Humanities 420


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Humanities 420 - Literary Elements


For a printable Adobe Acrobat version of this page, click here: Literary Elements

Here is a copy of the short story, A Unicorn in the Garden, for practice with literary elements and literary analysis.


Terminal Course Objective Three (3): Define and illustrate the basic elements of literature: theme, plot, character, tone, atmosphere, setting, conflict, point of view, structure, figurative language, irony, style


SHORT STORY QUESTIONS

Below is a list of Literary Elements, or the parts of a story. When you examine and analyze your story for class presentation, ask the following questions. They will help you find the literary elements of your story.

See also your textbook for definitions of these and other literary elements.

Theme

The story's ideas? Author's attitude towards those ideas? Author's "statement" about those ideas? The story's message or main point? Your attitude?

Conflict

What people/forces/ideas/interests/values/institutions oppose each other? What decisions must the characters make? Between what two things is he/she deciding? What do these things represent?

Characterization

What kinds of person/people are the character(s)? Their beliefs/hopes/dreams/ideals/values/morals/fears/strengths/weaknesses/vices/virtues/talents? How do they conduct themselves? What do they say and do to reval themselves? What do others say and do about the? What are your opinions or feelings about them?

Symbolism

What concrete, specific objects have been used to represent abstract ideas? What colors, names, settings, recurring objects have been referred to? What ideas do these represent?

Setting

Setting refers to TIME and PLACE: Time: of day, year, era/age? Place: city, country? Outside, inside? Rich and opulent or poor and simple? Stark and barren landscape? Rainy or sunny? Beautiful or adversarial? Dark or light? Dangerous or safe? The weather? how does all this affect meaning? What feelings (atmosphere) are evoked just by the setting?

Tone

What is the emotional feeling of the whole work and the writing/artist's craft? Joyful? Melancholy? Fatalistic? Angry? Peaceful? Scary?

Figurative Language

What kinds of comparisons are made that add layers to the meaning of the poem or story?

    A metaphor is a direct comparison: my love is a rose, or he was a snake.

    A simile is indirect, mediated by "like" or "as": my love is like a rose, or he was as mean as a snake.


PLOT STRUCTURE

Exposition

Background information? About characters, setting, situation?

Complication

When does the first conflict/problem ariseand develop ? What other problems start to arise and continue to develop?

Crisis

What is the moment of decisions for the main character? When is the character faced with his/her internal conflict and realizes she/he must make a decision?

Climax

When does the character MAKE his decision and ACT on it? What actions results from this decision? What is the highest point of interest (in terms of action) in the story? When is the suspense (regarding what the character will do to solve the problem) over?

Resolution

Tying up of loose ends


POINT OF VIEW

Who is the narrator? does the narrator tell the story in first person or third person? How much of the world can the narrator perceive (omniscient or limited)? How does the vantage point of the narrator affect the meaning of the story? How would the story change if the narrator changed?

First Person

"I"; all is told/filtered through the storyteller's perception, an character in the story, but not always the main character. Can know the thoughts/feelings of the narrator (the "I") but no others.

Third Person Omniscient

Use of third person pronouns (he/she/they), no "I" except in dialogue. All knowing, like God; can get more than one, often many characters' thoughts and feelings, as well as their actions and words. Perspective is not limited to any one character, can perceive in many different vantage points.

Third Person Limited Omniscient

3rd person pronouns again, but perspective is limited to ONE character's thoughts, feelings, vantage point. Can not know anything in story other than what the one character knows.

Third Person Dramatic/Objective

(as in play/drama). The only information we receive is what the characters say and do; cannot read anyone's mind, thoughts, feelings.


IRONY

Is the writer's meaning DIFFERENT (often the opposite)from what is actually stated or actually happening?

Verbal

What is SPOKEN or said (the words) is different/opposite from what is meant:

  • Overstatement

  • Understatement

  • Double Entendre: EX: "Sonny's Blues"

Dramatic

Does the audience/some characters know more than another character? Is one or more character(s) speaking/acting without knowledge others have, thus creating a double meaning?

Situational

The EVENTS: do the events have a double meaning...the meaning of the situation as it actually happened versus the situation that we expected to happen or would normally happen? Does a set of circumstances turn out differently from what is anticipated or considered appropriate? Is the action/situation surprising or unexpected? Is there unexplained coincidence in the story? A surprise ending?

Cosmic

(or: "irony of fate"; a form of situational irony) is the universe itself, the cosmos, ironic? Is the situation unjust to a person or group of people in a manner beyond their control? Is a good person in a bad situation due to circumstances beyond his/her control in such a way unfair/inappropriate tha this person must suffer? Is this person a victim of fate?


OTHER LITERARY ELEMENTS

Allegory
Allusion
Alliteration
Assonance
Apostrophe
Characterization: Round, Flat; Static, Dynamic; Protagonist, Antagonist, Foil
Catharsis
Comedy/Tragedy
Conceit
Diction
Fable
Imagery
Irony: Verbal, Dramatic, Situational, Cosmic
Metaphor
Myth
Onomatopoeia
Paradox
Parody
Personification
Plot: Conflict, Dilemma, Doubt, Tension
Plot Structure: Exposition, Complication, Crisis, Climax, Resolution
Point of View: First person, Third Person Omniscient, Third Person Limited, Third Person Dramatic or Objective
Reversal
Recognition
Satire
Setting/Mood/Atmosphere
Simile
Symbolism (Universal or Contextual)
Synesthesia
Theme
Tone
Tragic Flaw
Tragic Dilemma

See also, these websites for more definitions and information:

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