Name: _______________________________ English 9 - Fundamental Literary Terms 1. literal The most obvious, dictionary definition of a word. For example: “That diamond is a gem.” The dictionary definition of gem is “a precious rock,” so the word gem is being used literally. 2. figurative When a word is used to mean something other than its literal meaning. For example: “My sister is a gem.” In this case, the word gem is being used as a figure of speech to say that the writer’s sister is very special, not that she is a precious rock. 3. plot The sequence of events in a story. Example: in the “Tortoise and the Hare” the plot is that there is a race between a tortoise and a hare in which the tortoise wins despite his slow speed. 4. theme A main idea or central message in a literary work. Themes are often expressed in the form of a general statement about life or about a specific subject, such as “No one grows old without some regrets” or “True love can conquer hatred.” Often you can identify a theme in a literary work by asking “What did the characters learn from their experiences?” as you read. Example: a theme in “Tortoise and the Hare” is that perseverance is more important than speed. 5. setting The time and place in which a story takes place, including physical surroundings, customs, and values. Setting is often important because it affects the decisions that characters make and the choices that they have. 6. conflict A struggle between opposing forces. Inner conflict (also known as character vs. self conflict) occurs when a character faces a decision. Outer conflict (character vs. character, character vs. society, or character vs. nature) occurs when the conflict is between a character and an external force. 7. climax The turning point of a story, at which the outcome of the plot becomes inevitable. For example, in the fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” the moment that the villagers decide to no longer believe the boy is a turning point. 8. protagonist The main character in a work (like the boy in “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”). The protagonist is the character whose fate we are most invested in; he or she is not always “good.” 9. antagonist The person or force that opposes the protagonist to create the story’s main conflict. “Forces” that oppose protagonists may include personal characteristics like greed, envy, fear, and self-doubt. 10. characterization An author’s means of conveying (getting across) information about a character’s personality, life history, values, physical traits, and the like. Authors characterize their characters by showing what they do, what they say, what other characters say about the person, or through narrative description (such as “the tortoise was a persistent animal”). 11. point-of-view The identity of the narrative voice in a literary work; the person or entity through which the reader experiences the story. Points of view include: First-person: narrated by a character in the story (“I looked down from the hill…”) Third-person: narrated from outside of the characters (“She looked down from the hill…”) 12. symbol A thing, character, or object used to represent an idea or something greater than itself. For example, countries use flags as symbols of shared national values and the ideas of patriotic duty. The term symbolism refers to the use of symbols.