LITERATURE - College of Alameda

Introduction to Humanities
The Humanities Through the Arts
F. David Martin * Lee A. Jacobus
Spoken language is the basic medium of
Literature is an art whose medium is
language used to affect the
Words themselves can evoke a
response even when they are
spoken independently of a
grammatical setting, such as a
Fiction writers and poets share many
of the techniques of literature
because their effects depend on
universal language art.
Subject matter, Artistic Form,
and Content
We can describe the subject matter
and form,
But we can only point to the content,
For the content is being said.
There is no other way of saying it,
Because to change even one word
changes the sound and changing the
sound changes the meaning and in
turn, the content.
Subject Matter and Artistic
The subject matter can be described:
a boy’s agony in face of his dying
father’s submissiveness
Much can be said about the form:
the way, the sounds are organized
and how they relate to the sense.
Literature as spoken language
Treating literature as spoken
language points up its relationship to
other serial arts such as music,
dance, and film.
Literature happens in time.
In order to perceive it, we must be
aware of what is happening now,
remember what happed before and
anticipate what is to come.
A Work of Literature
A work of literature is, in one sense,
a construction of separable elements
like architecture.
The details of a scene, a character
or event, or a group of symbols can
be conceived of as the bricks in the
wall of literary structure.
If one of these details is imperfectly
perceived, our understanding of the
function of that detail – and, in turn,
of the total structure - will be
The Literary Theme
The theme (main idea) of a literary
work is usually a structural decision,
comparable to an architectural
Decisions about the sound of the
language, the characters, the events,
the setting,
Are comparable to the decisions
regarding the materials, size, shape,
and landscape of architecture.
Literature as works of
It is helpful to think of literature as
works composed of elements that
can be discussed individually in
order to gain a more thorough
perception of them.
And it is equally important to realize
that the discussion of these
individual elements leads to a fuller
understanding of the whole structure.
Literary Terms
The Narrative and the Narrator
The Narrative is a story told to an audience
by a teller controlling the order of events
and the emphasis those events receive.
Most Narratives concentrate upon the
events. But some narratives have little
Sometimes the Narrator is a character in
the fiction…The author controls the
narrator and through the narrator leads the
And reveals depth of character through
responses to action.
Literary Terms
The symbol, simile, metaphor,
images, and diction (word
choices) are the main details of
literary language that we will
All these details are found in
poetry, fiction, drama, and even
the essay.
Literary Terms
Language has denotation: a
literal level where words mean
what they obviously say,
And connotation: a subtler level
at which words mean more than
they obviously say.
The Episodic Narrative
The term episodic describes one of
the oldest kinds of literature,
Often used in epics, such as
Homer’s Odyssey.
The overall structure of the story
centering on the adventures of
Odysseus, but each adventure is
almost a complete entity in itself.
Narratives cont’d
We develop a sense of the character
of Odysseus as we follow him in his
adventures, but this does not always
happen in episodic literature.
Often the adventures are not only
completely disconnected from one
but the thread that is intended to
connect everything – the personality
of the protagonist (main character)
is not strong enough to keep things
The Organic Narrative
The term organic implies close
connectedness in the parts of the
The organic narrative connects every
action and every character in subtle
ways so that as the narrative
the reader is given more and more
information about all the events of
the story.
The quest narrative is simple
enough on the surface: a hero
sets out in search of a valuable
treasure that must be found and
rescued at all cost.
Such, in simple terms, is the plot
of almost every adventure yarn
and adventure film ever written.
Quest Narrative cont’d
Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the
story of Ahab’s determination to find
and kill the white whale that took his
leg, is a quest narrative.
It achieves unity by focusing on the
quest and its object.
The novel is centered on the
question of good and evil. But as it
progresses, the actions of the novel
begin a reversal of values – hallmark
for quest narratives.
The Quest Narrative
The quest structure in Ralph
Ellison’s Invisible Man is so deeply
rooted in the novel that the
protagonist has no name.
We know a great deal about him
because he narrates the story and
tells us about himself.
He is Black, southern, and as a
young college student, ambitious.
Quest Narrative Cont’d
His earliest heroes are George
Washing Carver and Booker T.
He craves the dignity and the
opportunity he associates with their
But things go wrong. He is dismissed
unjustly from his college in the south
and must, like Odysseus, leave
home to seek his fortune.
Quest Narrative cont’d
He imagines himself destined for
better things and eagerly pursues his
fate, finding a place to live and work
up North, Beginning to find his
identity as a black man.
He discovers the sophisticated urban
society of New York City, the political
subtleties of communism, the pains
of black nationalism, and the realities
of his relationship to white people, to
whom he is an invisible man.
Quest Narrative cont’d
Yet he does not hate the whites, and
in his own image of himself he
remains as invisible man.
The novel ends with the protagonist
in an underground place he has
found and which he has lighted, by
tapping the lines of the electric
company, with almost 200 electric
light bulbs.
Quest Narrative cont’d
Despite this colossal illumination, he
still cannot think of himself as visible.
He ends his quest with out
discovering who he is beyond this
fundamental fact: he is invisible.
Black or white, we can identify in
many ways with this quest, for
Ellison is showing us that invisibility
is in all of us.
The lyric structure is virtually always
a poem, primarily reveals a limited
but deep feeling about something or
The lyric is often associated with the
feelings of the poet, although we
have already seen that it is not
difficult for poets to create narrators
distinct from themselves and to
explore hypothetical feelings.
The Lyric
If we participate we find
ourselves caught up in the
emotional situation of the lyric.
Poets can understand and
interpret emotions without
necessarily undergoing them.
The lyric has feeling – emotion,
passion, or mood – as basic in
its subject matter.
Literature with reference to structure,
the overall order within every
structure are details that need close
examination in order to properly
perceive the structure.
Literature uses language to reveal
meanings that are usually absent
from daily speech.
Image, metaphor, symbol and diction
are central to literature of all genres.
An image in language asks us to
imagine or “picture” what is referred
to or being described.
Most images appeal to our sense of
sight, but sound, taste, odor, and
touch are often involved.
One of the most striking resources of
language is its capacity to help us
reconstruct in our imagination the
“reality” of perceptions.
The Metaphor
Metaphor helps writers intensify
Metaphor is a comparison designed
to heighten our perception of the
thing compared.
Poets or writers will usually let us
know which of the things compared
is the main object of their attention.
The Symbol
The symbol is a further use of
Being a metaphor, it is a comparison
between two things; but unlike most
perceptual and conceptual
metaphors, only one of the things
compared is clearly stated.
The symbol is clearly stated, but
what it is compared with (sometimes
a very broad range of meanings) is
only hinted at.
Symbols cont’d
For instance, the white whale in
Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick,
is a symbol both in the novel and in
the mind of Captain Ahab, who sees
the whale as a symbol of all the
malevolence and evil in a world
committed to evil.
We may believer that the whale is
simply a beast and not a symbol at
Symbols cont’d
Or, we may believe that the whale is
a symbol for nature, which is
constantly being threatened by
human misunderstanding.
Such a symbol can mean more than
one thing.
It is the peculiar quality of changing.
Symbols are usually vague and
Symbols cont’d
The most important thing to
remember about the symbol is
that it implies rather than
explicitly states meaning.
Diction refers to the choice of words.
 Writing involves the choice of words, the
term “diction’ is usually reserved for literary
acts (speech as well as the written word)
 Words chosen especially for their impact.
“To be, or not to be.”
The diction of a work of literature will
sometimes make that work seem
inescapable, as if there were no other way
of saying the same thing.
Diction cont’d
The careful use of diction can sometimes
aid a satirist, whose intention is to say one
thing and mean another.
So the careful use of structural diction can
sometimes conceal a writer’s immediate
intention, making it important for us to be
explicitly aware of the diction until it has
made its point.

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