9th Grade Assignment - Comparative Literature Writing

Instructor: Helen Satchwell

Helen has taught English and Spanish to all ages and has a master's degree in Spanish Linguistics.

This lesson defines literary devices authors use when writing a piece of fiction, such as foreshadowing, character, tone, and mood. You will identify and analyze these elements in two texts, comparing how they contribute to the overall message. Updated: 12/17/2020

Topic Overview and Terminology

Literary Devices

Have you ever read or heard something that you really felt connected to? Sometimes there is something about the message, or meaning, that has an important effect on you. It can feel like whoever wrote it climbed into your head, saw what you were thinking, and put it into words. This connection comes from how you interpret the author's use of different tools to evoke that meaning. These tools--called literary devices--include foreshadowing, character, tone, mood, and many more. When comparing two texts for this assignment, your focus will be on how the authors use literary devices to get their message across. Before we go any further, let's define some literary device terms.

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a hint that occurs at the beginning of a story or chapter, referring to an event that will happen in the future. Early on in your reading, an event, setting, or dialogue will influence your expectations about how the plot will progress. This gets you invested in the story, building suspense about what the outcome will be.

Sometimes the hints are obvious, but sometimes they are not. You may have to re-read some parts of a text to remind yourself of those hints. Uncovering clues and making connections will help you get a deeper understanding of the text's meaning.

For example, in Act 1, Scene 4 of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Romeo tells his friends about a terrible dream he had. He worries that the dream is warning him that something bad will happen at the masquerade party, which will lead to his 'untimely death.' Ultimately, he meets Juliet at the party, they fall in love, and eventually takes his own life because they cannot be together.

Character

Every story has at least one character, a person or being that moves the action of the plot forward. A fictional character is one that is made up, who may share characteristics of someone real. Descriptions and interactions tell you a lot about the character and how they interact with their surroundings. The main characters of a text are usually the most complex, and the more you get to know about them, the more you may feel a certain way towards them. This adds to the overall message you take away from the reading.

To prepare for your writing assignment, take notes about characters and their relation to one another. For main characters, write down the physical and personality traits described in the text. These character descriptions can be used to compare characters and the way the author portrays them.

For example, in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Lennie is a physically strong character, who is not able to take care of himself. You learn about the complexity of his character through Steinbeck's descriptions and his interactions with George, who he's relied on for quite some time.

Tone

Tone can be used to describe the attitude of the narrator, which aims to create the desired effect on you as the reader. This is done through the intentional use of words and images meant to convey an emotion. The tone of a text may be funny, sad, ironic, optimistic, self-deprecating, playful, and so on. Tone contributes to the overall meaning by giving insight into how the narrator feels.

When writing about tone, think about how you would tell a story to a friend. Are there certain words or structures that you would use to get your friend to feel what you felt?

For example, in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, the narrator's tone changes throughout the story. Sometimes the tone is sarcastic and humorous, but other times Ishmael's tone is more dramatic and philosophical. The shift in tone has an effect on you as a reader: it's as if you too are riding waves of emotion, much like Ishmael's experience at sea.

Mood

Not to be confused with tone, mood is the atmosphere or general feeling that you get when you are reading. The way the author uses tone, setting, and word choice has an effect on you as a reader. In addition to the narrator's perspective, where the story takes place can influence how you feel and interpret the text. Similarly, the style and choice of words also shape how you feel and understand it as well.

When comparing two texts, consider how the setting, tone, and descriptions are meant to create the atmosphere of the text. Ask yourself what is special about the way the author depicts people and places, and how that contributes to the way you feel about it.

For example, in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, the nostalgic mood of the novel is greatly influenced by the use of flashbacks. Through telling their stories, the mothers and daughters reflect on their experiences, some exceptionally sad and others full of joy. As a reader, you get a sense of nostalgia through how the stories are told and their connections to the characters.

Comparative Literature Writing Project Instructions

Project Overview

For this project, you will compare two texts from the list below, using the literary devices discussed above: foreshadowing, character, tone, and mood. Then you will have the option to choose from a creative writing exercise where you get to play around with the devices. The two parts of this comparative literature writing project should be completed as a semester-long assignment. Read the instructions for each part and keep organized notes as you are reading so that you can select passages from the texts to use to complete the projects.

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