ORDINARY LEVEL LITERATURE IN ENGLISHPART ONE: THEORY OF LITERATURE: AN INTRODUCTION TO LITERATURE
UNIT 17: Elements of Form - Part 3: Language
In this Unit, the following aspects will be covered:
- Introduction: Language
- Figures of Speech
Diction (language). This refers to the choice and arrangement (syntax) of words in a literary work. Diction is especially the author’s word choice or use of appropriate words to convey a particular meaning. Good writers choose their words carefully to express their intended meaning precisely.
By determining the language used in the literary work, we can ask ourselves whether;
1. Language used is simple or complex and how does the simplicity and complexity affect the delivery of the message.
2. Sentences are difficult.
3. Language is appropriate to you or mixed.
4. Language is normal or figurative one.
5. Sayings, that is, proverbs and idioms are used.
Figurative language. It is defined as a language that is not meant to be interpreted literally and is used for descriptive effect, often to imply ideas indirectly.
It also refers to the language based on some sort of comparison that is not literally true. Most often figurative language is especially prominent in poetry. Generally, it is a language of the imagination.
Figures of speech. Here ‘figures’ means ‘methods’, ‘devices’ or ‘tools’. Therefore, this term ‘figures of speech’ refers to the methods by which a speakers or writer may use to make his work look more attractive. A figure of speech is therefore a language shaped by the use of the imagination in which one thing is compared to something else that seems to be entirely different. A figure of speech is never literally true, but a good one always suggests a powerful truth to our minds.
A figure of speech is also defined as a specific device or kind of figurative language such as metaphor, personification, simile and a symbol.
Figures of speech are employed by writers so as to make us see people, things, and life in a new way.
Thus, components of style are varied. For each piece of fiction, the author makes many choices, consciously or subconsciously, which combine to form the writer’s style. The components of style are numerous, but include point of view, choice of narrator, fiction-writing mode, person and tense, grammar, punctuation, word usage, sentence length and structure, paragraph length and structure, tone, imagery, chapter usage, and title selection.
Here are some of the common figures of speech in literature:
Imagery. An image is a representation of anything we can see, hear, taste, touch or smell. Imagery refers to the ‘word pictures’ that writers create to help evoke an emotional response in readers. In creating effective images, writers use sensory details or descriptions that appeal to one or more of the five human senses, namely,, sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Imagery refers also to the use of figurative language so as to produce pictures in the minds of the readers or hearers. Imagery makes one feel as if he or she is seeing, touching, hearing, tasting and smelling something just by reading the special words that reveal these conditions and states to his minds. Imagery is also defined as the use of language in such a way that it evokes a certain feeling or emotion that appeals to any of the five senses of human beings. These five senses are:
- A sense of touch. It may be evoked by such words as soft, smooth, and rough.
- A sense of smell. It may be evoked by words like stinking rubbish, and smelling flower.
- A sense of taste. It may be evoked by words like salty, sugary, bitter, ans sour.
- A sense of hearing. It may be evoked by words such as hissing, bang, buzzing, and shouting.
- A sense of vision. It may be evoked by words as desert, dense forest, night, cave, and cell.
- A sense of heat. It involves thermal senses and it may be evoked by the words like fire, hot areas, and electricity.
- A sense of motion. It may be evoked by words like trotting, jogging, staggering, and stamping.
By using figures of speech, images into the reader’s mind can be evoked by using the following figures of speech:
Simile. His huge palm was rough like the back of the crocodile. (a sense of touch, sight and vision).
Personification. The stinking rubbish flew and visited every house in a minute. ( a sense of smell and vision).
Metaphor. His words are the bitter medicines. (a sense taste).
Hyperbole. A terrific hissing sound of a snake caused al people to faint helplessly. (a sense of hearing and sight).
Note. Imagery depends on one’s experience. That means what makes one smell may not necessarily make another smell the same. For example, words like ‘sugary’ and ‘salty’ will only be effective to people who a prior experiences of the taste have associated with these words. For those who have never tasted, their sense of taste may not be evoked to them.
Symbolism. Symbol means a sign or something that stands for or suggests something else. Symbolism refers to the use of words in such a sway that one thing stands for something else, such as ‘the Cross’ to stand for ‘Christianity’, and ‘Lion’ to symbolize a bravery. A symbol expands meaning and it creates a direct meaningful equation between a specific object, scene, character, or action and ideas, values, persons, or ways of life. In effect, a symbol is a substitute for the elements being signified, just as the flag stands for the ideals and values of a nation. A symbol can be identified according to whether it is; universal, cultural, regional, or personal. Many symbols are generally or universally recognized by the people around the world. These include: water, as a symbol of life because living creatures cannot survive without water. Water is also used in the ceremony of many denominations for baptism. Rose, a flower as a symbol of love and care. Honey, as a symbol of sweetest things like love. Spouting fountain, as it symbolizes optimism, an up-welling, bubbling life. Stagnant pool, as a symbol of the pollution and diminution of life. Turbulent stream, a roaring waterfall, and stormy sea, as symbols of uncertainty for the lovers who have met near these symbols.
Irony. It is a figure of speech in which there is a contrast or discrepancy between the expectations and the reality. Irony can take several forms:
Verbal irony. This is the simplest kind of irony that exists when someone says one thing but means the opposite. For example, if a parent see the string of D’s on his child’s report and tells the child, ‘You passed your exams well, my child!. Here a parent is saying one thing that is really opposite.
Situational irony. It is also called an irony of events. It exists when the outcome of a situation is opposite or contrary to what someone expected. Ironic situation implies that what actually happens is so contrary to our expectations that it seems to mock human intentions. For example, a character that fights for freedom can end up being jailed contrary to his expectations. Then his or her illusion becomes disillusion.
Dramatic irony. This occurs when the audience knows something that the characters do not know. It is the kind of irony that occurs when we know what is in store for a character, but the character himself/herself does not know. This is called dramatic irony because it so often used on the stage.
Simile. Is a figure of speech that uses words such as ‘like’, ‘as’, and ‘as…as’ to compare things that seem to have little or nothing in common. Is a figure of speech that compares two dissimilar things. It compares or it makes comparison of two seemingly unlike things. Simile says that something is like something else. For example; Literal comparison: His face was as red as his father’s. Figurative comparison: His face was as red as a ripe tomato. His face was like a blood.
Metaphor. It is another kind of comparison between unlike things. It is a figure of speech that compares two unlike things but without using conjunctions such as ‘like’, ‘as’ and ‘as…as’. A metaphor says that something is something else. Just like simile, metaphor is not a one-to-one comparison. The objects of comparison are usually incomparable. For example. I wandered lonely like a cloud (simile). I was a lonely cloud (metaphor). Hamis is a rock (metaphor).
Personification. It is a figure of speech in which animals, objects, force of nature, or ideas are given human qualities. Personification is the process of humanizing the world and it is when we attribute human qualities to nonhuman things or to an abstract ideas. For example; Tanzania remembers the death of Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere. Trees are singing and sands are dancing around. Money talks. Time flies. Actions speak louder than words.
Hyperbole. This is a figure of speech that uses exaggeration to express strong emotion, makes a point, or evokes humour. It also refers to the exaggeration of facts for artistic effect in which it makes things look bigger or powerful than they are really are. For example, He was able to move mountains by his own hands. Grandmother’s palm was enough to grab two babies comfortably at once.
Allusion. It is a reference in a work of literature to a well-known person, place, event, written work, or work of art. It also refers to the use of well-known things in molding a literary work. Allusion is dominated by physical and historical things or events in a work. Most often allusion becomes effective only if the readers know the things being alluded to or talked about. For example, If a poem has a phrase ‘Maji Maji Uprising’, then this allusion will only be clear to those who know about the resistance being alluded. Another allusion can be the name like ‘Hitler’ in the novel, ‘Weep Not Child’ by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. The readers who know the name ‘Hitler’ will understand while those who do not will not understand.
Analogy. It is a figure of speech in which a comparison is based on a similarity between things that are otherwise dissimilar. For example; My mother’s eyes are nothing like the Sun. See also metaphor and simile.
Sarcasm. It is bitterness or touching reproachfulness. It may not be ironical but it is always cutting bitter and it aims at inflicting pain. Most often the writer or the speaker shows that he or she is annoyed and he/she uses harsh and cruel words. Sarcasm is intended to wound, to bite in a hurtful way. For instance, someone looking at child’s bad report card would be sarcastic if he says “ I have seen shirts with high IQs than yours” or you can tell someone who have kept you waiting for him for a long time that, “Good of you to arrive on time. Let’s continue with the discussion”.
Satire. This is figure of speech in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are ridiculed with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement. It is a way of criticizing something such as group of people or a system in which you deliberately make them seem funny so that people can see their faults. Satire is also any writing that ridicules with the intentions of bringing about social reform. Satire is a close relative of irony and often uses irony to accomplish its purpose. Hence, a feature of satire is strong irony or strong sarcasm. Parody, burlesque, exaggeration, juxtaposition, comparison, analogy, and double entendre are all frequently used in satirical speech and writing. The satirist wants to expose and eliminate human stupidity and wickedness, injustice, or cruelty. Satire is nowadays found in many artistic forms of expression, including literature, plays, commentary, television shows, and media such as music. For instance, a writer can mock the Europeans who were involved in the slave trade that in fact they were selling themselves. Other examples of satire are like; “Eat more bloody grass”, the line from the poem ‘Eat More’ by Joe Corrie and ‘Let us die because our death is a luxury to you, heavyweights’.
Although satire is always humorous, its aim is to socially construct by drawing attention to both particular and wider issues in the society.
Forms of Satire
Satire is a diverse and complex figure of speech with a wide range of forms. In satirical literature, satire is commonly categorized into three forms:
Horatian satire. This satire is named after Roman satirist, Quintus Horace. This satire addresses the issues with humor and clever mockery. It is a kind of satire that makes fun of general human folly rather than engaging in specific personal attacks. Horatian satire directs wit, exaggeration, and humor toward what it identifies as folly, rather than evil. The goal of this satire is to heal the situation with smiles, rather than by anger. This satire is a gentle reminder to take life less seriously and evokes a wry smile. Horatian satire’s sympathetic tone is common in modern society. For example, in a work of art that uses Horatian satire, readers or viewers often laugh at the characters in the story who are the subject of mockery as well as themselves and society for behaving in those ways.
Juvenalian satire. It is named after the writings of Roman satirist, Juvenal. Juvenalian satire is defined as contemptuous and abrasive way of addressing or satirizing a human folly. Juvenal himself disagreed with the opinions of many public leaders and actively attacked them through his literature. Juvenalian satire uses the satirical tools of exaggeration and parody to make the targets appear monstrous and incopentent. It is a pattern of abrasively ridiculing societal structures. It also attack public officials and governmental organisations not just as wrong, but as evil. Therefore, juvenalian satire addresses perceived social evil through scorn, outrage, and savage ridicule. It uses irony, sarcasm, moral indignation and personal invective, with less emphasis on humor. The goal of Juvenalian satire is to provoke some sort of political or societal things that are seen as objects of evil or harmful. For example, a Juvenalian satirist may mock ‘societal structure, power and culture’ by exaggerating the words or positions of his opponent(caricature/parody) in order to jeopardize their opponent’s reputation or power. Real satire arouses an outraged and violent reaction, and the more they try to stop you, the better is the job you are doing. Historically, people in positions of power have welcomed and encouraged good-humored satire, while modern day people in positions of power have tried to censor, ostracize, and repress satire.
Euphemism. It is a figure of speech that uses less offensive words in order to avoid offending the readers with strong words. In this case, indirectness replaces the directness of a statement usually to avoid offensiveness in some words involving taboos. For example, ‘Pass away’ instead of ‘die’. ‘In the family way’ instead of ‘pregnant’. ‘Pass water’ instead of ‘urinate’, and so on.
Archaism. It implies the use of words that are no longer in use in modern English, or any other modern language. For example, the words like, ‘thou’ and ‘thy’ are old English words which mean ‘you’ and ‘your’ respectively.
Rhetorical questions. In literature, these are questions asked by the persona or character in the literary work, but that do not require a reply or an answer. For example, when a character is speaking to a dead fellow that ‘Why did you die without saying goodbye to me?’. Here the answer is not expected but the message is sent to the intended destination that dead person was so important to the mourner.
Narrator. The narrator is the teller of the story, the orator, the speaker, or its in-print equivalent.
Suspension of disbelief. Suspension of disbelief is the reader’s temporary acceptance of story elements as believable, regardless of how implausible they may seem in real life.
Note: These are common figures of speech in most of the literary works. However, each genre may have its own peculiar terminologies and figures of speech applied specifically to it.
Without language, literature cannot reach the audience easily. Also, language cannot be fully developed if there is no literature. The two aspects are like two sides of the same coin. They depend each other.
Without figurative and creative language, works of art cannot be interesting. They can look like normal things in life. Thus, figures of speech are what make most works of arts interesting and creative as well.
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 18: ELEMENTS OF CONTENT Explained