UNDERSTANDING FIVE COMMON LITERARY TERMS WITH ILLUSTRATIVE EXAMPLES
by Hassan Abdulbaqi
In the objective part of your Literature-in-English , as written under INTRODUCTION TO LITERATURE-IN-ENGLISH, you’ll be given examples of literary terms, appreciation and figures of speech and asked to point out what the examples fall in amidst the four available options.
Literary terms are simply the terms we make use of while reviewing or appreciating a poem, play or prose, as the case may be. Here is a comprehensive explanation of each term with fitting pictures.
Events and characters in a story, play, poem or picture in the case of allegories are only secondary symbols that are used to represent other meanings. That is, the underlying events are given another shape on the surface. Let’s see for example, the famous George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The real story in this book is The 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The characters in this story are animals, each representing the real characters in the revolution and acting out events that took place.
This is when there is a mention of a famous figure, their sayings, an extraction from a line of a popular book or religious text, like the Qur’an or Bible. The reader is expected to have known this sayings or the particular figure mentioned prior. For example,
Work hard, manna will not fall from heaven. “Manna” here is a reference to the biblical story where food fell from heaven to Jesus, peace be upon him, and his disciples.
Don’t be a donkey of books. “Donkey of books” is a parable of the Qur’an about the Jews who recite the scriptures but derive no benefit from it just like the donkey carries books while having zero idea of what the books contain.
I had to leave him for another man, I am not Romeo’s Juliet. This is an allusion to the popular love story of two lovers who have been believed to have sacrificed their souls for love.
This is simply the way a writer chooses his words in a literary work. That is, it is simply the choice of words of the writer. The choice of words or diction of a writer may be simple, complicated, poetic, technical and so on. We may conclude, for example, that the Amma Darko’s diction in her Faceless is simple.
This is formal work, written or spoken, which contains rude language, insults and lack of respect which is usually directed to an authority, leadership position, religion, system and so on. The language is often inciting and full of emotions. Examples:
1) I am appalled by the odious stench of religious bigotry and intolerance oozing out from the academic precincts of that university.
2) Our organization demands that the director be sanctioned for dragging the name of the school in the mire and trampling on the rights of other students, who treated like stray animals.
This is a short story or narrative that we can derive moral or religious lessons from. The famous Islamic story of how Allah tested Ibrahim by asking him to sacrifice his son but later asked him to kill a ram instead is an illustration of a story that teaches a spiritual lesson of faith. “The Prodigal Son” for instance, is a biblical story of an extravagant and exuberant youth who hastily demanded for his share from his father’s property. He regretted this later after exhausting the wealth and came back home to seek forgiveness. Another is the example of “The Good Samaritan”.
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