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Perrine’s Literature
Structure, Sound, and Sense

Notes and Breakdown: Matt Sugiyama

Chapter 1 Reading the Story:
• Two Main types of Literature – Commercial and Literary Fiction
• A “moral” in a story, and “facts” have no affect on Literary and Commercial

classifications of fictional stories.
• Commercial fiction – Fictional stories that sole purpose is to entertain:

“Commercial fiction takes us away from the world: has the reader’s immediate
pleasure as its object.”

• Literary Fiction – “Literary fiction plunges us, through the author’s imaginative
vision and artistic ability, more deeply into the real world, enabling us to
understand life’s difficulties and to empathize with others.” “Literary fiction
hopes to provide as complex, lasting aesthetic and intellectual pleasure rather
than a simple, escapist diversion; its object is to offer pleasure plus

• “Commercial writers are like inventors who devise the contrivance for our
diversion. When we push a button, lights flash, bells ring, and cardboard figures
move jerkily across a painted horizon. Such writers are full of tricks and
surprises: they pull rabbits out of hats, saw beautiful women in two, and juggle
brightly colored balls in the air.”

• “Literary writers are more like explorers: they take us out into the midst of life
and say, ‘Look here is the world in all its complexity.’ They also take us behind
the scenes where they show us the props and mirrors and seek to dispel the
illusions. “In short, any fiction that illuminates some aspect of human life or
behavior with genuine originality and power may be called ‘literary.’”

• As you read stories in this book and others, there are two procedures you should

1. Read the story the first time to simply enjoy and familiarize yourself
with it.

2. Read the story a second time, more slowly and deliberately, in the
attempt to understand its full artistic significance and achievement.

Common Commercial Expectations:
• A sympathetic hero or heroine – someone with whom the reader can identify

and whose adventures and triumphs the reader can share
• A defined plot in which something exciting is always happening and in which

there is a strong element of suspense (thus the term “page-turner,” often applied to
a successful commercial novel)

• A happy ending that sends the reader away undisturbed and optimistic about life
• A general theme, or “message,” that affirms widely held conventional views of

the world
Conversely Literary Expectations:

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• Literary Fiction often utilizes all four major kinds of conflict, emotional,
mental, physical, and emotional.

• Commercial Fiction commonly only emphasizes the confrontation between man
and man, depending on the element of physical conflict to supply the primary
excitement. Also in commercial fiction, the conflict is between the “good guys”
and “bad guys” who are clearly established in the story.

• Because literary writers write from a real world perspective, significant moral
issues are seldom “black and white” – judgments are difficult, and choices are
complex rather than simple. Literary writers are aware of this complexity and are
more concerned with displaying its various shadings of moral values than with
presenting glaring, simplistic contrasts of good and evil, right and wrong.


• Protagonist – the central character in a conflict, whether sympathetic or
unsympathetic as a person, is called the protagonist, occasionally there is more
than one protagonist in the story.

• The terms “Hero and Heroine” are often applied to the protagonist, but this title
should only be applied if the central character has heroic qualities. Otherwise the
protagonist is just the central character of the story.

• Antagonist – any force arranged against the protagonist –whether persons, things,
conventions of society, or the protagonist’s own character traits.


• Suspense – is the quality of the story that makes readers ask “What’s going to
happen next?” or “How will this turn out?” Such questions compel them to
continue reading.

• In literary fiction suspense often involves not so much the question what as the
question why–not “What will happen next?” but “Why is the protagonist behaving
this way? How is the protagonist’s behavior to be explained in terms of human
personality and character?”

• Literary Fiction leaves us asking “Why do things happen as they do?” or “What is
the significance of this event?” which makes the book re-readable and leave a
long lasting impact in our lives.

• Suspense is the most important criterion for good commercial fiction; unless a
story makes us want to keep reading it, it can have little merit. The reason
commercial fiction is successful is because it allows the reader to ask “What’s
going to happen next?” and that is why it has no lasting value, because once
someone knows the answer there is no reason to re-read the book.

• There are two common types of Suspense.
1. Mystery – an unusually set of circumstances for which the reader craves

an explanation
2. Dilemma – a position in which the protagonist must choose between two

courses of action, both undesirable.

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c) The theme cannot rely upon supposed facts, facts not actually stated or
clearly implied by the story.

5) There is no one way of stating the theme of a story.
6) We should avoid any statement that reduces the theme to some familiar saying

that we have heard all our lives, such as “You can’t judge a book by its cover” or
“A stitch in times saves nine.”

Chapter 5 Point of View:

Point of view: To determine the point of view of a story, we ask, “Who tells the story?”
and “How much is this person allowed to know?” and, especially, “To what extent does
the narrator look inside the characters and report their thoughts and feelings?”

Types of Point of View:

• Omniscient point of view – The story is told in the third person by a narrator
whose knowledge and prerogatives are unlimited. Such narrators are free to go
wherever they wish, to peer inside the minds and hearts of the characters at will
and tell us what they are thinking or feeling. “The omniscient is the most flexible
point of view and permits the widest scope. Allowing the reader to see what all
the characters are thinking or feeling.”

• Third-Person limited point of view – the story is told in the third person, but
from the viewpoint of one character in the story. Such point-of-view characters
are filters through whose eyes and minds writers look at the events. “It offers a
ready-made unifying element, since all the details of the story are the experience
of one character.”

• Stream of Consciousness – presents the apparently random thoughts going
through a character’s head within a certain period of time, mingling memory and
present experiences, and employing transitional links that are psychological rather
than strictly logical.

• First-Person point of view – The author disappears into one of the characters,
who tells the story in the first person. This character again, may be a major or
minor character, protagonist or observer. “The first-person point of view shares
the virtues and limitations of the third-person limited. The author as an

• Objective Point of View – The narrator disappears into a kind of revolving sound
camera. This camera can go anywhere but can only record what is seen and heard.
It cannot comment, interpret, or enter a character’s mind. (Sometimes called
dramatic point of view) “The objective point of view required readers to draw
their own inferences. But it must rely heavily on external action and dialogue, and
it offers no opportunities for direct interpretation by the author.

Why is it important?

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• The reader should know whether the events are being interpreted by a narrator or
by a character. If it is the character, they must ask how this character’s mind and
personality affect the interpretation, whether the character is perceptive or
imperceptive, and whether the interpretation can be accepted at face value or must
be discounted because of ignorance, stupidity, or self-deception.

• Ask why the author chose this point of view. May have used to conceal a certain
formation until the end of a story to maintain suspense.

• Ask whether the author has used the selected point of view carefully and
consistently, A writer should also be consistent in the point of view; if it shifts, it
should do so for a just artistic reason.

Chapter 6 Symbol, Allegory, and Fantasy:

Literary Symbol – is something that means more than what it suggests on the surface. It
may be an object, person, a situation, an action, or some other element that has a literal
meaning in the story but that suggests or represents other meanings as well. “It is better,
indeed, to miss the symbolic meanings of a story than to pervert its meaning by
discovering symbols that are nonexistent. Better to miss the boat than to jump wildly for
it and drown.”

Interpreting Symbols:
1) The story itself must furnish a clue that a detail is to be taken symbolically.

Symbols nearly always signal their existence by emphasis, repetition, or position.
2) The meaning of a literary symbol must be established and supported by the entire

context of the story. The symbol has its meaning in the story, not outside it.
3) To be called a symbol, an item must suggest a meaning different in kind from its

literal meaning; a symbol is something more than the representative of a class or

4) A symbol may have more than one meaning. It may suggest a cluster of meanings.
At its most effective, a symbol is like a many faceted jewel: It flashes different
colors when turned in the light.

Allegory – is a story that has a second meaning beneath the surface, endowing a cluster
of characters, objects, or events with added significance; often the pattern relates each
literal item to a corresponding abstract idea or moral principle.

Fantasy – the nonrealistic story, is one that transcends the bounds of known reality. After
all, truth in fiction is not the same as fidelity to fact. All fiction is essentially a game of
make-believe in which the author imaginatively conceives characters and situations and
sets them down on paper.

Magical Realism – Fantastic and magical events are woven into mundane and ordinary
situations, creating striking and memorable effects unavailable to either realism or
fantasy alone.

Chapter 7 Humor and Irony

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Irony- a term which has a range of meanings that all involve some sort of discrepancy or
incongruity. Irony should not be equated with mere sarcasm, which is simply language or
one person uses to belittle or ridicule another. Irony is a technique used to convey a truth
about human experience by exposing some incongruity of a character’s behavior or a
society’s traditions.

 Irony, like symbol and allegory, is often a means for the author to achieve
compression. By creating an ironic situation or perspective, the author can suggest
complex meanings without stating them.

Three Types of Irony:

1) Verbal Irony – usually the simplest kind, is a figure of speech in which the
speaker says the opposite of what he or she intends to say.

2) Dramatic Irony – the contrast is between what a character says or thinks and
what the reader knows to be true. The value of this kind of irony lies in the truth it
conveys about the character or the character’s expectations.

3) Irony of Situation – usually the most important kind for the fiction writer, the
discrepancy is between appearance and reality, or between expectation and
fulfillment, or between what is and what would seem appropriate.

Sentimentality – stories that try to elicit easy or unearned emotional responses, it is a
contrived or excessive emotion. A story contains genuine emotion when it treats life
faithfully and perceptively. A sentimental narrative oversimplifies and exaggerates
emotion in the attempt to arouse a similarly excessive emotion in the reader.

Sentimental Writers – are recognizable by a number of characteristics. They often rely
on stock characters to draw emotions.

1. They often try to make words do what the situation faithfully presented by itself
will not do.

2. They editorialize – that is, comment on the story and, in a manner, instruct us
how to feel.

3. They overwrite and poeticize – use an immoderately heightened and distended
language to accomplish their effects.

4. They make an excessively selective use of detail.
5. Present, nearly always, a fundamentally “sweet” picture of life. They rely not only

on stock characters and situations but also on stock themes.

Chapter 8 Evaluating Fiction

Evaluating Fiction:
• Every story should be judged initially by how fully it achieves its central

• A story should also be judged by the significance of its purpose. Once you

determine that a story successfully integrates its materials into an organic

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