Literature Introduction Essay Sample

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What Is Literature and Why Do We Study It?
• Literature is
– Composition that tells a story, dramatizes a situation, expresses emotions, analyzes and advocates ideas – Helps us grow personally and intellectually – Provides an objective base for knowledge and understanding – Shapes our goals and values by clarifying our own identities, both positively and negatively – Literature makes us human.

• Four genres of literature:
– Prose fiction
• Myths, parables, romances, novels, short stories

– Poetry
• Open form and closed form • Relies on imagery, figurative language, sound

– Drama
• Made up of dialogue and set direction
• Designed to be performed

– Nonfiction prose
• News reports, feature articles, essays, editorials, textbooks, historical and biographical works

Guidelines for Reading Literature
• First reading
– Determine what is happening, where, what, who is involved, major characters – Make a record of your reactions and responses – Describe characterizations, events, techniques and ideas

• Second reading
– Trace developing patterns – Write expanded notes about characters, situations, actions – Write paragraph describing your reactions and thoughts – Write down questions that arise as you read (in the margins)

Writing a Precis
• Precis = a concise summary = paraphrase
– Retell the highlights so reader will know main sections – Only essential details – they must be correct and accurate – Must be an original essay, written in your own words – Be sure to introduce the title and author – Avoid judgments – Use present tense when retelling a story

Elements of Fiction
• Essence of fiction = narration (the telling) • Elements of fiction = verisimilitude and donnee – Verisimilitude = realism
• Must be compelling enough that the reader can “suspend disbelief”

– Donnee = premise
• Something given by which you can judge the realism = ground rules

• Sources of elements
– Character, plot, structure, theme, symbolism, style, point of view, tone, irony

Plot and Structure
• Plot = reflection of motivation and causation
– No plot = The king died and then the queen died. – Plot = The king died, and then the queen died of grief.

• Conflict = controlling impulse in a connected pattern of causes and effects – Opposition of two or more people (e.g., hatred, envy, anger, argument, avoidance, gossip, lies, fighting, etc.)

• Dilemma = Conflict within or for one person
– Conflict is a major element of plot because it arouses curiosity, causes
doubt, creates tension, produces interest – No tension = no interest

Structure of Fiction
• Structure defines the layout of the work




Resolution (denouement)

Another structural element used sometimes = Flashback

Characters in Fiction
• Character = verbal representation of a human being
– Rounded = lifelike, full, dynamic, reader can predict future behavior because of an understanding of the personality – Protagonist = the hero or heroine, main person in the story, person on the quest, etc. – Antagonist = the person causing the conflict, in opposition to the protagonist, the obstacle, etc. – Flat = no growth, static – Stock = representative of a group or class (stereotypical) – Characters disclosed through • • • • • Actions Descriptions, both personal and environmental Dramatic statements and thoughts Statements by other characters Statements by the author speaking as storyteller, or observer

– Characters need to have verisimilitude, be probable or plausible

Point of View
• Refers to speaker, narrator, persona or voice created by the author to tell the story • Point of view depends on two factors: – Physical situation of the narrator as an observer – Speaker’s intellectual and emotional position

First person = I, we Second person = You (uncommon) Third person = He, she, they (most common) Point of view may be: – Dramatic/objective = strictly reporting – Omniscient = all-knowing – Limited omniscient = some insight

• Setting = a work’s natural, manufactured, political, cultural and temporal environment, including everything that characters know and own (place, time, objects) • Major purpose = to establish realism or verisimilitude, and to organize a story • Setting helps create atmosphere or mood • Setting may reinforce characters and theme, in order to establish expectations that are the opposite of what occurs = irony

Tone and Style
• Tone = methods by which writers and speakers reveal attitudes or feelings • Style = ways in which writers assemble words to tell the story, to develop an argument, dramatize the play, compose the poem – Choice of words in the service of content

• Essential aspect of style is diction
– Formal = standard or elegant words – Neutral = everyday standard vocabulary – Informal = colloquial, substandard language, slang

Tone and Style (cont’d)
• Language may be:
Specific = images General = broad classes Concrete = qualities of immediate perception Abstract = broader, less palpable qualities

• Denotation = word meanings • Connotation = word suggestions • Verbal irony = contradictory statements – One thing said, opposite is meant – Irony = satire, parody, sarcasm, double entendre

• Understatement = does not fully describe the importance of a situation – deliberately • Hyperbole (overstatement) = words far in excess of the

Symbolism and Allegory
• Symbolism and allegory are modes that expand meaning • Symbol creates a direct, meaningful equation between: – A specific object, scene, character, or action – Ideas, values, persons or ways of life

• Symbols may be:
– Cultural (universal) = known by most literate people (e.g., white dove, color black) – Contextual (authorial) = private, created by the author

Symbolism and Allegory (cont’d)
• Allegory is a symbol = complete and self-sufficient narrative (e.g., “Young Goodman Brown”) • Fable = stories about animals that possess human traits (e.g., Aesop’s Fables) • Parable = allegory with moral or religious bent (e.g., Biblical stories) • Myth = story that embodies and codifies religious, philosophical and cultural values of the civilization in which it is composed (e.g., George Washington chopping down the cherry tree) • Allusion = the use of other culturally well=known works from the Bible, Greek and Roman mythology, famous art, etc.

Idea or Theme
• Idea = results of general and abstract thinking • Literature embodies values along with ideas – In literature, ideas relate to meaning, interpretation, explanation and significance – Ideas are vital to an understanding and appreciation of literature

• Ideas are not as obvious as character or setting. It is important to consider the meaning of what you’ve read and then develop an explanatory and comprehensive assertion. • Theme can be found in any of these: – – – – – Direct statements by the authorial voice Direct statements by a first-person speaker Dramatic statements by characters Figurative language, characters who stand for ideas

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