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Literary Techniques

 Literary techniques or devices refer to specific methods writers employ in their works to
convey messages. Readers, on the other hand, look for several literary techniques when
examining or analyzing a text or simply evaluating a text’s artistic value.
 Keep in mind that literary techniques or devices are different from literary elements.
Literary elements are essential to a narrative as writers make use of these components
to serve as the structure of and to develop a story. These elements refer to the plot,
setting, characters, point of view, and theme, among others.

Anaphora

Anaphora, sometimes called epanaphora, refers to the repetition of a word or phrase at the
beginning of a sentence to create an artistic or heightened effect. It adds rhythm to a
particular line or paragraph, making it easier to memorize or remember. Anaphora is also used
for emphasis or to stir emotions among the audience.

Example:

Hamlet (An Excerpt)


By William Shakespeare

'Tis a fault to heaven,


A fault against the dead,
a fault to nature
To reason most absurd. . . .

(Hamlet by Shakespeare, Act 1 Scene 2)

Explanation:

The line above was delivered by Claudius while talking to Hamlet. Claudius was trying to
convince his nephew to end his mourning for his father, emphasizing that it is “a fault” against
heaven, the dead, and nature to do so since death is inevitable.

Antihero

An antihero is a fictional character who does not possess the traits, such as pride and valor
(bravery/courage/heroism), expected of a hero. Often, antiheroes are portrayed as foolish
and usually find themselves in mischief.
Example:

Don Quixote (An Excerpt)


By Miguel Cervantes

One of those, however, that stood near him, fancying he was mocking them, lifted up a long
staff he had in his hand and smote him such a blow with it that Sancho dropped helpless to
the ground. Don Quixote, seeing him so roughly handled, attacked the man who had struck
him lance in hand, but so many thrust themselves between them that he could not avenge
him. Far from it, finding a shower of stones rained upon him, and crossbows and muskets
unnumbered levelled at him, he wheeled Rocinante round and, as fast as his best gallop
could take him, fled from the midst of them, commending himself to God with all his heart to
deliver him out of this peril, in dread every step of some ball coming in at his back and coming
out at his breast, and every minute drawing his breath to see whether it had gone from him.

Explanation:

The passage above shows that Don Quixote, despite considering himself as a knight-errant, is
a coward. Instead of helping his squire Sancho from the mob, he fled to save himself.

Cliff-hanger

Cliff-hanger is a literary technique used by the author to arouse curiosity among readers by
ending a chapter or story abruptly. Most of the time, the characters are confronted with a
difficult or an unsettling situation. Instead of providing a resolution, the author would end it.
Furthermore, this technique is often found in serialized works. Writers utilize cliff-hangers in their
works to keep the readers focused and interested as to what will happen next.

Example:

Divergent (An Excerpt)


By Veronica Roth

I turn the gun in my hands and press it into Tobias’s palm.

He pushes the barrel into my forehead. My tears have stopped and the air feels cold as it
touches my cheeks. I reach out and rest my hand on his chest so I can feel his heartbeat. At
least his heartbeat is still him.

The bullet clicks into the chamber. Maybe it will be as easy to let him shoot me as it was in the
fear landscape, as it is in my dreams. Maybe it will be just a bang, and the lights will lift, and I
will find myself in another world. I stand still and wait.
(Roth, Veronica. Divergent. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2011)

Explanation:

The main character Tris Prior was in an intense situation as Tobias, under a simulation, was
about to shoot her. However, the author did not divulge whether Tobias did it or not until the
next chapter.

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition is a technique authors use in their works to compare two different things, or two
contrasting ideas to be able to emphasize their differences, such as good and evil, life and
death, truth and lies, among others. This technique is also used to develop a character,
resolve a conflict, or clarify various concepts.

Example:

The Cask of Amontillado (An Excerpt)


By Edgar Allan Poe

It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I
[Montresor] encountered my friend [Fortunato]. He accosted me with excessive warmth, for
he had been drinking much. The man wore motley. He had on a tightfitting parti-striped dress,
and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him, that I
thought I should never have done wringing his hand. . . .

At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less spacious. Its walls had been
lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs
of Paris. Three sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this manner. From the fourth
the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one
point a mound of some size. Within the wall thus exposed by the displacing of the bones, we
perceived a still interior recess, in depth about four feet, in width three, in height six or seven. . .
.

Explanation:

Edgar Allan Poe used juxtaposition in “The Cask of Amontillado.” In the first paragraph, the
carnival season, including Fortunato’s motley, symbolizes life and merrymaking. Meanwhile,
the catacombs and bones symbolize what would become of Fortunato.

Learn about it!


Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing refers to lines or dialogues in a story which give the reader an idea of what is
about to happen without spoiling or explicitly stating the plot’s entirety. When writers use this
technique, especially in mystery or thriller novels, they provide “red herrings” (misleading or
false clues) to divert the readers’ expectations.

Example:

The Iliad (An Excerpt)


By Homer

Then Thetis spake unto him, shedding tears the while: “Doomed then to a speedy death, my
child, shalt thou be, that thou spakest thus; for straightway after Hector is thine own death
ready at hand."

Explanation:

Achilles was devastated upon learning about Patroclus’ death in the hands of Hector. He
wished to avenge his fallen comrade, but his mother, Thetis, warned him of his impending
death should he kill Hector in battle.

Catharsis

Catharsis is derived from the Greek word katharsis, which means “purification” or “purgation.”
It refers to the emotional release or cleansing of the characters, or audience or readers, from
strong emotions usually brought by learning of the truth or when confronted with difficult
situations. This technique is commonly found in tragedies, such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and
Juliet and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King.

Example:

Oedipus the King (An Excerpt)


By Sophocles

Second Messenger:

(. . . .) Guided his footsteps; with a terrible shriek,


As though one beckoned him, he crashed against
The folding doors, and from their staples forced
The wrenched bolts and hurled himself within.
Then we beheld the woman hanging there,
A running noose entwined about her neck.
But when he saw her, with a maddened roar
He loosed the cord; and when her wretched corpse
Lay stretched on earth, what followed—O 'twas dread!
He tore the golden brooches that upheld
Her queenly robes, upraised them high and smote
Full on his eye-balls, uttering words like these:
"No more shall ye behold such sights of woe,
Deeds I have suffered and myself have wrought;
Henceforward quenched in darkness shall ye see
Those ye should ne'er have seen; now blind to those
Whom, when I saw, I vainly yearned to know."

Explanation:

The excerpt above pertains to the scene where it was revealed that Oedipus married his
mother Jocasta and killed his father Laius. Upon learning of the truth, Jocasta committed
suicide while Oedipus thrust his mother’s golden brooches into his eyes, thus causing him to
become blind.

Stream of Consciousness

Stream of consciousness, sometimes referred to as interior monologue, is a literary technique


that is usually associated with Modern writers. The plot is developed based on the characters’
reminiscence or recollection of events and thought fragments. Instead of using dialogues to
show the characters’ reaction or emotion, writers make use of stream of consciousness to
show each character’s complex nature. More so, readers are taken into the depths of the
characters’ mind and witness how these characters process their thoughts when faced with a
particular situation or emotion.

Example:

Mrs. Dalloway (An Excerpt)


By Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. . . .

For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges;
Rumpelmayer's men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning--
fresh as if issued to children on a beach.
What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of
the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged
at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the
early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of
eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that
something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke
winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said,
"Musing among the vegetables?"--was that it?--"I prefer men to cauliflowers"--was that it? . . .

Explanation:

From the passage above, we see how Mrs. Dalloway’s thoughts wandered from present to
past. All these came into her head while she was on her way to buy flowers.

Hamartia

Hamartia, or tragic flaw, is a technique commonly found in Greek tragedies. It refers to the
tragic hero’s error in judgment, which leads to his or her downfall. Most of the time, this error is
committed unknowingly, such in the case of Oedipus when he killed his father Laius and
married his mother Jocasta. Hamartia is used to have the audience identify themselves with
the protagonist (that he or she has weaknesses too) and to provoke pity because of the
miserable turn of events he or she went through. Additionally, it is used to impart a moral
objective among readers or audience to improve or change for the better so as to avoid the
tragedy that has befallen the protagonist.

Example:

Medea (An Excerpt)


By Euripides

An easy answer had I to this swell


Of speech, but Zeus our father knoweth well,
All I for thee have wrought, and thou for me.
So let it rest. This thing was not to be,
That thou shouldst live a merry life, my bed
Forgotten and my heart uncomforted,
Thou nor thy princess: nor the king that planned
Thy marriage drive Medea from his land,
And suffer not. Call me what thing thou please,
Tigress or Skylla from the Tuscan seas:
My claws have gripped thine heart, and all things shine.
Explanation:

Medea’s hamartia or tragic flaw was her excessive love for Jason, who left her and their
children to marry Creon’s daughter, Glauce. This led Medea to cast her revenge to Glauce,
poisoning her, and to kill their children as she knew how greatly it would hurt Jason.

Summary

Writers make use of literary techniques or devices to convey messages or to simply add an
artistic value to a text. Readers look for these techniques to help them analyze or interpret a
specific body of work.

Some of the literary techniques are anaphora, antihero, cliff-hanger, juxtaposition,


foreshadowing, stream of consciousness, catharsis, and hamartia.

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