The critical essay paper
Glossary of terms
In a critical essay you should be able to write about key language features used in novels, short stories, plays and poems. Here's a reminder of what they are and how they work:
Alliteration: The first letter of a word is repeated in words that follow. For example: "The cold, crisp, crust of clean, clear ice."
Assonance: The same vowel sound is repeated but the consonants are different. For example: "He passed her a sharp, dark glance, shot a cool, foolish look across the room."
Colloquial: Language that is used with an informal meaning. Examples: "Chill", "Out of this world", "Take a rain check."
Dialect: The version of language spoken by particular people in a particular area, such as Scots.
Dialogue: Conversation between two people; or sometimes an imagined conversation between the narrator and the reader.
This is important in drama and can show conflict through a series of statements and challenges, or intimacy where characters mirror the content and style of each other's speech. It can also be found in the conversational style of a poem.
Dissonance: A discordant combination of sounds. For example: "The clash and spew of grinding waves against the quay."
Enjambment: A device used in poetry where a sentence continues beyond the end of the line or verse. This technique is often used to maintain a sense of continuation from one stanza to another. For example, this device is used in lines 15 and 16 of the Seamus Heaney poem "a tame cat / Turned savage", where the surprise of finding "Turned savage" at the beginning of the line enacts the shock of the cat's sudden change in temperament.
Hyperbole: Exaggerating something for literary purposes which is not meant to be taken literally. For example: "We gorged on the banquet of beans on toast."
Imagery: Similes, metaphors and personification. They all compare something real with something imagined.
Irony: The humorous or sarcastic use of words or ideas, implying the opposite of what they mean. A clear example of this can be found in 1984 by George Orwell, where the department responsible for war is called the Ministry of Peace. Shakespeare often makes made use of dramatic irony, where the audience knows something which the characters in the play do not. An example of this can be found in Romeo and Juliet, when Juliet is secretly preparing for her death on the evening before her supposed wedding to Paris, which is at odds with the joy in her household.
Metaphor: A word or phrase used to imply figurative, not literal or 'actual', resemblance. For example: "He flew into the room."
Monologue: An uninterrupted monologue can show a character's importance or state of mind. Monologue can be in speech form, delivered in front of other characters and having great thematic importance, or as a soliloquy where we see the character laying bare their soul and thinking aloud.
Onomatopoeia A word that sounds like the noise it is describing. Examples: "Splash", "Bang", "Pop", "Hiss".
Oxymoron: Where two words normally not associated are brought together. Examples: "Cold heat", "Bitter sweet".
Pathos: Language that evokes feelings of pity or sorrow.
Personification: Attributing a human quality to a thing or idea. For example: "The moon calls me to her darkened world".
Repetition: The repetition of a word or phrase to achieve a particular effect.
Rhyme: The way that words sound the same at the end of lines in poetry.
Poems often have a fixed rhyme-scheme (for example, Shakespearean sonnets have 14 lines with fixed rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG).
Try to comment as to what contribution the rhyme-scheme is making to the text as a whole. Why do you think the poet has chosen it? Does it add control or imitate the ideas in the poem?
Rhythm: a repetitive beat or metre within a poem. For example, Tennyson's poem The Lady of Shalott uses a strong internal rhythm to build up the sense of unrelenting monotony in the poem:
"There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott."
Simile: A phrase which establishes similarity between two things to emphasise the point being made. This usually involves the words 'like' or 'as'. For example: "'He is as quick as an arrow in flight", "As white as snow", "Like a burning star."
Symbolism: Symbolism is where something is used to represent something else. For example, snakes are often symbols of temptation as in the story of Adam and Eve, the colour white usually symbolises innocence, and a ringing bell can be a symbol for impending doom. Often objects, colours, sounds and places work as symbols of more abstract concepts, such as in the given examples. Symbols can sometimes give us a good insight into the themes.
Tone: The writer's tone, or voice, or atmosphere, or feeling that pervades the text, such as sadness, gloom, celebration, joy, anxiety, dissatisfaction, regret or anger. Different elements of writing can help to create this; long sentences or verses, with assonance (repeated vowel sounds), tend to create a sad, melancholic mood. Short syllabic, alliterative lines can create an upbeat, pacy atmosphere.
Word choice: Sometimes called 'register', this is the common thread in an author's choice of language. For example, authors may use words commonly associated with religion, words describing sensory experience such as touch, smell or colour or 'mood' words that reflect a character's state of mind.
Sharpen your English skills with Hazard Perception.
If you want to practise recognising different literary techniques, play Hazard Perception.
The game will test you on many language forms, including:
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