Tag Archives: literature

Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter Z




is for Zoomorphism





According to The Free Dictionary, zoomorphism is the use”of animal forms in symbolism, literature, or graphic representation.” When using zoomorphism, animal traits are given to a human or inanimate object (Literary Terms and Definitions).

The morning after Malchus awakes in The Revenant, the weather is described as follows:

The air was chilled and damp, wind whistling as it pranced through the leaves of the tree-lined street. Sheila linked her arm through Malchus’s and shivered. A snowflake lit on the tip of her nose and then another.

In this passage, the wind prances, something we usually attribute to horses during a show. The snowflakes light on her nose, something we usually attribute to bugs or birds.

Pop quiz: Zoomorphism is closely linked to two other literary devices described in this blog through the challenge. What are they? Post your answers in the comments below.


The A to Z Blog Challenge 2014 was a blast! I hope you had as much fun reading my posts and writing your own as I did. 

Best wishes, everyone. I’ll catch up with you during Challenge 2015!

Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter X




is for Xenophobia





Xenophobia is a fear of strangers or of the unknown. It is frequently used as a device in literature, especially science fiction literature.

My theory is that, in times of war, the stranger is the enemy, be they German, Russian, or Mid-Eastern. During times of war there is an upswing in the number of books, movies and television shows where the stranger is the enemy. In World War I and II, most people had no idea what the typical German was like, except that s/he was different from typical Americans (or Canadians or Britains). Ditto Russians during the Cold War or people from the Mid-East since 9-11. It makes sense to cast the stranger with the unknown culture, the object of fear, in the position of the enemy in the media.

In times of so-called “peace”, there is an upswing in the number of popular culture projects in which the alien–as in from another planet–is the enemy. This is because with the advent of the Internet, the world has gotten smaller and we pretty much know about every culture there is. But a stranger from another planet? Now that is something to fear.

Most works simply assume aliens are out to annihilate the human race. Aliens speak a foreign language, they look different than us, and their culture–if it exists–would be different than ours as well. The truth is, most aliens would probably look more like Star Trek‘s Horta than its Klingons. Does a steaming mass of lava  or a shimmering plasma field have a culture? Can it/he/she/schlee have a culture?

I’m not sure what is more frightening to me, the likes of  Hannibal Lechter and Joe Carroll, or Lrrr and Ndnd from Omicron Persei 8. What’s scarier to you–an ordinary human psychopath or an alien from another planet? Would you fall prey to xenophobia and automatically assume the alien is your enemy? Post your opinions in the comments below.



Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter K




is for Katharsis




This is hard. Eleven days in to the challenge and I’ve already hit a brick wall. Outside of a few Japanese poetry styles, there are pretty much no literary devices beginning with the letter K. According to The Free Dictionary, the term “catharsis” is taken from the Greek “katharsis,” so today, K is for Katharsis.

Katharsis–better known as “catharsis”–means to achieve an emotional or spiritual cleansing or renewal.

In the Walking Dead episode entitled “Tempus Fugit”, both Beth and Daryl experience katharsis. In this episode, Beth decides to do something she’s never done before–get a drink. When her quest is realized, she has an emotional breakdown crying at the bar in the golf club with an unopened bottle of peach schnapps. Daryl shatters the bottle on the ground, symbolizing the end of Beth’s childhood. What follows is Beth’s spiritual and Daryl’s emotional renewal, for by the end of the episode, Beth sees herself as Daryl’s equal and Daryl is able to open up to Beth about his past. Neither character will be the same moving forward as a result of their katharses.

Kartharsis may be experienced by the audience as well. If a reader identifies with a character in a novel and feels an emotional release as a result, s/he has undergone katharsis.

Have your read or watched anything lately in which either you or the characters experienced katharsis? Share your examples of katharsis in the comments below.

Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter G




is for Genre




Genre is used to describe types of literature. Some examples are science fiction, young adult, supernatural, thriller, adventure, and police procedural.

In the genre of science fiction, authors take current social mores and technology and project how that might change in the future. One example of this is “Star Trek” and communicators. In “Trek”, Gene Roddenberry imagined how people might communicate in the future and came up with the small, handheld devices. It’s no coincidence that when real life engineers were designing handhelds they used the communicator as a model and came up with the flip phone. Incidentally, modern smart phones appear modelled after another “Trek” device, the PADD (personal access display device).

In Phase Shift, museums on Gaia meld high and low tech in their dioramas. A description follows:

…the display was lifeless, a series of plaster casts of various skeletal remains sitting dully on a number of podiums, arranged in chronological order according to the era of each animal’s evolution.  Now, one by one, each piece of bone is animated in turn.  I watch as the first skull grows holographic muscle and skin and then rotates a full three hundred and sixty degrees on its podium.  Following that, the hologram grows a body, a three-dimensional representation of what Gaians believe the animal to have looked like when alive.  The three-D body comes away from the skull on the podium and it, too, rotates full circle.  Lastly, for its magnum opus, the hominid looks me square in the eye and takes a series of steps toward me, leaving the diorama behind.  Once more it rotates a full three hundred and sixty degrees before vanishing into thin air.  It takes almost a full five minutes for each specimen on the Gaian human evolutionary line to cycle through its trip down the runway.

When the last specimen has finished, the gallery is once more still.

Here, holographic technology is melded with a low-tech plaster diorama to create an interactive museum display. Given the state of holographic technology today, it’s not such a long stretch to assume one day the two might be joined to make history come to life for museum patrons.

The key to writing science fiction is to make it plausible. Readers should be able to imagine a future in which the technology and social structures might exist.

How many genres of literature can you think of? Write them below and I’ll compile a master list and share it in a future blog post.


Literature is a Construct of Reality

I haven’t written in a while because I’ve been all but consumed with a grade 11 English course I’ve been teaching through eLearning. While teaching, a lot of time was spent on symbolism. Students find it difficult to understand that novels are not real life – they are constructions of real life, which means that everything in everything you read is there for a reason. Case in point are characters.

Characters are not real people. They are given desires, physical characteristics and relationships just like people, but they do not develop as a result of natural elements in combination with the nurturing environments in which they are raised. In my class, we discussed “A Doll’s House” by Henrik Ibsen. In the play, Nora is a typical Victorian trophy wife with a twist – she’s unhappy with looking pretty and doing what’s expected by the men in her life; Nora wants something more. Were many women in Nora’s position unhappy in their lives, want to own their own property, make their own decisions, have the vote? Most definitely. Did many of them leave their husbands and children to try to have their fantasy lives on their own? Probably not. Nora is a construct in that she proves Ibsen’s point that women should want something more for themselves, and that they should make that desire known.

Likewise, Torvald is a construct of the typical Victorian man. He does not verbally abuse Nora with his condescending names, and by treating her like a child as this was the way he was raised to treat women. By law, women were infantilized. Like children are often treated as the property of their parents, women were first the property of their fathers and then of their husbands. Torvald works hard to keep Nora in the lifestyle to which she is accustomed. He gives her money when she asks though he teases her about it and asks her not to eat macaroons because they didn’t have the dentistry to repair rotten teeth we do today and it would have been expensive and ugly. When Nora comes clean about Krogstad, he reacts as most men would, I think, worried about what it meant for him. Given time, Torvald might have come around, because, at his core, he does think he loves Nora and is petrified at a life without her, but Nora doesn’t give him the chance to have time to think and formulate a plan as she has, for she leaves immediately after dropping the Krogstad bomb.

Funny they way how these blogposts evolve, isn’t it? I hadn’t meant to write so much about “A Doll’s House”, but I guess I had a lot to say. I’ll save my construct analysis of a character for the next post.

Graphic from www.cityweekly.net

About the Author

Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to write seriously. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!

“The Purchase” and Point of View

imageWhether consciously aware of it or not, the point of view from which a story is told can make or break the story. The most popular points of view are first person—in which the reader sees the events unfold through the eyes of a single character, including their thoughts and feelings—and third person. There are typically three types of third person narrative. The first is limited, essentially another take on the first person narrative. In third person limited, the reader can only know, see and feel what the point of view character knows, sees and feels. In third person omniscient, the reader experiences the narrative from a variety of people’s points of view. In third person objective, the narrator tells the plot as if the reader were viewing a movie, taking in all of the characters’ expressions and actions, but with none of the characters’ thoughts and feelings expressed in the narrative, other than those responses which can reasonably be observed.

The Purchase by Linda Spalding is about Daniel Dickinson, a Quaker living at the turn of the nineteenth century, who is excommunicated after his wife dies and he marries Ruth, the fifteen year old Methodist orphan living with his family as a servant. Disillusioned with his former life and feeling as if he has no future, Daniel moves his five children across the country to settle in Virginia. At an auction to purchase farm equipment, Daniel inadvertently bids on a slave and is bullied into giving up his favourite horse as collateral for the purchase and taking the eight year old boy, Simus, home with him. Thus begins (if I may borrow a phrase) a series of unfortunate events for Daniel as his family grows and he tries to build first a house and then a mill on his land.

The story is told from the point of view of an omniscient narrator, following each character’s thoughts, feelings and actions as the scene unfolds. This allows the reader to glean information that the main character(s) may not have. The following passage demonstrates Spalding’s expert use of this narrative technique:

“If we take my children to Virginia, thee could travel as a wife.” It was possible, [Daniel] supposed now, looking back at her unwashed face, that she had never had a book of her own. “Thee may borrow my Aeneid,” he called back to her, “with due care to its binding.” He turned to smile, but she had lowered her head and did not see.

But I am reading it just now, Mary wanted to say. That book was the one thing she shared now with her father. It was theirs. She stayed silent.

If this were written from Daniel’s point of view, we would not know that Mary wants to say something to her father but chooses to remain silent.  Spalding also uses this technique to hide from Mary that her husband was involved in Simus’ murder. The reader knows it was reluctantly so and that he tried to stop it and gave up and left before the actual murder took place, information Mary never finds out.

The Purchase is written in third person omniscient, but it is more a cross between this and third person objective, as many character thoughts and motivations are hidden. Ruth is the best example of this. Though she is present throughout and the reader knows she struggles with her position in the family, little is shown with respect to her emotions. Next to Daniel, the well-meaning but aloof patriarch, the most detailed, well-rounded character is Simus. Though he is around for perhaps only half of the novel, his life and death act as catalysts for most of what occurs in the plot. Mary, the eldest daughter, and Bett, a slave girl with whom Mary lives, befriends, and helps escape, aren’t as fleshed out as I would have liked. Though Mary gains local notoriety as a healer while secretly using Bett’s salves and potions, Bett only expresses fear at being caught, for it is against the law for blacks to medically treat whites. I would have liked to have known more about Bett’s feeling with respect to what happens in the story, as I felt the real story lay in the relationship between Simus, Bett, Bry (Bett’s son, the result of her being raped by her owner) and Mary, who form the closest thing to a family portrayed in the book.

Spalding’s choice to use this point of view allows her to expand her story, giving the reader snapshots into the lives of characters beyond Daniel and what he knows about his family’s goings-on. In this fashion, the author expertly layers the story, drawing the reader’s curiosity, rendering The Purchase a page-turner; the pace is quick, the chapters are short and the narration is easy to follow. The novel explores the themes of perseverance in the face of adversity, alienation, religious faith, and the make-up of family. Spalding draws thought-provoking parallels between the slavery of blacks and the servitude of women. Daniel remains cold to Ruth throughout. They do not have relations until they are several years into their marriage. Even then, he is aloof with her and quick to lay judgement. In many ways, He treats Ruth as more of a slave than either Simus, Bett or Bry, figuratively lashing out at her when she disobeys him or tries to assume ownership of the new homestead, he does not forge a relationship with her and goes to her only when he wants to have relations. This parallels Bett’s plight. Her owner (the Fox family) literally lashes her when she disobeys them, they forge no attachment with her and the owner uses his female slaves whenever he wants to have relations.

The Purchase intricately weaves the stories of the members of the extended Dickinson family into the harsh realities of pioneer life using a great deal of irony in the telling. The story itself is told darkly, but the end message is uplifting and emotionally and spiritually satisfying.  

Macbeth and World Without End

Teaching grade 10 Academic English in a GTA school has been a challenging task to say the least. Right now, I am struggling with how to teach students to write a “3R Journal” for the Independent Study Projects (ISPs) which are worth 15% of their marks for the semester. The “3Rs” stand for “Retell”, “Relate”, and “Reflect”. Students are given a long list of questions they can choose to answer in each category based on a novel they selected for the ISPs, but they have difficulty using critical thought to produce a deep analysis. The Retell section does not use literary terminology (i.e., protagonist, antagonist, setting, mood/atmosphere, etc.) nor does it include a discussion of theme; the Retell does not take literature, television and movies into account to do a thoughtful comparison, and the Relate does not look at the real world and evaluate the author’s portrayal of teen issues, given the state of the world in which we live. In spite of the list of question, in spite of my preaching, and, yes, in spite of providing exemplars.

To remedy this, I have developed a labour intensive (for me) activity in which students write a 3R journal of Macbeth over 3 nights and I take it in and give them feedback so they know they are on the right track in preparation for the second of two journals. This means setting everything aside, including other marking and planning, in favour of providing detailed feedback that most of them will never read. And I get mostly drek in return for my troubles. Maddening.

I have a pretty good exemplar for the Retell portion of Macbeth which I share with the students when I give the assignment back after assessment. I sat down to provide them with a Relate, but found it difficult. I could talk about matters involving the current political climate in Ontario in which the Education Minister has used her power to subjugate, first teachers and then the rest of the public sector, ignoring their right to strike in strict defiance of the labour relations act. In this case, she relates to Macbeth because she is using her power for personal gain, possibly so she can say she single-handedly fixed what is wrong with paying public sector workers their due, and mending the broken budget, while ignoring the fact that she and her colleagues, public sector workers all, earn more than double teachers et al, but we are not supposed to discuss union matters with our students.

I could talk about the recent political upheaval in the Middle East and how many dictators in that part of the world have recently earned their dues, but that may potentially offend the student population, the majority of which are Muslims and may prefer to call these main saints rather than dictators. If I ask them to be politically correct and not refer to Macbeth as “a Hitler”, then I must, too, be equally PC and steer clear of Muslim politics.

I decided to scrap the Retell exemplar, resolved that, as long as the students gave me apples-to-apples comparisons (i.e., friends peer-pressuring one into smoking a cigarette does not equal Lady Macbeth “peer-pressuring” Macbeth into killing Duncan, primarily because a woman was not considered to be the peer of a man and the offenses do not compare in their severity), and gave me examples from the text to back up their assertions—in other words, as long as they tried—they would earn their “E” for excellent. Then I saw last week’s episode of World Without End.

World Without End, based on Ken Follett’s novel, takes place in the 1300s (300 years before Shakespeare wrote Macbeth) mostly in the town of Kingsbridge in which Petranilla (played by Cynthia Nixon) is a character to rival Lady Macbeth in the throes of PMS. Driven to secure her safety and security she schemes, lies, poisons, commits treason and murder to get her son, Godwyn, successfully elected prior. Her son takes the role of Macbeth, allowing himself to be persuaded by her plan for him, eventually driven near mad by his lust for his cousin, Caris, and The Black Death as it ravages his body and mind. He temporarily loses the title of prior—to Caris—due to his illness. With Godwyn incapacitated, Petranilla goes after a new target, this one a son born out of wedlock and given to a town couple to raise. Having poisoned her illegitimate son’s father, Roland, the Earl of Shiring, she convinces Queen Isabella (Aure Atika) to give the priori back to Godwyn, and to give Ralph (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen) the Earl of Shiring title, so he can rule Kingsbridge and take Phillippa, the girl of his dreams, and Roland’s daughter as his wife (nevermind the fact that this makes Ralph and Phillippa half-siblings). So far, in his “new gloss” as Earl of Shiring, Ralph has fared about as well as Macbeth. His peasants revolt, killing his men, and Phillippa commits suicide rather than allow him to touch her on their wedding night.

Another link to Macbeth is talk of witches. If you remember your high school English, Macbeth meets three witches who prophesy his future. Driven by what they say, he and his wife kill the current king. With that done, Macbeth continues to kill anyone who threatens his crown, including innocent women and children. At one time, Lady Macbeth prays to dark forces to give her more manly attributes which links her to the witches as well. In school, I discuss, at length, Elizabethan beliefs which include religion, superstition and witchcraft. This year I was able to use World Without End as a parallel, as both Caris and her mentor are accused of being witches for their practice of “the healing arts”. First Caris’s mentor is hanged for being a witch when she insists on amputating a man’s arm rather than healing it with a poultice of dung. Later, having pissed off the Prior (before Godwyn assumes the position), she, too is accused of witchcraft, and sentenced to death. It is only by agreeing to be a sister of the priori that she is able to remain alive. The notion of religion versus superstition and a belief in witchcraft, the supernatural and the afterlife are themes that are prevalent, not only in medieval literature, but contemporary literature as well.

Next semester, when it is time for the practice 3R journal, I will be able to provide them with a Relate exemplar, a modification of this blog entry. Hopefully that will help students to understand how they can relate their novels to themes and characters in other literature and/or popular culture.

Download PHASE SHIFT for the price of a tweet. Visit http://www.eliseabram.com, click on the button, tweet or Facebook about my novel and download it for FREE!