Figurative language vs. Literal
Alabanza – https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47868/alabanza-in-praise-of-local-100
Literary Analysis and Close Reading
Figurative language vs. Literal
Literal language – When artists use plain (or fancy) words to convey what they mean in concrete terms. For example: I am upset. I am in love. The dog died.
Figurative language – When artists use figures of speech to be more effective, persuasive, or impactful. For example: I see red. My love is like a red, red rose. The dog walked over rainbow bridge.
In our first reading of the semester, Martin Espada tells a story of 9/11 in his poem “Alabanza.” As a poet, Espada has done his job by crafting this poem, but it is up to the reader (us) to decide what it ultimately means. And, unlike the math textbooks of my younger days, there is no answer on page 527 at the back of the book to let us check to see if we got “the” answer right.
Before you continue, please enjoy a musical interlude.
I do not want to give you the impression that interpreting a text is without challenge because part of interpreting a text is convincing your readers to accept your interpretation. And this can be tricky. Think of the case of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” Some have interpreted this song and have argued that not only does it fall into the Country genre, it should have been considered for the Country Music Charts. Others vehemently disagree. To make their case, each side might analyze not only structural elements such as beat, rhythm, and tempo but also content or lyrics.
In other words, their analysis and ensuing argument is highly organized. Much like these Lil Nax X fans, when we analyze literature, we are also trying to get at what something might mean, and we do so using some pretty specific methods.
To arrive at a particular meaning, we keep moving back and forth between understanding small points and the ways in which the small points build (even when they contradict) to create an overall point.
Author vs. Narrator vs. Characters vs. Literary Analyst
Author: The author is the creator/writer of the text (poem, short story, play, novel, painting, song, and so on).
Narrator: This is the person or people who are telling the story. As noted above, there are different types of narration – and some of those narrators are untrustworthy.
Characters: The people who exist in the text.
Literary Analyst: This is the person who analyzes a text and who makes a particular argument. The literary analyst will look at words and/or images and listen to sounds and then make the argument that something is a metaphor .. or a symbol ..or contributes to a theme.
Alliteration – when a group of words all have the same first sound.
Allusion – brief, indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea that creates additional meaning. To “riff.”
Anaphora – deliberate repetition of words and phrases from the first part of a sentence.
Antihero – A protagonist who has the opposite attributes of a hero.
Assonance – repetition of internal vowel sounds in nearby words that do not end the same – for example: “asleep under a tree” or “each evening” or “asleep in the deep.”
Catharsis – the release of the emotions of pity and fear by the audience at the end of a tragedy.
Character, characterization – a person presented in a dramatic or narrative work, and characterization is the process by which a writer make that character seem real to the reader.
Conflict – The struggle within the plot between opposing forces. The PROTAGONIST engages in the conflict with the ANTAGONIST, which may take the form of a character, society, nature, or an aspect of the protagonist’s personality.
Connotation – Associations and implications that go beyond the literal meaning of a word, which derive from how the word has been commonly used and the associations people make of it. I.e.: red = blood/danger; eagle = freedom. These are cultural constructions.
Denotation – The dictionary meaning of a word.
Didactic poetry – Poetry designed to teach an ethical, moral, or religious lesson.
Elegy – A mournful, contemplative lyric poem to commemorate someone who is dead, often ending in consolation.
Epiphany – When a character suddenly experiences a deep realization about him or her or their self.
Foil – A character in a work whose behavior and values contrast with those of another character in order to highlight the distinctive temperament of that character.
Foreshadowing – The introduction early on in a story of verbal and dramatic hints that suggest what is to come later.
Form – The overall structure or shape of a work, which frequently follows an established design.
Genre – “Type” as in type of literature. Some examples are poetry, fiction, drama, and essays.
Hyperbole – exaggeration such as “I am dying of shame.”
Imagery – using figurative language to appeal to a person’s senses.
Irony – words are used in a way that the intended meaning is different. This speaks to the difference between appearance and reality.
Metaphor – implicit, hidden, or implied comparison with two unrelated things.
Narrator -The voice of the person (not the author!!) telling the story.
Onomatopoeia – A word that imitates the natural sound such as “gushing” stream or “whisper.”
Oxymoron – two opposite ideas are joined to create an effect such as “cruel kindness.” This typically happens between just a few words.
Paradox – something that is contradictory but true. Paradox is close to oxymoron but happens on the sentence level. Consider Orwell’s writing: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” (Animal Farm)
Personification – thing, idea, or an animal given human attributes. This gives the reader the ability to look at something as a human, which many argue helps us to understand the idea, thing, or animal better.
Point of view – this refers to who tells us a story and how it is told.
Protagonist – The main character of a narrative; its central character who engages the reader’s interest and empathy.
Resolution – The conclusion of a plot’s conflict and complications. This is also known as “falling action” following the climax.
Sarcasm – to speak bitterly.
Simile – A comparison using “like” or “as”.
Subject – big idea of the text.
Symbolism – an object that is itself and something more.
Theme – main idea – or the thing that is being captured.