Useful Terms for Analyzing Literature

(All terms taken from Murfin, Ross and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. Print. Refer to this text for hundreds more definitions)

Allegory: The presentation of an abstract idea through more concrete means. The typical allegory is a narrative…that has at least two levels of meaning[:]…the…surface-level story line…[and] a second and deeper level…which may be moral, political, philosophical, or religious. … (9).

Allusion: An indirect reference to a person, event, statement, or theme found in literature, the other arts, history, myths, religion, or popular culture. … (11).

Close Reading: The thorough and nuanced analysis of a literary text, with particular emphasis on the interrelationships among its constituent elements (allusions, images, sound effects, etc.). … (61).

Diction: Narrowly defined, a speaker’s (or author’s) word choice. The term may also refer to the general type or character of language used in speech or in a work of literature. …(108).

Genre: From the French genre for “kind” or “type,” the classification of literary works on the basis of the content, form, or technique. …(189).

Imagery: A terms used to refer to: 1) the actual language that a writer uses to convey a visual picture (or, most critics would add), to create or represent any sensory experience); and 2) the use of figures of speech, often to express abstract ideas in a vivid and innovative way. …(210).

(Literary) Criticism: Reflective, attentive consideration and analysis of a literary work). …(78).

Motif: A unifying element in an artistic work, especially any recurrent image, symbol, theme, character type, subject, or narrative detail. …(277).

Plot: The arrangement and interrelation of events in a narrative work, chosen and designed to engage the reader’s attention and interest (or even to arouse suspense or anxiety) while also providing a framework for the exposition of the author’s message, or theme, and for other elements such as characterization, symbol, and conflict. …(347).

Symbol: Something that, although it is of interest in its own right stands for or suggests something larger and more complex—often an idea or a range of interrelated ideas, attitudes, and practices. …(470).

Theme: Not simply the subject of a literary work, but rather a statement that the text seems to be making about that subject. …(479).