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Lecture 2. Literary Text as a Poetic Structure

Points for discussion:

1. Verbal and supraverbal layers of the literary text

2. Principles of the literary text structure cohesion

3. Literary image

Verbal and supraverbal layers of the LT

The words of a literary text combine into phrases, phrases into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs making up larger passages, chapters, sections, parts. All these represent the verbal layer of a literary text.

Word sequences represent a series of events, conflicts and circumstances in which characters of a literary work find themselves. These word sequences make up genre, style, theme, composition, plot, image which make up supraverbal (poetic) layer nevertheless revealed in verbal sequences.

The supraverbal and verbal layers of the text are inseparable from each other. The cohesion of the two layers makes up the poetic structure of the LT. There is nothing in the literary work that is not expressed in its poetic structure. It is the whole of the poetic structure that conveys the author’s message. One element of the poetic structure is as important as any other for through them the author’s message is conveyed.

All components of poetic structure constitute an organization of interdependent layers. The basic unit of poetic structure is the word. All various layers of the structure (phonological, rhythmical, grammatical, syntactic, semantic, stylistic, compositional) are in close interrelation with each other and are expressed in words.

Principles of the LT structure cohesion

Each literary work is a unique instance of imaginative representation of reality.

Imaginative representation has its own principles which cohere all elements of the literary text.

The principle of incomplete representation

In recreating an object or phenomenon of reality the author selects out of an infinity of features pertaining to the object only those which are most characteristic. E.g.: "It was a hard-swept looking house, with hard-polished windows, and a clean mudmat on the front steps." (from “The Chrysanthemums” by J.Steinbeck)

All images in a literary text, those of people, events, situations, landscapes are incompletely represented. At least 2 factors condition this:

1) the linguistic factor – verbal representation of the whole image would always differ from reality for there is a considerable disproportion between linguistic means of representation and the reality which is to be represented or it can take would take up innumerable pages of writing;

2) the aesthetic factor – literature must stir up the readers interest. One way to do this is to make the reader strain his perceptive abilities and fill in for himself those parts of the whole which have been gapped or incompletely represented.

The degree of incompleteness of representation depends upon the genre of the literary work and upon the individual manner of the writer. It’s greater in lyrical poems and smaller in epic works.

2. The principle of analogy and contrast

Analogy and contrast are the organizing axes of poetic structure. An analogy is a literary device that helps to establish a relationship based on similarities between two concepts or ideas that are quite different.

E.g.: In the same way as one cannot have the rainbow without the rain, one cannot achieve success and riches without hard work.

Contrast is used to describe the differences between two or more entities. E.g.: W. Shakespeare's Sonnet 130.

In literature they are a way of imaginative cognition. The author in this way reveals the good and the evil, the beautiful and the ugly, the just and the unjust in life.

Analogy and contrast permeate all components of the text, characters, event representation, imagery, underlie quite a number of tropes and figures of speech.

3. The principle of recurrence

Poetic structure of the literary text is so modeled that certain of its elements which have already occurred in the text appear again at definite intervals. The recurrence of an element may have several functions:1) the organizing of the subject matter, 2) giving it a dynamic flow. A recurrent element may represent the leitmotif of the literary work which acquires thematic or even symbolic significance.

Upon the recurrent elements (phonetic, syntactic, lexical) the rhythm of the text largely depends, for rhythm is repetition with variation.

A number of figures of speech is based on the principle of recurrence.

Literary Image

Literature interprets life by re-creating life in the form of images inspired by life and in accordance with the author's vision. The term image refers not only to characters but also to any of the text units, such a phrase, poetic detail, etc.

All images in a literary work are in hierarchical interrelation. At the top of this hierarchy is the macroimage, the literary work itself understood as an image of life visualized and depicted by the author.

At the bottom of the hierarchy there is the word image or microimage (simile, metaphor, epithet). Together with other elements they build up landscape images, event images.

Each image when in isolation is just a trope but within a poetic structure it is an element, which equally with others shares in the expression of the content.

An important part of the literary text as a poetic structure is the image of the author (introduced in 1920s by V.V. Vinogradov):

Explicit author permeates the literary text as a unique consciousness, world outlook and perception which unify the text parts into a single entity. Bear in mind, however, that the author as a real person with a biography and personality traits and the image of the author in a literary text are not identical. It is always quite idealized, it’s rather an image the author aspires to be like or an image the author compares himself with. It is reflected in author’s comments, evaluations and worldviews.

Implicit author is realized through the image of the narrator when the author identifies himself with one of the characters. The 1st person narration in this case intensifies the impression of reality of the described events.

The image of the reader

The reader is usually an observer of what happens in the literary text. However, sometimes the author involves his readers into the world of the heroes by means of the narration with a second person pronoun and there appears an imaginary reader.

The author can also identify the reader with one of his minor characters, it is a literary device that helps the author to create the effect of emotional co-experience. Thus, the image of the reader is often created by the author and shaped by world of the story.


Lecture 3. Literary Text Composition

1. Macrocomponents of the literary text structure:

  • Theme and idea
  • Elements of the plot
  • Characters
  • Point of view
  • Setting

2. Microcomponents of the literary text structure.

Theme; idea

The theme of a literary work is the represented aspect of life; an interaction of human characters under certain circumstances such as some social or psychological conflict; war and peace, race discrimination, a clash of ideologies. The basic theme may alternate with rival themes/by-themes and their relationship may be very complex.

The idea of a literary work is the underlying thought and emotional attitude transmitted to the reader by the whole poetic structure of the literary text. All the layers of poetic structure (direct, metaphorical and symbolic) pertain to the expression of the idea. Idea can also be defined as the underlying meaning of the story rarely interpreted in only one way.

Plot; elements of the plot.

The plot is the narrative and thematic development of the story—that is, what happens and what these events mean. Plot is a series of events that depend on one another, not a sequence of unrelated episodes.

The plot traditionally moves through five distinct stages:

Exposition------Complication (Rising Action)------Crisis (Climax)------Falling action------Resolution (Denouement).

EXPOSITION is the beginning section in which the author provides the necessary background information, sets the scene, establishes the situation, dates the action, introduces the characters. The exposition may be accomplished in a single sentence or paragraph, or, in the case of some novels, occupy an entire chapter or more.

COMPLICATION breaks the existing balance and introduces the underlying or inciting conflict. The conflict is then developed gradually and intensified.

CRISIS is that moment at which the plot reaches its point of greatest emotional intensity; it is the turning point of the plot, directly precipitating its resolution.

FALLING ACTION: Once the crisis, or turning point, has been reached, the tension subsides and the plot moves toward its appointed conclusion.

RESOLUTION: The final section of the plot which records the outcome of the conflict and establishes some new equilibrium or stability (however tentative and momentary).


The term character applies to any individual in a literary work. For purposes of analysis, characters in fiction are customarily described by 1) their relationship to the plot, 2) by the degree of development they are given by the author, and 3) by whether or not they undergo significant character change.

1) The major, or central character of the plot is the protagonist; his opponent, the character against whom the protagonist struggles or contends, is the antagonist. The protagonist is the essential character without whom there would be no plot. It is the protagonist's fate (the conflict or problem) on which the attention of the reader is focused. The terms protagonist and antagonist do not imply a judgement about the moral worth. For this purpose they are more suitable terms as hero/heroine, or villain, which connote a degree of moral correctness. Most stories also have minor characters that provide support and illuminate the protagonist.

2) Flat characters represent a single characteristic, trait, or idea, or a very limited number of such qualities. They are also referred to as type characters, as one-dimensional characters, or, when they are distorted to create humour, as caricatures. These characters and their deeds are always predictable and never vary for they are not changed by circumstance.

Round characters embody a number of qualities and traits, and are complex multidimensional characters of considerable intellectual and emotional depth who have the capacity to grow and change. Major characters in fiction are usually round characters. As there exist two major types of characters, so there are two modes of their representation – typification in order to personify vices, virtues, or philosophical and religious positions and individualization of a character which has evolved into a main feature of the genre of the novel.

3) Dynamic characters exhibit a capacity to change; static characters do not. The degree of character change varies widely: in some works, the development is so subtle that it may go almost unnoticed; in others, it is sufficiently drastic and profound to cause a reorganization of the character's personality or system of values. Change in character may come slowly over many pages and chapters, or it may take place with a dramatic suddenness that surprises. Dynamic characters include the protagonists in most novels. Static characters leave the plot as they entered it, largely untouched by the events that have taken place. Although static characters tend to be minor ones, this is not always the case.

Methods of Characterization Basic techniques:

- direct method of telling, which relies on exposition and direct commentary by the author (a method preferred by many older fiction writers).

pCharacterization through the use of names.

pCharacterization through appearance.

pCharacterization by the author.

- indirect, dramatic method of showing, which involves the author's stepping aside to allow the characters to reveal themselves directly through their dialogue and their actions.

pCharacterization through dialogue.

pCharacterization through action.

Telling and showing are not mutually exclusive, however. Most authors employ a combination of the two.

Point of view

The term point of view, or narrative perspective, characterizes the way in which a text presents persons, events, and settings. The major types of point of view are:

· third-person point of view - omniscient (unspecified narrator presents the action from an all-knowing, God-like perspective) or limited (the story from the third person with a knowledge of what the main character thinks);

· first-person point of view (observations of a character who narrates the story),

· second-person point of view .

Setting: literary time and space

Setting denotes the location, historical period, and social surroundings in which the action of a text develops, the background, atmosphere or environment in which characters live and move. Thus it may be physical, social, spatial and temporal. Depending on the way of its presentation a setting may be simple or elaborate. According to the number and quality of details it gives a setting can be complex, minimal or inferred.

Setting is called on to perform a number of desired functions: (1) to provide background for the action; (2) as an antagonist (to establish conflict); (3) as a means of creating appropriate atmosphere; (4) as a means of revealing character (metaphor); (5) as a means of reinforcing theme to illustrate or clarify, (6) even as a way to distract the reader.

These functions must not, however, be thought of as mutually exclusive. In many works of fiction, setting can and does perform a number of different functions simultaneously.

Microcomponents of the literary text structure

Novelists also use a number of minor devices to make their novels rich in meaning and rewarding to the reader, including diction, tropes and figures of speech

Diction is stipulated by the word choice and usage (for example, formal vs. informal), as determined by considerations of audience and purpose.

Tropes and figures of speech are specifically patterned – semantically, lexically, syntactically, phonologically - word sequences that constitute a literary text. Trope is an expressions with a transferable meaning (e.g. metaphor), which can be understood as a substitute for a denotatively suitable word. That is to say, trope is a semantic substitution. Tropes produce imagery, the collection of descriptive details that appeal to the senses and emotions of the reader by creating a sense of real experience. Through imagery the writer attempts to embody in images all abstractions and generalizations about character and meaning. There can be tactile imagery (sense of touch); aural imagery (sense of hearing); olfactory imagery (sense of smell); visual imagery (sense of sight), gustatory imagery (sense of taste).

Figure of speech is a striking or unusual configuration of words or phrases (e.g.: repetition, parallelism; parenthesis, ellipsis, zeugma).

Date: 2015-01-02; view: 2898

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