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3.5: Analysis of Literature - a Primer of Literary Devices

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    All stories share certain characteristics called literary devices. You will want to pay special attention to these as you read and analyze the novel for this class.


    Setting is the time, place and circumstances in which the story is set. This is generally communicated at the beginning of a work of literature, but not always.


    Characters are the people or beings in the story. Common language for describing characters are:

    Protagonist – the main character

    Antagonist – the character who “antagonizes” or is opposite the protagonist. In some stories this is referred to as “The bad guy.”

    Supporting Characters – these characters are not as deeply developed as the protagonist, but are needed in order to tell the story.

    Point of View

    Point of View (POV) is the perspective from which the story is being told. Common language for POV are:

    • First Person – the story is being told by the main character using first person pronouns like “I” or “me.” This is commonly used in storytelling.
      • “It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.” – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    • Second Person – the story is being told to you personally. The teller uses the pronouns “you” and “your.” This is not as commonly used in storytelling.
      • Consider what you could do with a chip in your head that linked directly to the Internet: Within milliseconds, you could retrieve just about any piece of information. And with the collective knowledge of the Web at your disposal, you could quickly fill in your brain’s normal memory gaps—no one would ever guess you slept through that economics seminar.” (Maria Konnikova, “Brain Hacking.” The Atlantic, June 2015)
    • Third Person – a narrator or someone outside of the story is telling the story. Often uses the characters’ names and pronouns “it,” “he,” or “she.” This is commonly used in storytelling.
      • “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – George Orwell, 1984


    Plot refers to the sequence of events that make up the storyline.

    • Conflict is a specific plot element regarding the struggle or challenge the protagonist faces, and is the central issue around which the story revolves. There are several kinds of conflict.
    • There are many ways this can play out in a story, however “The Big Five” are:
      • Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Self, Man vs. Technology. (Note – in this case, the term “man” refers to the protagonist whether human or not.)
    • Resolution describes how the conflict is resolved. You might think of this as how the story ends.


    Identifying the theme in a work of literature can be challenging, especially if this is the first time you do it. One thing that may challenge you is that there is no “right” answer when it comes to identifying theme.

    For our purposes, theme is the central idea or point the author is trying to make.

    How can you, the reader, pick out the theme in a work of literature?

    • Read the text.
    • Respond as you read. Annotate!! – make notes in the margin (unless it is a library book.) Keeping a reading journal can really help here.
    • Using the title of the work and your observations of the setting, characters, plot and description, determine the topic being addressed. (Remember, topic is a word or phrase, and is very general.)
    • Once the topic is identified ask yourself, “What is the author’s point about this topic?” The answer you determine is the theme, and should be stated as a complete sentence. (Note the similarity to finding the main idea.)
    • The theme you select may be different than the theme another reader selects. Theme is subjective – it resides in the mind of the reader, and every reader is different. The key to successfully selecting a theme is backing up your point with evidence from the text.

    Unit 3 Review

    1. Compose a one-paragraph summary of the content for Unit 3, focusing on the most important information for you as a reader and writer.
    2. Pick out one idea from this unit which you are still unclear about. Explain what doesn’t make sense or what is causing you trouble.
    3. Finally, write a one-paragraph reflection of your experience reading your novel. What has been most interesting to you? How are you relating to the text? What kind of impact might this reading have on you?

    This page titled 3.5: Analysis of Literature - a Primer of Literary Devices is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Amee Schmidt & Donald Winter.

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