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Comprehension Skills - Language Arts

In this chapter, we would be discussing what is meant by literary techniques and how to identify the techniques with the help of some examples.

Let’s go through the topics to be covered in this chapter:

  • Language Arts 1
    • Literary Techniques
    • Identifying Techniques
  • Use of Language
    • Scholar and the Gypsy by Anita Desai
       

Literary Techniques

Allusion:

A reference to some famous literary work, historical figure, or event. E.g. To say that a friend “has the patience of Job” means that he is as enduring as the biblical figure of that name. Allusions must be used with care lest the audience miss their meaning.

 

Alliteration:

Repetition of the same sounds or of the same kinds of sounds at the beginning of words, e.g. “she saw a snake.”

 

Figurative Language:

Said of a word or expression used in a non-literal way. For example, the expression “to go the last mile” may have nothing at all to do with geographical distance, but may mean to complete an unfinished task or job.

 

Irony:

When expectations do not line up with reality. One famous example (in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) is Antony’s description of Brutus as “an honourable man.” Since Brutus was one of Caesar’s assassins, Antony meant just the opposite. The irony is a softer form of sarcasm and shares with it the same contrast between apparent and real meaning.

 

Rhetorical Question:

A question posed with no expectation of receiving an answer. This device is often used in public speaking in order to launch further discussion: “Do you know what one of the greatest pains is? One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea.”

 

Metaphor:

A figurative statement that implies the similarity between things otherwise dissimilar. (e.g. Brutus is a jackal and a vulture hiding beneath the skin of a lion.)

 

Personification:

Attributing human qualities to objects, abstractions, or animals: “This beauty calls and glory leads the way”.

 

Repetition:

Repeating the same words or phrases a few times to make an idea clearer.

 

Simile:

A figure of speech, which, like the metaphor, implies a similarity between things otherwise dissimilar. The simile, however, always uses the words like, as or so to introduce the comparison: “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.”

 

Tone:

In writing, the tone is the reflection of the writer’s attitude toward the subject and audience. The tone can be personal or impersonal, formal or informal, objective or subjective. Tone may also be expressed by a tone of voice, such as irony, sarcasm, anger, humour, satire, hyperbole, or understatement.

 

Let’s understand the above literary devices with the help of some examples:

 

Question 1:

Identify and explain the use of the literary device in the passage

The brain had its own food on which it battened, and the imagination, made grotesque by terror, twisted and distorted as a living thing by pain, danced like some foul puppet on a stand and grinned through moving masks.

 

Answer:

Literary device: Simile

Explanation:

Imagination is compared to “some foul puppet on a stand”.

  • This emphasises the disgusting and wild nature of his imagination, as the puppet is dancing and grinning, like a puppet from a horror movie.
 

Question 2:

And where history does not undermine and set traps for itself in such an openly perverse way, it creates this insidious longing to revert. It begets this illegitimate but pampered child, Nostalgia. How we yearn – how you may one day yearn – to return to that time before history claimed us before things went wrong.

Name the literary technique used for the phrases in bold.

  1. Allusion
  2. Metaphor
  3. Simile
  4. Personification

Answer:

A) Personification

Explanation:

The correct answer is Option A i.e. Personification.

 

Question 3:

Why is History described as a person, “setting traps for itself”, and begetting a child?

Answer:

The effect of this is to emphasise the actions of history, showing how mankind is powerless against such a strong enemy.

(History can ‘claim’ us, and we cannot stop it).

 

 

Question 4:

How we yearn – how you may one day yearn – to return to that time before history claimed us, before things went wrong. How we yearn even for the gold of a July evening on which, though things had already gone wrong, things had not gone as wrong as they were going to.

Name the literary technique used for the excerpt above.

 

  1. Allusion
  2. Repetition
  3. Alliteration 
  4. Personification

 

Answer:

A) Allusion

Explanation:

The correct answer is option A i.e. repetition because the word “yearn” repeats three times.

 

 

Question 5:

Why is the phrase “how we yearn” repeated?

 

Answer:

The effect of this is to emphasise the strong desire of humans, that is two-fold when repeated twice, to return to the past, “before things went wrong. 

 

 

Question 6:

Nostalgia...... How we pine for Paradise. For mother’s milk. To draw back the curtain of events that has fallen between us and the Golden Age.

Name the literary technique used for the portion in blue.

 

  1. Allusion
  2. Repetition
  3. Alliteration 
  4. Personification

 

Answer:

C) Alliteration

Explanation:

The correct answer is Option C i.e. Alliteration because of P for “pine”, P for “paradise”, M for “mother”, and M for “milk”. As there is a repetition of the same kinds of sounds at the beginning of words.

 

 

Question 7:

What effect does the alliteration of “pine for paradise” and “mother’s milk” have on the reader?

 

Answer:

The effect is to call attention to these two examples of human nostalgia.

 

 

Question 8:

Meanwhile, back in London, one gifted editor was falling to another in bloody battles with a meddlesome board of directors. Vernon’s return home coincided with the sudden dismissal of two senior editors. The stage was littered with the severed limbs and torsos of titans cut down to size.

Name the literary technique used for the portion in blue.

 

  1. Allusion
  2. Rhetorical question
  3. Irony 
  4. Metaphor 

 

Answer:

D) Metaphor

Explanation:

The correct answer is Option D i.e. Metaphor because they are not literally chopping each other’s heads. They are fighting a battle not in a literal sense but in a metaphoric sense.

 

 

Question 9:

The writer used metaphors which employ gross imagery to emphasise that the editors received heavy losses when confronting the board of directors, and ultimately were still soundly defeated.

How does this affect the tone of the passage?

 

Answer:

This enhances the visual impact and tragedy of the disagreement between the editors and board of directors, thus making the tone appear more severe and dramatic.

 

 

Question 10:

The suspense became unbearable. Time seemed to him to be crawling with feet of lead, while he by monstrous winds was being swept towards the jagged edge of some black cleft of precipice.

Name the literary technique used for the portion in blue.

 

  1. Alliteration
  2. Personification
  3. Irony 
  4. Metaphor 

 

Answer:

B) Personification

Explanation:

The correct answer is Option B i.e. Personification because time cannot crawl, only humans can crawl.

 

 

Question 11:

Explain the use of personification and metaphor in the passage.

 

Answer:

Time is personified as “crawling with the feet of lead”.

The word “crawling” creates dread due to its long sound, and the image of Time crawling with heavy feet (“feet of lead”) emphasises the author’s feelings that time is passing extremely slowly.

 

 

Use of Language

 

“Scholar and Gypsy” by Anita Desai

An American, David, goes to India to do research on his Sociology thesis (thus he is the eponymous ‘scholar’). He is accompanied by his wife Pat, and both are in India for the first time. David enjoyed Bombay and Delhi, but Pat found these cities unbearably hot, so they decided on a trip to the hills.  

 

Question 12:

Select two powerful words or phrases from this paragraph. Your choices should include imagery. Explain how each word or phrase is used effectively in the context.

Pat sat stone-still, as though she had been beaten unconscious, groping with her eyes only for a glimpse of a mango grove or an avenue of banyans, instinctively believing she would survive only if she could find and drink in their dark, damp shade. David kept his eyes tightly shut behind his glare glasses. Perspiration poured from under his hair down his face, cutting rivers through the map of dust. The woman in the seat behind his was sick all the way up the low hills to Bilaspur. In front of him a small child wailed without stop while its mother ate peanuts and jovially threw the shells over her shoulder into his lap.

 

Answer: 

  • Pat sat stone-still
  • as though she had been beaten unconscious
  • groping with her eyes
  • drink in their dark, damp shade
  • Perspiration poured from under his hair
  • cutting rivers through the map of dust

 

 

Question 13:

Pat sat stone-still, as though she had been beaten unconscious, groping with her eyes only for a glimpse of a mango grove or an avenue of banyans, instinctively believing she would survive only if she could find and drink in their dark, damp shade.

Name the literary technique used for the portion in blue.

 

  1. Irony
  2. Personification
  3. Irony 
  4. Metaphor

 

Answer:

D) Metaphor

Explanation:

The correct answer is Option D i.e. metaphor.

 

 

Question 14:

Explain how “Pat sat stone-still” is used effectively.

 

Answer:

This phrase compares Pat’s body to a stone, which is inanimate and therefore cannot move. This metaphor thus evokes how she is in a totally immobile position. Pat’s lack of movement shows how tired, lethargic and hot she is feeling on the bus.

 

 

Question 15:

Explain how “as though she had been beaten unconscious” is used effectively.

 

Answer:

The metaphor compares Pat’s mental state to her physical state. Pat shuts her eyes because she is fatigued, but the visual image of her being beaten unconscious evokes how drained and dehydrated she is – to the point of collapse – in the Manali heat. 

 

 

Question 16:

Pat sat stone-still, as though she had been beaten unconscious, groping with her eyes only for a glimpse of a mango grove or an avenue of banyans, instinctively believing she would survive only if she could find and drink in their dark, damp shade.

Name the literary technique used for the portion in blue.

 

  1. Alliteration
  2. Allusion
  3. Simile 
  4. Metaphor

 

Choose the correct option.

 

  1. 1 & 3
  2. 2 & 4
  3. 1 & 4
  4. 2 & 3

 

Answer:

C) 1 & 4

Explanation:

The correct answer is Option C i.e. 1 & 4. It is Alliteration because of the word drink, dark and damp i.e. the “d” sound. Also, it is a Metaphor because one cannot literally drink the shade, a shadow.

 

 

Question 17:

Explain how “drink in the damp, dark shade” is used to emphasise Pat’s desire to find instant relief from the heat under shade of the mango groves and banyan trees.

 

Answer:

Such visual imagery, as well as the alliteration created by the repeated “d” sound, effectively describes the enticing nature of the shade, which Pat would like to seek shelter under.

OR

The phrase is a metaphor, comparing the shade of the banyan trees to an oasis of water which Pat can drink from, showing how desperately she wants water and shade.

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