Aesthetic distance(also called distance): degree of emotional involvement in a work of art. The most obvious example of aesthetic distance (also referred to simply as distance) occurs with paintings. Some paintings require us to stand back to see the design of the whole painting; standing close, we see the technique of the painting, say the brush strokes, but not the whole. Other paintings require us to stand close to see the whole; their design and any figures become less clear as we move back from the painting.

Similarly, fiction, drama, and poetry involve the reader emotionally to different degrees. Emotional distance, or the lack of it, can be seen with children watching a TV program or a movie; it becomes real for them. Writers like Dickens, the Brontẽ sisters, or Faulkner pull the reader into their work; the reader identifies closely with the characters and is fully involved with the happenings. Hemingway, on the other hand, maintains a greater emotional distance from the reader.

Alliteration: the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of a word, such as the repetition of b sounds in Keats’s “beaded bubbles winking at the brim” (“Ode to a Nightingale”) or Coleridge’s “Five miles meandering in a mazy motion (“Kubla Khan”). A common use for alliteration is emphasis. It occurs in everyday speech in such phrases as “tittle-tattle,” “bag and baggage,” “bed and board,” “primrose path,” and “through thick and thin” and in sayings like “look before you leap.”

Some literary critics call the repetition of any sounds alliteration. However, there are specialized terms for other sound-repetitions. Consonance repeats consonants, but not the vowels, as in horror-hearer. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds, please-niece-ski-tree. See rhyme.
An allusion: a brief reference to a person, event, place, or phrase. The writer assumes will recognize the reference. For instance, most of us would know the difference between a mechanic’s being as reliable as George Washington or as reliable as Benedict Arnold. Allusions that are commonplace for readers in one era may require footnotes for readers in a later time.

Ambiguity: (1) a statement which has two or more possible meanings; (2) a statement whose meaning is unclear. Depending on the circumstances, ambiguity can be negative, leading to confusion or even disaster (the ambiguous wording of a general’s note led to the deadly charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War). On the other hand, writers often use it to achieve special effects, for instance, to reflect the complexity of an issue or to indicate the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility, of determining truth.

The title of the country song “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away” is deliberately ambiguous; at a religious level, it means that committing a sin keeps us out of heaven, but at a physical level, it means that committing a sin (sex) will bring heaven (pleasure). Many of Hamlet’s statements to the King, to Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern, and to other characters are deliberately ambiguous, to hide his real purpose from them.
Ballad: a relatively short narrative poem, written to be sung, with a simple and dramatic action. The ballads tell of love, death, the supernatural, or a combination of these. Two characteristics of the ballad are incremental repetition and the ballad stanza. Incremental repetition repeats one or more lines with small but significant variations that advance the action. The ballad stanza is four lines; commonly, the first and third lines contain four feet or accents, the second and fourth lines contain three feet. Ballads often open abruptly, present brief descriptions, and use concise dialogue.

The folk ballad is usually anonymous and the presentation impersonal. The literary ballad deliberately imitates the form and spirit of a folk ballad. The Romantic poets were attracted to this form, as Longfellow with “The Wreck of the Hesperus,” Coleridge with the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (which is longer and more elaborate than the folk balad) and Keats with “La Belle Dame sans Merci” (which more closely resembles the folk ballad).

Characterization: the way an author presents characters. In direct presentation, a character is described by the author, the narrator or the other characters. In indirect presentation, a character’s traits are revealed by action and speech.

Characters can be discussed in a number of ways.

The protagonist is the main character, who is not necessarily a hero or a heroine. The antagonist is the opponent; the antagonist may be society, nature, a person, or an aspect of the protagonist. The antihero, a recent type, lacks or seems to lack heroic traits.

A persona is a fictional character. Sometimes the term means the mask or alter-ego of the author; it is often used for first person works and lyric poems, to distinguish the writer of the work from the character in the work.

Characters may be classified as round (three-dimensional, fully developed) or as flat (having only a few traits or only enough traits to fulfill their function in the work); as developing (dynamic) characters or as static characters.

A foil is a secondary character who contrasts with a major character; in Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras, whose fathers have been killed, are foils for Hamlet.

Convention: (1) a rule or practice based upon general consent and upheld by society at large; (2) an arbitrary rule or practice recognized as valid in any particular art or discipline, such as literature or art (NED). For example, when we read a comic book, we accept that a light bulb appearing above the head of a comic book character means the character suddently got an idea.

Literary convention: a practice or device which is accepted as a necessary, useful, or given feature of a genre, e.g., the proscenium stage (the “picture-frame” stage of most theaters), a soliloquy, the epithet or boast in the epic (which those of you who took Core Studies 1 will be familiar with).

Stock character: character types of a genre, e.g., the heroine disguised as a man in Elizabethan drama, the confidant, the hardboiled detective, the tightlipped sheriff, the girl next door, the evil hunters in a Tarzan movie, ethnic or racial stereotypes, the cruel stepmother and Prince Charming in fairy tales.

Stock situation: frequently recurring sequence of action in a genre, e.g., rags-to-riches, boy-meets-girl, the eternal triangle, the innocent proves himself or herself.

Stock response: a habitual or automatic response based on the reader’s beliefs or feelings, rather than on the work itself. A moralistic person might be shocked by any sexual scene and condemn a book or movie as dirty; a sentimentalist is automatically moved by any love story, regardless of the quality of the writing or the acting; someone requiring excitement may enjoy any violent story or movie, regardless of how mindless, unmotivated or brutal the violence is.

Fiction: prose narrative based on imagination, usually the novel or the short story.
Genre: a literary species or form, e.g., tragedy, epic, comedy, novel, essay, biography, lyric poem. Click here for a fuller discussion of genres.

Irony: the discrepancy between what is said and what is meant, what is said and what is done, what is expected or intended and what happens, what is meant or said and what others understand. Sometimes irony is classified into types: in situational irony, expectations aroused by a situation are reversed; in cosmic irony or the irony of fate, misfortune is the result of fate, chance, or God; in dramatic irony. the audience knows more than the characters in the play, so that words and action have additional meaning for the audience; Socractic irony is named after Socrates’ teaching method, whereby he assumes ignorance and openness to opposing points of view which turn out to be (he shows them to be) foolish. Click here for examples of irony.

Irony is often confused with sarcasm and satire:

Sarcasm is one kind of irony; it is praise which is really an insult; sarcasm generally invovles malice, the desire to put someone down, e.g., “This is my brilliant son, who failed out of college.”

Satire is the exposure of the vices or follies of an indiviudal, a group, an institution, an idea, a society, etc., usually with a view to correcting it. Satirists frequently use irony.
Language can be classified in a number of ways.

Denotation: the literal meaning of a word; there are no emotions, values, or images associated with denotative meaning. Scientific and mathematical language carries few, if any emotional or connotative meanings.

Connotation: the emotions, values, or images associated with a word. The intensity of emotions or the power of the values and images associated with a word varies. Words connected with religion, politics, and sex tend to have the strongest feelings and images associated with them.

For most people, the word mother calls up very strong positive feelings and associations–loving, self-sacrificing, always there for you, understanding; the denotative meaning, on the other hand, is simply “a female animal who has borne one or more chldren.” Of course connotative meanings do not necessarily reflect reality; for instance, if someone said, “His mother is not very motherly,” you would immediately understand the difference between motherly (connotation) and mother (denotation).





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