Literary Genres, Elements, 1 and Techniques

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L~SOi~J Literary Genres, Elements, 4.1 and Techniques


ome of the selections that you will encounter on reading tests may be works of literature. At this level in your schooling, you have probably already studied literature for many years. Therefore, much of what you will read about in this chapter will be review.

Genres of Literature

One way to understand something is to categorize it. Dividing literature into categories allows us to examine similarities and differences among literary works and gives us a vocabulary with which to discuss

it. The different categories into which literature can be divided are called genres. A genre is simply a type of literary work. Genre has to do with the form a literary work takes (novel, drama, poem); with its

subject matter (mystery, romance, science fiction); and with its purpose (parody, rebuttal speech, satire).

On the reading tests in this book, you will be asked to write about a number of literary selections. You will be given at least one prose passage and one poem to read. You might also encounter a selection from a drama, or play. The prose passage will most likely be a portion of some narrative, a piece of writing that tells a story. Narratives can be fiction or nonfiction. A work of fiction tells about imaginary people and characters. A work of nonfiction, such as a memoir or biography, tells about real people and characters. Make sure that you are familiar with the types, or genres, of narratives, poems, and plays described in the chart on the following pages.

(Romantic Science Fiction)

Lesson 4.1 —Literary Genres, Elements, and Techniques 97

lassifying Literary Works

Genres of Prose Narrative, Drama, and Poetry
Prose Narratives

~ Short Story. A short story is a brief work of fiction. The passage from “The Death of Ivan Illych” in the Pretest is part of a short story by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy.

Novel. A novel is a long piece of fictional prose. Within the category “novel” are many genres by subject matter, such as comedy of manners, Gothic novel, mystery, picaresque, romance, and science fiction, An elaborate plot and many characters are usually elements of a novel.
~ Narrative Essay. An essay is a short piece of nonfiction writing that explores a single subject from the author’s point of view. A narrative essay is one that tells a story. In an autobiographical essay or memoir, a writer tells a true story from his or her own life. In a biographical essay, a writer tells a true story from someone else’s life. A narrative personal essay is written to make a specific point and uses a true autobiographical or biographical story to illustrate the point.
~ Journal or Diary. A journal or diary is a day-to-day account and may be true (as in the case of The Diary of Anne Frank) or fictional (as in the case of The Diary of Adrian Mole, by Sue Townsend, or The Diary of Adam and Eve, by Mark Twain).
~ Myth. A myth is a story dealing with a god or goddess. Often myths explain the origins of natural phenomena. For example, the Greek myth of Arachne explains the origin of spiders.
~ Legend. A legend is a story, which may be partially or wholly true, about a hero or heroine. The stories of King Arthur are legends but are almost entirely fictional.
Tall Tale. A tall tale is a story with wildly exaggerated characters and events. The American stories about Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan are examples of tall tales.
~ Fable. A fable is a short tale, usually with animal characters, told to illustrate a moral, or point about how ~people should behave.

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Folk Tale. A folk tale is a short story that was originally passed down orally from generation to generation. Such tales, which were not originally written down, are part of what is known as the oral tradition. Folk tales developed as they were passed on, rather than being created at one time by an individual author.

~ Anecdote. An anecdote, often true, is a very brief story told to make a point.


~ Comedy. A play in which the main character or characters meet a happy fate is called a comedy. Note that the term comedy is sometimes used of other types of work, such as long narrative poems, with happy endings. The term comedy is also frequently used to refer to works in which humorous elements predominate.

~ Tragedy. A drama in which the main character suffers an unhappy fate, generally because of a flaw in his or her own character, is called a tragedy.


~ Narrative Poem. A narrative poem is a verse that tells a story. Narrative poems may be short, like ballads, or long, like epics. A ballad is a rhymed narrative poem, generally written in four-line or six-line stanzas. An epic is a long story, usually in verse, told on a grand scale. It relates the adventures of heroes, gods, and monsters and incorporates myths and legends.

Dramatic Poem. A dramatic poem is a verse that presents the speech of one or more characters in a dramatic situation. In a dramatic monologue, one character speaks, usually to another character who is silent. In a dramatic dialogue, two characters speak.
~ Lyric Poem. A lyric poem is a short, highly musical verse that expresses the thoughts and emotions of a speaker.
~ Elegy. An elegy is a long poem mourning someone’s death.


Lesson 4.1 —Literary Genres, Elements, and Techniques 99

The chart on the preceding pages is far from complete. In addition to the genres listed, there are, for example, many genres of nonnarrative prose, prose works that do not tell stories. Some of these include the persuasive essay, in which a writer attempts to persuade readers to adopt an opinion or to take a course of action; the informative essay, in which a writer provides information about a subject; the descriptive essay, in which a writer paints a portrait, in words, of a subject; and satire (which can appear in prose, drama, or poetry), in which a writer pokes fun at or puts down someone or something.

Literary Elements and Techniques

If you are asked to analyze a literary passage, the directions may tell you to refer in your answer to the literary elements and techniques used by the author. Literary elements are the building blocks, or parts, of a work. Literary techniques are special ways of using language to communicate ideas or to achieve particular effects. Suspense might be an element of a story and foreshadowing the technique the author used to achieve it. It is important for you to know what the major literary elements and techniques are and to be able to recognize them in works of literature. The charts below and on the following pages explain the major literary elements and techniques.


iterary Elements and Techniques

Found in All Genres of Literature
1. Image. An image is a word or phrase that names something that can be seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled. The collection or group of images in a work is called its imagery. Example: “Ice covered the ground, and a cold wind whistled through the tree limbs.”
2. Setting. The setting is the time and place in which the action of a literary work occurs. Setting is created by details that suggest a particular time and/or place.

3. Mood. The mood is the emotional quality evoked by a literary work. Mood is created by imagery, word choice, events, and other literary elements. Examples of moods include gloomy, sad, joyful, reflective, suspenseful, and frightening.

4. Subject. The subject is the matter that a work is about. Common subjects of literary works include childhood, diversity, wonder, aging, nature, individuality, love, discrimination, struggle, death, courage, hope, and freedom.


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5. Theme. A theme is a main idea in a literary work. For example, a work on the subject of aging might have as its theme the idea that older people can still be young and fresh in their thinking.

6. Character. A character is a being who takes part in the action of a literary work.

7. Suspense. Suspense is a feeling of curiosity or expectation, often tinged with anxiety, created by questions about what the outcome will be in a literary work.

8. Tone. Tone is the attitude adopted by the author, speaker, or narrator of a literary work toward the subject and reader of the work; it may also be the attitude of a speaker, narrator, or character in the work toward other characters.

9. Voice, or Style. A writer’s voice, or style, is the sum of all the characteristics that make his or her work sound unique. Hemingway is famous for a style that makes use of short, simple sentences with few embellishments. Faulkner is famous for a style that makes use of long, complicated sentences full of fancy flourishes.

10. Flashbacks and Foreshadowing. A flashback takes the reader to an earlier part of the story. Foreshadowing hints about events to come.

Figurative Language, or Figures of Speech

(expressions with a meaning other than or beyond the literal)

11. Hyperbole. A hyperbole is an exaggeration for effect. Example: “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse!”

12. Irony. Irony is a contradiction, such as a difference between appearance and reality or a difference between what is said and what is meant. In the selection from “The Death of Ivan Illych” in the Pretest, it is ironic that Illych should believe that all people must die but not be willing to believe that he himself must eventually die.

13. Metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which one thing is described as if it were another. Example: “My love is a red, red rose.”

14. Simile. A simile is a type of metaphor, a comparison using like or as. Example: “My love is like a red, red rose.”

15. Personification. Personification is a figure of speech in which a nonhuman thing is described as though it were human. Example: “The old car coughed, cried out once, and then gave up the ghost.” Personification can appear in apostrophe, if a speaker or character directly addresses an inanimate object. Example: “0 wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being!”

16. Symbol. A symbol is something that stands both for itself and for something beyond itself. Roses are traditional symbols of love and beauty. A dove is a traditional symbol of peace.

Lesson 4.1—Literary Genres, Elements, and Techniques I 01

17. Synesthesia. Synesthesia is a figure of speech in which two different senses are combined. Example: “Jack wore a noisy red sweater.”

18. Understatement. An understatement is an ironic expression in which something of importance is emphasized by being spoken of as though it were not important. Example: “The Emperor was dealing with a few minor matters like war on his borders and food riots in the streets of his cities.”
Techniques Involving Sound

(commonly, but not exclusively, found in poetry)

19. Alliteration. Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds. Example:

“. . . the kass boat, hobbing heautifully”

20. Onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia is the use of words or phrases that sound like the things that they describe. Examples: buzz, chop, clatter, mumble, clank, meow.

21. Rhythm. Rhythm is the pattern of beats, or stressed and unstressed syllables, in a line. The following line is made up of unstressed syllables followed by stressed syllables:

Oh, just a few minor matters, like war on my borders and food riots in the streets of my cities.

Is this the face


that launched a thousand ships?


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iterary Elements and Techniques

Peculiar to Poetry
Rhyme Scheme (the pattern of rhymes in a poem)
1. Rhymed verse is poetry with a regular rhyme scheme.

2. End rhyme is rhyming at the ends of lines, as in

For never was a story of more w~

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

3. Internal rhyme is rhyming within lines, as in “I s~ a bumbleb~.”

4. Slant rhyme is a near rhyme, as in “What did the wj~~JSeek to

Meter (the rhythmical pattern in a poem)
5. Free verse is poetry that does not have a set pattern of rhythm or rhyme.

6. Metrical verse is poetry with a regular rhythmical pattern.

Stanza Form

7. A stanza is a group of lines in a poem.

8. A couplet is a two-line stanza.

9. A triplet, or tercet, is a three-line stanza.

10. A quatrain is a four-line stanza.

11. A quintain is a five-line stanza.

12. A sestet is a six-line stanza.

13. A heptastich is a seven-line stanza.

14. An octave is an eight-line stanza.

15. A sonnet is a poem with fourteen lines having any of a number of different standard rhyme schemes.




Lesson 4.1—Literary Genres, Elements, and Techniques 103

~YoLt Turn

A Read the poems on the following page: John Donne’s “Death, Be Not Proud,” which you saw in the Pretest, and Christina Rossetti’s “A Birthday.” Then do the following.
1 Find an example of apostrophe in “Death, Be Not Proud.”
2 Explain why “Death, Be Not Proud” can be called a sonnet.
3 Tell what kind of poem “Death, Be Not Proud” and “A Birthday” are— narrative, dramatic, or lyric—and explain why.
4 Find three similes in “A Birthday.”
5 Find an example of personification in “Death, Be Not Proud.”
6 Answer these questions: Is “A Birthday” free verse? rhymed verse? metrical verse?
7 Find two examples of metaphor in “Death, Be Not Proud.”
8 Find one example of irony in “Death, Be Not Proud.”
9 Find examples of repetition in “A Birthday.”
10 Find one example of alliteration in “Death, Be Not Proud” and one example in “A Birthday.”
11 Explain the tone of the speaker in each of these poems.

12 What is the stanza form of “A Birthday ?“
13 In line 4 of “A Birthday,” the speaker mentions fruit. Of what might this fruit be a symbol?
14 What is the theme of “A Birthday?” Of “Death, Be Not Proud”?
B Work with other students in a small group to find in literary anthologies and other sources one example of each of the genres defined in this lesson. Create a chart listing each genre and the title and author(s) of the work that is an example of each one.


Genre Work

Short Story “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” by Stephen

Vincent Benét

C Work with other students in a small group to find in literary anthologies and other sources one example of each of the figures of speech, rhetorical techniques, and techniques involving sound defined in this lesson. Create a chart listing each technique and an example of it.


Technique Example

Hyperbole “And I will love you still, my dear,

When all the seas run dry.”
—Robert Burns “To a Red, Red Rose”



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Be Not Proud by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well

And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

A Birthday

by Christina Rossetti
My heart is like a singing bird

Whose nest is in a watered shoot;

My heart is like an apple tree

Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;

My heart is like a rainbow shell

That paddles in a halcyon sea;

My heart is gladder than all these

Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a dais of silk and down;

Hang it with vair and purple dyes;

Carve it in doves and pomegranates,

And peacocks with a hundred eyes;

Work in it gold and silver grapes,

In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;

Because the birthday of my life

Is come, my love is come to me.


Lesson 4.1—Literary Genres, Elements, and Techniques 105



n standardized reading tests, you are likely to be asked to read and analyze a poem. In most cases, the poem will be a lyric—a short poem that expresses a speaker’s emotions and thoughts in concrete, precise, musical language.

Students usually have more problems with poetry than with any other kind of literature. However, reading poetry doesn’t have to be difficult. With the right approach, you’ll find that reading poetry is not that difficult; in fact, reading poetry (and writing it) can be a lot of fun.

In the Renaissance era, four to five hun­dred years ago, well-to-do, powerftil people— kings and queens, lords and ladies—often sent lyric poems to one another. These poems were like personal letters. Today, people still sometimes write lyric poems for the same purpose. In fact, the simplest way to think about a lyric poem is to consider it a kind of letter from the poem’s speaker. Like a letter, the poem tells us what someone thinks and feels. Let’s look at an example:
Have You Forgotten?

by James Worley

The curiosity of cats, observed, can enable men to retrieve infancy:

some sights and sounds and the movements bridging them

entice the kitten and the child alike:

the drip of faucets, the slide of sinkside streams,

the play of light reflected to a wall, the crumpled paper breathing on the floor— have you forgotten? watch a cat!


When reading a poem, don’t be put off by the division of the poem into lines. Remember that most poems, like stories, are written in sentences. Don’t worry about the line breaks. Simply read each sentence in the poem separately, and try to paraphrase it, or put it into your own words. Let’s try this with James Worley’s poem.

The first statement in the poem is “The curiosity of cats, observed, / can enable men to retrieve infancy.” In other words, if we observe, or watch, how curious cats are, we can become like children again. The second statement in the poem is “[S]ome sights and sounds and the movements bridging them / entice the kitten and the child alike.” In other words, children and kittens are enticed, or attracted, by the same sights, sounds, and movements. The poem then presents a list of the kinds of things that kittens and children are attracted to: drip­ping faucets, streams of water sliding down

Reading a Lyric Poem



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the sides of sinks, light reflected and “play­ing” on a wall, crumpled paper “breathing” on the floor. The speaker then asks the reader a question, “[H]ave you forgotten?”

Finally, the poem promises that if you watch a cat, you can “return,” or go back to a childhood frame of mind. In other words, if you do not remember what it was like to be a child, if you do not remember how to take joy in the tiny, little events occurring all around you, simply watch a cat, and you’ll remember a time when you, too, enjoyed all the little miracles in life.

The first step in understanding a poem, then, is to paraphrase it, or put its sentences into your own words. If you wish, you can jot down the notes for your paraphrase on scrap paper.

Sometimes, when attempting to para­phrase, you will encounter words in poems that you don’t understand. For example, you might not have known the meaning of the word entice in line 4 of “Have You Forgotten?” When reading a poem on your own, you can look up such difficult words in a dictionary. When you are reading a poem during the test, it will be helpful to be able to figure out such words from their context.

For information on using context clues to determine the meanings of unfamiliar words, see Lesson 3.4.

The next step toward understanding a lyric poem is to ask yourself about the speaker and about the subject. Imagine that you are an anthropologist in the year 2225 and that you have just dug up a box. In the box you have found a journal, and in the journal you have found the poem “Have You Forgotten?” What does the poem tell you about its speaker? Who was this person? What was this person speaking about? What did this person think and feel? To answer questions like this, you need to look for clues in the poem. Again, if you wish, you can list in the margins of your Reading Book things that the poem reveals about the speaker:

The speaker.

—is interested in cats

—is probably a man because of the reference, in line 2, to “men”

—must be older, no longer a child,

because he speaks about “retriev[ing]


—thinks that people ought to observe cats

—thinks that observing cats will make it possible for people to “retrieve


—seems to feel that retrieving infancy, or becoming like a child again, is a good thing

—is very observant about little things

(dripping faucets, light playing on the wall, etc.)

—wants us to watch cats so that we can remember what we were like when we were children and full of curiosity





Lesson 4.2—Reading a Lyric Poem 107

After you have paraphrased the poem, have identified the subject, and have listed the characteristics, interests, ideas, and feelings of the speaker, you are ready to state the poem’s theme, or main idea. In a lyric poem, the theme is the main message that the speaker wants to communicate:

Theme: Watching cats can help

people to regain the sort of curiosity— wonder about and interest in ordinary things—that they had when they were children.

Finally, look for the special literary techniques used in the poem. These techniques include such features as rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, metaphor, and simile. If you have forgotten what any of these terms mean, go back to the previous lesson and review them.

Literary Techniques in the Poem “Have You Forgotten?”


—curiosity of cats

—slide of sinkside streams


—slide of sinkside


—movements connecting sights and sounds are compared to bridges


—light is said to “play”

—crumpled paper, moving on the floor, is described as “breathing”

Finally, think about these techniques and ask yourself how they reinforce the poem’s meaning. The alliteration and rhyme in the poem make it more musical and thus more memorable. Describing movements as bridges reinforces the idea that watching a cat serves as a kind of bridge back to one’s own childhood. Personifying the light and the paper on the floor tell us that if we exercise our curiosity, then little things in the world will seem more interesting. They will “come alive.”

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