Symbol, short version

Symbol, short version – A symbol is a sign or group of signs with an agreed upon allegorical meaning. At it’s most basic, a symbol is an image or other element in a story that represents more than itself. For example, “United States of America” literally means “a late capitalist North American democracy/empire inhabited by [...]

Modernity, Modernism


Modernity, Modernism – For many historians, the period known as modernity begins in the mid-seventeenth century, with the Enlightenment. The style of art known as Modernism (notice the “-ism”), sometimes specified as High Modernism, comes at the end of the nineteenth century, with Pound in poetry, Joyce and Woolf (and the earlier Kleist) in prose, and Manet, [...]


Mood – The emotional atmosphere of the fiction. Permeates all levels of prose and is distinct from tone (which pertains only to the narratorial voice). Mood may change as a story moves forward. In Steven Millhauser’s “Mermaid Fever,” the mood changes from expectant (a la the night before Generic Winter Gift-Giving Holiday) to joyous (discovery [...]

Modal Verbs

Modal Verbs – You may have never learned the rules regarding modal verbs—can, could, will, would, etc. The rules are simple: If your essay or story is in the present, you “can” do something. If your essay or story is set in the past, then, at that point in your life, you “could” or “would” have done something. There [...]

Metaphor (All Types) and Archetype

Metaphor (All Types) and Archetype - Metaphor, in general, is our ability to see similarities between at first unrelated things, be they people, places, ideas, objects, cultures, actions—whatever. Metaphorical language is symbolic, in that such language asks us to be able to read one thing and think of some other thing. There are various levels of metaphor. The simile is [...]

Melancholy and Moby-Dick


Melancholy and Moby-Dick – AKA, a psychological and highly quotational meditation on the sad, the saturnine, and the furious. Freud defined the term melancholy in its modern sense: …Melancholia is in some way related to an object-loss which is withdrawn from consciousness, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing about the loss that [...]



Legend – A legend is a folk tale based upon a historical incident. Legends are not fantastic, but they may stretch the limits of our understanding of history. Tales of miracle-workers are legends, for example, as is the improbable career of King Arthur. Tangherlini defines a legend as: A short (mono-) episodic, traditional, highly ecotypified [...]


MacGuffin – An object or datum that the protagonist (and often also the antagonist) wants very much or cares very much about—even though we the readers don’t care about it at all. The letter in “The Purloined Letter” is the classic example.


Immanence – Wikipedia has an article on this, and the first paragraph of it is pretty much how I read “immanence” in philosophy in general, if “divine” is changed to “real/Being/truth.” I think this article misunderstands the whole issue, however, restricting a search for an immanent/material basis for everything into a mere theological debate. But, hey, it’s a [...]

Metaphor, short version


Metaphor, short version – Comparing unalike objects, entities, thoughts, places, people. The basis of language and thought. Metaphor flattens two or more objects onto the same plane: E.g., when we read “monkey bars,” in one instant, the mind sees the monkey playing on the bars, the bars of the jail cell, the child on the [...]