Purposeful activity

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Every discipline employs a special vocabulary; literary criticism is no exception. Literary criticism is based in part on the assumption that writing is a purposeful activity and that excellent writing resulting in works of literary merit is not merely a happy accident. During the year you will familiarize yourself with some of the terminology that is used in literary criticism, and you will analyze specific instances when an author has employed a literary device. You will be creating a glossary of literary devices, complete with your specific analysis of the effect of the device on the text as a whole.

The specific devices you will need to use for your entries over the course of the year are discussed in more detail in a separate handout. To summarize: you must complete entries for the five principal tropes:
Metaphor Simile Metonymy Synecdoche Personification
You must also select devices from the list below for your remaining entries. Any device that you wish to use that is not included this list will need to be cleared by me first.

•Alliteration •Allusion •Ambiguity •Anaphora •Apostrophe •Aside •Assonance •Antithesis •Asyndeton •Metaphysical Conceit •Connotation •Cacophony •Caesura •Consonance •Chiasmus •Denotation •Enjambment •Euphony •Flashback •Form (poetic form) •Hyperbole •Litotes •Meiosis •Motif •Foreshdowing •Imagery •Paradox •Irony (Situational, Verbal, Dramatic) •Simple Metaphor •Extended Metaphor •Malapropism •Onomatopoeia •Oxymoron •Paradox •Paralipsis •Periphrasis •Polysyndeton •Rhyme •Symbol •Synesthesia •Tragic Flaw •Zeugma

Over the course of the semester you’ll be asked to complete a number of literary device entries. Any time you encounter a device from the above list, whether it is in your outside reading or it is in a text we are studying as a class, you can use that device for a glossary entry. You will eventually accumulate a total of 100 points worth of terms each semester if you want full credit.
You may only submit two (2) entries per week

You are responsible for keeping all of your lit devices once they have been graded

•You will turn all of your graded devices two weeks before the end of the semester

All entries must be typed, edited, and in the correct format in order to be graded

You will only be able to revise an entry once

Texts from your previous English classes are not acceptable

Plagiarized entries will result in a zero (0) for the entire semester literary device assignment
The FUNCTION discussion is the most important part of your literary device. Unfortunately, it is also the most difficult (isn’t that just typical?). However, if you are certain to include the Three C’s in your function discussion, you will always find success.
Every literary device function discussion needs to include:
1. Context: This sets up the text portion you are about to discuss. In other words, you need to BRIEFLY introduce the general circumstances in your example. This does not mean you need to summarize the entire plot of a novel. For example, if you were using an example from the third chapter of All the Pretty Horses you would not need to explain the John Grady had left his home in Texas and had found work in Mexico as a rancher, etc., etc. You would merely need to say “When John Grady Cole hears the short pop of a gun, and Belvins fails to get back on the truck…”

2. Concept: What is the specific device that you are addressing? Use it in the present tense and use the active voice (i.e. “This symbolizes the...) when referring to the literary device. Make certain you discuss it directly and are specific rather than general. Also make sure you have correctly identified the device.

3. Connection: Discuss in clear and specific terms exactly how the literary device contributes to the passage/poem/novel as a whole. In other words, how does the literary device reinforce and contribute to what is occurring in the larger context? Make sure you address the artistic effect when appropriate. When discussing the connection, artistic or otherwise, make certain that you address how this language device operates within the passage.
For example, it is typical for students to say that a device gives a passage “flow.” This is not a helpful comment unless that “flow” is connected to something specific in terms of the effect. All writing should “flow” to some extent -- addressing what there is about the “flow” that the shapes the text is the key.
Remember that merely pointing out a literary device does not mean that you understand its effect on the passage as a whole. You have to be specific about its function. If you are certain to include the Three C’s, then you will be successful.


Term: Definition of the literary device selected
Example: Quotation, followed by source, including title, page/line number
Function: Author’s purpose in employing this language resource at this point in the work. How does this particular device enhance what the writer is conveying? You may comment on theme, character, setting, or whatever else is important in explaining how this device functions in this particular instance.


Symbol: In the simplest sense, a symbol is anything that stands for or represents something else beyond it—often an idea conventionally associated with it. The term symbolism refers to the use of symbols, or to a set of related symbols.
Example: “Like him she was lefthanded or she played chess with her left hand . . . He leaned forward and moved his bishop and mated her in four moves” (133-137).
Function: This chess game between John Grady and Alejandra’s godmother symbolizes the competition that they are in for Alejandra herself. This game of chess, which takes place as John is trying to gain approval of his relationship with Alejandra, represents the greater chess game between these two competing characters. Although John Grady wins the first couple of games and seems to be well on his way to achieving his goal, in the end it is the godmother who triumphs. This directly mirrors John Grady’s and the godmother’s lives: although John Grady wins Alejandra’s affections initially, in the end he loses her. When he takes “her queen” (133) he is literally winning the chess match by taking the queen, but he is also on a symbolic level attempting to take the godmother’s true “queen,” Alejandra, whom the godmother is determined to keep from suffering the same misfortunes she endured. The lack of dialogue between the characters during the match further reinforces the quiet competition they are engaging in; one that is not violent but is indeed fierce. The intellectual nature of the chess match also enhances the choice that Alejandra ultimately makes near the end of the novel: leaving John and opting instead for the security and wealth of her family. This choice reflects the cool and calculating logic of a chess match rather than the passions of the heart.
Please note that the author first provides context for the discussion (context), discusses the term itself (concept) and then carefully discusses how the literary device specifically functions both in the passage and within the context of the novel as a whole (connection). The author is also careful to use the term in the active voice within the function discussion.

General Guidelines

My expectations are that you write with precision and depth of analysis. I also require that you

adhere to standard guidelines for written English, including citing your sources using MLA format.

Please review the following notes, and keep them in mind as you write your entries.

  1. Citation: When you cite your quotes, remember to do the following:

  1. Always include the page number when your source is a novel, the line number if it is a poem, and the act/scene/line number if it is a play. You must include the author and title of the piece within your discussion.

  2. Put quotation marks around the entire quote, but not around the citation, and put the period outside of the citation.

  3. Always imbed your quotes within your function discussion, making sure that the sentence into which you integrated your quote is grammatically correct. If you need to change the case of a letter, do so by using brackets.

  4. Only use ellipses when omitting words from the middle of a quote, not at the beginning or the end of a quote.


This is what your example quote would look ilke. Notice the correct citation, and the brackets around the letter with the case change
“[T]he forest stood up spectrally in the moonlight” (95).

This is how that same quote could be imbedded in the function discussion. The author (Conrad) and the title of the work (Heart of Darkness) would have already been mentioned in the discussion.

The descriptions of nature often belie the sinister quality Marlow attributes to the natural world. At one point, he observes that “the forest stood up spectrally in the moonlight” (95).

  1. Function Discussion: Remember to keep the “Three C’s” – Context, Concept, Connection—in mind when you write your function discussion. Submissions that do not discuss each of these areas will not receive full credit.

  2. Revisions: Please staple your original device to the back of the revision and write “Revision” on your new version.

  3. Conventions: I will not grade a device that does not cite the quote properly. Furthermore, if I encounter more than one conventional error, I will put a checkmark next to the line that contains the error and return it without a grade. I will not note other errors, even if they are present. In order to receive credit In these instances, you will need to fix the error(s) and resubmit the device as if it were a revision.

  4. Using Test From the Quote: Whenever possible, remember to use text from your example in your function discussion. It may help you achieve the elusive (and some say mythical) “6”.

  5. Submission Opportunities: There are a limited number of submission opportunities available, so you will need to take advantage of as many as you can. You may submit only two literary devices plus any revisions per week.

  6. Point Totals: Remember that once you have achieved the necessary point total, you no longer need to submit literary devices for the remainder for the semester.

I want to once again stress exactly how significant this assignment is to your grade. It is in some ways the heard of our study of style analysis, so it carries quite a bit of weight as far as your grade is concerned. This has the potential of helping your grade considerably, or hindering it. Remember that in college it is precisely these types of long-term assignments that put the responsibility on you that will comprise most of your coursework.

Grading Literary Device Submissions

One of the goals of this grading approach is to provide feedback that is meaningful to your

students without spending hours poring over each set of device submissions. Using a numeric

grading system and telling students what the numbers mean ahead of time instead of proving

written feedback makes the grading less time consuming for you. It also puts more responsibility

on the student to figure out what is missing, creating a necessity for the student to take a more

metacognitive approach to revision.
The Basics

Each device is worth a possible 5 points broken down the following way:

1 point for the correct definition of the device

1 point for the example, provided it is an example of the device

3 points for the function discussion (1 for the context, 1 for the concept, 1 for the connection)

Rev = There was one (or more) error in citation or conventions. I will not read a device that has

conventional errors or is cited improperly. If a student gets “Rev” at the top, then that student

knows that he or she must find and then fix the errors. They must then staple the revision to the

original, highlight the changes on the revision, and submit them together.
0= The device or example was not correct. This is different from a revision because it signals to

the student hat the device and the example do not match, or that the definition is incorrect. They

need to find out what the problem is in order to fix it.
2 = Device and example were correct, but the function discussion was not adequate.
3-4 = Device and example were correct, but only 1 or 2 or the 3 points required in the function

discussion were addressed. They need to figure out which point(s) is/are missing and revise the submission.

5 = Bravo!
Imagery: Imagery is language that appeals to the five senses. It is used to represent objects, actions, feelings, thoughts, states of mind and any sensory or extra-sensory experience.
Example: “In the gray twilight those retching seemed to echo like the calls of some rude provisional species loosed upon that waste. Something imperfect and malformed lodged in the heart of being. A thing smirking deep in the eyes of grace itself like a gorgon in an autumn pool”(71).

McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

Function: McCarthy’s novel All the Pretty Horses explores the notion of sin. At this point in the novel, two young men have been out drinking heavily and are coping with the consequences, spending time retching into a small pond. The imagery used to describe this scene explores the notion of sin and reinforces a biblical connection that runs throughout the novel. Drinking, though perhaps not a serious act of sin, is nonetheless something that boys are not supposed to be doing at this age. Their innocence has already been tested numerous times up to this point, and this is yet another moment when they have “fallen” from a state of grace. The imagery describing the “retchings” of a “rude provisional species loosed upon that waste… like a gorgon” evoke the sinful nature of the boys’ actions. This sound is coming from these boys in the still of night – they are then linked to this “gorgon”. The sounds seem to come from the “heart of being,” and are hiding behind the innocent faces of the boys. Even in the “eyes of grace itself,” a place of purity and forgiveness, there is that “thing smirking.” As a man (or in this case the boys) looks to graces for forgiveness of sings, there lies the gorgon, mocking all attempts at redemption with the mythical power of the gorgon turning the heart to stone and prolonging the cycle. Here McCarthy subtly melds contemporary religious beliefs with a Greek myth to explore the concept of sin and humankind’s nature. This connects to the novel’s consistent exploration of the process of life and the role that sin plays. This progresses from John Grady’s loss of innocence to his ultimate revelation: the idea that understanding the nature of sin is necessary for enlightenment. His understanding of the role of sin as a part of his nature ultimately leads John to live with the fact that he too will sin.

AP English Literature and Composition | Johnson

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