INTRODUCTION TO LITERATURE
Tri Wahyuni Chasanatun, S.S, M.Pd
WHAT IS LITERATURE?
According to Cambridge Advance Learner’s Dictionary, literature is “written artistic works especially those with a high and lasting artistic value”. It can be said that literature is a written works that used special or certain ways in producing it. Literature was made by human. Human can express everything in their mind in order to create a good and interesting literary works. They can re-present real human life, creating fiction story to entertain the reader, and so on. As stated by Hardjana, in his book Kritik Sastra:
“ Sastra sebagai pengungkapan baku dari apa yang telah disaksikan orang tentang kehidupan, apa yang telah dipermenungkan, dan dirasakan orang mengenai segi-segi kehidupan yang paling menarik minat secara langsung lagi kuat. Pada hakekatnya adalah suatu pengungkapan kehidupan lewat bentuk bahasa” (Hardjana, 1991: 10).
The writer or the author have a purpose when they create literary works. It could be a funny story, tragedy, folklore, etc. It depends on their imagination. In creating a literary work the author or the writer should know about how to create a good literary work. They should know about how to develop a theme into a good arrangement of story. It was supported by the choices of words, setting, plot, point of view, background of the story, the characterization, and the message that would be share to the reader. All of them are included in instrinsic elements of literature. In the other hand, intrinsic elements of literature can help the reader in understanding more about the literature works itself. Unconsciously when they read one of the literary work, they will try to gained what is going to say by the author.
The students are asked to write a literary analysis in order to make them aware and know well about how and why poem, drama, novel or play was written. Before analyzing a literature, the students should remember that the author have a reason or purpose in creating a literary works. Therefore when they make an essay related to the literary works, they should focus on what the author’s thingking, give the explanation about that idea, and gain more deeper about that idea of creating literary works. Another way to analyze a literary works is using the students’ own perspective. Rather than thinking about the author’s intentions, the students can develop an argument based on any intrinsic elements (or combination of terms) listed below.
A. INTRINSIC ELEMENTS OF LITERATURE
According to Cambridge Advance Learner’s Dictionary, Character is “ the particular combination of qualities in a person or place that makes them different from others”. That meaning is related to the quality of someone. In a story the meaning of character according to Cambridge Advance Learner’s Dictionary is a person represented in a film, play, or story. Not only in the story but also in everyday live, character development also happen to every people as the main character in their everyday live. Character development is the change that a character undergoes from the beginning of a story to the end. Character can be main, secondary or third. In a literary work a character is developed by (1) action; (2) speech; (3) appearance; (4) Other character's comments. It means that, other characters' comments help form judgment of the characters by supporting other characters' actions speech, appearance, and author's comments; (5) Author's comments: The wording the author uses in the narrative adds to characterization; (6) Unity of character and action: the character must be credible. If the character changes then the change must be shaped by events which the author is obligated to explain how they impacted to create the character's change.
Types of characters:
· Central character
· Person on whom action centers
· Character who pushes the action forward
· Character who attempts to accomplish something
· Usually seen as a good person or hero/heroine
· Usually round and dynamic
· Character or force that holds the action back
· Character who wants something in opposition to the protagonist
· Usually seen as a bad person/force or villain
c. Minor character
· Often provides support and illuminates the protagonist.
· Character who is a contrast or opposite to the protagonist
· Character who emphasizes or highlights the traits of the protagonist
d. Characterization - The choices an author makes to reveal a character’s personality, such as appearance, actions, dialogue, and motivations.
Characters are described as being round or flat.
a. Round Character:
· Has many traits, both good and bad
· Not easily defined because we know many details about the character
· Realistic and life-like
· Most major characters are round
· "The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way.
b. Flat character:
· Not well-developed
· Does not have many traits
· Easily defined in a single sentence because we know little about the
· Sometimes stereotyped
· Most minor characters are flat
a. Dynamic characters are rounded characters that change.
· Undergoes an important change in personality in the story
· Comes to some sort of realization that permanently changes the
· A change occurs within the character because of the events of the story
· The protagonist is usually dynamic, but not always
b. Static (stock) characters are round or flat characters that do not change during the story.
· Remains the same throughout the story
· Although something may happen to the character, it does not cause the
· character to change
· Minor characters are usually static
Allegory - narrative form in which the characters are representative of some larger humanistic trait (i.e. greed, vanity, or bravery) and attempt to convey some larger lesson or meaning to life. Although allegory was originally and traditionally character based, modern allegories tend to parallel story and theme.
· William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily- the decline of the Old South
· Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde- man’s struggle to contain his inner primal instincts
· District 9- South African Apartheid
· X Men- the evils of prejudice
· Harry Potter- the dangers of seeking “racial purity”
According to Cambridge Advance Learner’s Dictionary, a plot means “ the story of a film, book, play, etc”. Plot is the order in which things move and happen in a story. the plot is the arrangement of ideas and/or incidents that make up a story. We can say that, the story have good chronological order only if the story relates events in the order in which they happened. Meanwhile, if the story moves back in time, it was called as Flashback. In a literary work, whether it is short story, novel, or drama conflict occur when the protagonist was starting to have a problem or struggling against an antagonist. The pattern of action are:
a. Foreshadowing is when the writer clues the reader in to something that will eventually occur in the story; it may be explicit (obvious) or implied (disguised). According to , e How Contributor “Foreshadowing is a literary tool filmmakers adapt to provide early clues about where the plot is headed. It is a storytelling technique that, when used skillfully, gets viewers involved and thinking about the plot unfolding before them because they are picking up hints about what may soon happen.”
b. Suspense - The tension that the author uses to create a feeling of discomfort about the unknown
c. Conflict - Struggle between opposing forces. Conflict/Plot may be internal or external and is best seen in (1) Man in conflict with another Man: (2) Man in conflict in Nature; (3) Man in conflict with self.
d. Exposition - Background information regarding the setting, characters, plot.
e. Rising Action - The process the story follows as it builds to its main conflict
f. Crisis - A significant turning point in the story that determines how it must end
g. Resolution/Denouement - The way the story turns out.
Types of plots
a. Progressive plots: have a central climax followed by denouement.
b. Episodical plots: have one incident or short episode linked to another by a common character or unifying theme (maybe through chapters). Used by authors to explore character personalities, the nature of their existence, and the flavor of a certain time period.
Structure (fiction) - The way that the writer arranges the plot of a story.
What is meant by setting is “ the time and the place in which the action of a book, film, play, etc. Happen”. The author will probably develop their idea in order to create a good literary work. Of course in this process of writing, the author will seriously found the suitable setting for their story. The setting provides the historical and cultural context for characters. It often can symbolize the emotional state of characters. There are six kind of setting:
a. Backdrop setting is when the setting is unimportant for the story and the story could take place in any setting. Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne is an example of a story in which could happen in any setting.
b. Integral setting is when the action, character, or theme are influenced by the time and place, setting. Controlling setting controls characters. If you confine a character to a certain setting it defines the character. Characters, given these circumstances, in this time and place, behave in this way.
c. Functions of setting: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth Speare creates a setting of Puritanical austerity: hand-rubbed copper, indicating hard work, the heavy fortress-like door, the dim little mirror, the severe wooden bench, the unpainted Meeting House, the whipping post, the pillory, and the stocks. The tasks of a typical day performed by Kit: mixing soap with a stick, the lye fumes stinging her eyes, tiring muscles, with one of the easiest tasks: making corn pudding, which keeps her over a smoky fire with burning and watering eyes. A frightening and uncompromising environment compared to her carefree Barbados upbringing.
d. Setting as antagonist: Characters must resolve conflict created by the setting:.
e. Setting that illuminates character: The confining setting of the attic in Anne Frank and Flowers in the Attic help the characters find themselves and grow as individuals.
f. Setting as symbolism: a symbol is a person, place, object, situation, or action which operates on two levels of meaning, the literal and the figurative, or suggestive. Children will understand only obvious symbols. Forest: unknown; garden: natural beauty; sunlight: hope, goodness; darkness: evil, despair. A grouping of symbols may create an image called an allegory. The Narnia books by C. S. Lewis are allegories.
A theme is the main point of a story. The theme is an idea, that convey what will happen in that literary works, who is an actor, how is the condition of that actor, what will be a problems in that literary works, how to solved it, etc. It can be said that theme is all of the thing that dealt with the story from the beginning to end. The idea of theme usually came from human real life or fiction. Without a theme, an author or writer cannot create or arrange good literary works. According to Cambridge Advance Learner’s Dictionary, “a theme is the main subject of a talk, book, film, etc”. It can be said that the theme is the idea of the author that developed into a story. There are 3 kinds of theme:
a. Explicit theme is when the writer states the theme openly and clearly. Primary explicit themes are common in children's literature, as the author wants to be sure the reader finds it.
b. Implicit themes are implied themes. If two such unlikely animals as a spider and pig can be friends, then so can we. Even a Tempelton can be a friend to a degree. Friendship is giving of ones self, as Wilbur did for the egg sac and devotion to the babies. Best friends can do no wrong. Friendship is reciprocal.
c. Multiple and secondary themes: Since a story speaks to us on our own individual level of varying experiences, many individual themes will be obtained from a good piece of literature. Charlotte's Web secondary themes could include: People don't give credit where credit is due, Youth and innocence have a unique value, Be what you are, There is beauty in all things, Nature is a miracle, Life is continuous.
5. Point of view
Point of view is determined by the authors' descriptions of characters, setting, and events told to the reader throughout the story. They are:
a. Narrator - The person telling the story who may or may not be a character in the story.
b. First-person - Narrator participates in action but sometimes has limited knowledge/vision.
c. Second person - Narrator addresses the reader directly as though she is part of the story. (i.e. “You walk into your bedroom. You see clutter everywhere and…”)
d. Third Person (Objective) - Narrator is unnamed/unidentified (a detached observer). Does not assume character's perspective and is not a character in the story. The narrator reports on events and lets the reader supply the meaning.
e. Omniscient - All-knowing narrator (multiple perspectives). The narrator knows what each character is thinking and feeling, not just what they are doing throughout the story. This type of narrator usually jumps around within the text, following one character for a few pages or chapters, and then switching to another character for a few pages, chapters, etc. Omniscient narrators also sometimes step out of a particular character’s mind to evaluate him or her in some meaningful way.
Style is how the author says something, the choice of words and the use of language, sentence construction, imagery not what the author says. It adds significance and impact to the author's writing. In literary works, exposition is the narrator or the third person passages who provide background information to explain story events. The choice of words and the use of language could be seen from the dialogue between characters. Meanwhile, vocabulary words that used in literary works are connotation and denotation. Connotation is the associative or emotional meaning of a word. Denotation is the dictionary meaning of a word. This two kinds of words are combined to add meaning.
Literary works is created by the author in many purposes. It used imagery words to create mental sensory impressions (sights, sounds, textures, smells, and tastes). It creates setting, establishes mood, or describes characters. Some terms of sentence structure that used in literary works:
a. Figurative language - the use of words to express meaning beyond the literal meaning of the words themselves
· Metaphor - contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme without using like or as “You are the sunshine of my life”
· Simile - contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme using like or as
“What happens to a dream deferred, does it dry up like a raisin in the sun”
· Hyperbole - exaggeration
“I have a million things to do today”
· Personification - giving non-human objects human characteristics
“America has thrown her hat into the ring, and will be joining forces with the British”
b. Figure of speech is an expression used in a non literal context to add intensity of meaning.
c. Understatement is the opposite of hyperbole.
d. Allusion is a figure of speech that refers to something in our common understanding, our past or our literature. Allusion is difficult for children since it relies on background information which they often lack.
e. Symbol is a person, object, situation, or action that operates on two levels of meaning, the literal and the figurative or suggestive. Dove: peace, flag: nationality of a country, handshake or gift: friendship.
f. Puns or wordplay
Foot - grouping of stressed and unstressed syllables used in line or poem
· Iamb - unstressed syllable followed by stressed
o Made famous by the Shakespearian sonnet, closest to the natural rhythm of human speech
§ How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
· Spondee - stressed stressed
o Used to add emphasis and break up monotonous rhythm
§ Blood boil, mind-meld, well- loved
· Trochee - stressed unstressed
o Often used in children’s rhymes and to help with memorization, gives poem a hurried feeling
§ While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
· Anapest - unstressed unstressed stressed
o Often used in longer poems or “rhymed stories”
§ Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
· Dactyls - stressed unstressed unstressed
o Often used in classical Greek or Latin text, later revived by the Romantics, then again by the Beatles, often thought to create a heartbeat or pulse in a poem
§ Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
Devices of sound
Devices of sounds consists of:
a. Onomatopoeia is when a word sounds like what it represents.
b. Alliteration is repetition of initial consonants
c. Assonance is repetition of similar vowel sounds.
d. Consonance is the close repetition of consonant sounds.
e. Rhythm or in music meter, in prose cadence. Rhythm in Greek means flow.
Rhythm - often thought of as a poem’s timing. Rhythm is the juxtaposition of stressed and unstressed beats in a poem, and is often used to give the reader a lens through which to move through the work. (See meter and foot)
Meter - measure or structuring of rhythm in a poem
Speaker - the person delivering the poem. Remember, a poem does not have to have a speaker, and the speaker and the poet are not necessarily one in the same.
Structure (poetry) - The pattern of organization of a poem. For example, a Shakespearean sonnet is a 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter. Because the sonnet is strictly constrained, it is considered a closed or fixed form. An open or free form poem has looser form, or perhaps one of the author’s invention, but it is important to remember that these poems are not necessarily formless.
Symbolism - when an object is meant to be representative of something or an idea greater than the object itself.
a. Cross - representative of Christ or Christianity
b. Bald Eagle - America or Patriotism
c. Owl - wisdom or knowledge
d. Yellow - implies cowardice or rot
Tone - the implied attitude towards the subject of the poem. Is it hopeful, pessimistic, dreary, worried? A poet conveys tone by combining all of the elements listed above to create a precise impression on the reader.
READING A POEM
(The following is presented as a general map or checklist of things to think about while analyzing a poem. The order is approximate; as you become more used to reading poetry, you will discover that many of these "steps" become conflated--run together. Also, remember that some aspects of analysis are more relevant or more important to a particular poem than others. Syntax is always important, but only some poems exhibit syntactical irregularities or ambiguities that need to be discussed in an analysis. A consideration of rhythm, meter, rhyme, and conventional poetic forms may or may not illuminate your understanding of a particular poem. Tone and tonal shift are of central importance to some analyses, while following a narrative line is more important in others. Nevertheless, whenever you read a poem for the first time (and for the first few times; most poems require at least several readings) you should count on going through all these steps. You don't know that rhythm isn't
important until you have looked at it and understood how it works in relationship to the rest of the poem.)
I. Language -- the Literal Level
The first step in figuring out any poem is to untangle and sort out the syntax of the poem. Almost all poems are written with reference to normative rules of grammar; there is always a relationship between the apparently messed-up grammar of the poem and the grammar of an ordinary English sentence. So, you must be sure, first of all, that you understand the relationships between the various words which make up each sentence of the poem: which verbs go with which subjects and objects, what modifies what, what antecedents go with which pronouns. Oftentimes poetry does utilize syntactical shifts:
· Ambiguity: a word being used as two different parts of speech at the same time
· Inversions: places where normal English sentence order is turned around for emphasis; the subject put after the verb, for instance
· Ellipses: places where words seem to have been left out
You should note anyplace where the language becomes difficult to understand or seems to deviate from normal English usage; try to create atemporary paraphrase of these sections of the poem into ordinary English so that you can sure that you know what is going on.
Oftentimes, trying to read the poem out loud to yourself until it moves smoothly will help you to figure out the syntax. Also remember that poets do things for a reason. If the grammar of a poem is all screwed up, it is generally because the poet is trying to emphasize something. You should, therefore, always be thinking about why the syntax is abnormal.
At the same time that you are sorting out the syntax, you also need to be figuring out the denotations of the words used. This means using the dictionary to look up words you don't know. At this point you also need to look for ambiguities and puns: places where a given word may mean two or more things at once. Again, you must be asking yourself why: why did the poet choose this word.
II. Language -- the Imagistic and Figurative Level
You need to pay attention to the connotations of specific words—the atmosphere, or aura, or mood which surrounds them and suggests wider associations and significances. Always be asking what does this particular word make me think of?
At the same time, you need to be sensitive to the sensory images—of sight, smell, touch, taste, sound--which the poem evokes. This means sitting back and letting the poem work in your head; reading a poem can be like watching a movie if you really let the images unroll in your mind. While you are doing this, you should still be thinking of the connotations--of the moods the images are creating. You also need to start grouping the images into clusters, noticing how they fit together, or contrast and play off one another with one cluster creating a kind of ironic commentary or tension with another.
Sometimes imagery is literal; oftentimes, though, it is associated with figurative language, etc. Everything said about images applies to experiencing the figurative language in a poem. You also need to identify what figures of speech are used in a poem and should, as always, think about why the poet might have chosen them. Why a metaphor instead of a simile?
III. Poetic Form
Check out meter, rhyme, and rhythm. Look for patterns of expectations which are built up and then destroyed or changed. What is usually most important in poetic form are the irregularities. Notice what such irregularities emphasize.
Look for sound effects in the poem--alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia. Try to figure out how these effects work with the imagery, connotations, etc.
Try to identify whether the poem uses any traditional forms. Is it a sonnet? Is it written in heroic couplets? What does the choice of form say about what the poet is trying to do?
Who is the speaker of the poem? What kind of person does he or she seem to be? What does the speaker's attitude towards his or her subject matter seem to be? What do you think is the poet's motive for writing the poem?
Who is the speaker's implied audience? What is his or her attitude toward the audience? What is he or she trying to do to the reader? How close is the speaker to the reader?
Does the tone change from stanza to stanza throughout the poem? Oftentimes a poem will not have a plot or narrative line; instead, the movement of the poem may be from one emotion to another or from one idea to another.
What happens in the poem? If it is a series of events, be sure you understand their sequence from stanza to stanza. Does the poem follow a chronological order? Are there flashbacks? Is there foreshadowing? Distinguish the order of the plot from the order of the poem.
VI. Allusions, Archetypes, and Symbols -- External References
Allusions are references to anything outside the poem an event, another work of art, a place, a person which may not be specifically identified by the author but which he or she expects you to know. Oftentimes footnotes explain these in a poem. Otherwise, note places where there are allusions which you don't understand and ask about them. It is also possible to figure out allusions by consulting reference books in the library such as encyclopedias, biographical dictionaries, etc. (Or you can search for such things on the World Wide Web.)
Myths and Archetypes are allusions to plots or patterns of association common to a given culture or religion. These may take the form of references to gods or goddesses; there are mythological dictionaries in which you can look up references to Greek, Roman, Norse, and other myths.
Symbols are objects or actions which both represent themselves and at the same time have a larger meaning a meaning which can be multiple or ambiguous. They are even more suggestive than figures of speech or images and usually a good deal more complex. An image can be a symbol, but not all images are. (Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.)
VII. The Big Picture
Now that you've gone through the whole poem identifying this stuff comes the really hard part--making it all make sense. By the time you've read the poem for the sixth or tenth time, you should be coming to some basic conclusions as to what it is about. Oftentimes the point will be a complex thing--a tension of forces between potentially opposed moods or images or ideas. You know that you are coming to an adequate explanation of a poem which you find that each aspect of the analysis fits the general purpose you have discovered. A really good analysis covers the whole poem, uniting all its parts.
Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments. Man’s profound need of art lies in the fact that his cognitive faculty is conceptual, i.e., that he acquires knowledge by means of abstractions, and needs the power to bring his widest metaphysical abstractions into his immediate, perceptual awareness . . .
Literature re-creates reality by means of language . . . The relation of literature to man’s cognitive faculty is obvious: literature re-creates reality by means of words, i.e., concepts. But in order to re-create reality, it is the sensory-perceptual level of man’s awareness that literature has to convey conceptually: the reality of concrete, individual men and events, of specific sights, sounds, textures, etc.
All these arts are conceptual in essence, all are products of and addressed to the conceptual level of man’s consciousness, and they differ only in their means. Literature starts with concepts and integrates them to percepts—painting, sculpture and architecture start with percepts and integrate them to concepts. The ultimate psycho-epistemological function is the same: a process that integrates man’s forms of cognition, unifies his consciousness and clarifies his grasp of reality.
The most important principle of the esthetics of literature was formulated by Aristotle, who said that fiction is of greater philosophical importance than history, because “history represents things as they are, while fiction represents them as they might be and ought to be.”
This applies to all forms of literature and most particularly to a form that did not come into existence until twenty-three centuries later: the novel.
A novel is a long, fictional story about human beings and the events of their lives. The four essential attributes of a novel are: Theme—Plot—Characterization—Style.
These are attributes, not separable parts. They can be isolated conceptually for purposes of study, but one must always remember that they are interrelated and that a novel is their sum. (If it is a good novel, it is an indivisible sum.)
These four attributes pertain to all forms of literature, i.e., of fiction, with one exception. They pertain to novels, plays, scenarios, librettos, short stories. The single exception is poems. A poem does not have to tell a story; its basic attributes are theme and style.
A novel is the major literary form—in respect to its scope, its inexhaustible potentiality, its almost unlimited freedom (including the freedom from physical limitations of the kind that restrict a stage play) and, most importantly, in respect to the fact that a novel is a purely literary form of art which does not require the intermediary of the performing arts to achieve its ultimate effect.
An artist recreates those aspects of reality which represent his fundamental view of man and of existence. In forming a view of man’s nature, a fundamental question one must answer is whether man possesses the faculty of volition—because one’s conclusions and evaluations in regard to all the characteristics, requirements and actions of man depend on the answer.
Their opposite answers to this question constitute the respective basic premises of two broad categories of art: Romanticism, which recognizes the existence of man’s volition—and Naturalism, which denies it.
Prior to the nineteenth century, literature presented man as a helpless being whose life and actions were determined by forces beyond his control: either by fate and the gods, as in the Greek tragedies, or by an innate weakness, “a tragic flaw,” as in the plays of Shakespeare. Writers regarded man as metaphysically impotent; their basic premise was determinism. On that premise, one could not project what might happen to men; one could only record what did happen—and chronicles were the appropriate literary form of such recording.
Man as a being who possesses the faculty of volition did not appear in literature until the nineteenth century. The novel was his proper literary form—and Romanticism was the great new movement in art. Romanticism saw man as a being able to choose his values, to achieve his goals, to control his own existence. The Romantic writers did not record the events that had happened, but projected the events that should happen; they did not record the choices men had made, but projected the choices men ought to make.
With the resurgence of mysticism and collectivism, in the later part of the nineteenth century, the Romantic novel and the Romantic movement vanished gradually from the cultural scene.
Man’s new enemy, in art, was Naturalism. Naturalism rejected the concept of volition and went back to a view of man as a helpless creature determined by forces beyond his control; only now the new ruler of man’s destiny was held to be society. The Naturalists proclaimed that values have no power and no place, neither in human life nor in literature, that writers must present men “as they are,” which meant: must record whatever they happen to see around them—that they must not pronounce value judgments nor project abstractions, but must content themselves with a faithful transcription, a carbon copy, of any existing concretes.
[The] basic premises of Romanticism and Naturalism (the volition or anti-volition premise) affect all the other aspects of a literary work, such as the choice of theme and the quality of the style, but it is the nature of the story structure—the attribute of plot or plotlessness—that represents the most important difference between them and serves as the main distinguishing characteristic for classifying a given work in one category or the other.
The theme of a novel can be conveyed only through the events of the plot, the events of the plot depend on the characterization of the men who enact them—and the characterization cannot be achieved except through the events of the plot, and the plot cannot be constructed without a theme.
This is the kind of integration required by the nature of a novel. And this is why a good novel is an indivisible sum: every scene, sequence and passage of a good novel has to involve, contribute to and advance all three of its major attributes: theme, plot, characterization.
A cardinal principle of good fiction [is]: the theme and the plot of a novel must be integrated—as thoroughly integrated as mind and body or thought and action in a rational view of man.
In art, and in literature, the end and the means, or the subject and the style, must be worthy of each other. That which is not worth contemplating in life, is not worth re-creating in art.
The writer who develops a beautiful style, but has nothing to say, represents a kind of arrested esthetic development; he is like a pianist who acquires a brilliant technique by playing finger-exercises, but never gives a concert.
The typical literary product of such writers—and of their imitators, who possess no style—are so-called “mood-studies,” popular among today’s literati, which are little pieces conveying nothing but a certain mood. Such pieces are not an art-form, they are merely finger-exercises that never develop into art.
Now take a look at modern literature.
Man—the nature of man, the metaphysically significant, important, essential in man—is now represented by dipsomaniacs, drug addicts, sexual perverts, homicidal maniacs and psychotics. The subjects of modern literature are such themes as: the hopeless love of a bearded lady for a mongoloid pinhead in a circus side show—or: the problem of a married couple whose child was born with six fingers on her left hand—or: the tragedy of a gentle young man who just can’t help murdering strangers in the park, for kicks.
All this is still presented to us under the Naturalistic heading of “a slice of life” or “real life”—but the old slogans have worn thin. The obvious question, to which the heirs of statistical Naturalism have no answer, is: if heroes and geniuses are not to be regarded as representative of mankind, by reason of their numerical rarity, why are freaks and monsters to be regarded as representative? Why are the problems of a bearded lady of greater universal significance than the problems of a genius? Why is the soul of a murderer worth studying, but not the soul of a hero?
If you wonder what is the ultimate destination toward which modern philosophy and modern art are leading you, you may observe its advance symptoms all around us. Observe that literature is returning to the art form of the pre-industrial ages, to the chronicle—that fictionalized biographies of “real” people, of politicians, baseball players or Chicago gangsters, are given preference over works of imaginative fiction, in the theater, in the
Except for the exceptions, there is no literature (and no art) today—in the sense of a broad, vital cultural movement and influence. There are only bewildered imitators with nothing to imitate—and charlatans who rise to split-second notoriety, as they always did in periods of cultural collapse.
Some remnants of Romanticism may still be found in the popular media—but in such a mangled, disfigured form that they achieve the opposite of Romanticism’s original purpose.
A SHORT STORY
A short story is a relatively brief fictional prose narrative, which may vary widely in length. Edgar Allan Poe wrote that the short story should have unity, brevity, and singleness of effect. A short story also could be read in one sitting, but that depends upon the reading ability of the reader and the length and complexity of the short story.
As in a novel, the elements of plot, character, theme, and setting are interwoven. But, unlike the novel, which may well ramble on for hundreds of pages, mixing plots, introducing and eliminating characters, developing several themes, and roaming from one setting to another, the short story does not have the space for doing so. Usually, the short story has one plot, one theme, possibly one setting, and one major character.
Types of short story:
a. The plot of story: the plot story is a narration – a telling of a series of events – that has a traditional pattern of structure. A conflict is identified at the beginning, the action builds until it reaches a climax, and then the story either ends gradually tapers off to the end.
b. The action story: a type of plot story, the action story is dependent primarily upon what the characters do, not upon deep development of characters or theme. Most of the action is physical, and so typical examples are the television mystery or detective stories, cowboy or frontier stories, and some types of science fiction.
c. The plotless story: in this type, there apparently is no action or very little action. The story appears to be mostly the description of a character or the creation of a mood. While this may seem like a useless type of story, in fact the author may have wanted to frustate the reader or wanted not to come to a firm conclusion. The “plotless” story may well be more realistic than any other type, for life cannot always be said to be organized according to a tight structure.
d. The episodic story: this type of short story, also referred to as the “slic-of-life” type, consists of one main incident. What has happens before the incident may be told, hinted at, or not told at all. What happens after the incident is left up to the reader, although sometimes the author make taht clear. While the incident may not appear to be important, it may capture some aspect of life quite well, and as an example, may reveal even more.
e. The character story: the character story has as its main purpose the revealing of something about one main character. For that reason, there may be very little plot. The character may be involved in only one episode, and the character may be the only character in the tale. At the end of the story, the reader usually knows a good deal about that character.
f. The thematic story: in this type, the author’s main purpose is to develop one particular theme. One type of theme my attempt to reveal a “great truth” about life, such as “humanity is innately corrupt,” or a simple statement about life. To develop the themes, there may be a heavy plot line or there may be little. In any event the reader, leaves the story feeling that the author had something meaningful to say.
g. The psychological story: sometimes the character story fits this categorywell. Typically, any action in the story takes place within the character – changes in feeling, states of mind, beliefs, desires, drives, attitudes. One leaves such a story knowing a great deal about what the character is like internally.
Elements of Fiction http://www.huntel.net/rsweetland/literature/genre/fiction/ficelmnts.html
Prepared for English 200, Section 8, at the University of Mississippi
Copyright © 1986 by Harry Binswanger. Introduction copyright © 1986 by Leonard Peikoff. All rights reserved. For information address New American Library.