LITERARY DEVICES T-W THEME - WORDPLAY
THEME The author’s central message of a work of literature; the lesson or perception about life contained within a work of literature. Examples: Appearances can be deceiving (Macbeth); The pursuit of knowledge can lead to good or evil, if not kept in check and balanced with other priorities and values in life (Frankenstein); All humans are equally capable of carrying out good or evil deeds (Jekyll and Hyde).
THIRD-PERSON POINT OF VIEW When the events characters of a story are described by a narrator who is outside the action. Third-person p.o.v. can be limited (from the perspective of only one character) or omniscient (all-knowing) Examples: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydeis told from a limited point-of-view, and from the perspective of Mr. Utterson. The reader knows only the same information as Mr. Utterson; the mystery unfolds only as Mr. Utterson discovers new information.
TITLE The first introduction of a work of literature to a reader that usually reveals something about the subject or theme of the work. Examples: Hiroshima by John Hersey; “The Mirror,” by Sylvia Plath
TONE The author’s attitude about his or her subject. An author may have an attitude that is serious, somber, humorous, satirical, etc. (NOTE: Do not confuse this term with “mood,” which is the reader’s response to the subject. Examples: Geoffrey Chaucer establishes a tone of satire and humor in his work Canterbury Tales; Brave New World uses dark satire—the events are not meant to be taken seriously, but are much more pessimistic than satire in general.
TRAGEDY A dramatic work in which the hero meets an untimely death or downfall. The main character is known as the tragic heroand is usually someone of great importance in society. The hero has a tragic flaw, a character trait or decision that leads to his doom. According to Aristotle, the purpose of a tragedy was to bring about pity and fear in the audience. Examples: Macbeth; Oedipus Rex; Romeo & Juliet; Hamlet; Othello; King Lear.
TRAGIC FLAW In a tragedy, the character trait in the protagonist that leads to his or her downfall or death. The flaw may be a personality trait or a poor decision. Examples: Ambition is the tragic flaw found in the character of Macbeth—his ambitious desire to be king caused him to lose sight of all other priorities and values in life; Hubris is the tragic flaw found in the character of Oedipus—he thought he could take fate into his own hands and thought he knew better than the divine gods and prophets how to save the city of Thebes.
TRAGIC HERO The main character, the protagonist, in a tragedy who has a character flaw that leads to his doom. Examples: Oedipus; Macbeth; Hamlet; King Lear; Othello.
UNDERSTATEMENT Saying less than is literally true, for the purpose of emphasis or effect. In some cases, the understatement is meant to mock the person about whom the remark is given. Examples: Chaucer’s description of the prioress “…she was by no means undergrown”; In a scene from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, an Army officer who has just lost his leg is asked how he feels, and when he looks down at his bloody stump he responds, "Stings a bit."
VERBAL IRONY When a speaker or writer says one thing but means something else. Sarcasm is one type of verbal irony. Examples: When Chaucer writes “as for blancmange he made it with the best,” he is using verbal irony because “the best” refers to the ingredients the cook uses, while his ulcer often drips puss into the soup he makes; when the blind prophet Teiresias tells Oedipus, “I say that you, with both of your eyes, are blind,” he does not mean that Oedipus is literally blind, but rather that he is blind to the truth.
VILLANELLE A poetic form composed of 19 lines in five 3-line stanzas (tercets), each with the rhyme scheme of a-b-a, and a final quatrain and using the rhyme scheme of a-b-a-a Examples: “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,“ by Dylan Thomas is a well-known villanelle; "The Waking,"by Theodore Roethke (click on the links to view the poems)
WORD PLAY The intentional use of more than one meaning of a word for effect (such as for the purposes of irony, clever humor, or added depth); word play is especially useful and effective in poetry; puns , riddles, and idioms are examples of the use of word play. Examples: Stevie Smith’s poem “The Frog Prince,” ends with the lines “Only disenchanted people/Can be heavenly,” with the meaning that the life of a frog is actually better than the life of a human; The answer to the riddle “Which building in town has the most stories?” is the library because stories has a double-meaning