ORDINARY LEVEL LITERATURE IN ENGLISHPART ONE: THEORY OF LITERATURE: AN INTRODUCTION TO LITERATURE
UNIT 18: Elements of Content Explained
In this Unit, the following aspects will be covered:
- Elements Content
Content refers to what is being said or conveyed. Content is that which is written or spoken in a book, an article, a programme, a speech or a story and so on. In a nutshell, content is what is described in the work of art.
Content is simply what is actually written, although at times, form can dictate content. Also content is the subject matter being conveyed in a work of art. These are the facts being expressed. The content can be presented in many different forms, and the reader will have different experiences/responses as well.
In literature, content includes the following elements:
Theme. This is a central or dominant idea in a literary work. It is the abstract concept that is made concrete through its representation in person (characters), action, and image in the work of art. It is the basic or general idea expressed in the story, or the major topic discussed in the story. Literature is filled with themes. Theme, as defined in literature, is an idea about life that the author shares with his or her readers. Themes are usually not stated directly in the story but rather must be deduced by the readers. A single story or book may have many themes/ideas and some themes may even conflict each other.
The following are some common themes in African literature:
Betrayal. The act of going against the agreement you make with someone. For example, a politician can betray his/her voters when he/she is elected to be an MP.
African traditions. The African ways of life. These involve traditions common to the Africans like worship of gods, superstitions, witchcraft, female circumcision and the like.
Position of women. This holds that most women in Africa are regarded as inferior sex and men are regarded as superior sex.
Corruption. The act of using the public office for private gains. This is also referred to as bribery. For example, a government official can be bribed by a foreign trader to allow the importation of foreign products.
Racial segregation. This was common during colonial era and in South Africa under apartheid policy. In some areas there is still this injustice.
Colonialism. During the colonial Africa, when African countries were still under colonial rule.
Neo-colonialism. The new form of colonialism that refers to the imperialist domination on the independent nations.
Classes. This happens when the higher class benefits more than the lower class. This leads to the class struggle, and in most cases, the lower class wants to get privileges the higher class is getting from the country’s riches.
Protest. This happens when someone or a group of people or a class stands up to oppose the unfavorable conditions. They always protest against the authority.
There are so many African themes common in African literature, but some others will be discussed more on next chapters when we analyze literary texts.
Message. This is what is learned from a literary work. A message we get from the literary work is about our experiences in life. An author typically writes to accomplish one or more of the following purposes; to persuade, to instruct, to inform, to explain, to entertain, to describe, or to tell a story. Through these writer’s purposes, we get the message related to our experiences about life. For examples, one may read a story and find the following messages; colonialism is a bad thing and should be eliminated through war. Unity is essential thing for any revolution. We must sacrifice in order to eliminate oppression.
Conflict. This is the struggle or clash between opposing characters, forces, or emotions. In an external conflict, for example, a character struggles against an outside force, which may be another character, society, as a whole, or something in nature. An internal conflict is a struggle between opposing needs, desires, or emotions within a single character. Many works of art, especially longer ones, contain both internal and external conflicts, and an external conflict often leads to internal problems. The opposing forces create interest and suspense in the reader or viewer. The simplest conflict to recognize and is frequently used is between the ‘god guy’ and the ‘bad guy’. There are may be a conflict between characters and their environments or circumstances; a character may be at war with himself, feeling an internal struggle between conflicting ideas, thoughts or feelings.
Types of conflicts in literary works. There are five types of conflicts in a literary work. They are:
Economic conflicts. This may involve the conflict between the rich and the poor.
Social conflict. This may involve the conflict between family, tribes, or races.
Personal conflict. This involves the conflicts between oneself, that is, internal feelings, desires, ideas, and thought s of a certain character to himself or herself.
Political conflicts. These conflicts involve the conflicts of political interests like the conflict between political parties, ruling tribe or opposition groups.
Philosophical conflicts. These are the conflicts of ideas v. ideas, feelings v. feelings or ideologies v. ideologies.
All these conflicts can be categorized into internal and external conflicts.
Lessons. These are the teachings the reader get from a literary work. They are usually moral teachings that the literary work convey to the intended audience.
Philosophy. This is the belief or stance of a writer of a work of art. Since the philosophy seeks the truth and knowledge of a reality (life), then writer shows his/her stance on the kind of a work he has written. For example, a writer may have the philosophy that ‘in life, to be prosperous, we need peace and love’.
Abrahams, M.H (1971) A Glossary of Literary Terms, Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc. New York.
Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Fourth Course with Readings in World Literature; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.
Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Sixth Course; Literature of Britain with World Classics; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.
Kinsella, K et al (2003) Prentice Hall Literature: Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes; Copper Level, Pearson, Upper Saddle River.
UNIT 19: Part Two: LITERARY READING STRATEGIES