Literary Devices

Definition of a Literary Device

A literary device is a technical term, or a device in literature that is used by the writers to convey their ideas in a plain yet fascinating manner. The objective of the use of literary devices is not merely to communicate the message, but also to make it easier for the reader to understand and appreciate it. Literary devices are commonly used in every literary genre such as fiction, prose, poetry and plays.

Literary Elements and Techniques

Literary devices are of two types. The first one is literary element, which is a part of any literary piece, while the second is a literary technique, which differs a great deal from the element.

I. Literary Elements

Literary elements are like pieces of structure on which a literary piece is built. Hence, they are inherently essential for a piece. These include style, tone, mood, symbolism and point of view, etc. These are important features of written and spoken narratives. Let us consider a few of them in detail:

  • Style – It is a way an author selects a specific syntax and diction. It could be expository, descriptive, narrative and persuasive.
  • Tone – It is an attitude of an author towards the subject he writes. It could be melancholic, joyful, peaceful, fatalistic, angry, mysterious, scary, etc.
  • Mood – It is an overall feeling that audience perceive while reading a literary piece. It could be of peace or chaos, love or jealousy, etc.
  • Symbolism – It is the use of an object, person, a word or situation to represent something else by using symbols. For instance, black color is symbolic of evil and white represents purity.
  • Point of View – It tells who narrates the story and how he/she tells a story in first person or third person.

I. Literary Techniques

Literary techniques are just words and phrases, which are used by the writers in such a way that not only they give a unique touch to a piece, but also drastically change its meanings. Though the writers achieve their artistic ends, they also use these techniques to enhance their meanings. It is also that these techniques are very important features of literary texts. Some of the common literary techniques include alliteration, simile, metaphor, allegory, hyperbole, etc.

Examples of Literary devices from Literature

1. Alliteration

It is the use of same consonant sounds at the beginning of the neighboring words. For instance:
Fleeter be they than dappled dreams
the swift sweet deer
the red rare deer.
(All in green went my love riding by E.E Cumming)

2. Allegory

This is a literary technique, which authors use to give a form of action, character, or event to an abstract idea. For instance:
C.S. Lewis in his novel, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, uses religious allegory in which he presents Edmund as Judas and Aslan as Christ.

3. Irony

In this literary technique, the writers employ words in such a manner that their intended meaning is contradictory to the literal meaning. For instance:
In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the main character Macbeth comes into view as faithful to Duncan and Macbeth plans to kill Duncan. Duncan, on the other hand, was unaware of Macbeth’s plans; however, the audience knows this reality.

4. Personification

It is giving human qualities to an idea, an animal or an object. For instance:

‘O Rose thou are sick,
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.’

(Sick Rose by William Blake)

Roses are not supposed to become ill or they have beds and secret love. In fact, the poet is making use of personification to develop his description of roses by giving them human qualities.

5. Hyperbole

It is an intentional exaggeration of ideas and actions for emphasis. For instance from The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare:

Why, if two gods should play some heavenly match
And on the wager lay two earthly women,

Gods do not play matches like humans, yet, Shakespeare is exaggerating by giving human quality to gods.

6. Imagery

A figurative language creates visual images of ideas, actions and objects in the minds of readers and that could appeal to their senses. For instance:

I lay still and took another minute to smell: I smelled the warm, sweet, all-pervasive smell of silage, as well as the sour dirty laundry spilling over the basket in the hall.

(A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton)
In the above lines, we can notice olfactory or smell imagery that creates idea of smell in our minds.

7. Simile

Simile is a comparison between two unlike things or objects to describe similarity by using like and as. For instance:

She entered with ungainly struggle like some huge awkward chicken, torn, squawking, out of its coop.

(The Adventure of the Three Gables by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

8. Metaphor

Metaphor is also comparison between two dissimilar things but without using as and like.”Rather it is direct comparison, such as:

on the shore of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

(When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be by John Keats)

In the following excerpts, we can see simile employs “like” to make a comparison between a woman and chicken, whereas, metaphor is a direct comparison, without using as or like and the poet is representing end of life as a shore where he relaxes for a while and forgets his past sorrows.

Why Literary Devices?

A literary device is a heart and soul of a literary text, as it breathes life into words, which are common to any form of writing such as story writing, narrative, journalistic writing, drama and poetry. The writers often employ them to bring logical framework, and a variety of meanings to their literary works. This not only gives their works deeper and wider meanings, but also beautifies the pieces in which they are used. On the contrary, if a writer plainly states his feelings, views or emotions on a topic without using a literary device, his work will merely be a structure of sentences. It is also that literary language encompasses a large number of literary devices, which make it rich and pregnant with meanings. The readers can better understand the importance of what is said by understanding these literary devices.

What Do Literary Devices Do?

Literary devices help audiences understand and appreciate a literary piece in a better way. Since these devices have a universal application, the readers could easily find comparisons and contrast in other literary works. This not only enriches their experience but also doubles their pleasure. The multiplicity of meanings, the pleasure of language, the aesthetic enjoyment of a piece only depends on the use of these literary devices.

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