemism: A euphemism is a word used in a literary work that takes
the place of another word because it is offensive, or would be used
in bad taste. For example, freshman year we read The Diary of Anne
Frank and learned that W.C. is a euphemism for the word "bathroom."
In Jean-Paul Sartre's play, No Exit the dead people use words like "here"
and "this place" to avoid saying the word Hell. They also avoid
using the word Dead and refer to themselves as "absentees."[Sarah
Farce: a form of drama/play that narrows in on an extremely unlikely
plot with exuberant/exaggerated characters; an extreme situation, so
extreme that it is to the point of becoming absurd.
1) conversation between Milo and Yossarian about bedsheet incident
(p. 68)": "Why didn't you just hit him over the head and take the
bedsheet away from him?" Yossarian asked.
Pressing his lips together with dignity, Milo shook his head. "That
would have been most unjust," he scolded firmly. "Force is wrong,
and two wrongs never make a right. It was much better my way. When I
held the dates out to him and reached for the bedsheet, he probably
thought I was offering to trade."
"What were you doing?"
"Actually, I was offering to trade, but since he doesn't understand
English, I can always deny it."
"Suppose he gets angry and wants the dates?"
"Why, we'll just hit him over the head and take them away from him,"
Milo answered without hesitation.
* Although this is not a farce in the sense of drama, it is
definitely a farcical situation. Milo insists it's not okay to hit
the guy in order to get the bedsheet, but is okay to tempt him
wrongly and then unlawfully take it from him. And, if the man is
then to challenge the "transaction" he may hit him to get the
2) situation where Yossarian claims he sees everything twice to get
out of flying, and then claims he sees everything once (pp.
186-187): "I see everything twice!" the soldier who saw everything
twice shouted when they rolled Yossarian in.
"I see everything twice!" Yossarian shouted back at him just as
loudly, with a secret wink. . . .
. . . Yossarian nodded weakly too, eying his talented roommate with
great humility and admiration. he knew he was in the presence of a
master. His talented roommated was obviously a person to be studied
and emulated. During the night, his talented roommated died, and
Yossarian decided that he had followed him far enough.
"I see everything once!" he cried quickly.
A new group of specialists came pounding up to his bedside with
their instruments to find out if it was true.
"How many fingers do you see?" asked the leader, holding up one.
The doctor held up two fingers. "How many fingers do you see now?"
The doctor held up ten fingers. "And how many now?"
The doctor turned to the other doctors with amazement. "He does see
everything once!" he exclaimed. "We made him all better."
* How absurd is that? The doctors actually believed they had cured
Yossarian from seeing things twice because now he "saw things once,"
which was not much of an improvement from before anyway. The doctors
are incompetent and are able to make this normal situation quite
farcical and ridiculous. [Vivian Ku, '99]]
Figure of Speech: a stylistic device that compares one thing with
another to convey a meaning or exagerate a description. Similes,
metaphors, and hyperbole are all considered figures of speech. An
example from Catch-22 would be: Lieutenant Scheisskopf turned while
as a sheet . . . [James Chung, '99]
Flashback: When the current action is broken by reference to
something which occurred earlier in the work or prior to its
beginning. An example of a flashback occurs in Oedipus Rex when both
Iocaste and Oedipus recall past events that happened before the play
began. Most of the story "A Rose for Emilyh" is a flashback since
the narrator is thinking about Emily before her death, an evfent
which occurs at the beginning of the story. [Kim Papenhausen, '99]
Foil: A character in a play that offsets the main character or other
characters by comparison or thwarts a plan. For example, Stanley
Kowalski thwarts Blanche DuBois' plan in A Streetcar Named Desire. [Becky
Foot: A way of measuring meter in poetry using a series of stressed
and unstressed syllables. A pattern of stressed and unstressed
syllables that is repeated establishes a poetic foot. Here is an
example from Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening."
u / u / u / u /
The woods are lovely, dark and deep
u / u / u / u /
but I have promises to keep.
u / u / u / u /
And miles to go before I sleep.
The above lines follow a pattern known as iambic tetrameter.[Jill
Foreshadowing: When the writer drops hints or clues in the plot that
give the reader an idea of what is going to happen later in the
In Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, when the oracle tells Oedipus that he
is the plague on the city and Oedipus does not believe him. Then the
oracle says that even though Oedipus has eyes he cannot see and is
blind to the truth, foreshadowing the final scene in the play where
Oedipus tears out his eyes on stage. [Kristi Grewal, '99]
Free Verse: Poetry that is based on the irregular rhythmic cadence
or the recurrence, with variations, of phrases, images, and
syntactical patterns rather than the conventional use of meter.
Rhyme may or may not be present in free verse, but when it is, it is
used with great freedom. In conventional verse the unit is the foot,
or the line; in free verse the units are larger, sometimes being
paragraphs or strophes.
The poetry of the Bible, particularly in the King James Version,
which attempts to approximate the Hebrew cadences, rests on cadence
and parallelism. The Psalms and The Song of Solomon are noted
examples of free verse. Milton sometimes substituted rhythmically
constructed verse paragraphs for metrically regular lines, notably
in the choruses of Samson Agonistes, as this example shows:
But patience is more oft the exercise
Of Saints, the trial of thir fortitude,
Making them each his own Deliver,
And Victor over all
That tyranny or fortune can inflict.
Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass was a major experiment in cadenced
rather than metrical versification. The following lines are typical:
All truths wait in all things
They neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it,
They do not need the obstetric forceps of the surgeon. [Sean Morin,
Genre: A class or category of literature having a particular form,
content or technique, i.e. epic peotry, comedy, an fiction. For
example, Shakespeare's Othello falls in the genre of dramatic
tragedy. Sophocles Antigone is an example of epic drama. Joyce's The
Dead could be labeled as realistic fiction. [Wes Austen, '99]
Haiku: A poetic form popular in Japan. It appeared during the
sixteenth century. This form of poetry is made up of 17 syllables in
a 5-7-5 sequence. Usually the first line is five syllables, the
second is seven syllables, and the third is five syllables.
Scent of plum blossoms
on the misty mountain path
a big rising sun. [Melanie Petrash, '99]
Imagery: A vivid description, in speech or writing, that produces
mental images. The image produced can be an emotion, a sensation, or
a visual picture.
"A bed supported on massive pillars of mahogany, hung with curtains
of deep red damsask . . ." [Jane Eyre, p. 11]
"And the startled little waves that leap in fiery ringlets from
their sleep." "Meeting at Night," by Robert Browning. [Kristen
Inference: The act of concluding from evidence; deduction. In
literature it describes the act of figuring something out by using
what you already know. If you know "a" and "b" you can deduce "c."
In Catch-22 Yossarian inferred that he could get out of the war by
declaring himself crazy. Yet if you are sane enough to know you're
crazy, then, in reality, you aren't crazy. Yossarian thought he knew
all thte details, and inferred a way to escape the war. [Jarrod
Irony: There are three forms of irony in the literary world. Verbal
Irony is an expression or statement where the meaning of the words
used is the opposite of their sense. Irony of Situation is where an
action done by a character is the opposite of what was meant to be
expected. In Dramatic Irony the audience of a play knows something
that the main character does not. The most common of the three is
Irony of Situation.
An example of irony can be seen in Sophicles' play Oedipus Rex.
Oedipus, in trying to find the man who killed King Laios in order to
life the curse, accuses the blind man of being a fraud because he
cannot give Oedipus the answer he is seeking, when in fact Oedipus
is the one blind because he cannot ascertain that he is the murderer
of the king. [Frederick Kim, '99]
Local Color: The presentation of the features and characteristics of
a certain locality, so that the reader can picture the setting being
Example from literature:
Besides the obvious description of any setting from any novel....
In Gulliver's Travels Swift used local color as he described each
new land that Gulliver traveled to so that the reader would have a
different feel for each new place, and so that each new land would
have a more dictinct identity. [Heather Coe, '99]
Metaphor: A literary device by which one term is compared to another
without the use of a combining word such as like or as.
Two Actual Usages
1. "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks. It is the
east and Juliet is the sun." [Romeo and Juliet]
2. "Oh, beware my lords,of jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster,
which doth mock the meat it feeds on. [Othello] [Joel Mankey, '99]
Meter: A regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a
line of poetry. The number of feet in a line forms a way of
describing a meter. The standard meters are as follows:
Monometer--a metrical line with one foot
Dimeter--a metrical line with two feet
Trimeter--a metrical line with three feet
Tetrameter--a metrical line with four feet
Pentameter--a metrical line with five feet
Hexameter--a metrical line with six feet
Heptameter--a metrical line with seven feet
Octameter--a metrical line with eight feet
One example is in Theodore Roethke's poem, "The Waking." The
following lines are pentameter:
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow,
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
"She Walks in Beauty" by Lord Byron is written in tetrameter:
She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies. [Lacey Cope, '99]
Metonymy: A figure of speech in which one word or phrase is
substituted for a related word or phrase
“count heads (or noses)” rather than “count people”
“Washington” rather than “the United States Government”
“warm heart” rather than “warm affections”
“the bottle” rather than “a strong drink”
“lands belonging to the crown” rather than “...to the king” [Emily
Mood: The emotinal ambience established by a literary work. This
effect is fabricataed through descriptions of feelings or objects
which establish in kind feelings of fear, patriotism, sanctity, hope,
et. al., in the mind and emotional perception of the reader. The
writer's mood (or emotional state and feeling) may be said to have
flowed from his/her hand, to the reader's eyes and from thence to
the reader's mind. Mood is a transfer of emotional-substance 'coloring,'
depicted in likeness to teh hues woven within a writer's mind, that
he/she may color attune hues in the mind of the reader.
The poem "Dream Nocturne" by Juan Ramon Jimenez establishes a mood
of sacrosanctity. Eternal life contrasted with mortality, the sea
controlled by the heavens whilst the mortal shell of our Earthly
life remains cold on the shore controlled by none but itself. The
calm sea, the traveling soul, the voyage towards eternal life--all
of these elements help to establish a mood of reverence and
"The Dead" by James Joyce creates a mood of romantic nostalgia. This
mood is established specifically within the last two pages before
the mention of Michael Furey. Gabriel's description of his desire
towards his wife, interwoven with reminiscences of their past
together--aglow with fresh flame from stoked embers of stale
love--construct an emotional atmosphere within the mind of the
reader that overwhelmingly feels like the sentimental sensation of
love's pinnacle recalled. One experiences the mood, or feeling, of
love-sick nostalgia flowing over their synaptic gaps while one is
caught up in the sentimentality of the protagonist. The reader
experiences the emotini of lvoe, desire, and unmitigated, irrational
bliss through the established mood. [Wes Austen, '99]
Myth: A story used to describe the origins of basic elements and
assumptions of cultures. These myths were written to show a proper
way of knowing reality. These stories take place in a time before
our world came into being. All myths are different in the subjects
that they deal with, but they all have the presence of gods and
goddesses. These gods and goddesses control the events that take
place in the story. Humans are usually present in myths. The gods
can help the huans or they can punish them if they desire to.
An example of a myth is the epic poem, the Odyssey. This story deals
with a man involved in the Trojan War. Finally it is time for him to
see his wife and son. He starts on his journey but on the way he
runs into many adventures and challenges. He cannot get home because
Poseidon, the god of the sea, will not let him. [Melanie Petrash,