Advanced Literature Terms in Spanish

Instructor: Aida Vega Felgueroso

Aida has taught Spanish at the University in Italy. Spanish is her mother tongue and she has a master's degree in Spanish Language and Literature.

This lesson will cover some advanced literature terms in Spanish. We will see some important techniques that can be used in narrative, theater or in poetry such as allegory, apology, caricature and several others.

Understanding Literature

La venganza de Don Mendo (The Revenge of Don Mendo) is a very funny play in which the protagonist imitates in a ridiculous way the knights of previous eras.

In the verse Nuestras vidas son los ríos que van a dar a la mar (Our lives are the rivers that end in the sea), Jorge Manrique compares human life with the course of a river.

These are examples of literary techniques, which allow us to better imagine situations and also reflect on life and art. Let's see some in detail.

Techniques for Praise or Criticism

Apología (apology) is writing that is done in defense or praise of something or someone.

For example, the writer Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, in the sixteenth century, wrote several works of history. Some of them are apologies, that is, written in praise of kings, such as Historia de María Estuardo (Story of María Estuardo).

Caricatura (caricature) consists of describing a person by exaggerating or deforming his features, usually in mockery. Francisco de Quevedo makes a very famous caricature in Spanish literature. To ridicule a man who had a very large nose, Quevedo described him like this:

  • Érase un hombre a una nariz pegado
    érase una nariz superlativa.

    (Once there was a man to his snout attached
    owner of the most unparalleled nose).

Parodia (parody) is a literary work that imitates the form of others as a form of critiscm. In Spanish literature the most important example of parody is Don Quijote (Don Quixote), by Miguel de Cervantes. The whole work is a parody of the chivalric romances that were then very fashionable.

Don Quixote is not a knight errant, he is the parody of one.

Sátira (satire) is a literary genre in which the author demonstrates his or her outrage against something or against someone through humor. Through satire, the author usually attacks a vice or immorality of society or of an individual or government. Satire can have a moralizing purpose (pointing out the vices to correct them) or only intend to make fun.

The play El centroforward murió al amanecer (The Forward Center Died at Dawn), by the Argentine author Agustín Cuzzani, is an example of satire. With humor, the author presents a series of absurd characters in a plot that, really, is a criticism against a society that abandons the weakest and believes that everything can be bought.

Devices to Represent Abstract Concepts

Alegoría (allegory) is a literary device that consists in representing an idea through people, animals or everyday objects. Jorge Luis Borges in the poem Ajedrez (Chess), compares life to a game of chess:

  • También el jugador es prisionero
    (…) de otro tablero
    de negras noches y de blancos días.

    (The player, however, is also a prisoner
    (…) of yet another checkerboard
    of black nights and white days).

Simbolismo cromático (chromatic symbolism), in literature, consists of giving a symbolic value to colors. This value can be shared by a whole culture, for example, in many Spanish-speaking countries, black is associated with pain and mourning.

Sometimes, the symbolic value of a color can be unique to an author. For example, Cuban author José Martí, created some very original associations:

  • La flauta suele tener sonidos azules y anaranjados; el fagot y el violín dan sonidos de color castaño y azul Prusia.
    (The flute usually has blue and orange sounds; the bassoon and the violin give sounds of brown and Prussian blue.)

Jose Marti, author who created an original simbolismo cromatico.

Duplicating Reality and Repeating

Desdoblamiento (unfolding) is a literary technique that consists in dividing the protagonist into two different personalities who live in different realities. These can occur in the same space and time or in far removed times and places.

For example, Julio Cortázar's La noche boca arriba (The Night Face Up) is a short story in which the protagonist is unfolded with one normal life in the present and a second life in the Aztec era.

Leitmotivo (leitmotif) is an element that is repeated throughout the work. It can be a set of words, a description, a situation, a character, etc. It's often used in poetry to give unity and rhythm to the poem, but can be seen in theater or narratives as well.

For example, in Federico García Lorca's play Doña Rosita, la soltera (Doña Rosita, the Spinster), there is a clear leitmotif: flowers. The protagonists take care of flower, the author continually refers to them, and the protagonist even has a flower in her name.

Original portrait of Cortazar, creator of many literary desdoblamientos.

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