Literary terms

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Aesthetic distance: degree of emotional involvement in a work of art. The most obvious example of aesthetic distance (also referred to simply asdistance) occurs with paintings. Some paintings require us to stand back to see the design of the whole painting; standing close, we see the technique of the painting, say the brush strokes, but not the whole. Other paintings require us to stand close tosee the whole; their design and any figures become less clear as we move back from the painting.
Similarly, fiction, drama, and poetry involve the reader emotionally to different degrees. Emotional distance, or the lack of it, can be seen with children watching a TV program or a movie; it becomes real for them.
Alliteration: the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of a word,such as the repetition of b sounds in Keats's "beaded bubbles winking at thebrim" ("Ode to a Nightingale") or Coleridge's "Five miles meandering in a mazy motion ("Kubla Khan"). A common use for alliteration is emphasis. It occurs in everyday speech in such prhases as "tittle-tattle," "bag and baggage," "bed and board," "primrose path," and "through thick and thin" and in sayings like "look beforeyou leap."
Some literary critics call the reptition of any sounds alliteration. However, there are specialized terms for other sound-repetitions. Consonancerepeats consonants, but not the vowels, as in horror-hearer. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds, please-niece-ski-tree.
An allusion: a brief reference to a person, event, place, or phrase. The writer assumes will recognizethe reference. For instance, most of us would know the difference between a mechanic's being as reliable as George Washington or as reliable as Benedict Arnold. Allusions that are commonplace for readers in one era may require footnotes for readers in a later time.
Ambiguity: (1) a statement which has two or more possible meanings; (2) a statement whose meaning is unclear. Depending on thecircumstances, ambiguity can be negative, leading to confusion or even disaster (the ambiguous wording of a general's note led to the deadly charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War). On the other hand, writers often use it to achieve special effects, for instance, to reflect the complexity of an issue or to indicate the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility, of determining truth.
The titleof the country song "Heaven's Just a Sin Away" is deliberately ambiguous; at a religious level, it means that committing a sin keeps us out of heaven, but at a physical level, it means that committing a sin (sex) will bring heaven (pleasure). Many of Hamlet's statements to the King, to Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, and to other characters are deliberately ambiguous, to hide his real purpose fromthem.
Ballad: a relatively short narrative poem, written to be sung, with a simple and dramatic action. The ballads tell of love, death, the supernatural, or a combination of these. Two characteristics of the ballad are incremental repetition and the ballad stanza. Incremental repetition repeats one or more lines with small but significant variations that advance the action. The ballad stanza isfour lines; commonly, the first and third lines contain four feet or accents, the second and fourth lines contain three feet. Ballads often open abruptly, present brief descriptions, and use concise dialogue.
The folk ballad is usually anonymous and the presentation impersonal. The literary ballad deliberately imitates the form and spirit of a folk ballad. The Romantic poets were attracted tothis form, as Longfellow with "The Wreck of the Hesperus," Coleridge with the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (which is longer and more elaborate than the folk balad) and Keats with "La Belle Dame sans Merci" (which more closely resembles the folk ballad).
Characterization: the way an author presents characters. In direct presentation, a character is described by the author, the narrator or the...
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