Literature: Theory


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In today’s English Language class, We will be learning about Literature. We will also be looking at Figures of Speech Later in the lesson. We hope you enjoy the class!


literature in english


Content:       What is Literature?

Definitions of Literature

Literature is the art of composition in prose and verse.  It is the writing or study of the whole body of a literary composition.  Literature is an imaginative work of arts, which uses language, plot, characters, setting etc. to give us a picture of life.

When we talk about literature in this sense, what we normally have in mind is that artistic or creative composition which represents the emotions, feelings and thoughts of a person in form of a prose, poetry and drama.  Literature could also be defined as an imitation of life.



Give two definitions of Literature that you know.


Reading Assignment:     Read: (a)    Exam Focus Literature in English

(b)    ABC of Literature by Oni  D.





  • Prose
  • Drama
  • Poetry

The genres of Literature are prose, drama and poetry.

Prose includes all forms of writing or even speaking that is done in such a way that we cannot say they are measured or calculated to read a given number of syllable or feet.  Generally, a prose writer is free to use sentences of various lengths and might not use these literary devices: rhyme, alliteration, assonance much, as evident in poetry.


Features of Prose

  1. The sentence: Grammatically is defined as “that unit of language which contains a subject, a predicate and a finite verb”.  We have types of sentences, the simple sentence, the complex sentence (one main clause and one or more subordinate clauses) the compound sentence (consisting of two or more main clauses and one or more subordinate clauses.

2) The paragraph: This is a device by which a whole composition is broken up into meaningful and readable segments based on a logical sequence of thought.  The beginning of a new paragraph is often indented to mark it out.

  1. The use of idioms and proverbs. An idiom is a form of usage or expression peculiar to the language.  It sometimes violates the conventional rule of grammar e.g.:-

(a) She promised to make up for it.  Later that is to provide some form of compensation.

(b)      Make hay while the sun shines.  Proverbs on the other hand, are short but profound sayings used in illustrating one truth or the other e.g. one good turn deserves another.  There is no rose without a thorn.

4) The use of slangs.  A slang is a highly colloquial expression which is rarely used in literary English except in dialogue, prose or drama e.g.

(1)       The man blew his top (i.e. got angry)

(2)       The criminals dodged the coppers (i.e. policemen)


5) Narrative Technique: The technique adopted by a literary artist in telling a story. The narrative technique is invariably part of the author’s literary style.

There are types of narrative techniques namely:-

(a) The use of the omniscient narrator e.g. Tess of the D’urbervilles

(b) The use of the first-person narrator i.e. subjective e.g. Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

  • The use of the epistolary style i.e. epistles or letters such as in Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter.


Prose can be fiction and non-fiction.  Fiction comes out of the imagination of the author.  It means that which is made to look as if it really happens.  The things that happen in fiction can also happen in real life but the truth is that the one you are reading is not a true-life story.

Some types of fiction are fables, parables like the sower or prodigal son, fairy tales

0………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………about a day old baby that was walking and talking e.g. Things fall apart, Mine Boy and Silas Manner.


Non-fiction is the opposite of fiction.  It is a section of the prose which holds all those events which had occurred at a particular place and to a particular person at a particular time.  Non-fiction can be of three types namely:-

  • Autobiography
  • Biography
  • Autobiographical fiction

Autobiography is when an author tells the story of his own life e.g. Zambia shall be free by Kaunda.

Biography is when an author writes the story of another person e.g. Steve Biko by Donald Wood.  When an author puts all the events of his life in a book under a different person and name, the book becomes an autobiographical fiction e.g. The Narrow Path by Francis Selormey


Fiction and non-fiction in Creative Literature are together called novels.  It appears today that the word fiction refers to novels and romance only.  Fiction can be of two kinds.  The first one is a novel which shows the readers only things, beings and events that can happen in the real world.  But the opposite happens in romance.  Things and events that happen in a romance are far from what happen in the real world.  The characters have powers that are either too small or too great.




Drama is a penetration of life through artificial means.  It is a type of story that exists mainly in action and performed on the stage by different characters.  The origins of drama are likely to be found in early religious ceremonies and festivals.  This aspect of literature entertains, teaches moral lessons and helps to bring into focus life in action outside our immediate environment.  Drama refers to the performance on stage while play refers to the textbook itself.  So drama will include setting, props, costume, lighting etc., whereas play is restricted to the printed words on the pages of a book.

There are three main types of drama namely:-

  • Tragedy
  • Comedy
  • Farce


(a) Tragedy is a type of drama in which the most important character suffers a fall, he either dies or loses his power.  In a tragic drama, the hero has a lot of good qualities which endears him to the people, but he has also some negative traits or weaknesses which cause his failure and downfall which makes him lose his life or his power e.g. The gods are not to blame by Rotimi.  Macbeth by Shakespeare.

(b) Comedy is the opposite of tragedy.  This is a play where the story and the characters are amusing and which ends happily.  But a mixture of tragedy and Comedy will result in tragi-comedy, a drama where we are happy on one side but sad on the other e.g.  Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare.

(c) Farce is a comedy of extravagant humour.  Here, the characters appear to be foolish in their behaviours and present themselves as being unserious.  Farce is just meant to entertain and make us laugh.



Features of Drama

The protagonist is the character who takes the leading role in a play or novel.  The antagonist is the main opponent of the protagonist against whose interest he is always working.

Dramatis personae is the parade of all the characters involved in a play. Cast is the comprehensive list of actors and actresses playing the different characters in the drama.

The director is the one who directs the speech, movement and actions of the actors and actresses.

A Producer is a person or organization who brings about the performance and also provides the funds for its realization.

A prologue is a formal introduction to a play or drama written in either prose or verse.

An epilogue is the opposite of prologue, coming at the very end of the drama.

The climax of a play is the moment of greatest tension when the conflict attains its peak and is now fully ripe to be resolved.  Resolution is the point immediately after the climax when the conflict is finally resolved either in a comic or tragic manner.  It is a critical moment in the final determination of the play as a comedy or a tragedy.  A less familiar word for resolution is the denouement.

An interlude is a brief performance which serves as an intermission or interval to the main performance.  A flashback is a literary technique by which a previous scene or action can be recalled in a play to shed light on the present action.

Suspense is the state of anxious expectation or uncertainty usually brought about by keeping the reader or audience wondering or guessing the possible trend of action or likely outcome of the conflict.  This arouses and sustains the curiosity of the reader or audience to the very end.

Catharsis is the effect of purgation of emotion which a great tragedy is meant to produce in the reader or audience.  It is a process of cleansing the mind of unwanted emotion.  A tragic flaw is a natural weakness or flaw which invariably leads to his tragic death or serious misfortune, thus inspiring pity and fear in the audience.

A soliloquy is a dramatic device which enables the audience to gain access to the innermost thoughts of a character by having him or her talk to himself or herself when there is no other character with him or her on stage.  By this, the character is made to think aloud.  This should not be confused with an aside which is a much older device intended to serve the same purpose.  In this latter case, however, the speaking character whispers his her thoughts to the audience without being physically alone on stage.

Audition is the process by which actors and actresses are chosen for specific roles in the performance.  This involves the reading of lines from the play to the hearing of the director.  The physical features of the actor or actress are also taken into consideration before the final casting is done.



poetry litrature classnotesng


Poetry is a form of artistic literature in which the writer knowingly expresses his thoughts and feelings in a series of calculated or measured lines.  This conscious measurement gives rise to a movement which we can hear regularly in our ears.  This movement is called rhythm, it marks out poetry.  Poetry is generally written in lines.  A group of these lines is called a stanza.  A group of unmeasured lines in prose is called a paragraph.  In poetry, it is a stanza.

There are different types of poetry namely:-

  • Sonnet
  • Ode
  • Elegy
  • Lyric
  • Narrative
  • Ballad
  • Epic


A sonnet is a lyrical poem which usually has 14 lines.  The fourteen lines stand in two parts or stanzas.  The first eight lines are called octave while the other part, the six lines are called the sestet.  There are sonnets, however, in which the fourteen lines are divided into four stanzas of three-line stanzas which are called quatrains and the last two lines are called couplets.  All sonnets make use of rhyme patterns which occur regularly within the short space and duration of the poem.


Ode:  This is a poem which is written or spoken in the form of an address to somebody or something. E.g. an Ode to the Grecian Urn

Elegy:  An elegy is a poem which sings about or laments a sorrowful event especially death.  A song of sorrow is known as a dirge.

Lyric:  This is a poem that has a musical effect on the listeners.  This includes some poems which sound like a music and appeals largely to the sense of hearing e.g. – ode – elegy   – sonnet and songs.

Narrative:  This is a long poem that tells a story.  You can think of the myth of the Bagre as a narrative poem.

Ballad:   This is an old type of poem which is derived from village festivals.  It usually consists of words which are generally out of current use.  The topics are about village heroes and events of fighting, wrestling or love that happened to a people.  It is usually presented in the form of a song even though it is telling a story.

Epic:  Is a long poem that talks of great or heroic deeds of a people. It may talk about war, the origin of a thing especially rivers, hills, caves, sky etc.  It may narrate the history of a people.




(a)      Mention or list the features of drama

(b)      List the types of poems that you know


Reading Assignment: Read: (a) Exam Focus Literature in English

(b)      ABC of Literature by Oni D.



FiguresOfSpeech english classnotesng



  • Definition
  • Types of figures of speech


A figure of speech is a deliberate shift from the normal style of speaking or writing. It is a departure from the literal use of a word or phrase.

Figures of speech can be classified thus:-

  • Figures of speech based on resemblance are simile, metaphor, Personification, Apostrophe etc.
  • The ones on the point of contrast/difference are Antithesis, Irony, Hyperbole, Pun, Epigram, Innuendo, Euphemism, oxymoron, Climax, Anti-climax etc.
  • While those based on association are:  Metonymy, Synecdoche etc.



A simile is a figure of speech in which two things of identical or similar qualities are directly compared by the use of such words.  Like, as, as though and as if e.g.:-

  1. The woman is as proud as a peacock
  2. Your love is like the fall of rains
  3. He is as dirty as a pig



Metaphor is a compressed simile whereby the two similar objects or persons are fully equated with one another thus eliminating the comparative words, ‘like’ and ‘as’ e.g.:

  1. The woman is a peacock
  2. He is a pig
  3. Your love is the fall of rains.



Personification is a figure of speech in which inanimate things or abstract ideas are given specific human attributes or qualities e.g.:-

  1. Love is blind
  2. The night has grown older
  3. The dark sun appears.



An apostrophe is a figure of speech in which somebody addresses or talks to something that is not alive as though it is physically present and listening to the speaker.  The apostrophe is recognized by the use of the exclamation mark e.g.:-

  1. Oh! W.A.E.C., why did you treat me like this?
  2. Oh! Death! Where is thy sting?
  3. Night! Fold-out thy darkness.



The irony is a figure of speech in which one writes or says the opposite of what one intends to say or write.  It is a figure of speech in which the ordinary meaning of the word is more or less the opposite of what the speaker intends. E.g.:-

  1. The best way to avoid being punished by the teacher is to disobey him.
  2. Behold a giant is coming.



Sarcasm is an openly expressed disgust which is calculated to wound the feeling of a person.  It is the opposite of what is meant which is said to make fun of a person or to inflict pain on somebody. E.g.-

  1. Mr. Anini, you are a righteous man
  2. A harlot is referred to as a virgin e.g. Sola, the virgin is coming.



Innuendo is a clever way of passing unpleasant comment without insulting or offending the person being addressed e.g.

–    Tobi has ten wives but he is impotent

–   Judas is very honest especially with matters unconnected with money.



Antithesis is a figure of speech in which a word or an idea is placed to contrast with the opposite word or idea in the same statement. E.g.

–    United we stand, divided we fall.

–    Many are called, but few are chosen.

–    To err is human, to forgive is divine.

–    More haste, less speed.



Oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two opposing words are placed together to create a sharp contrast.  It is usually not a full sentence like an Irony, Innuendo, Antithesis and Paradox but it is in most cases, a phrase that contains two or more words. e.g.

–   Painful laughter     –   Bittersweet       –     Silent thunder




A paradox is a figure of speech in which a statement shows a completely untrue, contradictory, incredible, absurd and ridiculous meaning but a closer and more detailed examination would reveal the truth of the statement e.g.-

–    I must be cruel in order to be kind.

–    Water is everywhere but there is no water to drink

–    Attack is the best form of defence.




Hyperbole is an extravagant exaggeration.  It makes something smaller sounds or looks bigger.  E.g.

–    The whole world stood at a standstill because of him.

–    Toyin’s teeth are sharper than a razor.


Litotes or Meiosis

Litotes or Meiosis is the opposite of hyperbole.  It is an understatement whereby a positive statement is put in a negative way e.g.

–    Nne! You are not bad.

–    The man is not mean.

–    It is no laughing matter.



Euphemism is a figure of speech in which a mild indirect and more pleasant term is used in place of a blunt, direct and unpleasant one in order to conceal its real nature.  That is we try not to call a bad thing or a bad situation by its proper name e.g.

–    The patient is mentally unstable.

–    The old man has finally passed away.

–     The girl has been put in a family way.



Epigram is a short sarcastic witty saying.  It contains some proverbial wisdom e.g.

–     He who laughs last laughs best.

–     The more you look, the less you see.

–     He who will save his life must first lose it.




Metonymy is a figure of speech in which one describes an object by something closely associated with it although it is not necessarily a part of it e.g.

–     The guests were invited over to the table.

–     The pen is mightier than the sword.

–     Who among the aspirants will wear the crown?



Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part of a person, place or thing is made to stand for the whole or the whole is made to stand for a part e.g.

–     I need more hands to complete the work.

–     The enumerators counted all the heads in our house in the last trial census.

–     The government is asked to encourage the brains of the country.



Alliteration is the repetition of an initial consonant sound on the same line e.g.

–     Friday fried fresh fish on Friday.

–     The exiled man gave the city a last, long lingering look.



Assonance is the repetition of the vowel sounds on the same line e.g.

–     The dog roams with bone in his jaws.

–     Talk loud and laugh aloud.



Pun is a play on words which have a similar sound but different meanings e.g.

–     Sweet lady, let me prey for you.

–     The dead drunkard was laid on his bier.



Onomatopoeia is the formation of words in imitation of the actual sound made e.g.

–     Tick tack says the clock.

–      Cuckoo



Define the following: Alliteration, Sarcasm, Pun and Metonymy




We have come to the end of this class. We do hope you enjoyed the class?

Should you have any further question, feel free to ask in the comment section below and trust us to respond as soon as possible.

In our next class, we will be focusing on English Structure as we learn about Making Requests. We are very much eager to meet you there.


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