F:\Nick handouts for correcting\X-files for PDF\RS4.10 Elements for Analyzing Fiction.doc J.Robinson/2006
Authors use various literary devices to develop ideas in their work. This handout explains some of the most commonly used literary elements and suggests strategies for using them to analyse short stories.
The devices explored in this handout are: imagery, symbolism, irony, and foreshadowing. As you read literature, watch for how these various elements are used.
Imagery is the way authors create pictures, or images, in readers’ minds. Through the creation of these images, the author often gives clues to deeper meanings of the story.
Strategies used to create imagery include:
1. Appeals to the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste).
2. Use of figurative language
a. Simile – a comparison of two quite different things using like or as.
b. Metaphor – an implied comparison of two quite different things (no like or as).
c. Personification – giving human qualities to something that’s not human.
As you read a story, watch for uses of the senses and figurative language that create vivid images in your mind. Mark those passages for later analysis.
To analyze imagery, consider:
What especially strong images does the author use?
Why does the author emphasize those particular images?
Are there patterns in the use of imagery in the story such as repetition of similar images or contrasting images? What do those patterns suggest about deeper meanings of the story?
How does the imagery affect the mood of the story?
What issues does the imagery raise or emphasize in the story?
Are there changes in kinds of imagery as the story progresses? What does this tell you about other changes that take place in the story?
The passage below by Jane Urquhart, from her novel “A Map of Glass” shows examples of several kinds of imagery:
In order to reach the front door she had to pass through the dining room, and as she did so she recalled that in the late afternoon, while the rest of the house darkened, the low light entering the room from the west window always caused the large oval of the table to shine like a lake, a lake with two silver candlesticks floating on its surface. She had watched this happen almost every day of her life, as long as she could remember, and it would continue to happen when she was not there: an abandoned table gathering light and her far away, not witnessing the ceremony (36).
1. How does the author use the sense of sight?
2. How does the author use simile?
3. How does the author use personification?
Symbolism is when the author uses something (often a concrete object) to represent something else (often an abstract idea or emotion). Writers generally use symbols to express multiple meanings.
Symbolism can be based on:
1. Literal meanings - based on the dictionary definition/s of a word
2. Cultural meanings - based on shared understandings of people in one or more cultures – e.g. a rose stands for beauty
3. Context-specific meanings - the context of the story gives the object symbolic meaning
4. It can be useful to think about symbolism as a series of layers.
Symbolism can create rich meanings with many layers for readers who take the time to explore the depths of possible meanings included in a symbol. To analyze symbolism, watch out for interesting choices of words or imagery that you think could imply deeper meanings. Then, consider:
What is the literal meaning of the word or object?
What characteristics does that object have?
What other meanings does the word have? Look it up in a dictionary.
Does the object have symbolic meaning in the culture of the author or the culture of the setting?
Is this symbol