LITERARY
DEVICES
T-W
THEME WORDPLAY
THEME
The author’s central message of a work of
literature; the lesson or perception about life
contained within a work of literature.
Examples: Appearances can be deceiving
(Macbeth); The pursuit of knowledge can lead to
good or evil, if not kept in check and balanced
with other priorities and values in life
(Frankenstein); All humans are equally capable
of carrying out good or evil deeds (Jekyll and
Hyde).
THIRD-PERSON POINT OF VIEW
When the events characters of a story are described
by a narrator who is outside the action. Third-person
p.o.v. can be limited (from the perspective of only
one character) or omniscient (all-knowing)
Examples: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde is told from a limited point-of-view, and
from the perspective of Mr. Utterson. The reader
knows only the same information as Mr. Utterson;
the mystery unfolds only as Mr. Utterson discovers
new information.
TITLE
The first introduction of a work of literature to a
reader that usually reveals something about the
subject or theme of the work.
Examples: Hiroshima by John Hersey; “The
Mirror,” by Sylvia Plath
TONE
The author’s attitude about his or her subject. An
author may have an attitude that is serious,
somber, humorous, satirical, etc. (NOTE: Do not
confuse this term with “mood,” which is the
reader’s response to the subject.
Examples: Geoffrey Chaucer establishes a tone
of satire and humor in his work Canterbury Tales;
Brave New World uses dark satire—the events are
not meant to be taken seriously, but are much
more pessimistic than satire in general.
TRAGEDY
A dramatic work in which the hero meets an
untimely death or downfall. The main character
is known as the tragic hero and is usually
someone of great importance in society. The
hero has a tragic flaw, a character trait or
decision that leads to his doom. According to
Aristotle, the purpose of a tragedy was to bring
about pity and fear in the audience.
Examples: Macbeth; Oedipus Rex; Romeo &
Juliet; Hamlet; Othello; King Lear.
TRAGIC FLAW
In a tragedy, the character trait in the protagonist
that leads to his or her downfall or death. The
flaw may be a personality trait or a poor decision.
Examples: Ambition is the tragic flaw found in the
character of Macbeth—his ambitious desire to be
king caused him to lose sight of all other priorities
and values in life; Hubris is the tragic flaw found in
the character of Oedipus—he thought he could
take fate into his own hands and thought he knew
better than the divine gods and prophets how to
save the city of Thebes.
TRAGIC HERO
The main character, the protagonist, in a tragedy
who has a character flaw that leads to his doom.
Examples: Oedipus; Macbeth; Hamlet; King Lear;
Othello.
UNDERSTATEMENT
Saying less than is literally true, for the purpose of
emphasis or effect. In some cases, the
understatement is meant to mock the person
about whom the remark is given.
Examples: Chaucer’s description of the prioress
“…she was by no means undergrown”; In a scene
from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, an Army
officer who has just lost his leg is asked how he
feels, and when he looks down at his bloody
stump he responds, "Stings a bit."
VERBAL IRONY
When a speaker or writer says one thing but
means something else. Sarcasm is one type of
verbal irony.
Examples: When Chaucer writes “as for
blancmange he made it with the best,” he is
using verbal irony because “the best” refers to
the ingredients the cook uses, while his ulcer
often drips puss into the soup he makes; when the
blind prophet Teiresias tells Oedipus, “I say that
you, with both of your eyes, are blind,” he does
not mean that Oedipus is literally blind, but rather
that he is blind to the truth.
VILLANELLE
A poetic form composed of 19 lines in five 3-line
stanzas (tercets), each with the rhyme scheme of
a-b-a, and a final quatrain and using the rhyme
scheme of a-b-a-a
Examples: “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good
Night,“ by Dylan Thomas is a well-known
villanelle; "The Waking," by Theodore Roethke
(click on the links to view the poems)
WORD PLAY
The intentional use of more than one meaning of a
word for effect (such as for the purposes of irony,
clever humor, or added depth); word play is
especially useful and effective in poetry; puns ,
riddles, and idioms are examples of the use of
word play.
Examples: Stevie Smith’s poem “The Frog Prince,”
ends with the lines “Only disenchanted
people/Can be heavenly,” with the meaning that
the life of a frog is actually better than the life of a
human; The answer to the riddle “Which building
in town has the most stories?” is the library
because stories has a double-meaning

Theme - Wordplay - Crestwood Local Schools