Literary Devices

You have probably heard the term literary device when studying then English language especially if you are studying English literature. But the term covers a wide range of things so what exactly does it mean? In this article, we are going to be looking at the definition of the term literary device. We will then dive deeper into the subject and find out what some of the most commonly used literary devices are and how they work. We will do this by looking at some examples of them in action.

Literary Devices

What Is A Literary Device?

A literary device is essentially a technique used by a writer which adds substance or an effect to the text they are writing. It is used to help the reader create a more detailed image of what is happening within the writing and is employed often in various types of written work. These can include works of fiction, poetry, song and non fiction pieces amongst others.

There are many different types of literary devices, some are used more often than others but each one has its own effect on the writing and is used in a specific way.

Literary Device

Types of Literary Devices

Figurative Language

Figurative language is the use of words or phrases that go beyond their literal meaning to convey a more profound or creative idea. This literary device is essential for creating vivid imagery and engaging the reader’s imagination. Some common examples of figurative language include:

  • Metaphor: A comparison between two unlike things without using “like” or “as”. For example, “Time is a thief.”
  • Simile: A comparison between two unlike things using “like” or “as”. For example, “Her eyes shone like stars.”
  • Personification: Attributing human qualities or characteristics to non-human entities, such as animals or inanimate objects. For example, “The wind whispered through the trees.”
  • Anthropomorphism: The attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities, specifically animals. For example, a talking animal in a story.

Sound Devices

Sound devices are literary techniques that emphasize the auditory aspects of language, heightening the reader’s sensory experience. They often involve the repetition or arrangement of sounds within words, sentences, or phrases. Here are some common sound devices:

  • Alliteration: The repetition of initial consonant sounds in close proximity. For example, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”
  • Onomatopoeia: Words that imitate the sound they represent, such as “buzz,” “hiss,” or “plop.”

Narrative Devices

Narrative devices are techniques used in storytelling and literature to structure and organize a story effectively. These devices can enhance the reader’s enjoyment and understanding by creating depth or intrigue. Some popular narrative devices include:

  • Foreshadowing: Hints or clues that suggest events that will occur later in the story.
  • Flashback: Interruptions in the narrative to reveal past events or provide background information.
  • Symbolism: The use of symbols, images, or objects to represent abstract ideas or deeper meanings.
  • Allegory: A story, poem, or image that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.

Rhetorical Devices

Rhetorical devices are techniques used by writers to persuade, inform, or entertain readers. They often involve the structure or arrangement of words in a sentence or phrase, emphasizing particular ideas or making the writing more impactful. Common rhetorical devices include:

  • Repetition: Repeating words or phrases for emphasis or to reinforce an idea.
  • Parallelism: The use of similar grammatical structures, words, or phrases to create balance and rhythm.
  • Anaphora: The repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences.

By using a combination of these literary devices, writers can create compelling and engaging works that captivate and resonate with their readers.

Why Do Writers Use Literary Devices?

As we mentioned previously, a literary device is used to paint a picture for the reader. They can add an effect such as sarcasm, rhythm or detail to a piece of writing as well as creating many other effects which further pull the reader in.

They are a great way to assist the reader in gaining a deeper understanding of what is being said in the writing and are also used as a way to emphasise a point or to make it more clear. Many literary devices are put in place in order to convey certain information, especially if the writer wishes to do so in a more creative fashion, therefore making the text much more appealing and interesting to the reader.

Literary devices are an excellent way for writers to make their readers connect with the character within a story on a much more profound level and they can create a deeper meaning to these characters and their situations.

List of Literary Devices

When thinking about literary devices in the English language, you are confronted with a lot of them, all offering different ways to influence the text. However, there are some that are used more often than others, and in this section, we will be looking at some of the most commonly used literary devices, what they are used for and how we can apply them in writing.

Alliteration

One of the literary devices that you will see very frequently in writing is alliteration. This literary device is used to add rhythm by the use of repeated sounds at the beginning of adjacent words or words which are very close to one another in a sentence. Let’st take a look at some examples of how alliteration works.

  • The callous cat clawed at the cow continually.
  • She sells sea shells by the sea shore.
  • Big bears bowl brashly through the bush.

Simile

A simile is a form of literary device which is used for comparison. They use the words like or as in order to make the comparison and are a very popular form of literary device, most famously used by William Shakespeare. Let’s now see some examples of how a simile would look.

  • He was as high as a like.
  • The siblings fight like cat and dog.
  • The baby is as sweet as sugar.

Metaphor

Similar to the simile, a metaphor is used to make a comparison but rather than making a direct comparison, it does so indirectly. The metaphor makes a non literal comparison between two things which are not directly related. There are many examples of this literary device used throughout various texts, so let’s take a look at how it works.

  • The singer is truly a shining star.
  • She has a heart of stone.

Euphemism

This type of literary device is used to talk about something that may be construed as offensive and so the writer will use a variant on the wording in order to make what is being referred to, more palatable. Euphemism is another one of the literary devices which is closely associated with Shakespeare but is also used by many other writers. Let’s take a look at some examples of this.

  • The dearly departed parents were sadly missed at Christmas – In this case the words dearly departed are used in place of the word dead, which sounds much more harsh.
  • The couple, who had been together for six months, finally did the deed – In this example, the phrase did the deed is referencing sex which could be much more offensive to readers.

Anaphora

Anaphora is a form of literary device in which the writer uses a repeated phrase at the beginning of consecutive sentences. The reason for doing this is to make a stronger point by using the repetition to almost drill the point into the readers mind. This form of literary device is often used in the writing of speeches, especially those designed to motivate or convince the audience. We are now going to look at some examples of how anaphora is used.

  • Every day I wake. Every day I love. Every day I listen.
  • My life is my aim. My life is my meaning. My life is my dream.

Hyperbole

This is a very commonly used literary device which you are likely to come across in many texts when reading. Hyperbole is the used of a statement which is not meant to be seen as literal by the reader. It is used to emphasise something and to exaggerate something in order to stress the importance. Here are some examples of sentences which feature the use of hyperbole.

  • My dad was so hungry that he could have eaten a horse.
  • The traffic was terrible on the way to the beach, it took us a million years to get there.
  • Have you seen the weather today? It’s raining cats and dogs out there!

Irony

Irony comes in various forms and is often used in literature to express a meaning opposite to the one which is being construed. The three types of irony are verbal irony in which someone says something but in reality, means the opposite, situational irony in which an event occurs which was the complete opposite of what was expected to happen and dramatic irony where the reader is aware of a situation that the character is not and therefore see the characters behaviour in a different light. Let’s take a look at an example of each of these.

  • Bill and Mary had been waiting for what seemed like a lifetime, in the rain, for the shop to open its doors.What lovely weather to be outside in” exclaimed Mary, who was wet through – This is verbal irony as Mary has made a statement when she actually means the opposite.
  • The firefighter went out for tea and cakes and while they were away, the fire station burned to the ground – This is situational irony as the burning down on a building which is usually full of people who put out fires, is something which is not expected.
  • The audience are aware the the main character in a book is being cheated on by his wife who is planning to leave him, but this character is currently arranging a romantic weekend away for the two of them. This is dramatic irony as the audience knows that the characters efforts are wasted.

Onomatopoeia

Out of all the literary devices, this is one which you will see a lot more than you first realise. Onomatopoeia is a literary device which uses words to describe a sound, and these words actually sound like what they are describing. There are many examples of this literary device being used in written works, let’s take a look at some of the things you might see.

  • The wind whispered through the woods.
  • My dog barked and snarled at the burglar.
  • I screamed when I saw the spider.

Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a literary device which uses two words to make a phrase which comes across as contradictory. This type of literary device is usually used for a humorous effect but also in order to put an emphasis on what is being said, by grabbing the readers attention with the contradiction. Here are some examples of how oxymoron can be used.

  • My friend is a lovely woman but she is pretty ugly when it comes to looks.
  • There was a tension in the room and nobody spoke, there was a deafening silence as I waited for someone to say something.

Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a literary device which uses a part of something to refer to the whole. It is used to give a more descriptive picture of what is going on. Let’s look at some examples of synecdoche being used.

  • My brother had a big win on the lottery and his first priority was to buy some new wheels – In this example, new wheels is used to make reference to a car.
  • The office was full of suits, all there to make an executive decision – In this case, the word suits is used to talk about businessmen.

Allegory

An allegory is a story or poem in which characters, settings, and events represent abstract ideas or moral qualities. This device helps writers convey complex ideas through symbolism and metaphor.

Flashbacks

Flashbacks are interruptions in a narrative that reveal events that have taken place in the past. They help provide context and background information, often deepening the reader’s understanding of a character’s motivation or history.

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is the hinting at what is to come later in a story. This device can create suspense, tension, or add dramatic irony to a narrative.

Imagery

Imagery refers to the use of vivid and descriptive language to create mental images for the reader. It can appeal to any of the five senses and is often used to evoke emotions or memories.

Personification

Personification is the attribution of human qualities, emotions, or characteristics to non-human objects or abstract concepts. This technique can help writers create vivid, relatable imagery and evoke a greater emotional response from the reader.

Literary Devices in Famous Works

George Orwell’s Animal Farm

In George Orwell’s classic novel, Animal Farm, various literary devices such as allegory, symbolism, and euphemisms are effectively used to convey the author’s message. The story itself is an allegory, where the animals on a farm represent different social and political groups during the Russian Revolution and Stalin’s rise to power. This allows Orwell to critique a specific time period and regime, while maintaining a broader perspective applicable to other situations.

Symbolism plays a significant role in Animal Farm, with different characters and items representing particular concepts. For example, the windmill symbolizes industrialization and modernization, while the various animals represent the working class (e.g., Boxer the horse), clergy (e.g., Moses the raven), and ruling class (e.g., Napoleon the pig), among others.

Orwell also uses precise diction and a concise style to establish a memorable reading experience. His choice of contrasting language emphasizes the difference between what the pigs promise and the reality the animals face. Euphemisms are employed to soften the harshness of certain truths, such as “readjustment” in reference to food ration reductions.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, significant literary elements and devices are utilized to heighten the drama and explore complex themes. The play is set in the kingdom of Denmark and revolves around the protagonist, Hamlet, who grapples with grief, revenge, and existential questions following his father’s death.

Diction and contrasts are pivotal in Hamlet, with the playwright employing rich and varied language to express the characters’ inner turmoil and dilemmas. Furthermore, Shakespeare skillfully uses soliloquies to provide the audience with an intimate perspective on Hamlet’s thoughts, feelings, and motives.

Supernatural elements, such as the ghost of King Hamlet, imbue the play with a spiritual dimension, raising questions about life, death, and the afterlife. Other notable literary devices found in Hamlet include symbolism (e.g., the skull representing mortality), motifs (e.g., decay and corruption), and dramatic irony (e.g., the audience’s awareness of events unknown to some characters).

Overall, the use of multiple literary devices in these renowned works demonstrates the power of language and storytelling to engage readers, explore various themes, and leave a lasting impact.

FAQs on Literary Devices

What are literary devices?

Literary devices are tools and techniques used by writers to enhance their storytelling and convey meaning in a more engaging manner. They can operate at the sentence level or serve the entire piece of writing. Literary devices include figures of speech, narrative devices, and poetic meters.

What is the difference between literary elements and literary techniques?

Literary elements refer to the “big-picture” features of a work, such as setting, theme, mood, and allegory. They usually extend throughout the entire work. Literary techniques, on the other hand, deal with individual words and sentences, like euphemisms and alliteration.

What are some common literary devices used by writers?

Some common literary devices include:

  • Metaphor: A comparison between two unrelated things without using “like” or “as”.
  • Simile: A comparison between two things using “like” or “as”.
  • Alliteration: The repetition of initial consonant sounds in words that are close together.
  • Personification: Giving human attributes to non-human things or abstract ideas.
  • Irony: A contrast between what is expected and what actually occurs.

How can identifying and understanding literary devices improve one’s reading experience?

Identifying and understanding literary devices allows readers to appreciate the skills and creativity of the writer. It enhances the reader’s experience by revealing the layers of meaning in a written work, creating a deeper connection with the characters, and offering insight into the author’s intentions.

Why do writers use literary devices in their work?

Writers use literary devices to create a more impactful and engaging story, highlighting key ideas and themes. These tools help writers convey their intended meaning in a clearer, more expressive manner, adding depth and texture to the narrative. By utilizing literary devices, writers can captivate their audience and enhance the emotional impact of their work.

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