The Other Literary Devices

Even though symbolism is life, you will need to include some other literary devices in your analysis. Of course, this could be for the sole purpose of proving your symbolism, but you do use others. Especially if your prompt asks you to analyze literary devices (note the plural – the College Board is very picky about things like plurals). So I present, some of the other lit devices you may find yourself studying during AP Lit.


An allegory is an extended metaphor that lasts for the entire work. A famous example would be George Orwell’s Animal Farm where the actions of the animals allegorically parallel that of the Stalin era. Most of the time, you should avoid stating something is allegorical unless the author stated it is allegorical or it is a widely accepted belief that the work is allegorical. (Aka: using allegory in your essay should be reserved for The Fact.)


Now this one tends to show up more often then you may thing. An allusion is a reference to another work (be it literary, historical, religious, mythological, what-have-you). Biblical allusions are pretty much everywhere in AP Lit, basically because most of the authors you read are some form of Christian. Also, no work is entirely original – authors take ideas from things they’ve read/seen. Allusions can be seen in a whole lot of things, be they subtle or obvious.


Sounds like a snooty person saying “character” right? Well that’s basically its definition. A caricature is a deliberate exaggeration of a character’s features to the point of absurdity. Think cartoons that morph men and monkeys together. But in a book. Like Uncle Vernon (except he’s more like a gorilla).


Connotations are the mental associations society has of words. Denotations are the literal, dictionary definition of words. For example, the words “innocent” and “genuine” both mean without corruption (denotation), but “innocent” is typically associated with a lack of experience whereas “genuine” is associated with being truthful (connotation). Or, you know, if you call someone a snake you aren’t saying “You forked-tongue, scaly reptile!” you’re saying “You manipulative, slimy –insert expletive here-!” These lit devices are most useful in analyzing diction choices. Speaking of which…


Diction is the actual, specific word choice of the author. For example, this Guide is an excellent example of colloquial diction (a piece written in everyday language like how someone would talk). The choice of words in a passage can change the entire tone, and so has critical meaning in analysis. For instance, “He walked by the large oak tree” versus “He strode past the oak tree, so large it’s branches seemed to pass the clouds.” Notice the difference?


Watch a horror movie. You know that moment when you’re all “DON’T OPEN THE DOOR!” and then they open the door and die? How did you know they shouldn’t open the door? Because of the foreshadowing in the movie (the ominous music, the evil look of the door, the fact that it’s a horror movie and that’s what happens, whatever). But foreshadowing doesn’t always have to mean evil (that’s just its most common form). It literally means “hinting at or indicating the future.”


An enormous overstatement using exaggerated language. For example, “Dude that test was so long I died then got reincarnated then died again!” or “I’m so hungry I could eat a whale. A whole whale!”


How the author uses figurative language to evoke feelings or an idea when describing an object. Aka: the “feel” of something through descriptions. It’s everywhere. A book can’t exist without it. For example: “The light flickered softly overhead, creating a cycle of brightness to illuminate the text for just a moment before darkness overcame it again.” The flickering light gives off the “feel” of the ocean coming and going from the shore. Imagery is tricky to use in an essay (because you have to include why the author makes the light like the ocean), but it can pay off if done well.

In Medias Res

Literally Latin for “into the middle of things,” this is when the author begins the story in the middle of the action. This is very common in the pilot episodes of most shows.


There are three types of irony – verbal, situational, and dramatic.

Verbal irony is a form of sarcasm, saying something that has a different meaning than what you literally said. For example, saying “that test was so easy” when you struggled with it for ages and don’t even think you passed, or “great work” when the person did absolutely nothing.

Situational irony is basically a misdirection – making your audience think one thing and then saying another, or creating a situation that seems absurd. Like a character laughing evilly while holding tools with many sharp, pointy objects in something resembling a secret lab, sparks flying, only to be revealed the character was making breakfast. Or having a water park burn to the ground. This type of irony is typically funny because you don’t expect it.

Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something the character does not. It’s at the heart of most Greek dramas because the audience was expected to know the story before the play began. For example, the audience knows the story of King Oedipus so when the king makes the vow that he will not rest until the murderer of Laios pays for his crimes, it’s dramatic irony because we (the audience) knows Oedipus is talking about himself.

Also, irony – the opposite of wrinkly.


This is when the author places two things side-by-side to contrast them. Like having a giant, bulky character next to the small, witty character. It normally provides extra emphasis on the differences, but can sometimes be to send a “but they’re not so different after all” message.


A metaphor is taking two unlike things and making them fit together without the use of “like” or “as.” For example, “life is a journey” or “you’re a night owl.” Also called “making an analogy.” If a work keeps running with a metaphor, like a poem comparing life to a journey for the entire poem, then it’s called an extended metaphor.


A recurring symbol, device, formula, or situation throughout a work. Like trains, or water imagery, or having multiple characters have epiphanies after a storm. It is more general than symbolism (“flowers” are a motif, “a rose” is a symbol) as explained on the symbolism page. If something keeps showing up, it’s probably a motif.


A figure of speech combining two words that contradict each other. It’s often funny. Like jumbo shrimp or happy Monday.


A seemingly contradictory statement that may be true. Like “I’m nobody” or “You must be cruel to be kind.” The difference between an oxymoron and a paradox is length – oxymorons are short phrases, paradoxes are sentences.


In which you give human qualities to non-human things. Like a smiling sun at the corner of a drawing we all did as children. Or talking animals (anthropomorphism). For more, see Disney.

Point of View

The style of narration the story is told in. Can be broken down into perspectives…

Singular/Plural – does the author use “I” or “We”? “He” or “They”?

First Person: Narrator uses “I”/“We” – they are telling the story as it happened to them.

Second Person: Narrator uses “You” – they are relaying a story to you.

Third Person: Narrator uses “She/He”/“They” – they are telling you a story about someone else.

Limited – The narrator does not know everything about the story, they learn as you do typically by staying within the perspective of one of the characters.

Omniscient – The narrator knows everything, a presence of the story who knows every characters’ innermost thoughts.

Generally you only include the part of the point of view that is most important to your analysis. If you want to talk about how the author has a god-complex you might bring up that s/he uses third person omniscient point of view.


A style of writing in which the literary work ridicules human failings. Satires are typically comedies (yes, like Shakespeare). This is because a satire is meant to go over the heads of those being ridiculed (like, hey you are all rich snobs, I’m going to make fun of you in my book! But…you pay my bills…haha! I’ll satirize your situation!) Typically, the audience feels a prick of familiarity with the situation to make people think about stuff.


Like a metaphor, similes describe something as being something else. However, similes do this through the use of “like” or “as” to make a comparison. Like saying “she walked like a tiger” or “the idea slipped out of his mind as water slips off a duck.” Also called “making an analogy.”


The way. Life. The most amazing thing since sliced bread. Your key to success.


The literal structure of sentences the author uses throughout the work. Are the sentences simple or complex? Does. The. Author. Use. Odd. Punctuation? That kind of thing.


The central idea of a work. Themes are not clichés. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is not an acceptable theme for a book. It just isn’t. Don’t do it. A theme is “the moral ambiguity of the upper class” or “the power of dreams.” It is an idea. The most resilient parasite.


The attitude the work takes toward its subject/theme. Like, if the theme is “the moral ambiguity of the upper class” what stand does the author take on it in the novel? Is the author showing disdain for that ambiguity or praising it? The tone of a work does not necessarily echo the author’s beliefs – the author could be satirizing the work and so the tone is light while the author’s beliefs are much deeper.

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Summer reading, while annoying and generally the bane of all students-enjoying-their-well-deserved-vacation’s existence, is still important. Not because the book will change your life, but because the first couple weeks of school (not counting the arbitrary getting-to-know-you first day) center around it. Make sure you know what your summer reading is, read it, and remember enough of it to get by.