Advanced Rhetorical Figures in Spanish Literature

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.

In this lesson we will see several advanced rhetorical figures used in Spanish Literature, including 'sinecdoque', 'sinestesia', 'retruecano', 'metonimia' or 'cacofonia'. Let's see examples of how they can enhance literature!

Rhetorical Figures

How would you define art? There are many ways to do this. You can go for the rigorous, academic definition or a more vague, reflective one, like: El arte es una mentira que nos permite conocer la verdad. (Art is a lie that allows us to know the truth).

That last definition contains a paradoja (paradox), a rhetorical figure that is a non-habitual way of using language to achieve certain effects (beauty, emotion, etc.). They are often divided into simple, intermediate and advanced. Let's see the latter!

Figures that Depend on Conjunctions

Conjunctions are words that are used to join other words. Figures that depend on conjunctions consist of increasing or eliminating conjunctions.

Asíndeton (asyndeton) consists of intentionally eliminating the conjunctions. With the asyndeton the rhythm of the text becomes faster and the writer gets a sense of dynamism and passion. Here are two examples from Mariano José de Larra:

  • Concluyo; tú inventas palabras y tú haces de ellas sentimientos, ciencias, artes, objetos de existencia. ¡Política, gloria, saber, poder, riqueza, amistad, amor!
    (I conclude; you invent words and you make them feelings, sciences, arts, objects of existence. Politics, glory, knowledge, power, wealth, friendship, love!).

Polisíndeton (polysindeton) is the opposite - it consists of unnecessarily repeating the conjunctions, slowing down the rhythm. In the following verses of Juan Ramón Jiménez it is possible to find polysindeton.

  • Hay un palacio y un río y
    un lago y un puente viejo,
    y fuentes con musgo y hierba
    alta y silencio… un silencio.

    (There is a palace and a river and
    a lake and an old bridge,
    and fountains with moss and high
    grass and silence ...a silence).

Juan Ramon Jimenez, a poet who used many beautiful metaphors and polysindeton.

Substitution Figures

There are also rhetorical figures that consist of substituting one word for another.

Sinécdoque (synecdoche) describes a whole thing by using the name of just a part of it, or vice versa. There are several types of synecdoche, including:

  • A part referring to a whole. For example Quedó sola con cuatro bocas que alimentar (She was left alone with four mouths to feed). Bocas (mouths), refers to hijos (children).
  • A whole referring to a part. For example España ganó a Francia (Spain won France). In this expression España and Francia refer to soccer teams of Spain and France.
  • A general class name used to denote a specific member of that class. For example, El noble animal relinchó (The noble animal neighed). Animal refers to caballo (horse).
  • A specific name used to denote general set of things. For example, Ganarás el pan con tu trabajo (You will earn bread with your job). Pan in this sentence refers to all foods.

Metonimia (metonymy) is to substitute one word for another when the two things have some kind of relation to each other. Generally, this relationship usually involves dependence or causality. Types of metonymy include:

  • Substituting the cause for effect. Such as Le hizo daño el sol (The sun hurt him). The 'sun' refers to the heat of the sun.
  • Substitution the effect for cause. In Ha perdido el pan (He has lost bread), the person has lost his job, so he has no bread.
  • A container is used to refer to its content. Such as Se fumó una pipa (He smoked a pipe), where tobacco contained in the pipe was smoked.
  • An author's name is used to denote the work. In Se vendió un Picasso por varios millones de dólares (A Picasso was sold for several million dollars), a painting by Picasso was sold.

Concept Figures

Some rhetorical figures are based on playing with the concepts that express the words.

Fray Luis de Leon often used paradox.

Paradoja (paradox) unites two opposing ideas that seem contradictory, but upon reflection, expresses a hidden truth. The paradox has the function of astonishing the reader and forcing them to reflect on a reality that is more complex than it seems.

The writer Fray Luis de Leon used paradox when he wrote:

  • ¡Oh muerte que das vida! (O death, you give life!)

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