WHAT IS A LITERARY DEVICE?In literature, any technique used to help the author achieve his or her purpose is called a literary device. Typically, these devices are used for an aesthetic purpose – that is, they’re intended to make the piece more beautiful. However, it’s a very broad term and isn’t strictly limited to this meaning.THE IMPORTANCE OF LITERARY DEVICESLiterary devices are the author’s whole toolkit: whatever you want to do in your story, you do it with literary devices. That could mean setting an emotional tone, making a poem more relatable, or just stretching your own creative muscles. Literary devices can do it all. Without such devices, we could barely even talk to each other, let alone create great works of literature and philosophy! Because literary devices serve such a broad range of functions, there’s no single overarching “purpose” to literary devices as a whole, other than just to improve the quality of writing.TYPES OF LITERARY DEVICESThe varieties of literary devices are basically infinite – since the invention of storytelling, people have been honing the craft of literature and have come up with all sorts of tricks. For simplicity’s sake, we can separate the types of literary device based on scale:
- Word Level: many literary devices affect individual words or short phrases. For example, a metaphor is when one word stands in for another. So, for example, “The sun was a golden jewel” would be a metaphor, and a word-level literary device.
- Sentence Level: There are also many literary devices that apply to sentences or long phrases. Parallelism is a good example: “I enjoyed the play, but I preferred the intermission.” The two underlined phrases have identical grammatical structure, so the sentence as a whole demonstrates parallelism.
- Structural Level: These devices apply to the entire piece, whether it’s a poem, novel, or creative nonfiction. Character development is a good example of a structural literary device: the character begins as one sort of person, but learns and grows throughout the story so that by the end she’s someone quite different. This device applies to the story as a whole rather than to a single word or sentence.
EXAMPLES OF LITERARY DEVICES
- Example 1
- Alexander marched to Persia with a thousand spears at his back.
- This is a metonym – a word-level literary devices in which a part stands in for the whole. In this case, the spear is part of the armed soldier. So the sentence really means that there are a thousand soldiers carrying spears, but expressing it this way is more poetic and evocative.
- Example 2
- Able-bodied antelopes ambled along the alleyway.
- Alliteration is a sentence-level literary device in which several (or all!) the words start with the same letter. It’s especially common in poetry, and can range from extremely obvious (as in the sentence above) to much more subtle.
- Example 3
- The foil is a structural-level literary device in which a supporting character forms a striking contrast to the main character. If the main character is intelligent but physically frail, the foil can be a brawny dimwit. This makes the characters seem more vivid and helps their attributes stand out.
EXAMPLES OF LITERARY DEVICES IN LITERATURE
- Example 1
- But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun! (William Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet”)This famous line contains a metaphor – a literary device where a word is used in a non-literal sense to stand in for something else. In this case, Romeo is catching his first glimpse of Juliet as he stands below her balcony, and he’s so overcome by her beauty that he calls her “the sun.” Obviously he doesn’t mean this literally, or he’d be burned to a crisp. This is an example of a literary device, metaphor, at the word level.
- Example 2
- He was a fourfold father, this fighting prince: (“Beowulf”). The Anglo-Saxons used alliteration the way classic English poets used rhyme. It was one of the most basic literary techniques defining their craft. In this line, we find repeated F sounds, which give the line a soft, flowing quality – it would sound very different if it were full of hard, percussive consonants like K’s and B’s. This is an example of a literary device, alliteration, used at the sentence level.
- Example 3
- When Harry Potter gets his first letter from Hogwarts, it’s an exciting moment, but also full of mystery. This is an example of a literary device called the call to adventure. If you pay close attention, you can find this device in countless stories: the hero is going about his ordinary life, needing a change, when all of a sudden an unexpected message comes from a mysterious source. From that moment on, the hero’s life is never the same. This is an example of a literary device, call to adventure, at the structural level.
Literary Device Presentation: You will be asssigned one literary device to explain to your classmates, and you will give a three to five minute interactive presentation about it. Your presentation should include the following:
1) a working definition of the device and
2) at least three examples of the device from various literary texts (not necessarily from our class).
Be sure to quote or paraphrase the definitions and examples, and cite your sources.
Use the listing on pages 382-383. Other devices include satire, idiom, hyperbole, end rhyme, and internal rhyme. The following website has a list of more literary devices you may select from: https://blog.prepscholar.com/list-of-literary-devices-techniques
This is not a “live” presentation to the class; however, it must be more than a word document with examples. You can be creative in your presentation of the material. Because we are forgoing the “LIVE” aspect of the presentation, you must make it visually appealing. You can use PPT slides, a short YouTube Video, even a word doc with descriptive photos illustrating the device would be acceptable.