Literary Elements

assorted books on shelf. Literary Elements
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Literary elements are aspects or characteristics of a whole text. They are not “used,” per se, by authors; we derive what they are from reading the text. Most literary elements can be derived from any and all texts. For example, every story has a theme, a setting, conflict, and every story is written from a particular point-of-view. In order to be discussed legitimately, literary elements must be specifically identified for that text.

Linguistic devices

Linguist devices are techniques that help a speaker or a writer express feelings about a subject using articulate persuasion. It has an agenda. While literary devices help a writer to tell a story with eloquence. You can find all linguist devices such as allegories here Literary techniques and here Rhetorical devices.

Allegory: Where every aspect of a story is representative, usually symbolic, of something else, usually a larger abstract concept or important historical/geopolitical event. Ex: Lord of the Flies provides a compelling allegory of human nature. It illustrates the many sides of the psyche through its sharply-defined main characters.

In this article we’re going to focus on literary elements that are “big-picture” literary devices that extend throughout the entire work, such as setting, theme, structure, and motif

List of Literary elements

Antagonist: Counterpart to the main character and source of a story’s main conflict. The person may not be “bad” or “evil” by any conventional moral standard, but he/she opposes the protagonist in a significant way.

Characterization: The author’s means of conveying to the reader a character’s personality, life history, values, physical attributes, etc. Also refers directly to a description thereof.

Atticus is characterized as an almost impossibly virtuous man, always doing what is right and imparting impeccable moral values to his children.

Climax: The turning point in a story, at which the end result becomes inevitable, usually where something suddenly goes terribly wrong; the “dramatic high point” of a story.

The story reaches its climax in Act III, when Mercutio and Tybalt are killed and Romeo is banished from Verona.

Conflict: A struggle between opposing forces which is the driving force of a story. The outcome of any story provides a resolution of the conflict(s); this is what keeps the reader reading. Conflicts can exist between individual characters, between groups of characters, between a character and society, etc., and can also be purely abstract (conflicting ideas).

The conflict between the Montagues and Capulets causes Romeo and Juliet to behave irrationally once they fall in love.

Jack’s priorities are in conflict with those of Ralph and Piggy, which causes him to break away from the group.

Man-versus-nature is an important conflict in The Old Man and the Sea.


Context: Facts and conditions surrounding a given situation.

Madame Defarge’s actions seem almost reasonable in the context of the Revolution.Literary Devices, Techniques, and Elements

Mood: The atmosphere or emotional condition created by the piece, within the setting.

The mood of Macbeth is dark, murky and mysterious, creating a sense of fear and uncertainty.

Motif: A recurring important idea or image. A motif differs from a theme in that it can be expressed as a single word or fragmentary phrase, while a theme usually must be expressed as a complete sentence.

Blood is an important motif in A Tale of Two Cities, appearing numerous times throughout the novel.

Outline: An outline is a tool used to organize written ideas about a topic or thesis into a logical order. Outlines arrange major topics, subtopics, and supporting details. Writers use outlines when writing their papers in order to know which topic to cover in what order.

Plot: Sequence of events in a story. Most literary essay tasks will instruct the writer to “avoid plot summary;” the term is therefore rarely useful for response or critical analysis. When discussing plot, it is generally more useful to consider its structure, rather than simply “what happens.”

Related: Plot Twist

Point-of-view: The identity of the narrative voice; the person or entity through whom the reader experiences the story. May be third-person (no narrator; omniscient or limited) or first-person (narrated by a character in the story who either merely observes or directly participates). Point-of-view is a commonly misused term; it does not refer to the author’s (or characters’) feelings, opinions, perspectives, biases, etc.

Though it is written in third-person, Animal Farm is told from the point-of-view of the common animals, unaware of what is really happening as the pigs gradually and secretively take over the farm.

Writing the story in first-person point-of-view enables the reader to experience the soldier’s fear and uncertainty, limiting the narrative to what only he saw, thought and felt during the battle.

Protagonist: The main character in a story, the one with whom the reader is meant to identify. The person is not necessarily “good” by any conventional moral standard, but he/she is the person in whose plight the reader is most invested.

Related: Fictional Characters

Setting: The time and place where a story occurs. The setting can be specific (e.g., New York City in 1930) or ambiguous (e.g., a large urban city during economic hard times). Also refers directly to a description thereof.

The novel is set in the South during the racially turbulent 1930’s, when blacks were treated unfairly by the courts. With the island, Golding creates a pristine, isolated and uncorrupted setting, in order to show that the boys’ actions result from their own essential nature rather than their environment.

Speaker: The “voice” of a poem; not to be confused with the poet him/herself. Analogous to the narrator in prose fiction.


Structure: The manner in which the various elements of a story are assembled. The individual tales are told within the structure of the larger framing story, where the 29 travelers gather at the Inn at Southwark on their journey to Canterbury, telling stories to pass the time.

The play follows the traditional Shakespearean five-act plot structure, with exposition in Act I, development in Act II, the climax or turning point in Act III, falling action in Act IV, and resolution in Act V.

Theme: The main idea or message conveyed by the piece. A theme is generally stated as a complete sentence; an idea expressed as a single word or fragmentary phrase is a motif.

Orwell’s theme in his famous allegory Animal Farm is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The idea that human beings are essentially brutal, savage creatures provides the central theme of the novel.

Tone: The apparent emotional state of the speaker/narrator/narrative voice, as conveyed through the language of the piece.

The poem has a bitter and sardonic tone, revealing the speaker’s anger and resentment.

The tone of Gulliver’s narration is unusually matter-of-fact, as he seems to regard these bizarre and absurd occurrences as ordinary or commonplace.


Where a story ends with a negative or unfortunate outcome that was essentially avoidable, usually caused by a flaw in the central character’s personality. Tragedy is really more of a dramatic genre than a literary element; a play can be referred to as a tragedy, but tragic events in a story are essentially part of the plot, rather than a literary device in themselves.

Tragic hero/tragic figure: A protagonist who comes to a bad end as a result of his own behavior, usually cased by a specific personality disorder or character flaw.

Willy Loman is one of the best-known tragic figures in American literature, oblivious to and unable to face the reality of his life.

Tragic flaw: The single characteristic (usually negative) or personality disorder that causes the downfall of the protagonist.

Othello’s tragic flaw is his jealousy, which consumes him so thoroughly that he is driven to murder his wife rather than accept, let alone confirm, her infidelity.

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