Sunday, 17 July 2011


Allegory- this is a narrative work of fiction or drama in which the elements, characters, plot and setting-work together to teach a moral lesson. Frequently, this involves using things, persons and setting. Chin et al (2002).

It is also a narrative work either prose or verse in which characters, actions and sometimes setting, represent abstract concepts apart from the literal meaning of the story. The underlying meaning may have moral, social, religious, or political significance and characters are often personification of abstract ideas. Purves et al (1997).

Writers usually apply allegory when they want to create an emotional appeal to the readers or to place themselves in a safe side, if their works involve criticizing those in power. A good example of allegory, which criticizes the ruling class but using animals, birds, fishes, and insects as characters, is the poem ‘The Beast’ by Songoyi.

When reading the whole poem the reader finds characters like ‘the big fishes’, ‘small fishes’, ‘lion’, ‘king of the jungle’, ‘jackals’, ‘wolves’ ‘ a bee’, and ‘an eagle’. The poem explains how the “mightier beasts” oppress the weaker ones by the so-called “the law of the jungle-survival for the fittest”. But if truth be told, the ‘beasts’ are actually a representation of human beings-the oppressive, corrupt and exploitative regimes of our governments.

The so-called ‘big fishes and king of the jungle’ represent the top leaders like President, Prime minister and Vice President. ‘Lion’ represents he revolutionists who struggle to get access to the national cake and when they fail, they ally with the regime. ‘Jackals and wolves’ stand for the activists who always speak out to criticize the government while ‘a bee and an eagle stand for those who ally with the leaders and are protected since they help in perpetuation of leaders’ interests.
Pun-this is a play on the multiple meanings of the word or on two words that sound alike but have different meanings. Daniel (1997).

It is also a humorous play on two or more meanings of the same word or on two different words with the same sound. Chin (2003). Most writes use puns for humorous effect. They want to make readers think critically of the words and interpret them according to the contexts they have been used.

For example
“It is better to have loved a short man and lost than never to have loved A TALL”
The capitalized word “A TALL” in written form is clearly well-defined as the opposite of short. However, in spoken form it sounds more like AT ALL, which means completely. One hearing the sentence, may interpret it as ‘—than never to have loved completely.

Another good pun is found in the last but one line of Shakespeare’s “When My Love Swears That She Is Made of Truth.” He says;
‘Therefore, I LIE with her and she with me’ Shakespeare Sonnet 138
The word LIE, in this context could probably mean cheat each other or sleep on bed together since their love was a sexual relationship but also built on lies.

Satire- is a technique that employs wit to ridicule a subject usually some social institution or human foible with the intention of inspiring reform. Purves (1997) it is also a prose or verse that employs wit in the form of irony, innuendo, or outright derision to expose human wickedness and folly. Microsoft Encarta ® (2009.). It is a good way in which writers criticize a person, an idea, or an institution in which the writer wants to show their faults and weaknesses. A good example off

satire is found in Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People
He ridicules the way people are ignorant and fail to identify their true enemy; instead they declare Dr Stockmann who is actually a friend of the people, as An Enemy of the people. Also the pressmen (Billing, Hovstad and Aslaksen) who claim to be liberal-minded, lack a stand and do things to please the leaders (Peter Stockmann, The mayor). Lastly they come back to Dr Stockmann to ask for financial support, where he chases them away.

Another satire is found in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata where he ridicules the men who stop the war just because of the sex strike waged by women led by Lysistrata..
Satire ridicules people, practices, or institutions in order to reveal their failings. They often aim to make people think critically about subjects at hand but they can also be written for pure entertainment. Chin (2003)

Sarcasm - is a satire or irony that often uses bitter and acoustic language to point out shortcomings or flaws. Chin (2002). It is characterized by words which mean the opposite of what they seem to say and are intended to mock or deride/ridicule.
For example;

I don’t mind if you don’t like my manner.
I don’t like them myself, they are pretty bad
I grieve over them on long winter evening
Humphrey Bogart (1899-1954) US Actor

I met a great little man, the man who can be silent in several languages.
James Guthrie Harbord (1866-1947) US General and Business Executive

Irony - this is a contrast between appearance and reality. (ibid). It is a figure o speech which shows disagreement or incongruity between what is said and what is understood or what is expected and what actually occurs. Irony can be used just by the intention of the writer or just happen unknowingly. Irony occurs in three forms namely; Verbal Irony, Situational Irony, and dramatic irony.

Verbal irony is when the intended meaning of the statement or work is different (often the opposite of) what the statement or work literary says. For Example. Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People is ironically used since Dr Stockman who is declared an enemy, is in really sense, is a friend of the people.

Situational Irony occurs when what happens is contrary to what is expected; or the actual outcome of a situation is the opposite of what is expected. Chin et al (2003). For example

The son of the English teacher fails the English Exam.
The daughter of a rich merchant is expelled from school for lack of school fees of 20,000/=.

Dramatic Irony occurs when events or facts not known to the character on stage in a fictional work, are known to another character and the audience or reader Purves et al (1997) & Chin et al (2003). A good example is found in Imbuga’s The Successor where Oriomra sets a plot—that Jandi has impregnated Zira (his Cousin) in order to deny him the possibility of being named the successor.

All the people plus Emperor Chonda believe it, but we, the readers know that it is Sasia who is responsible for the pregnancy. When Jandi is banished, he disappears that people think he is dead, but the audience know that he is in the shrine hidden by See Thro.

The five discussed terms are just a sample of many literary devices we have in literature. They act as an appetizer in literary work. They help in making a literary work very live and in fact interesting to read.

They help in logical connection of ideas in work of art. Any literary work composed free of literary devices is as good as nothing and is not worth the name, since it makes no effect to the audience and makes no difference from a non-literary work.

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