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AP Lit Term Review

Literary terms for review for the AP Literature Exam

ABSTRACT refers to language that describes concepts rather than concrete images.
AESTHETIC The noun "aesthetic" means "that which appeals to the senses".
AFFECTIVE FALLACY The error of judging a work of art or literature in terms of its results, especially its emotional effect.
ALLEGORY story or poem in which characters, settings, and events stand for other people or events or for abstract ideas or qualities; a symbol story.
ALLITERATION The repetition of accented consonant sounds at the beginning of words that are close to each other, usually to create an effect, rhythm, or emphasis.
ALLUSION A reference in literature or in art to previous literature, history, mythology, pop culture/current events, or the Bible.
AMBIGUITY Quality of being intentionally unclear. Events or situations that are ambiguous can be interpreted in more than one way.
ANACHRONISM An element in a story that is out of its time frame; sometimes used to create a humorous or jarring effect.
ANALOGY An analogy clarifies or explains an unfamiliar concept or object, or one that cannot be put into words, by comparing it with one which is familiar.
ANECDOTE A short and often personal story used to emphasize a point, to develop a character or a theme, or to inject humor.
ANTAGONIST A character who functions as a resisting force to the goals of the protagonist.
ANTHROPOMORPHISM When animals or inanimate objects are made into characters with human emotions.
ANTICLIMAX An often disappointing, sudden
ANTIHERO A protagonist who carries the action of the literary piece but does not embody the classic characteristics of courage, strength, and nobility.
ANTITHESIS A concept that is directly opposed to a previously presented idea.
APHORISM A terse statement that expresses a general truth or moral principle; sometimes considered a folk proverb.
APOSTROPHE A rhetorical (not expecting an answer) figure of direct address to a person, object, or abstract entity.
APOTHEOSIS Elevating someone to the level of a god.
ARCHAISM The use of deliberately old-fashioned language to create an effect.
ARCHETYPE A character, situation, or symbol that is familiar to people from all cultures because it occurs frequently in literature, myth, religion, or folklore.
ASSONANCE The repeated use of a vowel sound.
ATMOSPHERE The emotion created by the entirety of a literary work, established partly by the setting and partly by the author’s choice of objects that are described.
ATTITUDE The author's feelings toward the topic he or she is writing about. Attitude, often used interchangeably with "tone," is usually revealed through word choice.
BILDUNGSROMAN A novel in which an adolescent protagonist comes to adulthood by a process of experience and disillusionment. (Coming of age novel)
BLACK HUMOR Writing that places disturbing elements side by side with humorous ones in an attempt to shock the reader, forcing him or her to laugh at the horrifying reality of a disordered world.
BURLESQUE Broad satire; taking tragic drama and exaggerating it into ridiculousness.
CARICATURE A portrait (verbal or otherwise) that exaggerates a facet of an individual’s personality or appearance.
CARPE DIEM Latin for "seize the day"; frequent in 16th- and 17thcentury court poetry. Expresses the idea that you only go around once.
CHARACTERIZATION The process by which the writer reveals the personality of a character.
INDIRECT CHARACTERIZATION The author reveals to the reader what the character is like by describing appearance, by what the character says, by revealing private thoughts and feelings, by revealing the characters effect on other people, or by showing the character in action.
DIRECT CHARACTERIZATION The author communicates directly what the character is like.
STATIC CHARACTER One who does not change much in the course of the plot.
DYNAMIC CHARACTER One who changes in some important way as a result of the story’s action.
FLAT CHARACTER A character described with few personality traits; one dimensional.
ROUND CHARACTER one with more dimension to his/her personality; complex, just as real people are.
CHIASMUS The opposite of parallel construction; inverting the second of two phrases that would otherwise be in parallel form.
CLIMAX The decisive moment in a drama, the climax is the turning point of the play to which the rising action leads. This is the crucial part of the drama, the part which determines the outcome of the conflict.
COHERENCE All the components of the piece are arranged in unity of purpose and meaning.
COLLOQUIALISM Of or relating to slang or regional dialect, used in familiar everyday conversation. In writing, an informal style that reflects the way people spoke in a distinct time and/or place.
COMIC RELIEF Humor that provides a release of tension and breaks up a more serious episode.
COMPLICATION the elements of the rising action that show entangling events caused by opposing forces.
CONCEIT A far-fetched comparison between two seemingly unlike things; an extended metaphor that gains appeal from its unusual or extraordinary comparison.
CONCRETE Words describe things that exist and can be experienced through the senses.
CONCRETE UNIVERSAL The idea that a work of art expresses the universal or abstract through the concrete and the particular.
CONFLICT the struggle between opposing forces or characters in a story.
EXTERNAL CONFLICT conflicts can exist between two people, between a person and nature or a machine or between a person and a whole society.
INTERNAL CONFLICT a conflict can be internal, involving opposing forces within a person’s mind.
CONNOTATION the interpretive level of a word based on its associated images rather than its literal meaning. Associations a word calls to mind.
CONSONANCE Repetitive sounds produced by consonants within a sentence or phrase. This repetition often takes place in quick succession such as in pitter, patter.
CONTRAST One element is thrown into opposition to another for the sake of emphasis or clarity.
CONVENTIONS This term describes traditions for each genre. These conventions help to define each genre.
DENOTATION The literal or dictionary meaning of a word.
DÉNOUEMENT A French word meaning "unknotting" or "unwinding," denouement refers to the unraveling of the main dramatic complications in a play, novel or other work of literature.
DETERMINISM The belief that all human actions are controlled by a predetermined destiny or fate.
DEUS EX MACHINA Any artificial device or coincidence used to bring about a convenient and simple solution to a plot.
DIALECT A manner of speaking that is characteristic of a certain social group or of the inhabitants of a certain geographical area.
DIALOGUE The lines spoken by a character or characters in a play, essay, story, or novel, especially a conversation between two characters, or a literary work that takes the form of such a discussion.
DICTION A speaker or writer’s choice of words.
DIDACTIC Descriptive of fiction or nonfiction that teaches a specific lesson or moral or provides a model of correct behavior or thinking.
DIGRESSION Insertion of material that is seemingly unrelated to the context of the plot or discussion. DISTORTION
DOPPELGANGER German word meaning “look-alike” or “double walker”, originally meant a ghost or shadow of a person but nowadays it simply refers to a person that is a look-alike of another person.
DOUBLE ENTENDRE The deliberate use of ambiguity in a phrase or image.
EFFECT According to Poe, the totality of impression or desired emotional impact upon the reader.
ENLIGHTENMENT A philosophical movement which emphasized reason and logic and the use of scientific thought, skepticism, and intellectual clarity. Hallmarks
EPIGRAPH A brief quotation found at the beginning of a literary work, reflective of theme.
EPIPHANY Eureka! A sudden flash of insight. A startling discovery and/or appearance; a dramatic realization.
EPISTOLARY NOVEL A novel in letter form written by one or more of the characters. The novelist can use this technique to present varying first-person points of view and does not need a narrator.
ESSAY A short piece of nonfiction prose in which the writer discusses some aspect of a subject.
EUPHEMISM A more agreeable or less offensive substitute for a generally unpleasant word or concept.
EXEMPLUM A rhetorical device that is defined as a short tale, narrative, or anecdote used in literary pieces and speeches to explain a doctrine or emphasize a moral point. They are generally in the forms of legends, folktales and fables.
EXPOSITION Introductory material which creates the tone, gives the setting, introduces the characters, and supplies other important information.
FABLE A very short story told in prose or poetry that teaches a practical lesson about how to succeed in life.
FALLING ACTION The falling action is the series of events which take place after the climax of a story. The falling action of a drama leads to the resolution.
FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE Unlike literal expression, figurative language uses figures of speech, such as metaphor, simile, metonymy, personification, and hyperbole. Figurative language appeals to one’s senses.
FLASHBACK A scene that interrupts the normal chronological sequence of events in a story to depict something that happened at an earlier time.
FOIL A character who acts as contrast to another character; these are characters who are essentially similar but who have one major difference or who make opposite choices.
FORESHADOWING The use of hints and clues to suggest what will happen later in a plot.
FRAME STORY The result of inserting one or more small stories within the body of a larger story that encompasses the smaller ones.
FREYTAG’S PYRAMID A diagram of dramatic structure, one which shows the rising and falling of complication and emotional tension, ending in denouement and resolution.
GENRE The major category into which a literary work fits. The basic divisions of literature are prose, poetry, and drama.
GOTHIC The use of medieval, natural, primitive, wild, free, or romantic elements in a piece of literature. Typically dark in theme and mood.
GOTHIC NOVEL A type of romance which is designed to thrill readers by providing mystery and blood-curdling accounts of villainy, murder, and the supernatural.
GROTESQUE Elements of a work that are bizarre, incongruous, ugly, unnatural, fantastic, or abnormal.
HYPERBOLE A figure of speech that uses an incredible exaggeration or overstatement, for effect.
IDIOM A figure of speech involving a phrase which means something quite different from what individual words of the phrase would imply.
IMAGERY The use of language to evoke a picture or a concrete sensation of a person, a thing, a place, or an experience.
INCLUSIO A literary device where words or concepts are repeated at the start and finish of an idea, and these work as bookends or an envelope to enclose a concept or idea. IN MEDIAS RES
INTENTIONAL FALLACY The error of judging the meaning of a work of art by the author’s intention in producing it.
INTERIOR MONOLOGUE Writing that records the thinking that goes on inside a character’s head; it is coherent as if character were talking.
INVECTIVE An emotionally violent, verbal denunciation or attack using strong, abusive language.
IRONY The discrepancy between appearances and reality.
VERBAL IRONY A trope in which the meaning ostensibly expressed “differs sharply from” what the speaker really means. A common type of verbal irony is sarcasm.
SITUATIONAL IRONY A plot device in which events turn out contrary to expectation yet are perversely appropriate.
DRAMATIC IRONY The quality exhibited in words spoken by a character in a play or narrative who, because of his ignorance of present or future circumstances that the audience is aware of, does not realize how the words apply to his situation.
COSMIC IRONY When situational irony is associated with the notion of fate, or a deity, manipulating events so as to “frustrate and mock” a character in a literary work, situational irony has become its near-twin, cosmic irony.
JUXTAPOSITION Poetic and rhetorical device in which normally unassociated ideas, words, or phrases are placed next to one another, creating an effect of surprise and wit.
KENNING A metaphoric compound word or phrase used as a synonym for a common noun. Many times used in word play or riddles. Whale-road = sea; Candle of Heaven = sun; Valley-trout = serpent.
KISHOTENKETSU Narrative structure in which the moment of climax is an ironic twist.
LITOTES A figure of speech which employs an understatement by using double negatives or, in other words, positive statement is expressed by negating its opposite expressions. This adds emphasis to the ideas rather than decrease their importance.
LOCAL COLOR a term applied to fiction or poetry which tends to place special emphasis on a particular setting, including its customs, clothing, dialect and landscape.
LOCALE The physical setting within which the action of a narrative takes place.
METAMORPHOSIS A radical change in a character, either physical or emotional.
METAPHOR A figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things without the use of such specific words of comparison as like, as, than, or resembles.
IMPLIED METAPHOR A comparison which does not state explicitly the two terms of the comparison
DEAD METAPHOR A metaphor that has been used so often that the comparison is no longer vivid.
EXTENDED METAPHOR A metaphor developed at great length, occurring frequently in or throughout a work.
MIXED METAPHOR A metaphor that has gotten out of control and mixes its terms so that they are visually or imaginatively incompatible.
METONYMY A figure of speech in which a person, place, or thing, is referred to by something closely associated with it. “We requested from the crown support for our petition.” The crown is used to represent the monarch.
MODERNISM A 20th century movement to overturn traditional modes of literary expression and convention and experiment with new forms and concepts in literature.
MOOD An atmosphere created by a writer’s diction and the details selected.
MOTIF A recurring image, word, phrase, action, idea, object, or situation used throughout a work (or in several works by one author), unifying the work by tying the current situation to previous ones, or new ideas to the theme.
MYTH A story, usually with supernatural significance, that explains the origins of gods, heroes, or natural phenomena. Although myths are fictional stories, they contain deeper truths, particularly about the nature of humankind.
NAÏVE NARRATOR The storyteller who seems to not understand the situations or implications of situations he/she is narrating.
NARRATOR The "voice" that speaks or tells a story.
NATURALISM View of humanity as an animal in the natural world, responding to environmental forces over none of which he has control or fully understands.
NEW CRITICISM A method of critical analysis in which close analysis is used to treat the literary work as an object with its own ontological status.
NOVEL In its broadest sense, a novel is any extended fictional prose narrative focusing on a few primary characters but often involving scores of secondary characters.
NOVELLA A narrative much longer than a short story in duration, but briefer and less extensive than a novel.
ONOMATOPOEIA Words that imitate sounds.
OXYMORON A figure of speech that combines two contradictory words placed side by side.
PARABLE A relatively short, didactic story that teaches a moral, or lesson about how to lead a good life.
PARADOX A statement or situation that at first seems impossible or oxymoronic, but which solves itself and reveals meaning.
PARALLELISM The repeated use of the same grammatical structure in a sentence or a series of sentences.
PARODY A work that makes fun of another work by imitating some aspect of the writer’s style.
PATHETIC FALLACY The tendency for writers to mirror human emotions or problems in the natural world.
PATHOS When a work appeals to the audience's emotions causing feelings of dignified pity and sympathy.
PEDANTIC An adjective that describes words, phrases, or general tone that is overly scholarly, academic, or bookish.
PERSONA The narrator in a non first-person short story, novel, or poem. The persona is not the author, but the author’s creation--the voice “through which the author speaks.”
PERSONIFICATION The attribution of human characteristics to an animal or to an inanimate object.
PLOT The series of related events in a story or play, sometimes called the storyline.
POINT OF VIEW Perspective of the speaker or narrator in a literary work.
3RD OMNISCIENT An all-knowing narrator tells the story from a god-like perspective, able even to describe thoughts, feelings, and motivations.
3RD OBJECTIVE A narrator who is totally impersonal and objective tells the story, with no comment on any characters or events.
3RD LIMITED OMNISCIENT A narrator who describes the thoughts and feelings of only one character and objectively describes the others.
1ST PERSON A narrator who is a character in the story; one whose perspective is limited and perhaps biased.
PROSE Prose refers to fiction and nonfiction, including all its forms. In prose the printer determines the length of the line; in poetry, the poet determines the length of the line.
PROTAGONIST The main or principal character in a work; often considered the hero or heroine.
PUN A play on words based on the multiple meanings of a single word or on words that sound alike but mean different things.
RATIOCINATION Type of short story or novel involving the use of reason or logic to deduce a solution from disparate clues. Detective fiction.
REALISM Writing which attempts to communicate contemporary and truthful portrayals of the often gritty realities of life.
RENAISSANCE A movement in history and the arts in which a rediscovery of classical ideas and forms fueled inventiveness and a desire to show human ingenuity.
REPETITION A word or phrase used more than once to emphasize an idea.
RESOLUTION The part of a story or drama which occurs after the climax and which establishes a new norm, a new state of affairs-the way things are going to be from then on.
RHETORICAL QUESTION A question with an obvious answer, so no response is expected; used for emphasis or to make a point.
RISING ACTION The part of a story which begins with the exposition and sets the stage for the climax
ROMANCE a story in which an idealized hero or heroine undertakes a quest and is successful. It usually has a “once upon a time” aura to it.
ROMANTICISM A 19th Century movement in literature which valued expressions of emotions in imaginative situations and settings. These writers embraced beauty, nature, and the mystic past with less constricted forms and more common subject matter.
SARCASM Involves bitter, caustic language that is meant to hurt or ridicule someone or something.
SATIRE The use of humor to ridicule and expose the shortcomings and failures of society, individuals, and institutions, often in the hope that change and reform are possible.
SENTIMENTALISM Writing that overindulges in emotion.
SETTING The time and place in which a story unfolds.
SHIFT In writing, a movement from one thought or idea to another; a change.
SHORT STORY This work of narrative fiction may contain description, dialogue and commentary, but usually plot functions as the engine driving the art. The best short stories, according to Poe, seek to achieve a single, major, unified impact.
SIMILE A comparison of unlike things using the word like, as, or so.
SLICE OF LIFE Realist narrative structure that uses a seemingly random span of time as a significant narrative episode, many times lacking in characterization or a conclusive ending. STEREOTYPE
STOCK CHARACTER A character type that appears repeatedly in a particular literary genre, one which has certain conventional attributes or attitudes.
STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS A form of writing which replicates the way the human mind works. Ideas are presented in random order; thoughts are often unfinished.
STRUCTURE The particular way in which parts of a written work are combined.
STYLE The way a writer uses language. Takes into account word choice, diction, figures of speech, and so on. The writer’s "voice."
SUPERLATIVE a literary device which is usually an adjective or adverb used to distinguish an object from three or more others of its type.
SUSPENSE A feeling of uncertainty and curiosity about what will happen next in a story.
SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF The suggestion that if a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative. Referred to as “poetic faith” by Wordsworth.
SYMBOL A concrete object, scene, or action which has deeper significance because it is associated with something else, often an important idea or theme in the work.
NATURAL SYMBOL Objects and occurrences from nature to symbolize ideas commonly associated with them.
CONVENTIONAL SYMBOL Symbols that have been invested with meaning by a group.
LITERARY SYMBOL symbols that are sometimes also conventional in the sense that they are found in a variety of works and are more generally recognized. However, a work’s symbols may be more complicated.
SYNECDOCHE A figure of speech where one part represents the entire object, or vice versa. Brick and mortar = building
SYNTAX The way in which words, phrases, and sentences are ordered and connected.
TALL TALE An outrageously exaggerated, humorous story that is obviously unbelievable.
TENSION A sense of heightened involvement, uncertainty, and interest an audience experiences as the climax of the action approaches. THEME
TONGUE IN CHEEK Expressing a thought in a way that appears to be sincere, but is actually joking.
TRANSCENDENTALISM A nineteenth century movement in the Romantic tradition, which held that every individual can reach ultimate truths through spiritual intuition, which transcends reasons and sensory experience.
SEGUE The means to get from one portion of a poem or story to another; for instance, to another setting, to another character's viewpoint, to a later or earlier time period. It is a way of smoothly connecting different parts of a work.
TROPE the use of a word in a sense other than its proper or literal one. The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.
UNITY Unified parts of the writing are related to one central idea or organizing principle. Unity is dependent upon coherence.
UNRELIABLE NARRATOR An imaginary storyteller or character who describes what he witnesses accurately, but misinterprets those events because of faulty perception, personal bias, or limited understanding.
UTOPIA An idealized place. An imaginary community where people live in happiness and peace.
VERISIMILITUDE The sense that what one reads is "real," or at least realistic and believable.
VERNACULAR The language spoken by the people who live in a particular locality. Also refers to the way something is commonly or easily understood.
WIT In modern usage, intellectually amusing language that surprises and delights. In the Renaissance and Enlightenment it is the clever and inventive use of one’s intellect.
ZOOMORPHISM Animal attributes are imposed upon non-animal objects, humans, and events, and animal features are ascribed to humans, gods and other objects.
ALLITERATION repetition of the same or similar consonant sounds in words that are close together.
ALLUSION reference to someone or something that is known from history, literature, religion, politics, sports, science, or another branch of culture.
ANAPESTIC METER A metrical foot with two short or unaccented syllables followed by a long or accented syllable, as in “inter-VENE” or “for a WHILE”.
APOSTROPHE calling out to an imaginary, dead, or absent person, or to a place or thing, or a personified abstract idea.
ARGUMENT single assertion or a series of assertions presented and defended by the writer.
ASSONANCE the repetition of similar vowel sounds followed by different consonant sounds especially in words that are together.
BALLAD A short poem that tells a simple story and has a repeated refrain.
BLANK VERSE Poetry written without rhymes, but which retains a set metrical pattern, usually iambic pentameter.
CARPE DIEM Literally, the phrase is Latin for "seize the day." The term refers to a common moral or theme in classical literature that the reader should make the most out of life and should enjoy it before it ends.
CAVALIER POETRY Renaissance poetry that mimicked the attitudes of aristocratic life; most notable for its poems involving “carpe diem”.
CONCRETE POETRY Poetry that draws much of its power from the way the text appears situated on the page. The actual shape of the lines of text in some direct way connects to the meaning of the words.
CONFESSIONAL POETRY poetry that uses intimate material from the poet’s life.
COUPLET two consecutive rhyming lines of poetry.
DACTYLIC METER A metrical foot of three syllables, the first of which is long or accented and the next two short or unaccented, as in “MER-rily” or “LOV-er boy”.
DOUBLE ENTENDRE The deliberate use of ambiguity in a phrase or image.
DRAMATIC MONOLOGUE A poem in which a poetic speaker addresses either the reader or an internal listener at length.
ELEGY a poem of mourning, usually about someone who has died.
ENJAMBMENT The continuation of the sense and, therefore, the grammatical construction of a sentence beyond the end of a line of poetry.
EXTENDED METAPHOR A metaphor developed at great length, occurring frequently in or throughout a work.
FEMININE RHYME A rhyme occurring on an unaccented final syllable, as in “dining” and “shining” or “motion” and “ocean”.
FOOT A unit of rhythm or meter; the division in poetry of a group of syllables, one of which is long or accented.
FREE VERSE poetry that does not conform to a regular meter or rhyme scheme.
HYMN STANZA A four line stanza that mimics the musical meter of a traditional Christian hymn, composed of alternating iambic tetrameter and trimeter.
IAMBIC METER metrical foot consisting of two syllables, a short or unaccented syllable followed by a long or accented syllable.
INTERNAL RHYME Rhyme within a line of poetry instead of at the end.
ITALIAN SONNET A sonnet composed of an octave and a sestet, usually discussing the love of a woman that is not returned. Also called a “Petrarchan Sonnet”
LIGHT VERSE Poetry that is humorous and frivolous in nature, usually disguising a deeper, more serious truth.
LIMERICK A five-line closed-form poem in which the first two lines consist of anapestic trimeter, which in turn are followed by lines of anapestic dimeter, and a final line in trimeter. They rhyme in an AABBA pattern.
LYRIC POEM a poem that does not tell a story but expresses the personal feelings or thoughts of the speaker.
MASCULINE RHYME A rhyme occurring in words of one syllable or in an accented final syllable.
METAPHYSICAL CONCEIT An elaborate or unusual comparison—especially one using unlikely metaphors, simile, hyperbole, and contradiction.
METER The repetition of sound patterns that creates a rhythm in poetry. The patterns are based on the number of syllables and the presence and absence of accents.
NARRATIVE POETRY A poem that tells a story.
OCTAVE a set of eight lines that rhyme according to the pattern ABBAABBA.
ODE A long, often elaborate stanzaic poem of varying line lengths and sometimes intricate rhyme schemes dealing with a serious subject matter and treating it reverently.
PASTORAL Poetry idealizing the lives of shepherds and country folk, although the term is often used loosely to include any poem featuring a rural aspect.
PERSONA The narrator in a non first-person short story, novel, or poem. The persona is not the author, but the author’s creation--the voice “through which the author speaks.”
QUATRAIN A poem consisting of four lines, or four lines of a poem that can be considered as a unit.
RHYME SCHEME The pattern of rhyming in the ends of lines in a poem. It is usually referred to by using letters to indicate which lines rhyme.
RHYTHM a rise and fall of the voice produced by the alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables in language.
SATIRE a type of writing that ridicules the shortcomings of people or institutions in an attempt to bring about a change.
SCANSION The act of "scanning" a poem to determine its meter. To perform scansion, the student breaks down each line into individual metrical feet and determines which syllables have heavy stress and which have lighter stress.
SESTET The last part of an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet, it consists of six lines that rhyme with a varying pattern. Common rhyme patterns include CDECDE or CDCCDC.
SHAKESPEAREAN SONNET A sonnet composed of three quatrains and a couplet.
SLANT RHYME Rhymes created out of words with similar but not identical sounds. In most of these instances, either the vowel segments are different while the consonants are identical, or vice versa.
SONNET A lyric poem of fourteen lines, usually in iambic pentameter, with rhymes arranged according to certain definite patterns. It usually expresses a single, complete idea or thought with a reversal, twist, or change of direction in the concluding lines.
REPARTEE a conversation made up of brilliant and clever witticisms.
Created by: erunion