Literature uses spoken language as its basic medium. The advent of the printing press in the 15th century led to the de-emphasis of the spoken nature of literature. Originally it was an oral tradition, but people are now “readers.”Literature allows for imagination not shown in literal representation. Books were originally hand-made, precious objects, but Gutenberg changed that in 1450 with his invention of moveable type.
Literature is a serial art. To perceive it, one must be aware of what is happening now, remember what happened before, and anticipate what is to come. It is about objects and events, and is a marriage of sound and sense. Assonance is the sound of the vowels and alliteration is the sound of the consonants. The construction of separate elements is the theme or the main idea, which is a structural decision. Language has denotation, a literal level where words mean what they obviously say. There is also connotation, a subtler level where words mean more than what they obviously say (metaphor, symbol, diction). The use of language in literature is meant to reveal meanings is usually absent from daily speech. The image in literature asks the reader to imagine what is referred to or is being described. Metaphor helps writers intensify language. It is a comparison designed to heighten the perception of things compared. It is made without any explicit words to tell you a comparison is being made. A simile has explicit words. A perceptual metaphor invokes imagination and a conceptual metaphor invokes ideas. A symbol is the further use of a metaphor, where only 1 thing compared is clearly stated. Diction is the choice of words. Literary acts use words chosen for their impact.
There are also literary structures used by authors to tell their stories. These structures differ, depending on the type of story the author is trying to tell. The first is narrative and the narrator, which may be in first or second person. A narrative is a story told to an audience by a teller controlling the order of events and the emphasis those events receive. Most concentrate upon events and reveal a depth of character through responses to the action. The narrator may or may not be a character in the story. The second is the episodic narrative, which is the oldest form of literature, and derives from epics. The protagonist is the main character, such as in Homer’s Odyssey. The organic narrative, the third type, has close connectedness between the parts of the structure. And the Quest Narrative, the fourth type, is simple on the surface, yet incredibly complex in the structure of the text. The main character must complete a task or series of tasks in order to learn something about themselves. A good example of this is Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Lyric narratives, the last type, are almost always poems, and reveals limited but deep feelings about some thing or event. These are often associated with the feelings of the poet, and have an objective correlative, or object that correlates with the poet’s feelings and helps to express them. These were originally meant to be set to music.
Literature, and the literary arts, then are a means for us to tell visual stories using words. The reader must use their imagination to “see” the descriptions given by the authors as to their characters, settings, and other elements of the stories. The authors, though, must use language in such a way as to make these elements interesting, engaging, and thought-provoking.