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What Is Literature? - 2013
Transcript of What Is Literature? - 2013
Well, that seems redundant
A unifying idea, image, or motif, repeated throughout a work
What Is Literature?
An Exploration of Literary Elements
Basically, the life lesson of a story/the author's message.
Good v. Evil
Lord of the Rings
Love and Friendship
All's Well That Ends Well
Pride and Prejudice
Man v. Society
Suffering and Redemption
A Christmas Carol
Diary of Anne Frank
Theme in "Hunters in the Snow"...
Conflict and unresolved issues can stem from petty arguments and a lack of trust between friends.
Struggles with weight problems
His friends are insensitive
Snaps after friends make fun of him and leave him behind
Takes out more of his frustration on Frank.
Possible anger issues, extremely insensitive to Tubs weight, constantly making fun of him with bad jokes.
No sense of his life outside the hunting trip
Got angry because he didn’t get to kill anything on the trip.
Goes on a fake rampage and shoots a dog, then pretends he's going to shoot Tub to be funny. Not funny Kenny. Go home.
Has marriage problems,
Escapes his wife to go be manly and shoot things.
Okay person other than being mean to Tub, but apologizes in the end.
Gives up on his marriage
Has more problems than he lets on.
Told in third person by a narrator whose knowledge and prerogatives are unlimited (p 253)
Narrators are free to peer inside the minds and hearts of characters (p 253)
Sometimes near the end of the story the narrator takes over and gives us info that none of the characters know (p 253)
Done well it can allow for simultaneous breadth and depth (p 254)
Unskillfully it can cause a breakdown in reality and coherence (p 254)
(cc) image by nuonsolarteam on Flickr
nothing is irrelevant; everything contributes to the meaning of the story
an abrupt resolution to the conflict by some new event, character, ability, or object.
Examine the Title!!
deus ex machina:
an ending with no definitive conclusion reached. "Cliffhanger"
1) why might a story adhere to or violate chronological order?
2)How is the central conflict presented and resolved in the story?
3) How does the author use structure to evoke an emotional response?
Thinking about the way a story is told
A series of events beginning immediately after the exposition and building up to the climax. These are the most important parts of the story because the entire plot depends on them to bring about a resolution to the story.
the part of the plot that occurs after the climax.
dilemma; the predicament the protagonist is placed in.
How Is It Used?
Fantasy is an literary element
that involves themes or ideas that stray away from reality
In literature, it usually is in a character's thoughts or ideas that stray from reality for that particular character.
Fantasy is used in many stories to stray from reality in order to convey an emotional tone to the reader that wouldn't necessarily be experienced if plainly stated in reality.
It is also used to
introduce themes and meanings that cannot
be expressed in literal meanings.
Lunch With Debbie
In Rocking Horse Winner, Paul wants to make his family lucky (richer) because his family is poor.
(Rocking Horse Winner)
Paul fantasizes about competing in horse races and riding the winning horse, and at the peak of his fantasy, he spews money, making his family "lucky".
A moment of great culminating intensity in a narrative or drama
Man v. Nature
Old Man and the Sea
Call of the Wild
Man v. Himself
Take note of subplots, chapter divisions, and possible frame stories
The Telltale Heart
Faith v. Free Will
A literary symbol is something that
means more than what it suggests on
the surface. (301)
The way a story is told
Looks like an S on the surface,
but a closer look
suggests it may be a snake.
The eye in "The Telltale Heart" represents an awareness of the narrator's mental instability.
The opening of the door in "The Telltale Heart,"
represents madness, creeping in, subtly.
Don't go symbol crazy!
The Unifying Generalization About Life Stated Or Implied By The Story
Insights into human character
Insight we had not had before
Truth we don't realize
"The function of literary writers is not to state a theme but to vivify it." (209)
Fantasy isn't necessarily a world of imagination, although that is an example of fantasy.
Types of Symbolism
Purpose of Symbolism
Sonny is a literately character. Yes, he uses and probably deals heroin but he also loves his brother and in his own way wants to stop using. Sonny's a character people can relate to, not necessarily because of the addiction but because of the challenge in doing what's right rather than what feels good.
A character who experiences no growth, is flat, one-dimensional, etc.
Undergoes distinct changes of character, personality, or outlook. The change must be significant, otherwise known as an epiphany. It defines the moment of the developing character's change as a character.
A stereotyped figure that appears so often in literature that we recognize their stereotype at once. Ex: the smart detective with eccentric habits, the cruel stepmother, the strong silent sheriff, etc. They are used as an ends to a mean because the reader can quickly and easily grasp them. Most literary authors add their own twist to the stock character to make them memorable.
(cc) photo by theaucitron on Flickr
Types of Characters
Characters are stereotypical, easily identifiable, and clearly labeled as good or bad. Their purpose is to carry the plot forward. The main character must be attractive and/or sympathetic.
Properties of Characterization
Characters are less easily pigeonholed and labeled than commercial ones. They are often both good and evil, exploring human psychology and motivation.
1. Characters keep consistent behavior
- Characters act the same way in all settings and situations unless there is a specific reason in the story for them to do otherwise.
2. Characters actions, thoughts, and dialogue are influenced by motivation
- this helps readers understand why they act this way
3. Characters must be lifelike
-no character can be completely good or evil, otherwise readers
can not relate
Literature vs. Fiction
The author tells us straight out, through exposition or analysis, what the characters are like. Another character may be used to describe them as well.
The author shows what the characters are like through their actions.
Characterization of Blackie
Characterization of Sonny
The author uses direct presentation when he tells us that "He was just, he had no jealousy". He uses indirect presentation by showing us the just things Blackie does: allowing the gang to vote on T's project, accepting the end of his leadership calmly, taking orders and being friends with T without resentment.
Lit vs. Fiction
Blackie is a literary character. He is not just good or bad, but a mixture of both. He shows that he truly cares for the democracy of the gang by letting them re vote and then accepting the end of his leadership. He also defends T from potential ridicule by the gang and supports him in his project. However, Blackie also finds joy in stealing free bus rides and tearing down an old man's house for no reason. This creates complexity within his character because there must be separate motivations for each of Blackie's opposite behaviors.
From "The Destructors"
From "Sonny's Blues"
Lit vs. Fiction
Blackie follows the three properties of literary characterization.
He keeps consistent behavior throughout the story. For example he demonstrates leadership qualities even when he is no longer in command. When T. starts risking the safety of the group, Blackie steps in again as leader to remedy the situation
Blackie's actions are clearly driven by motivations. The story states that he returns to the group after being overthrown because he was "Driven by the pure, simple, and altruistic ambition
of fame for the gang" (Greene 6)
Blackie is a lifelike character because he exhibits emotions and behaviors that are common in our everyday lives. He is fond of mischief, but he is wary of it escalating into something criminal. Also he has ambitions of fame and notoriety that act as an impetus for his decision making.
Sonny is a character whose behaviors change throughout the story, however, these changes are used to show more about him and strengthen the effects that the events of the story have on him. For example, when Sonny comes to stay at his brother's home, he is very distant and quiet, but when he begins to play music at the club, he is in his own element and becomes relaxed and happy.
The author uses direct presentation to describe Sonny. The main characters have not seen him in a long time, so his weak-willed-but-smart personality is only revealed by how his brother remembers him and describes what he thinks Sonny is like to others.
Sonny is motivated by two things. One is his desire to escape the limited, entrapping way of life he has grown up with in Harlem. This is what caused him to run away and become a heroin dealer. His second major motivation is his love for music. Sonny becomes obsessed with music and the escape it gives him.
Blackie is a static character. He experiences some growth, but not enough to be classified as a dynamic character. Blackie goes from being afraid to stand up for T to supporting him in his endeavors. He also realizes that the project is more important than who is the leader of the gang. However, these changes are small and are evidenced only once, which is not enough for the reader to sufficiently believe that Blackie has permanently and majorly changed as a character.
Sonny is a realistic character because, like many of us, he is desperate for a change in his life and will go to any means to achieve that. He never had intentions of becoming a drug addict, but somewhere along the line his desperation got the best of his logic
Sonny is a stock character. He is the typical prodigal-brother-with-a-drug-addiction. He stays the same throughout the story because we never really meet him; we only see him through the main character's eyes and memories. The author puts his own twist on the stock character by having Sonny explain his addiction and become musically talented.
Symbols with an understood or widely accepted interpretation
Universal symbols that convey the same meanings in all cultures
Importance of Symbolism
"A Rose for Emily"
element of uncertainty, anxiety or excitement that keeps an audience engaged.
For something to
be a symbol....
Point of View
Bartleby, the Scrivener
A Good Man is Hard to Find
Competent and hardworking in the morning and useless in the afternoon
Irritable in the morning and competent in the afternoon
Unhappy with his simplistic job, yet does nothing to change it
Bartleby, although not a competent worker, is seen to be void of the human weaknesses brought out by Melville
"Had there the least uneasiness, anger, impatience, or impertinence in his manner; in other words, had there been anything ordinarily human about him..."
Ridicule used to point out human folly
1. The story itself must furnish a clue that a detail is to be taken symbolically. Symbols nearly always signal their existence by emphasis, repetition, or position (305).
2. The meaning of a literary symbol must be established and supported by the entire context of the story (306)
3. To be called a symbol, an item must suggest a meaning different in kind from its literal meaning; a symbol is something more than the representative of a class or type (306).
4. A symbol may have more than one meaning. It may have a cluster of meanings. This is not to say it can mean anything we want it to: the area of possible meanings is always controlled by the context (307).
What is Point of View in literature?
Literature provides a lens through which readers look at the world.
Point of view is the way the author allows you to look through this lens to "see" and "hear" what's going on in the story.
There are 4 main types of point of view.
◦Told from the POV of only one character in the story (p 255)
◦Allows readers to interpret that character's thoughts, feelings and behaviors (p 255)
◦Readers will have no inside knowledge of other characters (p 255)
◦Helpful because it allows us to understand character’s motives and actions (page 256)
◦Unhelpful because it limits our field of observation to just a few characters (p 256)
◦The author disappears into one of the characters (p 256)
◦Offers a gain in immediacy and reality (page 257)
◦No opportunity for indirect interpretation (p 257)
◦Allows for dramatic irony and for studies in limited or blunted human perceptiveness (p 257)
◦Allows only for the perspective of one character, while observations and assumptions are made regarding other characters thoughts and behaviors (p 257)
Narrator becomes a sort of camera that witnesses what is being done and said but cannot comment or interpret them (p 257)
Can't enter characters' minds so it must be inferred what they think and feel (p 258)
Allows readers to draw inferences (p 258)
Offers no direct interpretation by the author (p 258)
[The Boarding House by James Joyce]
◦Mrs. Mooney: Nearly the half-hour! She stood up and surveyed herself in the pier-glass. The decisive expression of her great florid face satisfied her and she thought of some mothers she knew who could not get their daughters off their hands.
Mr. Doran: All his long years of service gone for nothing! All his industry and diligence thrown away! As a young man he had sown his wild oats, of course; he had boasted of his free-thinking and denied the existence of God to his companions in public- houses. But that was all passed and done with... nearly.
An Appropriate Theme
Expressed in the form of a statement with a subject and a predicate
"Hunters in the Snow"
Polly: She waited on patiently, almost cheerfully, without alarm. her memories gradually giving place to hopes and visions of the future. Her hopes and visions were so intricate that she no longer saw the white pillows on which her gaze was fixed or remembered that she was waiting for anything.
[Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne]
Goodman Brown: "There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree," said Goodman Brown to himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him as he added, "What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!"
His head being turned back, he passed a crook of the road, and, looking forward again, beheld the figure of a man, in grave and decent attire, seated at the foot of an old tree. He arose at Goodman Brown's approach and walked onward side by side with him.
"You are late, Goodman Brown," said he. "The clock of the Old South was striking as I came through Boston, and that is full fifteen minutes agone."
Grasshopper (p 256): Cold and hungry, I watched the ant tugging over the snow piece of corn he had stored up last summer. My feelers twitched and I was conscious of a tic in my left hing leg. Finally I could bear it no longer.
"Please, friend ant." I asked, "may I have a bite of your corn?"
He looked me up and down. "What were you doing all summer?" he asked, rather too smugly it seemed to me.
(p 258): The ant tugged over the snow a piece of corn he had stored up last summer, perspiring in spite of the cold.
A grasshopper, his feelers twitching and with a tic in his left hind leg, looked on for some time. Finally, he asked, "Please, friend ant, may I have bite of your corn?"
The ant looked the grasshopper up and down. "What were you doing all last summer?" he snapped.
Theme is NOT....
Not All Stories Have a Significant Theme
Only exists if author has seriously attempted to record life accurately or some truth about it
May range in length from a phrase to a paragraph
Should reveal to us aspects of a story that we otherwise may not have noticed and thereby leads to a more thorough understanding
Must ask deep-thinking questions
What view of life does the story support?
What does this story reveal?
What from the story gives us a greater awareness and a greater understanding of life?
How has the main character changed in the course of the story?
What has the main character learned?
What happened in the central conflict and what was the outcome?
Three Types of Irony
simplest form of irony, it is when someone
says the opposite of what they mean.
It is basically sarcasm.
It's the most important form for fiction writers. It is a reversal of what is expected.
Is presented indirectly and dramatized - by showing, not telling
Treats life faithfully and perceptively
Is usually a blend of human empathy and ironic detachment
Portrays the good and the bad
Contrived or excessive emotion
Makes an excessively selective use of detail, is highly optimistic, and relies heavily on stock response (using objects such as babies, patriotism to produce an emotion that has its source outside the story)
Oversimplifies and exaggerates reality and emotion in the attempt to arouse a similarly excessive emotion in the reader
Editorializes (author comments on the story, instructs on how to feel) and Poeticizes (uses immoderately heightened and distended language)
When the thoughts and words of the character contrast with what the reader knows is true.
Type of Humor
Type of Emotion
Type of humor
Type of emotion
"The Drunkard" shows genuine emotion. It portrays life as it is; the father is hard-working and loving, but is also irresponsible and selfishly prideful. These characteristics are shown indirectly when the father pities himself more than his drunk son, takes his son to the bar, and insists upon going to Mr. Dooley's funeral. We experience human empathy for the father's sad cycles of drunkenness, which are portrayed in an ironically detached view by the young child who doesn't fully comprehend what is happening.
This piece contains mostly situational humor. The women at the office are dreaming about what rape might be like as if it is a wonderful thing, which contrasts the truth. Also, the various fantasies contain their own situational humor
For example, the main character fantasizes that a man tries to rape her while she is sick in bed, only to discover he is sick as well and they call it off because they don’t feel well. Essentially, all of the main characters fantasies of rape involve some sort of ridiculous twist which she uses to convince the rapist not to go through with it.
For example, dramatic irony is created when a character sees faults in others and fails to realize that they posses those same faults.
This piece is filled with situational irony. The roles of the story are switched. Instead of his alcoholic father getting drunk at the bar, Larry, the little boy does. This type of humor adds a twist to a seemingly stereotypical situation.
"Rape Fantasies" has some of both Genuine Emotion and Sentimentality because the author does not specifically come out and tell the reader what to feel or think but it’s a bit excessive in feeling that rape is a good thing, like normal women go around fantasizing about being raped. But it also in a way portrays the good and the bad, all these women are sitting around the lunch table talking about how great it is to be raped but the main character is baffled the whole time, like how cold rape possibly be a good thing??
Examples of Symbolism in Popular Culture
May represent a worldview we can not agree with
Usually primary purpose
May be less important than other elements
Confirm readers' prejudices
Based on author's senses and independent observations
Represent life as we would like it
Widely accepted platitudes
- The Apostle Peter
- Mary, Innocence
Generalization about life
the free silver movement or political upheaval
represents western farmers
Tin Woodman -
industrial workers who experienced being dehumanized
Yellow Brick Road -
stands for gold, people rallying for fixed gold and silver ratios.
Must be justified by the terms of the story
The central and unifying concept of a story
synonymous with moral, lesson, message
Absolute terms (all, every, always)
Personal judgement and bias
Contradictions with the text
Using names, places, or events
A widely held platitude
There is never one true theme!
"You ought to see yourself. He looks just like a beach ball with a hat on"
"You might as well go home"
"You talk too much"
"Burn me at the stake"
"You were lost. Big deal"
"I hate you"
Tub: obese; on a diet; whiner
Frank: middle guy; curt
To convey through the use of objects, people, and animals a deeper meaning than what we see at face value.
Kenny: owner; bully
Miss a deer
Symbolism as a literary device provides meaning beyond what is actually being described, which enhances the story.
Kenny goes on a rampage
Tub accidentally shoots Kenny.
Tub and Frank become friendly
Kenny taken to the back of the truck
Tub and Frank try to drive to the hospital
They stop to eat and get lost
"You want to talk about it?"
"Sure. Just between us."
"My friend is hungry"
They have a heart-to-heart conversation
After Kenny gets shot, Frank and Tub act friendly towards each other.
Before Kenny gets shot, all three of them act hateful towards each other.
Theme: During pleasant times, people tend to act hostilely towards each other; during times of crisis, people may come together and be supportive of one another.
Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.” Humorous because she wanted to be identified as a lady if she died in a tragic car accident. She just wanted to be remembered as a lady, that’s it. (O’Connor 2)
Each person may draw his or her own conclusions!
O'Connor uses comic irony as The Misfits try to do a service for the family that they are simultaneously trying to eliminate.
The grandma states throughout her last minutes alive that the "misfit" is a good man, while he is executing the rest of her family.
The "Misfits" uses vernacular, while the family uses regular English. This ties back to humor because they come off as unintelligent, while they are actually intelligent and have a well devised plan.
Circles - Wholeness,
The Sea - Voyage through life
Concrete representation of an idea or concept in a direct, one-to-one relationship
Bartleby's commonly used phrase "I would prefer not to."
Symbols that can mean something different to each person. A gift can represent your relationship with someone because you associate it with that relationship. It becomes a personal symbol because no one else can tell this meaning just by looking at it.
"Once Upon a Time"
Emily's house - Isolation, being trapped in a certain time
Homer Barron's corpse- Emily's need for everything to stay the same. Her fear of change
Emily's graying hair- Inescapable time.
Paul's fantasy shows his desperation for money, and his longing to help make his family rich. Without this fantasy, the story would primarily lose an effective way of showing the extent of Paul's mental state, how poverty is affecting him, and what he'll do to help.
The witch mother in "Once Upon a Time"
represents inner fears.
The narrator's imagined fairytale in "Once Upon a Time," represents misplaced fears.
Although, Bartleby is far from a perfect worker, he is viewed by the business owner as inhuman and not considered to have the human flaws that the owner sees in the other characters.
Understatement: When an author deliberately understates the obvious
Hyperbole: When the author exaggerates his or her point to create humor
Comic Irony: When the author states one thing but means another
The use of vocabulary as a characteristic of a certain group of people
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED sign - Threat of authority, social standing
Little boy - ignorance of youth
Neighborhood - Garden of Eden, paradise ruined by its inhabitants
Cat - common sense