Literary Terms to Know and Apply for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Irony



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Literary Terms to Know and Apply

for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


  • Irony: a literary term referring to how a person, situation, statement, or circumstance is not as it would actually seem. Many times it is the exact opposite of what it appears to be. There are many types of irony, the three most common being verbal irony, dramatic irony, and cosmic irony. Verbal irony occurs when either the speaker means something totally different than what he is saying (sarcasm) or the audience realizes, because of their knowledge of the particular situation to which the speaker is referring, that the opposite of what a character is saying is true. Verbal irony also occurs when a character says something in jest that, in actuality, is true. Dramatic irony occurs when facts are not known to the characters in a work of literature but are known by the audience. Cosmic irony suggests that some unknown force brings about dire and dreadful events. Irony spices up a literary work by adding unexpected twists and allowing the reader to become more involved with the characters and plot. See A Handbook to Literature, The Elements of Fiction Writing: Characters and Viewpoint.




  • Paradox: reveals a kind of truth which at first seems contradictory. Two opposing ideas. Example: Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage. Akin to Oxymoron.



  • Foil: is a character that contrasts second character that highlights certain qualities of that first character.



  • Dialect: A regional or social variety of a language distinguished by pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary, especially a variety of speech differing from the standard literary language or speech pattern of the culture in which it exists. It can show differences in education or class.



  • Archetypes: is the use of any object or situation as it was originally made - think of it as the biggest cliché ever, but one that never dies. ex: The Odyssey is so full of archetypes that there is probably at least one of every kind. Odysseus is the archetypical hero, Hydra and Charybdis and the Cyclops are the archetypical monsters. For this novel, you should know and be able to recognize The Quest, Faithful Companion, Trickster, and Hero.



  • Unreliable Narrator: is a first-person narrator that for some reason has a compromised point-of-view. In all stories with a first-person narrator, the narrator serves as a filter for the events. What the narrator does not know or observe cannot be explained to the reader. Usually, however, the reader trusts that the narrator is knowledgeable and truthful enough to give them an accurate representation of the story. In the case of an unreliable narrator (sometimes called a fallible narrator), the reader has reason not to trust what the narrator is saying.

The narrator may be unreliable for many reasons. Some of the typical scenarios are:

  • The narrator may be of a dramatically different age than the people in the story, such as a child attempting to explain adult actions

  • The narrator may have prejudices about race, class or gender

  • The narrator may have low intelligence

  • The narrator may suffer from hallucinations or dementia

  • The narrator may have a personality flaw such as pathological lying or narcissism

  • The narrator may be trying to make a point that is contrary to the actions of the story or be attempting to libel one of the characters due to a grudge



  • Characterization: a character can be flat (presented as a one dimensional character), round (presented as a multi faceted character), static (a character who does not grow or change or learn something throughout the course of the story) or dynamic (a character who grows, changes, or learns something throughout the course of the story)



  • Symbols or symbolism: A word, place, character, or object that means something beyond what it is on a literal level. An object, a setting, or even a character can represent another more general idea. Allegories are narratives read in such a way that nearly every element serves as an interrelated symbol, and the narrative's meaning can be read either literally or as a symbolic statement about a political, spiritual, or psychological truth. Motifs are conspicuous recurring elements, such as a type of incident, a device, a reference, or verbal formula, which appear frequently in works of literature.



  • Figurative Language: Personification is giving inanimate objects human characteristics or abilities. Similes are comparisons of two unlike things using like or as. Metaphors are comparisons of two unlike things. Conceits are extended, elaborate or unusual comparisons--especially one using unlikely metaphors, simile, hyperbole, and contradiction.



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