Some Figures Of Speech definitions with examples

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Some Figures Of Speech definitions with examples

  1. 1. Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms [ Home] [ Areas of Study ] [ Quizzes ] [ Literature Corner ] [ Literature Terms List ] Alliteration Study Guide At the end of this unit you will be able to: • define alliteration • find alliteration in selected writings. Alliteration is the repetition of a consonant sound at the beginning of words. Examples: do or die safe and sound now or never sweet smell of success ALLITERATION IN PROSE Alliteration is fun to say and enjoyable to hear. Without knowing it, you probably use alliteration to call attention to certain words. Many familiar phrases and expressions use alliteration. These include "down in the dumps," "hale and hearty," and "turn the tables." Tongue twisters rely on alliteration.: "rubber baby buggy bumpers. Many sayings such as these use alliteration: • He who laughs last laughs first. • Time and tide wait for no man. When writers want to emphasize certain words, they may use alliteration. Notice the ideas that are emphasized by alliteration in these examples. • The deep churned. Something had happened down in the dim, foggy- green depths. --Paul Annixter,"Battle in the Depths" • Touch each object you want to touch as if tomorrow your tactile sense would fail. --Helen Keller, "The Seeing See Little" • There is always something left to love. And if you ain't learned that, you ain't learned nothing. --Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun
  2. 2. ALLITERATION IN POETRY Alliteration is one of the poet's most important sound techniques. It makes particular words stand out. It also connects the words to be emphasized. Look for the repeated consonant sounds in this poem: Then up and spake an old sailor, Had sailed to the Spanish Main, "I pray thee, put into yonder port, For I fear a hurricane." --Henry W. Longfellow, "The Wreck of Hesperus" Often the sounds and meanings of the words combine to create a mood. Here, repetition of b and t stresses a feeling of urgency. Hear the loud alarum bells-- Brazen bells! What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells! --Edgar Allen Poe, "The Bells" What consonant sounds are repeated in the following lines? Swing low, sweet chariot, Comin' for to carry me home. --Traditional Spiritual Take the Quiz! Online
  3. 3. Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms [ Home ] [ Areas of Study ] [ Quizzes ] [ Literature Corner ] [ Literature Terms List ] Hyperbole Study Guide At the end of this unit you will be able to: • define hyperbole • point to examples in selected writings • write your own hyperbole Hyperbole is exaggeration. It puts a picture into the "reader" mind. Hyperbole is frequently used in humorous writing. Example: You could have knocked me over with a feather. Hyperbole in Prose. Hyperbole is used for emphasis or humorous effect. With hyperbole, an author makes a point by overstatingting it. Hyperbole is common in tall tales. Here is an example: At three weeks, Paul Bunyan got his family into a bit of trouble kicking around his little tootsies and knocking down something like four miles of standing timber. Hyperbole is often used in descriptions. It emphasizes some qualities of a person or thing by exaggerating them, as in this selection The skin on her face was as thin and drawn as tight as the skin of onion and her eyes were gray and sharp like the points of two picks . —Flannery O’Connor, "Parker’s Back" Hyperbole can also be used to describe a person’s emotions. In the following selection, a boy is pulling a man up from a deep hole. See how hyperbole is used to describe the boy’s thoughts as he struggles. It was not a mere man he was holding, but a giant; or a block of granite. The pull was unendurable. The pain unendurable.
  4. 4. —James Ramsey Ullman, "A Boy and a Man" What is exaggerated in the following examples? There did not seem to be brains enough in the entire nursery, so to speak, to bait a fishhook with. —Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court People moved slowly then. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. —Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Hyperbole in Poetry. Hyperbole is common in humorous poetry. Hyperbole can make a point in a light-hearted way. It can be used to poke fun at someone or something. For example, read this description of a dull town. It's a slow burg—I spent a couple of weeks there one day. —Carl Sandburg, "The People, Yes" This poem uses hyperbole in a description of a young boy. Why does a boy who’s fast as a jet Take all day—and sometimes two— To get to school? —John Ciardi, "Speed Adjustments" Hyperbole can emphasize a truth by exaggerating it. Here once the embattled farmers stood And fired the shot heard round the world. —Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Concord Hymn" Take the Practice Qu
  5. 5. Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms [ Home ] [ Areas of Study ] [ Quizzes ] [ Literature Corner ] [ Literature Terms List ] Assonance Study Guide At the end of this unit you will be able to: • define assonance • find examples of assonance in selected writings Assonance is the repetition of a vowel sound within words. Examples: free and easy make the grade Assonance in Prose. Prose writers sometimes repeat vowel sounds to reinforce the meaning of the words. It also helps to create moods. Here, the long o sounds mysterious. Poetry is old, ancient, goes back far. It is among the oldest of living things. So old it is that no man knows how and why the first poems came. --Carl Sandburg, Early Moon Assonance in Poetry. In poetry, too, assonance stresses words and moods. And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride. --Edgar Allan Poe, "Annabel Lee" Exercises. Find the examples of assonance in the following selections. Slow things are beautiful: The closing of the day, The pause of the wave That curves downward to spray.
  6. 6. --Elizabeth Coatsworth, "Swift Things are Beautiful" Night came on, and a full moon rose high over the trees into the sky, lighting the land till it lay bathed in ghostly day. --Jack London, The Call of the Wild Take the Practice Quiz! Online or Print Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms [ Home ] [ Areas of Study ] [ Quizzes ] [ Literature Corner ] [ Literature Terms List ] Character Study Guide At the end of this unit you will be able to: • describe how authors use various techniques to define the characters • describe how authors use character descriptions to develop the story Character. Every person or animal who takes part in the action of a story, poem or play is called a character. The most important characters are called major characters. Everyone else is a minor character.
  7. 7. Character Traits. A quality that a character exhibits is called a character trait. This trait can be indicated by the character's statements, actions, or thoughts. For instance, an author may create a fictitious character by simply describing the character. Karen was small for her age and inclined to plumpness. Her blue eyes viewed the people and events around her with a mixture of curiosity and amusement. She was not a woman, but she was past being a child; too sophisticated for toys, she might still, on impulse, turn a somersault on the living rug. 1. Approximately how old is Karen? 2. What details help you visualize her? 3. What details help to reveal something about Karen's personality? An author may also reveal a character through his speech or actions. "But why can't I go?" Karen wailed. "Everyone else is going. You never let me go anywhere!" You just don't want me to grow up and have fun!" Karen wheeled around and stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind her. 1. What does Karen reveal about her personality in the speech? 2. What do her actions contribute to your picture of her? An author may give the reactions and opinions of other characters. "I've known Karen for a long time, ever since first grade. We've been best friends since last year. I like her because...well, I guess it's because she is always so happy and sure of herself and she's good at things like baseball, and swimming and painting and stuff." Joanie paused, then added, "Everybody at school likes her." 1. What is Joanie's relationship to Karen? 2. What do you learn about Karen from Joanie's comments? An author may show the character's inner thoughts and feelings. The sunlight trickled between the slates of the bamboo blinds. Karen stretched luxuriously, pleasantly aware of the tingling sensation in her muscles. She really ought to get up, she thought. Sally was coming over at eleven. Maybe she should make some sandwiches so they could eat out in the backyard. Mrs. Henley was taking them to the beach in the afternoon. She should finish that letter to Peggy...maybe she would tonight...if she remembered...and if she had time. 1. What is Karen thinking about? 2. What do her thoughts tell you about her personality? Take the Practice Quiz! Online or Print-O
  8. 8. Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms [ Home ] [ Areas of Study ] [ Quizzes ] [ Literature Corner ] [ Literature Terms List ] Connotation/Denotation Study Guide At the end of this unit you will be able to: • define connotation and denotation • read sentence and determine if the wording is connotative or denotative Connotation is the emotional and Denotation is the strict imaginative association surrounding a dictionary meaning of a word. word. You may live in a house, but we live in a home. If you were to look up the words house and home in a dictionary, you would find that both words have approximately the same meaning- "a dwelling place." However, the speaker in the sentence above suggests that home has an additional meaning. Aside from the strict dictionary definition, or denotation, many people associate such things as comfort, love, security, or privacy with a home but do not necessarily make the same associations with a house. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of a home? of a house? Why do you think that real-estate advertisers use the word home more frequently than house? The various feelings, images, and memories that surround a word make up its connotation. Although both house and home have the same denotation, or dictionary meaning, home also has many connotations. Read the following sentences. Type in all your answers (ten) for this page on the answer sheet, and then send it in to Mrs. Dowling! o Annette was surprised. o Annette was amazed.
  9. 9. o Annette was astonished. 1. What is the general meaning of each of the three sentences about Annette? Do the words surprised, amazed, and astonished have approximately the same denotation? 2. What additional meanings are suggested by astonish? Would one be more likely to be surprised or astonished at seeing a ghost? 3. Which word in each pair below has the more favorable connotation to you? o thrifty-penny-pinching o pushy-aggressive o politician-statesman o chef-cook o slender-skinny Since everyone reacts emotionally to certain words, writers often deliberately select words that they think will influence your reactions and appeal to your emotions. Read the dictionary definition below. cock roach (kok' roch'), n. any of an order of nocturnal insects, usually brown with flattened oval bodies, some species of which are household pests inhabiting kitchens, areas around water pipes, etc. [Spanish cucaracha] 4. What does the word cockroach mean to you? 5. Is a cockroach merely an insect or is it also a household nuisance and a disgusting creature? See what meanings poets Wild and Morley find in roaches in the following poems. Roaches Last night when I got up to let the dog out I spied a cockroach in the bathroom crouched flat on the cool porcelain, delicate antennae probing the toothpaste cap and feasting himself on a gob of it in the bowl: I killed him with one unprofessional blow, scattering arms and legs and half his body in the sink...
  10. 10. I would have no truck with roaches, crouched like lions in the ledges of sewers their black eyes in the darkness alert for tasty slime, breeding quickly and without design, laboring up drainpipes through filth to the light; I read once they are among the most antediluvian of creatures, surviving everything, and in more primitive times thrived to the size of your hand... yet when sinking asleep or craning at the stars, I can feel their light feet probing in my veins, their whiskers nibbling the insides of my toes; and neck arched, feel their patient scrambling up the dark tubes of my throat. --Peter Wild from Nursery Rhymes for the Tender-hearted Scuttle, scuttle, little roach- How you run when I approach: Up above the pantry shelf Hastening to secrete yourself. Most adventurous of vermin, How I wish I could determine How you spend your hours of ease, Perhaps reclining on the cheese. Cook has gone, and all is dark- Then the kitchen is your park; In the garbage heap that she leaves Do you browse among the tea leaves? How delightful to suspect All the places you have trekked:
  11. 11. Does your long antenna whisk its Gentle tip across the biscuits? Do you linger, little soul, Drowsing in our sugar bowl? Or, abandonment most utter, Shake a shimmy on the butter? Do you chant your simple tunes Swimming in the baby's prunes? Then, when dawn comes, do you slink Homeward to the kitchen sink? Timid roach, why be so shy? We are brothers, thou and I, In the midnight, like yourself, I explore the pantry shelf! --Christopher Morley Reread the dictionary definition. 6. Which of the denotative characteristics of a cockroach both poets include in their poems? 7. What characteristics does Wild give his roaches that are not in the dictionary definition? 8. What additional characteristics does Morley give to roaches? In each poem, the insect acquires meaning beyond its dictionary definition. Both poets lead us away from a literal view of roaches to a nonliteral one. 9. Which poet succeeds in giving roaches favorable connotations? 10. Which poet comes closer to expressing your own feelings about roaches? Take the Practice Quiz! Online or Print-Out
  12. 12. Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms [ Home ] [ Areas of Study ] [ Quizzes ] [ Literature Corner ] [ Literature Terms List ] Conflict Study Guide At the end of this unit you will be able to: • define conflict • point out the difference between internal and external conflict The plots of most stories centers around conflict. A conflict is a struggle between opposing forces. There are two main kinds of conflict in stories: external and internal. External Conflict. A struggle between a character and an outside force is an external conflict. Characters may face several types of outside forces. The outside force may be another character. It may be the character and the community. The outside force may also be forces of nature. For example, a story might be the main character struggling against the arctic cold. • Man against man. • Man against nature. Internal Conflict. A struggle that takes place in a character's mind is called internal conflict. For example, a character may have to decide between right and wrong or between two solutions to a problem. Sometimes, a character must deal with his or her own mixed feelings or emotions. • Man against himself. The Importance of Conflict. Conflict is necessary to every story. In short stories, there is usually one major conflict. In longer stories, there could be several conflicts.
  13. 13. Conflict adds excitement and suspense to a story. The conflict usually becomes clear to the beginning of a story. As the plot unfolds, the reader starts to wonder what will happen next and how the characters will handle the situation. Many readers enjoy trying to predict the final outcome. The excitement usually builds to a high point, or climax. The climax is the turning point of the story. Something has happened to resolve the conflict. Reading for Conflict. As you read a story: 1. identify the main characters 2. decide what conflict they face 3. look for steps they take to settle that conflict 4. see if the steps cause other conflict 5. watch for clues and try to predict what the characters will do 6. enjoy the buildup of suspense 7. put yourself in the story 8. decide if you would have solved the conflict in the same way Take the Practice Quiz! Online or Print Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms [ Home ] [ Areas of Study ] [ Quizzes ] [ Literature Corner ] [ Literature Terms List ]
  14. 14. Figurative Language Study Guide At the end of this unit you will be able to: • define literal and figurative language • tell the difference in the two in selected writings Recognizing Literal Language You have probably read or heard someone make a comment similar to this one: The store was literally bursting with shoppers! In this case, the person is not using the word literally in its true meaning. Literal means "exact" or "not exaggerated." By pretending that the statement is not exaggerated, the person stresses the fullness of the store. Literal language is language that means exactly what is said. Most of the time, we use literal language. Recognizing Figurative Language The opposite of literal language is figurative language. Figurative language is language that means more than what it says on the surface. It usually gives us a feeling about its subject. For example, one poet writes about the "song of the truck." She does not mean that a truck can actually sing. Rather, she is speaking figuratively. She is referring to road noises as music. By using the word song, and suggesting music, she brings joyful feelings to mind. Poets use figurative language almost as frequently as literal language. When you read poetry, you must be conscious of the difference Otherwise, a poem may make no sense at all. For example, can you explain these lines from "The Storyteller" He talked, and as he talked Wallpaper came alive. Of course, the poet is not using literal language. He doesn't mean that the wallpaper literally jumped off the walls. Rather, he is using figurative language. This exaggeration suggests the power of the storyteller. Sometimes the literal meaning of a line does not make sense, and only the figurative meaning does. At other times, both literal and figurative meanings make sense. As
  15. 15. you read poetry, you must be alert for statements with both literal and figurative meanings. Recognizing Symbols Sometimes a writer uses something physical, like an object or color, to stand for an idea. The thing that stands for something else is called a symbol. You are familiar with some symbols in everyday life. For example, in street signs, the color red is a symbol of danger. In writing, a symbol is a type of figurative language. If a writer repeatedly refers to one object, you might suspect that it may be a symbol. Decide whether it might stand for something besides itself. Take the Practice Quiz! O Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms [ Home ] [ Areas of Study ] [ Quizzes ] [ Literature Corner ] [ Literature Terms List ] Foreshadow Study Guide At the end of this unit you will be able to: • identify foreshadowing technique in poetry Foreshadowing is the use of hints or clues to suggest what will happen later in literature. Foreshadowing frequently serves two purposes. It builds suspense by raising questions that encourage the reader to go on and find out more about the event that is
  16. 16. being foreshadowed. Foreshadowing is also a means of making a narrative more believable by partially preparing the reader for events which are to follow. Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms [ Home ] [ Areas of Study ] [ Quizzes ] [ Literature Corner ] [ Literature Terms List ] Free Verse Study Guide At the end of this unit you will be able to: • identify poetry written in free verse Free verse is just what it says it is - poetry that is written without proper rules about form, rhyme, rhythm, meter, etc. The greatest American writer of free verse is probably Walt Whitman. His great collection of free verse was titled Leaves of Grass and it was published in 1855. In free verse the writer makes his/her own rules. The writer decides how the poem should look, feel, and sound. Henry David Thoreau, a great philosopher, explained it
  17. 17. this way, ". . . perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." It may take you a while to "hear your own drummer," but free verse can be a great way to "get things off your chest" and express what you really feel. Here are some examples: Winter Poem Nikki Giovanni once a snowflake fell on my brow and i loved it so much and i kissed it and it was happy and called its cousins and brothers and a web of snow engulfed me then i reached to love them all and i squeezed them and they became a spring rain and i stood perfectly still and was a flower Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms [ Home ] [ Areas of Study ] [ Quizzes ] [ Literature Corner ] [ Literature Terms List ] Imagery
  18. 18. Study Guide At the end of this unit you will be able to: • define imagery • point out examples of imagery in selected writings and explain why they were usedg To make an imaginary world seem real, an author often makes use of words and phrases that appeal to the senses. These words and phrases, called images. help a reader mentally experience what the characters in the literary selection are actually experiencing. A well-written description should arouse a particular response or emotion in the reader's imagination. Look at the following selection. Try to pick out words that appeal to your senses of: sight smell taste touch sound The hot July sun beat relentlessly down, casting an orange glare over the farm buildings, the fields, the pond. Even the usually cool green willows bordering the pond hung wilted and dry. Our sun-baked backs ached for relief. We quickly pulled off our sweaty clothes and plunged into the pond, but the tepid water only stifled us and we soon climbed onto the brown, dusty bank. Our parched throats longed for something cool--a strawberry ice, a tall frosted glass of lemonade. We pulled on our clothes, crackling underbrush, the sharp briars pulling at our damp jeans, until we reached the watermelon patch. As we began to cut open the nearest melon, we could smell the pungent skin mingling with the dusty odor of the dry earth. Suddenly, the melon gave way with a crack, revealing the deep, pink sweetness inside. Take the Practice Quiz! Online or Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms
  19. 19. [ Home ] [ Areas of Study ] [ Quizzes ] [ Literature Corner ] [ Literature Terms List ] Metaphor Study Guide At the end of this unit you will be able to: • define metaphor • tell the difference between a simile and a metaphor • point out metaphors in selected writings • use metaphors in own writings A metaphor is a figure of speech comparing two unlilke things that have something in common. The comparison is made without the use of like or as. In the following example, the sun is compared to a flower. I think the sun is a flower, That blooms for just one hour. ("All Summer in a Day"} Take the Quiz! Online or Print-Out Take the Simile and Metaphor Quiz! Online or Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms [ Home ] [ Areas of Study ] [ Quizzes ] [ Literature Corner ] [ Literature Terms List ] Meter
  20. 20. Study Guide At the end of this unit you will be able to: • identify meter patterns in poetry When a rhythmic pattern of stresses recurs in a poem, it is called meter. Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms [ Home ] [ Areas of Study ] [ Quizzes ] [ Literature Corner ] [ Literature Terms List ] Mood Study Guide At the end of this unit you will be able to: A Define mood A Identify the mood in selected works Mood is the emotions that you feel while you are reading. Some literature makes you feel sad, others joyful, still others, angry. The main purpose for some poems is to set a mood. How does the following passage from o. Henry's short story, "After Twenty Years," make you feel? The policemen on the beat moved up the avenue impressively. The impressiveness was habitual and not for show, for spectators were few. The time was barely ten
  21. 21. o'clock at night, but chilly gusts of wind with a taste of rain in them had well nigh depeopled the streets. What is the mood in the following poem? Madam and the Rent Man The rent man knocked. He said, Howdy-do? I said, What Can I do for you? He said, You know Your rent is due. I said, Listen Before I’d pay I’d go to Hades And rot away! The sink is broke, The water don’t run, And you ain’t done a thing You promised to’ve done. Back window’s cracked, Kitchen floor squeaks, There’s rats in the cellar, And the attic leaks. He said, Madam, It’s not up to me. I’m just the agent, Don’t you see? I said, Naturally, You pass the buck. If it’s money you want You’re out of luck. He said, Madam, I ain’t pleased! I said, Neither am I. So we agrees. Check out the same poem on the TONE page to see how mood is different than tone.
  22. 22. Mrs. Dowling's Literature Terms [ Home ] [ Areas of Study ] [ Quizzes ] [ Literature Corner ] [ Literature Terms List ] Tone Study Guide At the end of this unit you will be able to: A Define tone A Identify tone in selected writings. Has anyone ever said to you, "Don't use that tone of voice with me?" Your tone can change the meaning of what you say. Tone can turn a statement like, " You're a big help!" into sa genuine compliment or a cruel sarcastic remark. Tone is the attitude that an author takes toward the audience, the subject, or the character. Tone is conveyed through the author's words and details. What is the tone in the following poem? Madam and the Rent Man The rent man knocked. He said, Howdy-do? I said, What Can I do for you? He said, You know Your rent is due.
  23. 23. I said, Listen Before I’d pay I’d go to Hades And rot away! The sink is broke, The water don’t run, And you ain’t done a thing You promised to’ve done. Back window’s cracked, Kitchen floor squeaks, There’s rats in the cellar, And the attic leaks. He said, Madam, It’s not up to me. I’m just the agent, Don’t you see? I said, Naturally, You pass the buck. If it’s money you want You’re out of luck. He said, Madam, I ain’t pleased! I said, Neither am I. So we agrees. Check out the same poem on the MOOD page to see how tone is different than mood.
  24. 24. The Problem of Meaning in Literature A brief introduction for my Year 1 students by Professor John Lye Copyright 1996 by John Lye "Meaning" is a difficult issue, and what I have to say here only scratches the surface of a complex and contested area. How do we know what a work of literature is 'supposed'; to mean, or what its 'real' meaning is? There are several ways to approach this: • that meaning is what is intended by the author ; • that meaning is created by and contained in the text itself ; • that meaning is created by the reader. The author Does a work of literature mean what the author 'intended' it to mean, and if so, how can we tell? If all the evidence we have is the text itself, we can only speculate on what the priorities and ideas of the author were from our set of interpretive practices and values (how we read literature and how we see the world). We can expand this: 1. by reading other works by the same author, 2. by knowing more and more about what sort of meanings seem to be common to works in that particular tradition, time and genre, 3. by knowing how the author and other writers and readers of that time read texts -- what their interpretive practices were (as reading and writing must be part of the same set of activities), and 4. by knowing what the cultural values and symbols of the time were. Any person or text can only 'mean' within a set of preexisting, socially supported ideas, symbols, images, ways of thinking and values. In a sense there is no such thing as a 'personal' meaning; although we have different experiences in our lives and different temperaments and interests, we will interpret the world according to social norms and cultural meanings -- there's no other way to do it.
  25. 25. We may have as evidence for meaning what the author said or wrote about the work, but this is not always reliable. Authorial intention is complicated not only by the fact that an author's ways of meaning and of using literary conventions are cultural, but by the facts that 1. the author's work may very well have taken her in directions she did not originally foresee and have developed meanings which she did not intend and indeed may not recognize (our historical records are full of authors attesting to this), 2. the works may embody cultural or symbolic meanings which are not fully clear to the author herself and may emerge only through historical or other cultural pespective, and 3. persons may not be conscious of all of the motives that attend their work. For an expanded consideration of meaning and the author, see my page The concept of the death of the author and the study of contemporary theory The Text Does the meaning exist 'in' the text? There is an argument that the formal properties of the text--the grammar, the language, the uses of image and so forth--contain and produce the meaning, so that any educated (competent) reader will inevitably come to essentially the same interpretation as any other. Of course, it becomes almost impossible to know whether the same interpretations are arrived at because the formal properties securely encode the meaning, or because all of the 'competent' readers were taught to read the formal properties of texts in roughly the same way. As a text is in a sense only ink-marks on a page, and as all meanings are culturally created and transferred, the argument that the meaning is 'in' the text is not a particularly persuasive one. The meaning might be more likely to be in the conventions of meaning, the traditions, the cultural codes which have been handed down, so that insofar as we and other readers (and the author) might be said to agree on the meaning of the text, that agreement would be created by common traditions and conventions of usage, practice and interpretation. In different time periods, with different cultural perspectives (including class, gender, ethnicity, belief and world-view), or with different purposes for reading no matter what the distance in time or cultural situation, competent readers can arrive at different readings of texts. As on the one hand a text is an historical document, a material fact, and as on the other meaning is inevitably cultural and contextual, the question of whether the text 'really means' what it means to a particular reader, group or tradition can be a difficult and complex one. The Reader Does the meaning then exist in the reader's response, her processing or reception of the text? In a sense this is inescapable: meaning exists only insofar as it means to someone, and art is composed in order to evoke sets of responses in the reader (there
  26. 26. is no other reason for it to exist, or for it to have patterns or aesthetic qualities, or for it to use symbols or have cultural codes). But this leads us to three essential issues. 1. Meaning is 'social', that is, language and conventions work only as shared meaning, and our way of viewing the world can exist only as shared or sharable. When we read a text, we are participating in social, or cultural, meaning. Response is not merely an individual thing, but is part of culture and history. 2. Meaning is contextual; change the context, you often change the meaning. 3. Texts constructed as literature, or 'art', have their own codes and practices, and the more we know of them, the more we can 'decode' the text, that is, understand it - consequently, there is in regard to the question of meaning the matter of reader competency, as it is called, the experience and knowledge of decoding literary texts. (I have a brief page on various Reader Response positions which you might like to look at.) Your professor might insist on your having and practicing competency in reading by insisting that any interpretation you have (a) be rooted in (authorized by) the text itself and (b) be responsible to everything in the text -- that is, that your interpretation of any line or action be in the context of the whole of the work. But you may have to learn other competencies too. For instance in reading Mulk Raj Anand's The Untouchables you might have to learn what the social structure of India was like, what traditions of writing about and/or by Untouchables were in effect in India in the early 1930's, what political, cultural, and personal influences Mulk Raj Anand was guided by in constructing the imaginative world of this short novel; you might have to learn, in reading John Donne's poems, about, for instance, the 'platonic' (really, Florentine Neo-Plotinian) theory of love. As another kind of competency, you might have to practice reading certain kinds of literature, whose methods seem alien to you or particularly difficult for you, so that you can understand how that kind of literature works. You may see that this idea that meaning requires competency in reading can bring us back, as meanings are cultural and as art is artifact, to different conventions and ways of reading and writing, and to the historically situated understandings of the section on the Author, above; at the least, 'meaning' requires a negotiation between cultural meanings across time, culture, gender, class. As readers you have in fact acquired a good deal of competency already; you are about to acquire more. The point of this brief essay is that 'meaning' is a phenomenon that is not easily ascribed or located, that it is historical, social, and derived from the traditions of reading and thinking and understanding the world that you are educated about and socialized in. Return to top If you have any questions or suggestions please mail me. Return to John Lye's Course and Source Page; to the ENGL 2F55 Main Page URL of this page: Disclaimer http://www.brocku.ca/english/jlye/meaning.html Brock University Main
  27. 27. Last updated on December 10, 1997 by Professor John Lye Page `

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