Glossary of Literary Terms

Composed by Students in English 215.1




A character in a literary work who opposes the main character or other characters.  The antagonist causes conflict and tries to cause problems for the other characters.  The antagonist allows the main character to have to make choices throughout the literary work.



An original version of any object or idea. This is usually an idea, character, or plot that recurs in literature. These appear frequently in literature, religion, myths, art, and the like, so they become familiar to us as a culture. An example of an archetype is the idea of the quest.



A novel whose main focus is the maturity of a usually younger main character involving moral, psychological, and intellectual development.  The character usually is followed throughout childhood into his or her years as an adult, and it shows the stages of life in a person and what type of conflicts and questions they ask themselves as they grow up and are introduced to the real world.



Canon is a noun that was started in the Old English period. I found seven different meanings for the word.

1. a regulation forced by a church council 2. The most unvarying part of Mass including communion 3. a list of books read as Holy Scripture 4. the works of a writer 5. a group of body of related works accepted as literature 6. a body of principles, rules, standards, or norms 7. a clergyman belonging to the staff of a cathedral.



A character is a person who is responsible for his/her own actions and thoughts in a story, poem, or any other type of literature.  The author gives each character his or her own personality.  The personality, attitudes, and the appearance that the author gives helps develop other elements in the work such as the theme, setting, and tone. Characters can be described as flat or round.  Round characters are usually the main characters.  These are the ones that the readers gets to know and understand.  Flat characters are normally the minor characters that don’t play major roles, but support the main character.



A hero is defined as a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability. But what strikes me is definition 2a: it explains that the hero is most likely considered a male “"the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work.”



Imagery is seen as the mental images that are used by authors in their works of literature.  They can be put together by metaphors or pictures.  They are used to aid in the reader’s understanding of the scene and the mood in which the story is being set.



A theme that is seen over and over again in a piece of literature. It can also be called the central idea.



The word narrative is a literary term that may be used in two different parts of speech. As a noun, the word narrative may be defined as a story or event that is told in the specific order it occurred and the talent of telling the story. As an adjective, the word narrative could be defined as being involved with the gift of storytelling or associated with the gift of storytelling in some way.



A narrator is a person within the story who tells a story so that the reader will understand.  A narrator is not the same person as the author. A narrator is also one of three types of characters in a given work, which are participant, observer, and non-participant.  The narrator at some point may demonstrate bias presenting a piece of work.


Omniscient Narrator

An omniscient narrator is a narrator who knows everything inside and out about the story being told.  The omniscient narrator speaks from the third person point of view.  Speaking in this point of view allows this type of narrator to know the thoughts of each character. Omniscient means “all knowing.”



A plot is the events in a story. They always come in a series and sometimes are considered the main part of the story.


Point of View

Point of view is the perspective that the reader is presented the story, one of four perspectives:

1.Third Person Omniscient- Unrestricted view of the story, the reader has no limitations of time or place and can see/hear the thoughts of all characters. Presented to the reader by someone not related to the story directly.

2.Third Person- similar to Third Person Omniscient, except the reader is restricted by time and place, and the reader cannot see/hear the thoughts of characters. Still presented by unrelated party.

3.First Person- (personal) Story is related to the reader by an individual, with no omnipresence.

4.Second Person- least common perspective in literature, story is related to the reader as it happens to the reader. Draws the reader into the story by incorporating the reader into the story. Most difficult to utilize.



The protagonist is the main character of a literary work such as a narrative or drama. Sometimes they are considered to be the hero of the work, but this is not always the case. The protagonist is usually faced with an internal/external conflict or obstacle that he/she must overcome. Also, the conflict that the protagonist is faced with is usually brought upon by the antagonist, but this may not always be the case.



Realism is the French rebellion against Romanticism (the glorification of nobles, violence, and chivalry).  Americans adopted it around the 19th century and used it as a method to portray life as it really is (in a realistic fashion).  The focus of realism was to show the “here and now” and the reality of life in the middle classes.  This affected all of the class systems because it sometimes proved to be a harsh look at reality.  Realism was also a big jump from Romanticism, which always focused on the upper class and never on the middle class.  Therefore Realism had a big effect on the upper class of society, who were used to stories that glorified their lives, and the middle class were portrayed through stories that depicted reality.



The word setting has many different meanings but for the purpose of this class the definition of setting would refer to the arrangement of scenery to describe a specific time or place in a movie or story. Setting is designed to affect the mood of a piece of literature; it is designed to make the reader feel like he or she is within it, not on the outside looking in!



Structure is the arrangement or configuration of a piece of literature. Structure is basically the form in which any type of literature is pieced together in a way that it is able to flow with ease or whether it takes distinctive changes in order to instill effective plot changes, scene changes, changes in narrators, or just for “artistic purposes.”



The way an author uses words, sentence structure, and other literary devices to portray and idea or purpose in his or her writing.  Some examples of styles are ornate, scientific, and emotive.  Styles can be classified in many different ways such as, period, author, level, and language.



The use of symbols or different words to represent something else.  These “symbols” are referred to as having a “deeper” meaning rather than a literal meaning.  These symbols can range from certain colors used to describe a wall, to the size of an object that is important to a main character in a story.



Theme is a description of what the writer’s topic is. Theme is also “the main or central idea in the literary work. It is the unifying element of a story.” A theme as said “is not a summary of characters or events, rather, it is the controlling idea or central sight of a story.” [Source: //]


Unreliable Narrator

An unreliable narrator is a first-person narrator because they are the ones telling the story.  It is basically a person who puts the story in his or her own words and the person may not be truthful.  For example, the boy who cried wolf was a reliable narrator at first but after telling false information so many times people stopped believing him.  Then when it was really true people never showed up because he was an unreliable narrator in the stories that he told.  It could be anyone, even a younger person such as a child.  The unreliable narrator may give a different understanding of the story to make the reader think something else is going on.



The tone or way an author tells a story.  It helps the reader understand someone’s specific point of view because they are expressing their personal feelings or views on a specific situation.  It helps paint a picture for the reader; it basically puts you in their shoes.