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Intermediate 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, learn several rhetorical figures used in Spanish literature such as the anafora, the antitesis, the hiperbaton, among others. Knowing the rhetorical figures is important in understanding and gaining a better appreciation for literature.

The Importance of the Rhetorical Figures

Compare the following texts about a boy mourning the death of his friend.

  1. Estoy muy triste por este suceso. (I am very sad about this event).
  2. No perdono a la muerte enamorada; no perdono a la vida desatenta (I cannot forgive that lover, death; I cannot forgive thoughtless life).

The meaning is the same, but the emotional strength of the second is much greater. Why? Because of the rhetorical figures that give strength and beauty to the literature. Let's look at some intermediate rhetorical figures used in Spanish literature. Rhetorical figures are infrequent ways of using words for figurative language.

Figures of Repetition or Accumulation of Words

Let's first take a look at three figures that are based on repetition or accumulation of words.

Anáfora (anaphora) is the intentional repetition of words at the beginning of sentences or verses. This repetition can give rhythm and musicality to the text, or emphasize an idea.

In the following fragment by Quevedo, the words por la honra (for honor) are repeated for enhanced rhythm, unity and emphasis.

  • Por la honra pasan los hombres el mar. Por la honra mata un hombre a otro. Por la honra gastan todos más de lo que tienen. (For the honor men pass the sea. For the honor one man kills another. For the honor all people spend more than they have.)

Enumeración (enumeration) is accumulating words separated from each other by commas or punctuation only. The writer, when using the enumeration can accumulate words that have relation to each other. Other times, he or she may accumulate unrelated words. In this second case, it is called chaotic enumeration.

For example, in the following verse Juan Ruiz accumulates words that have something in common: they are all undesirable adjectives used to describe a person.

  • Era mentiroso, bebedor, ladrón,
    tahúr, peleador, goloso,
    reñidor y adivino, sucio,
    necio y perezoso
    .
    (He was a liar, drinker, thief,
    gambler, bully, greedy
    scrapper, fortune-teller, dirty
    foolish and lazy).

In another example, Jorge Luis Borges accumulates unrelated words in a chaotic enumeration:

  • Jacintos, ángeles, bibliotecas, laberintos, anclas, Uxmal, el infinito, el cero. (Hyacinths, angels, libraries, mazes, anchors, Uxmal, infinity, zero).

Gradación (Gradation) is a type of enumeration where accumulated words are ordered. The order can be from major to minor or vice versa.

When Luis de Góngora speaks of death, he uses this descending gradation (going from major to minor):

  • Te convertirás en tierra, en humo, en polvo, en sombra, en nada. (You will become earth, smoke, dust, shade, nothing).

Borges used descending gradation in Mientras por Competir Con tu Cabello.
borges

Figures that Depend On the Number of Words

There are some figures that consist of using more or less words than are normal.

Circunlocución o Perífrasis (circumlocution or periphrasis) is using more words than necessary to express a concept. It is often used to avoid overused expressions. With periphrasis, these too common words are changed by others.

Expressions like El techo del mundo (The roof of the world) to indicate Everest or El rey de los animales (The king of the animals) to indicate the lion are circumlocutions.

Elipsis (ellipsis), on the other hand, consists of omitting words that are understood by context.

The aphorism of Baltasar Gracián Lo bueno si breve, dos veces bueno (Good if brief, twice good) is an example of ellipsis. In the sentence the verb is missing. The phrase without ellipsis would be, Lo bueno si (es) breve, (es) dos veces bueno (Good if it is brief, it is twice good).

Baltasar Gracian used ellipsis in a phrase.
gracian

Other Rhetorical Figures

Let's look at some rhetorical figures.

Antítesis (antithesis) consists in opposing two ideas. In the antithesis, the words that indicate a concept are placed very close to the words that indicate the opposite idea. The writer usually maintains the same grammatical structure to highlight the contrast.

For example, the following verses of Rubén Darío contain an antithesis:

Cuando quiero llorar no lloro, // y a veces lloro sin querer. (When I want to cry, I do not cry // and sometimes I cry when I do not want it).

Apóstrofe (apostrophe) is used to briefly interrupt the discourse to invoke vehemently real or imaginary beings. It is a rhetorical figure that has a lot of emotional force.

The mystic writer San Juan de la Cruz uses the apostrophe to invoke the night:

  • ¡Oh noche que guiaste! ¡oh noche amable más que el alborada! (O night you led! O night more gentle than dawn!).

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