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English Literary Techniques Toolkit The Complete HSC Literary Devices

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The English Literary Techniques Toolkit for The HSC
In Part 1 of the English Techniques Guide, we provide a complete list of English literary techniques that you
must know for analysing texts effectively and writing creative responses.
All about the English Literary Techniques Toolkit
1. Literary Techniques Toolkit
This Literary Techniques Toolkit is your essential resource for analysing written texts for
2. Visual Techniques Toolkit
3. Film Techniques Toolkit
4. English Grammar Toolkit
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Students of all year levels should explore this
page for techniques to enhance their discussion
of texts and strengthen their repertoire of written
We are constantly adding to this reference to ensure that it is as detailed and
comprehensive as possible to help you achieve your best in English.
What are English literary techniques?
Literary Techniques (NESA also refers to literary techniques and devices as gurative
language) are the techniques that composers use in their written texts to help convey or
heighten meaning.
Rather than writing in plain language, composers give more emphasis to their ideas by
utilising literary techniques to make them stand out.
If you are after more practical advice about how to succeed in Year 11 and 12 English, you
should read our Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English.
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English Literary Techniques for the HSC
While the list below is a comprehensive list of literary techniques, Year 11 and 12 Matrix
English Students have an extensive 30+ page Glossary of Techniques with detailed
de nitions and examples included at the end of each Matrix Theory Book.
Below is a list of the most common literary techniques used in texts (the techniques
underlined are clickable links that take you to expanded de nitions and step-by-step
tutorials on analysis):
Go to technique:
Literary Technique
Explanation and Example
Story with a double meaning: one primary (on the surface) and one secondary.
An allegory is an extended metaphor where objects, persons and actions in a
narrative are equated with meanings outside of the narrative. The meaning of
an allegory can have moral, social, religious, or political signi cance, often
relatable to the context of the author.
A well-known example of an allegorical text is George Orwell’s Animal Farm. If
you are analysing this text, you should read extracts as examples of allegories.
For example, Napoleon is an allegorical counterpart of the Soviet leader
Joseph Stalin.
A subtle or indirect reference to another thing, text, historical period, or
religious belief.
For example, in T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men,’ there is an allusion to a celestial
rose described by Dante in his Paradiso. At one point in Eliot’s poem the
reader encounters the phrase ‘multifoliate rose,’ but Eliot does not mention
Dante or the Paradiso by name. This is an allusion. Had Eliot quoted Dante’s
Paradiso, then we would refer to this as a quotation (see below).
Alliteration means the repetition of sounds at the start of a word in two or
more words in close proximity. Alliteration is a real technique used in poetry,
and, in some traditions, it is a unifying feature of the verse. For the most part,
you should be careful identifying alliteration. It’s seldom used in prose, and
when it is used in poetry, it often does not have a speci c meaning, being
rather a convention of the genre. Use with caution!
The opening line of William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’ provides an example of
alliteration: ‘Tyger, tyger, burning bright,’ and this technique is used throughout
the poem.
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A comparison
of explanation
or clari
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For example, In 2016 a Fox News article repeated a clichéd analogy in a
headline: ‘Is America collapsing like the Roman Empire?’ The journalist is
suggesting that we can understand aspects of the United States today by
appreciating their similarity with aspects of the Roman Empire.
An interesting or unique personal story or account. Composer’s use of
anecdotes in both ction and non- ction texts to develop their ideas,
demonstrate elements of a character’s personality, or add to their world.
In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Professor Dumbledore offers the
following anecdote about his brother:
“My own brother, Aberforth, was prosecuted for practising inappropriate
charms on a goat. It was all over the papers, but did Aberforth hide? No, he did
not! He held his head high and went about his business as usual! Of course,
I’m not entirely sure he can read, so that may not have been bravery….” (Goblet
of Fire, P. 454)
This anecdote is a clue to eagle-eyed readers that Aberforth, Dumbledore’s
brother, is the barman of the Hog’s Head Tavern and the reason why
Dumbledore knows so much about what happens there.
In a text, an anomaly is something which deviates from what is normal or
The act of attributing human qualities to a non-human gure.
Napoleon the pig in Animal Farm has been anthropomorphised – he speaks
and acts like a person – and this allows Orwell to use him in an allegorical
A rhetorical technique where a character speaks to an object, quality, or idea,
or discusses somebody who is absent or dead.
In ‘The Sunne Rising” by John Donne, the speaker refers to,
“Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch …”
Here, the speaker takes a casual (colloquial) register and mocking tone to
chide the sun for interrupting him and his lover in bed.
An archetype is a recurring idea, character, or object. Throughout literary
history, there is a hero archetype, for example.
Homer’s Penelope from The Illiad and The Odyssey is considered the
archetype of the faithful wife. While now understood as sexist and
misogynistic, for many centuries Penelope was held up as an example of the
perfect wife and used to restrict women’s behaviour and freedom.
Assonance occurs when similar vowel sounds appear close together. This
repetition can occur anywhere in the word, not only at the start.
An example of assonance is ‘she sells sea shells by sea shore.’ Like
alliteration, assonance can contribute particular meanings or effects, but is
often simply an organising feature.
Again, use with caution!
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is a term
usedto describe
texts Resources
that are constructed
 usually
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from pre-existing material, often belonging to multiple sources and text types.
Alain De Botton’s Art of Travel can be broadly considered a bricolage text. This
pluralistic method of representation, which re ects de Botton’s postmodernist
context, suggests that there are multiple, equally valuable versions of reality –
those found in art and those that we experience individually.
An over-used, common expression.
For example, the statements “brave as a lion” or “opposites attract” are clichés
that de ne personal traits and relationships, respectively.
Repetition of consonants throughout a sentence or phrase.
For example, John Keat’s “Ode to a Nightingale” employs half-rhyming
consonance in the rst stanza. We can see this in the rst two lines:
“My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,”
There is consonance in the “n” sounds in the rst line and the “k” sounds in the
Contrast is the deliberate positioning of two or more
objects/events/characters who have different characteristics. This is often
done to accentuate their unique individual qualities.
Paradox, antithesis, oxymoron, juxtaposition, contrast in description are all
techniques that employ contrast.
For example, In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Pt 1, there is a consistent contrasting
occurring between Henry, the title character, who is old and stern; his young
son, Hal, or is wild, unpredictable and intelligent; and, the quick-tempered and
stubborn Hotspur, Hal’s rival for the throne. Shakespeare contrasts these
gures to discuss the ideal qualities of a king.
A dialect is a form of English spoken by a particular group, such as a group of
people from a particular region. If your text is written in a certain dialect, you
could explain why the author has chosen to adopt this language. If a character
speaks in a particular dialect, that is part of their characterisation and
suggests where they come from and their socio-economic status.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell includes dialogue from a woman speaking in
cockney English, a dialect historically associated with East London and the
working class. From this, the reader can infer that the Proles in Orwell’s novel
are descendants of Cockney speakers, an inference even the novel’s
protagonist would not be able to make.
Dialogue is one of the major techniques you will refer to, and it is often good
to refer to it in connection with other techniques. For example, you may refer
to the diction in a speaker’s dialogue, which will suggest their level of
education. Dialogue can be used to infer a speaker’s intentions, as well as their
personality (are they assertive or restrained when speaking to other people?).
The selective choice of words and style of expression by an author. Diction
refers to the construction of expressions which allows a text to ful ll its
purpose. It can impact the tone and representation of characters and setting.
In the ‘Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock’, T.S Eliot utilises diction to convey the
decay of humanity. His careful choice of language, particularly in “I have
measured out my life with coffee spoons;/I know the voices dying with a dying
fall.” Through comparing the quantity of life he has remaining to coffee
spoons, Eliot is able to emphasise the degradation and fragility of human life.
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text that
the reader
or is obviously
a moral
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For example, Jane Austen’s Emma is considered by some to be a didactic text
because it presents examples of how a young woman should and shouldn’t
This refers to the use of words or expressions that are considered deictic –
meaning they require on the context of other words to develop clear meaning.
the most common examples of this are “me” or “here.” These words require us
to know, or at least assume we know, contextual information to develop
For example, in the sentence, “I talk about writing from here.” You, the reader,
will assume that “I” am a teacher at Matrix and that by “here” I mean that I am
writing from or at one of the Matrix campuses.
Composers can manipulate and disorientate their readers by disrupting deixis
in their texts.
TS Eliot utilises deixis extensively in ‘The Hollow Men.’ He refers to an
unknown “I” and “we” and numerous places connoted as “here” to disorientate
the reader.
A disjunct is a type of adverb that modi es a whole sentence. They function in
a similar way to introductory clauses and introduce examples or observations
by commenting on them.
Jane Austen begins Pride and Prejudice with a disjunct: “It is a truth
universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune,
must be in want of a wife.” The initial clause about acknowledged truth is
modi ed by “universally” to make it hyperbolic and satirise the regency
conventions of marriage.
Related to Disjuncts, see above, a disjunction is a conjunction (e.g. usually
‘either’ or ‘either….or’, but also ‘but’ or ‘yet’) that dramatically interrupts the
rhythm of the sentence to introduce a contrast.
For example, in the Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald Nick Carraway observes that:
“Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes, but after a
certain point I don’t care what it’s founded on.” In this quotation, ‘but’ is used to
dramatically dismiss the religious allusion in the previous clause.
Ellipsis is sometimes used to truncate quotations that are long by using three
consecutive periods (…).
In literature, Ellipsis can be employed in a variety of different ways. Most
commonly, a dramatic pause is signalled by (…) creates tension or suggests
words can’t be spoken. For example, if a character were to suggest doubt
about what another has just said they might respond with, “…Sure…,” where the
pauses convey the speaker’s scepticism. In To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
employs ellipsis to convey the unease at the Ramsay dinner table: “Why don’t
some of you take up botany?.. With all those legs and arms why doesn’t one of
you . . .?” So they would talk as usual, laughing, among the children. ”
In addition, Woolf uses a different form of ellipsis in the second chapter of the
novel, “Time Passes”. Here, she uses parenthetical insertions [in square
parenthesis] to denote a passing of time – 10 years – and signi cant events
and interrupt the narrative in each section. For example, in section 6 Woolf
represents both Prue Ramsay’s marriage and subsequent death in two
parenthetical remarks that bookend a description of summer: “[Prue Ramsay,
leaning on her father’s arm, was given in marriage. What, people said, could
have been more tting? And, they added, how beautiful she looked!]” and then,
“[Prue Ramsay died that summer in some illness connected with childbirth,
which was indeed a tragedy, people said, everything, they said, had promised
so well.]”
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Literary Technique
Explanation and Example
Emotive language
thatstir the
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For example, Prince Hamlet’s self-indulgent rant in Scene to of Shakespeare’s
Hamlet uses emotive language to describe how depressed he is:
“O God! God!
How weary, stale, at and unpro table,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!”
A poetic technique, when a sentence or phrase runs over more than one line
(or stanza). Enjambment is an interesting technique. Visually, this gives the
sense that the poem ows between lines. However, in utterance, enjambment
leads to a pause between lines when spoken aloud. This effect is known as
a Rejet. Composers often use this to disrupt the ow or a poem or contrast
distinct images or ideas.
In The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot, the persona states:
“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;”
This use of enjambment conveys a romantic image of a night sky only to
contrast it with the macabre image of an unconscious patient about to
undergo surgery. This is jarring contrast further emphasized by the rejet.
Mild expression used to replace a harsh one.
For example, an embarrassed student might tell their parent that they had a
“working lunch” rather than admitting to having been given a lunchtime
detention for poor behaviour.
Exclamatory sentence ending in “!” to convey high emotion.
In Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’ the persona’s insecurities about
their appearance are conveyed with the exclamation: “(They will say: “How his
hair is growing thin!”)”
Figurative language &
sound devices
Metaphor, metonymy, hyperbole, simile, personi cation, assonance,
alliteration, consonance, onomatopoeia, etc. These devices have a powerful
impact as they work on our senses to strengthen the subject matter of the
You will nd speci c examples of the above techniques throughout this
Purpose and features of a text in uence its construction and will suggest its
Foreshadowing is simply an allusion to something that will happen later in the
A ashback is a scene appearing in a text that occurs earlier than the main
narrative. Flashbacks can have many effects.
A signi cant ashback occurs in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, in Part
Two, Chapter 7. In this scene, a traumatic dream causes a ashback in the
protagonist Winston Smith. The ashback concerns painful memories
involving his family. The spontaneous nature of this ashback suggests that
Winston has gone to lengths to repress the traumatic memory involving his
family. It is also a narrative device. By revealing new details about Winston’s
past, Orwell keeps the reader engaged and interested.
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people speak to each other. Sentence fragments are sentences that cannot
stand on their own. A single noun is a sentence fragment, as is a subordinate
clause, such as ‘That he knew better.’ If you’re trying to identify a sentence
fragment, just ask yourself whether it could stand on its own, or whether it
needs some other element to complete it. In the previous example, we could
add ‘I said that he knew better.’ Sentence fragments can convey many things.
T.S. Eliot used fragmentation in tandem with symbolism to explore nonmimetic forms of expression, for example in ‘The Hollow Men’. Fragmentation
will usually convey notions of destruction and decay, so when interpreting
instances of it think about what sorts of themes your author is exploring.
Gaps & silences
What is not said; whose voice isn’t heard and whose voice dominates?
Incongruity, parody, satire, exaggeration, irony, puns etc. used to lighten the
overall tone.
A literary term for exaggeration. This is a simple technique, so refer to it
In Emma, Jane Austen uses hyperbole in Elton’s comment that, “I have no
hesitation in saying — at least if my friend feels at all as I do — I have not the
smallest doubt that, could he see his little effusion honoured as I see it,
(looking at the book again, and replacing it on the table), he would consider it
as the proudest moment of his life,” to convey the growing misunderstanding
between Elton, Harriet, and Emma about who fanices whom.
A single person, object or image that represents complex ideas and feelings.
Vivid pictures created by words. Reader visualises character/setting clearly.
Imagery is language that evokes one of the ve senses, and you must always
refer to the speci c kind. In other words, never use simply ‘imagery,’ but
always ‘olfactory imagery,’ ‘tactile imagery,’ ‘visual imagery,’ ‘auditory imagery’
or ‘gustatory imagery.’ Occasionally, students, noticing that ‘visual imagery’ is
something of a tautology, omit the adjective ‘visual’ when referring to this
category. They shouldn’t, though. Always be speci c.
Imperative Voice or
Forceful use of the verb at the start of sentence or phrase. The imperative
mood is one of the grammatical moods in English. Other moods include the
indicative (as in ‘That cat is suspicious’) and the interrogative (‘Is that cat
suspicious?’). The imperative mood is useful to refer to since it’s the mood for
commands (e.g. ‘Go to bed!’ ‘Shut the door!). If a speaker uses the imperative,
then he or she may be an authority gure.
Before the third section of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston and Julia are
caught. A man named Mr. Charrington, whom Winston had believed was a
gentle shopkeeper, turns out to be a member of the secret police. Mr.
Charrington’s authority in the secret police is indicated by his use of the
imperative to command another o cer when he rst enters the room.
A poetic form that uses repetition, rhythm, and/or rhyme to convey a sense of
magic or magical power.
The song of the Weird Sisters, or Three Witches, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
(1606) is a good example of an incantation:
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is rm and good. (4.1.36-40)
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a text makes
other texts.
This reference
an explicit
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quotation or implied and inferred by allusion.
For example, much of the meaning in Margaret Edson’s play W;t is developed
through constant intertextual references to the poetry of John Donne.
In media res
This means ‘in the middle of things,’ and it refers to narratives that begin in the
middle of action, as opposed to slowly building up to this action. This is an
ancient technique, and it has a number of meanings. Most obviously, it’s a
hook to draw the reader in. It can also be used to disorientate.
Homer’s Iliad, the rst text of western literature, begins in media res. The
Tempest begins in media res, many years after Prospero and his daughter,
Miranda, have been stranded on Caliban’s Isle after Antonio’s treachery.
Gap between what is said and what is meant.
For example In Fitzgerald’sThe Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway’s assertion that,
“I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many
curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran
bores,” is ironic because he is not, in fact, reserving judgement on those he
calls “veteran bores.”
Layering images/scenes to have a dramatic impact.
In Act 3, Scene 4 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the eponymous Prince holds up
images of his father and uncle to illustrate Hamlet’s feelings about their
differences through juxtaposition:
“Look here upon this picture and on this,
The counterfeit presentment of two brothers.
See, what a grace was seated on this brow?
…Here is your husband, like a mildewed ear
Blasting his wholesome brother.”(3.4.54-67
Level of language
(also known as
This refers to the level of sophistication of a piece of language. We expect a
high register in formal contexts, while we might expect lower registers in more
familiar contexts. High register is signalled by conceptual, ‘bigger’ vocabulary
and complex, lengthy syntax. The common registers we refer to are: slang,
colloquial, informal or formal. Consider the following greetings:
Slang: Hey, how youse goin, cuz’?
Colloquial: G’day, how ya going, mate?
Informal: How’re you doing?
Formal: Hello, how are you today, Ms?
Linear narrative and
non-linear narrative
Sequential – in chronological order.
In a linear narrative, authors simply tell the reader what happens in their story
The linear narrative of a bank robbery might begin with the bandits
approaching in their car and move through all the noteworthy incidents until
their inevitable capture and arrest.
While it begins in media res, Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a linear narrative.
The non-linear version might begin in media res during a shootout, and move
backwards to explain how the robbers arrived in their predicament, before
moving forward to the resolution of the story. Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed is a
non-linear text.
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meaning about the object being compared.
Metaphor is one of the most fundamental gures of speech, and indeed
aspects of language itself. Literary texts are typically dense in metaphor. In the
cases of writers such as Shakespeare, it is impossible to understand the text
without constantly unpacking metaphors.
In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Pt 1, Sir John Fallstaff puns on the homonyms
“son” and “sun” to develop the metaphor of Prince Hal as the Sun, the ruler of
the heavens:
“If then thou be son to me, here lies the point: why, being son to me, art thou
so pointed at? Shall the blessed sun of heaven prove a micher and eat
blackberries? . . . Shall the son of England prove a thief and take purses?”
A word or name that is used in the place of something it is closely related to.
The Kremlin, for example, has long been conventionally used as a metonym
for the Russian government.
A student might say, “I’m going to Matrix.” But they really mean that they are
going to the Matrix Hurstville Campus. In this usage, the proper noun, “Matrix,”
is metonymic with all of the Matrix campuses.
The certainty which a speaker employs in their language.
High modality = Certainty. “It will hail today.”
Medial modality (also called Semi-modality) = doubt that something that
should occur will occur. “It ought to rain today.”
Low modality = Uncertainty. “It may rain today.”
A motif is an image, sound, gure, character archetype or object which has a
symbolic reference to a particular theme or idea. A motif is a recurring symbol
with a gurative meaning and is quite easy to spot due to its prominence.
In Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald utilises the recurring motif of weather to re ect the
emotions experienced by the characters. When Daisy and Gatsy reunite it is
pouring however when there love reignites the sun is just coming out.
Non-sequential narrative, events do not occur in chronological order. See,
Linear narrative above.
A word that echoes the sound it represents. The reader hears what is
Sometimes this can be overt, as in “the drip-dripping and plip-plopping of a
Other times, this can be more subtle, such as in “The murmurous haunt of
ies on summer eve” from John Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale.” This example is
speci cally known as mechanical onomatopoeia because the sound of the
word imitates the same sound being referenced – “murmurous” sounds like
the low buzz of a swarm of ies.
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A statement
is self-contradictory
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reasoning based on a true premise. It is a juxtaposition of contradictory-yetinterrelated ideas which have a hidden truth.
In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Party’s slogan “War is peace,
freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength,” is a clear example of a paradox
whereby each idea contradicts the other. Thus, Orwell clearly utilises
contradictory statements throughout his novel to place emphasis on a society
controlled by a totalitarian government.
Conscious imitation for a satiric purpose. Parody is a style that mocks the
serious manner and characteristic features of literary works through imitation.
Parodies work by exaggerating certain traits common to the work.
In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four Winston reads a heretical political
tract called ‘The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism’. This tract is
clearly a parody of political writing and in particular the theoretical writing of
communist revolutionaries like Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Joseph
Stalin. Orwell’s aim is to subvert the self-important, vague, and even
contradictory style found in these texts.
Pathetic Fallacy
Pathetic fallacy is the attribution of human emotions to nonhuman objects,
particularly objects of nature. Note that the term should just apply to the
ascription of emotions, not thoughts or other properties. The term was
invented by the English writer John Ruskin, and is widely used in literature.
In Dickens’ Great Expectations, Pip’s misery is re ected in the weather which
surrounds him:
“It was wretched weather; stormy and wet, stormy and wet; and mud, mud,
mud, deep in all the streets. Day after day, a vast heavy veil had been driving
over London from the East, and it drove still, as if in the East there were an
Eternity of cloud and wind. So furious had been the gusts, that high buildings
in town had had the lead stripped off their roofs; and in the country, trees had
been torn up, and sails of windmills carried away; and gloomy accounts had
come in from the coast, of shipwreck and death. Violent blasts of rain had
accompanied these rages of wind, and the day just closed as I sat down to
read had been the worst of all.”
First, second or third person.
First person refers to the speaker himself or a group that includes the
speaker (i.e., I, me, we and us). T.S. Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi’ is a rst
person narrative.
Second person refers to the speaker’s audience (i.e., you). Italo
Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller is a narrative in the second
Third person refers to everybody else (e.g., he, him, she, her, it, they,
them), including all other nouns (e.g. James, Swedish, sh, mice). Jane
Austen’s Emma is written in the third person.
Some texts might shift between different perspectives throughout. T.S. Eliot’s
‘Preludes’ is relatively unusual in that it switches between rst, second, and
third person throughout.
Circumlocution. That is, the use of a longer expression for an idea where a
shorter one might su ce. Periphrasis is widespread, and often quite
signi cant as a technique. Writers sometimes use periphrasis to refer to an
object or person in a more creative way, or to avoid repetition.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius often speaks periphrastically, from which
the reader can infer much about his character.
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Personi cation
Inanimate objects
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on a life.
Personi cation is usually well-understood by students. It is a speci c kind of
metaphor in which human attributes are applied to nonhumans. Note that
unlike pathetic fallacy, personi cation involves the application of any form of
an attribute, not just emotions. Like other forms of metaphor, it is widely used
in literature, as well as daily life.
In John Donne’s ‘Death, be Not Proud,’ Donne personi es Death.
A particular way of looking at individuals, issues, events, texts, facts etc.
Plosive consonants
Harsh sounds in a sentence or phrase. While this can be used to draw
attention to speci c things in the sentence, more often than not it is purely an
aesthetic device. Use this technique with caution.
A pun is formed by exploiting two different meanings of the same sound.
Richard’s famous soliloquy at the start of Mod A text Richard III includes a
pun. Speaking at the end of a battle, Richard declares that ‘Now is the winter
of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York.’ The sun of
York brings this summer, and ‘sun’ is, of course, a pun on ‘son’ as Edward is
the rst son of the York family – and thus the rightful heir to the throne
(according to the Yorks).
Reference is a very broad term. It simply means mentioning, usually clearly
and unambiguously, something else, whether it is a historical event, another
author, another text, or even a set of ideas.
‘No! I am not Prince Hamlet’ is a reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet in his T.S.
Eliot’s poem, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.’
See Level of Language
An effect of enjambment. The rejet is the disjunction between the appearance
of a poem owing between lines on a page and the pause that speakers
unconsciously insert between lines when rst reading a poem aloud.
See enjambment.
The repetition of words or syntax (order of words) for emphasis or
persuasion. Repetition does matter, but it is an extremely easy technique to
identify, so you should refer to it sparingly, and always analyse it further. Never
point out that repetition of a term emphasises the term. Instead, think critically
about what the repetition actually suggests.
A famous example of repetition comes at the end of T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Hollow
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Declaring that this repetition ‘highlights’ or ‘emphasises’ Eliot’s idea tells the
reader nothing. To begin with, what is the idea? Repetition here has to be
interpreted in the context of the central themes of the poem. You could begin
by thinking about how this repetition relates to the cycles of revolution alluded
to elsewhere in the poem, or to the scienti c theories, including the theory of
entropy, Eliot appears to explore. You can read more about how repetition
works here.
How a composer conveys meaning through textual features. This is a key
concept in works of art. You can read more about processes of representation
Literary Techniques Toolkit
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Literary Technique
Explanation and Example
is one
the Matrix
most familiar
and there
is littleto beENROL
said NOW
 ofWhy
about it. Rhyme is often more of an organising feature and used to please
aesthetically rather than to create meaning. Be careful in attributing meaning
to rhyme in verse. It usually doesn’t mean anything.
Composition which ridicules in a scornful & humorous way. In satire, common
human behaviours, beliefs, and vices are held up to shame and scorn. Satire is
often considered a high form of comedy. Satire is often employed for biting
social or political commentary. Queen Elizabeth I banned satire in 1599 to
curb criticism of her reign in print.
Satire is often a part of Shakespeare’s plays, such as in the historical play,
Henry IV, Part 1. Many critics argue that the character of Falstaff is a satirical
representation of Sir John Oldcastle, a Lollard (the pre-cursor to protestants)
who was executed for treason and heresy. Falstaff’s character was originally
called, John Oldcastle, but complaints by a prominent Lord, William Brooke,
10th Baron Cobham, forced Shakespeare to rename him.
Location of a story – internal and external.
The repetition of soft consonant sounds, such as “s” sounds. This is often
used to create a sinister or sensuous tone or mood.
For example, in John Keats’ ‘Hyperion’ he develops a sinister mood through
sibilance in the description, “Instead of thrones, hard int they sat upon
Couches of rugged stone, and slaty ridge Stubborn’d with iron.”
Similes function in the same way as metaphors, but rather than identifying the
tenor and vehicle, tend to make the comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as,’ while
metaphors tend to use a form of the verb ‘to be.’
King Hamlet uses simile to emphasise his sufferings in hell, declaring to
Hamlet that the details of his tortures would:
“Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres;
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand on end
Like quills upon the fretful porcupine.”
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Explanation and Example
an object
more (often
Matrix one or
a very important technique, and in some texts, it is the central technique. A
symbol is any visual object that by convention signi es something else,
whether it be another object, an idea, a process, or an emotion. The letters of
the alphabet are therefore symbols, in that they represent speech sounds.
Numbers are symbols.
Although all language is symbolic, literary symbolism usually refers more
speci cally to the use of objects to represent ideas and emotions. The Eliot
poems set for study in Module B are all heavily symbolic. Consider the
following example, from the opening of Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’:
’We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece lled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar.”
A rst step in interpreting the symbolism is to think about the ideas the
objects conventionally imply. ‘Hollow’ and ‘dried’ and ‘dry’ all evoke aridity. This
suggests the poem might be concerned with decline and decay. Eliot was
in uenced by Frazer’s Golden Bough, which he cited in the notes to his most
famous poem, The Waste Land. (A reader wanting to push her analysis further
would look into how the symbols evoking aridity re ect Frazer’s theory that a
number of important religions, including Christianity, had their origins in
prehistoric fertility cults.)
Syntax – sentence
Syntax is one of the main components of language. It refers to the
organisation of words and phrases in a sentence, as well as their structural
For example, in the English sentence ‘John thanked the president,’ we know
that John is the one doing the thanking since English syntax usually follows a
subject, verb, object order. ‘John’ is the subject, ‘thanked’ is the verb, and ‘the
president’ is the object.
If I swap the roles, the nouns of English syntax change the meaning of the
sentence: ‘The president thanked John.’Therefore, when referring to syntax as
a technique, you need to provide further analysis. Some strategies you can
take to assess this are:
Complex syntax is a marker of a high education. This could imply a
narrative voice that is well-educated.
Simple syntax might be a marker of poor education, as might fragmented
or incomplete syntax.
Present, past, future (events are predicted). This is an important and
commonplace feature of grammar that students should be familiar. Tense is
an important aspect of narrative form and can tell the audience when things
are occurring.
T.S Eliot’s ‘Preludes’ is written in the present continuous tense in sections I and
II but then is written in the past tense in sections III and IV.
Textual Integrity
The organic unit of a text. Its use of universal themes. This is an essential part
of Year 11 and Year 12 Module B. You can nd a detailed explanation of
Textual Integrity in this post.
Message or moral of a story – makes us ponder bigger issues in life.
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Explanation and Example
way composer
feels – conveyed
word choice.
is aNOW
Why or
Events by Resources
 Tone
very common technique and useful to discuss in your responses. There are
many different ways to describe the tone of a text. Here is an extensive list of
tones employed in texts.
Word choice or Diction
Emotive, forceful, factual, descriptive, blunt, graphic, disturbing, informative
etc. E.g. use of forceful verbs ‘insist’ & ‘demand’ can be very persuasive.
Diction is a useful technique to discuss, especially if you are using it to convey
information about the characterisation of that person.
For example, in Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago’s bestial and demonic diction is
adopted by Othello as the play progresses, symbolising the loss of Othello’s
The attribution of animal properties to non-animals. This technique is more
common than many people expect.
It is used, for example, in Eliot’s ‘Prufrock’:
“The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.”
The fog appears to be compared with a dog, which is suggested by the
actions of the fog and the diction throughout, such as the word ‘muzzle.’ This
somewhat uncanny image is di cult to interpret, but at the least relates to the
disorientation caused to the speaker by the urban environment.
Literary Techniques Toolkit
What next?
If you want to take your analysis further and expand your awareness of literary techniques,
read the blog post: Understanding Literary Techniques: How to Analyse Poetry and
Prose to learn how to analyse literary techniques in poetry and prose with reference to all
the major techniques.
When you write an essay identifying the techniques used by a composer, you need to
explain how that technique is creating meaning in the text. This process is called literary
analysis and it is an important skill that Matrix English students are taught in the Matrix
English courses.
Great marks in essays and writing tasks are earned through the detailed analysis of your
texts and not merely listing examples and techniques. You can learn more about how to
analyse texts in our Beginner’s Guide to Acing HSC English.
Need more help with textual analysis?
Use the Matrix Textual Analysis Planner to Analyse your English texts and produce
insightful notes for your next assessment task.
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