WHAT ARE THE MAIN LITERARY FORMS?
The main literary forms are Fiction, Drama & Poetry.
Although each of the three major literary genres, fiction, drama, and poetry are different, they have many elements in common. For example, in all three genres, authors make purposeful use of diction (word choice), employ imagery (significant detail) and each piece of literature has its own unique tone (emotional quality). An important element that you will find in all three genres is theme, the larger meaning(s) the reader derives from the poem, story, novel or play.
Each of the literary genres is distinguished by its form: Fiction is written in sentences and paragraphs. Poetry is written in lines and stanzas. Drama is written in dialogue.
WHY IS KNOWING THEM IMPORTANT?
As you read different forms of literature you will need to know specialized vocabulary to be able to best understand, interpret, and write about what you are reading. Also, how you approach a literary text and what you focus on will depend on its literary form. For instance, fiction and drama are typically anchored by a reader’s engagement with characters while many poems do not contain a character or tell a story. Therefore, plot is often not a factor in a poem. A poem can be an impression or reflection about a person, a place, an experience or an idea.
HOW DO I APPROACH EACH FORM?
KNOW THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FICTION:
Short Stories are usually defined as being between 2000-6000 words long. Most short stories have at least one “rounded” (developed and complex) character and any number of “flat” (less-developed, simpler) characters. Short stories tend to focus on one major source of conflict and often take place within one basic time period.
Novellas generally run between 50-150 pages, halfway between a story and a novel.
Novels don’t have a prescribed length. Because they are a longer form of fiction, an author has more freedom to work with plot and characters, as well as develop sub-plots and move freely through time. Characters can change and develop over the course of time and the theme(s) can be broader and more intricate than in shorter forms of fiction.
KNOW THE DIFFERENT TYPES AND STRUCTURE OF DRAMA:
Tragedy – generally serious in tone, focusing on a protagonist who experiences an eventual downfall
Comedy – light in tone, employs humor and ends happily
Satire – exaggerated and comic in tone for the purpose of criticism or ridicule
Experimental – can be light or serious in tone. It creates its own style through experimentation with language, characters, plot, etc.
Musical – can be light or serious. The majority of the dialogue is sung rather than spoken.
Plays are organized into dialogue, scenes and acts. A play can be made up one act or multiple acts. Each act is divided into scenes, in which a character, or characters, come on or off stage and speak their lines. A play can have only one character or many characters. The main character is the protagonist and a character who opposes him/her is the antagonist.
The plots of plays typically follow this pattern:
- Rising Action – complications the protagonist must face, composed of any number of conflicts and crises
- Climax – the peak of the rising action and the turning point for the protagonist
- Falling Action – the movement toward a resolution
COMMONALITIES OF FICTION AND DRAMA TERMS
Both fiction and drama are typically anchored by plot and character. They also contain literary themes as well as having other elements in common, so we will look at literary terms that can be applied to both of these literary forms.
Fiction and Drama Terms
PLOT: Plot is the unfolding of a dramatic situation; it is what happens in the narrative. Be aware that writers of fiction arrange fictional events into patterns. They select these events carefully, they establish causal relationships among events, and they enliven these events with conflict. Therefore, more accurately defined, plot is a pattern of carefully selected, casually related events that contain conflict.
There are two general categories of conflict: internal conflict, takes place within the minds of the characters and external conflict, takes place between individuals or between individuals and the world external to the individuals (the forces of nature, human created objects, and environments).
The forces in a conflict are usually embodied by characters, the most relevant being the protagonist, the main character, and the antagonist, the opponent of the protagonist (the antagonist is usually a person but can also be a nonhuman force or even an aspect of the protagonist—his or her tendency toward evil and self-destruction for example).
QUESTIONS ABOUT PLOT: What conflicts does it dramatize?
CHARACTERS: There are two broad categories of character development: simple and complex. Simple (or “flat”) characters have only one or two personality traits and are easily recognizable as stereotypes—the shrewish wife, the lazy husband, the egomaniac, etc. Complex (or “rounded”) characters have multiple personality traits and therefore resemble real people. They are much harder to understand and describe than simple characters. No single description or interpretation can fully contain them. For the characters in modern fiction, the hero has often been replaced by the antihero, an ordinary, unglamorous person often confused, frustrated and at odds with modern life.
QUESTIONS ABOUT CHARACTERS: What is revealed by the characters and how they are portrayed?
THEME: The theme is an idea or point that is central to a story, which can often be summed up in a word or a few words (e.g. loneliness, fate, oppression, rebirth, coming of age; humans in conflict with technology; nostalgia; the dangers of unchecked power). A story may have several themes. Themes often explore historically common or cross-culturally recognizable ideas, such as ethical questions and commentary on the human condition, and are usually implied rather than stated explicitly.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THEME: To help identify themes ask yourself questions such as these:
SYMBOLISM: In the broadest sense, a symbol is something that represents something else. Words, for example, are symbols. But in literature, a symbol is an object that has meaning beyond itself. The object is concrete and the meanings are abstract.
QUESTIONS ABOUT SYMBOLS: Not every work uses symbols, and not every character, incident, or object in a work has symbolic value. You should ask fundamental questions in locating and interpreting symbols:
SETTING: The social mores, values, and customs of the world in which the characters live; the physical world; and the time of the action, including historical circumstances.
TONE: The narrator’s predominant attitude toward the subject, whether that subject is a particular setting, an event, a character, or an idea.
POINT OF VIEW: The author’s relationship to his or her fictional world, especially to the minds of the characters. Put another way, point of view is the position from which the story is told. There are four common points of view:
- Omniscient point of view—the author tells the story and assumes complete knowledge of the characters’ actions and thoughts.
- Limited omniscient point of view—the author still narrates the story but restricts his or her revelation—and therefore our knowledge—to the thoughts of just one character.
- First person point of view—one of the characters tells the story, eliminating the author as narrator. The narration is restricted to what one character says he or she observes.
- Objective point of view—the author is the narrator but does not enter the minds of any of the characters. The writer sees them (and lets us see them) as we would in real life.
FORESHADOWING: The anticipation of something, which will happen later. It is often done subtlety with symbols or other indirect devices. We have to use inferential thinking to identify foreshadowing in some stories, and often it occurs on an almost emotional level as we're reading, leading us further into the heart of the story.
EXPOSITION: The opening portion of a story that sets the scene, introduces characters and gives background information we may need to understand the story.
INTERIOR MONOLOGUE: An extended exploration of one character's thoughts told from the inside but as if spoken out loud for the reader to overhear.
STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS: A style of presenting thoughts and sense impressions in a lifelike fashion, the way thoughts move freely through the mind, often chaotic or dreamlike.
IRONY: Generally irony makes visible a contrast between appearance and reality. More fully and specifically, it exposes and underscores a contrast between (1) what is and what seems to be, (2) between what is and what ought to be, (3) between what is and what one wishes to be, (4) and between what is and what one expects to be. Incongruity is the method of irony; opposites come suddenly together so that the disparity is obvious.
CLIMAX: The moment of greatest tension when a problem or complication may be resolved or, at least, confronted.
RESolution, CONCLUSION or DENOUEMENT ("untying of the knot"): Brings the problem to some sort of finality, not necessarily a happy ending, but a resolution.
Using the literary vocabulary and questions, let’s analyze a literary text.
Read the memoir, “Learning to Read,” by Jessica Powers which can be located in Chapter 1: Critical Reading in the “Faculty-Written Texts” section. Powers employs many of the elements of fiction in this autobiographical piece. When you have finished reading, answer the questions below.
Questions about plot:
- What is the main conflict in the story?
- What causes the conflict?
- Is the conflict external or internal?
- What is the turning point in the story?
- How is the main conflict resolved?
Questions about character:
- Is the main character simple or complex? Explain.
- What are the traits of the main character? Make a list.
- Does the main character change? Describe.
- What steps does she go through to change? Make a list.
- What does she learn? Describe.
- Does the main character experience an epiphany? Describe.
Questions about theme:
- What does the story show us about human behavior?
- Are there moral issues raised by the story? Describe.
- What does the story tell us about why people change?
Last Name 1
|Please note: All paragraphs directly prove the thesis (underlined). How? Each paragraph uses the PIE paragraph approach: each starts with the Point (an arguable topic sentence-in bold-that directly proves the thesis and states the one point that will be addressed in that paragraph; then information from the poem is used in the form paraphrases and smoothly integrated quotes; then this is followed with Explanation telling "so what?" is the importance/significance?
Women, Are You Living for Yourself or for a Man?
A woman in her 40s who never marries or has children is often met with concern, suspicion or pity and there is even a pejorative word for her, "spinster." In contrast, a man in his 40s who never marries or has children is often viewed positively as a bachelor or a playboy or simply as a free man. This double standard forces many women to live for others first and themselves second, something a man is never asked to do. This was especially true in the early 1900s when women were discouraged from having careers outside of the home and were encouraged to have their primary focus in life be caring for their husband, children and home. Mary E. Wilkins Freeman the author of the short story "A New England Nun," presented women from this era with a story of a woman who rebels against the usual adherence to duty, submission, and self-sacrifice. Through the story of her main character Louisa, Freeman offers an alternative to the role American society had expected women to play. Freeman proves there are advantages to be had for women who break the bonds of socially created gender roles by declining to get married and have children, and instead create a life entirely their own, one in which they are not tied down by the needs of others and advantageously avoid the negative influence brought on by the judgement and expectations of a man.
Although Louisa's engagement promised security and stability, it is immediately clear that the return of Louisa's long-awaited fiance threatens to destabilize the ordered and serene life she had created for herself. Because her finace Joe Dagget had to work overseas for 14 years, Louisa had a taste of something not many women of her time experienced, socially approved independence. During this time, Louisa became quite content with her solitary life. Louisa developed a passion for caring for her home and did chores because it pleased her, which is a far cry from the feelings most women in that era experienced in caring for a house, husband and children. Upon her fiance's return, the presence of masculinity upsets the ideal environment Louisa had established in her life and Freeman illustrates this when the couple's first reunion ends in chaos. As Joe is leaving Louisa's house, he stumbles over a rug which knocks over her basket of sewing supplies, and as the yarn spools helplessly unravel across the floor Louisa says stiffly to Joe, "Never mind, I'll pick them up after you're gone" (65). As her yarn unravels, Louisa gets a preview of what Joe's presence will do to her life. Louisa's meticulous care for her home and her appreciation for cleanliness and order shows that having a place of her own and maintaining her preferred surroundings gave her a sense of price and placed power and control over her life in her own hands.
Another way marriage threatens Louisa is that it would make her dependent. A stipulation for marriage during the early 20th century that would have had a devastating impact on Louisa's life was that all her treasured possessions would legally become her husband's property. Louisa discovered many of her passions whilst living independently. Among those were her china set that she used daily, her photo albums, her books, her sewing supplies that she grew to call good friends, her dog Caesar, and most of all her home. In addition to the transfer of possessions following matrimony, women also no longer had control over what they did with their time. In Louisa's case, she would be forced to become a servant of both her new husband, his mother, and their future children. Her time would no longer be her own as she would become the cook, laundress, seamstress, and caretaker for others. The independence that Louisa cherished would be replaced with servitude, duty, and dependence on a man she barely knew.
The predominate message for women, yet not for men, is that their lives will be incomplete, empty, and without purpose if they do not marry and have children, trapping some women in miserable lives. Without socially accepted alternatives, some women get married and have children who would be better off doing neither. Shouldn't a person want to take on the challenging task of caring for others rather than producing more unhappy marriages and checked out parents who feel distanced from and resentful of their children? The pressures, however, on women to marry and have children back then persist today, and this needs to change. The ending that Freeman created in her story proposes that some women should choose to live for themselves. After Louisa breaks off her engagement, she sees the endless possibilities for her future, "She gazed ahead, through a long reach of future days strung together like pearls on a rosary, every one like the others, and all smooth and flawless and innocent, and her heart went up in thankfulness" (71). At this point, Louisa is no longer marrying Joe, but she does not perceive life without love or intimacy as any terrible loss. Instead, she sees a life full of freedom and potential.
We mustn't continue to limit the potential of women by making them conform to limited gender roles. An article written by the UN Women's Secretary General for International Women's Day 2017 claims that, "Around the world, tradition, cultural values and religion are being misused to curtail women's rights, to entrench sexism and defend misogynistic practices." Even though women in the 21st century have deviated from being dependent on the financial stability provided by a man, conventional views continue to limit their growth by assigning them to feminine type jobs and denying them leadership positions. In addition to Inequality in the workplace, women are often juggling both work-life and domestic-life. Louisa's story stresses the importance of being a strong woman in a restrictive society and emphasizes the previous rewards that are yours to possess when you alter your path based on your own decisions. The worth of a women should not be judged by marriage and children because the worth of man certainly is not.
Freeman Wilkins, Mary E. "A New England Nun." Great Short Stories by American Women, edited by
Candace Ward, Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1996, pp. 61-71.
Guterres, Antonio. "UN Secretary-General's Message for International Women's day." UN Women, 6