What is a Literary Trope?


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Literary Tropes


Literary tropes are also called figurative language. They’re used to engage and entertain the reader. It is a very broad topic. If you see something you like here, and you want to go look for more examples of it, definitely do that, because there are a lot of different literary tropes that you can find out there. The most common are similes, metaphors, hyperbole, analogies, understatement, rhetorical questioning, and irony.


Today, I’m going to give you examples for analogies, understatement, rhetorical questioning, and irony. These are by no means the only literary tropes. If You want more examples, or more information, or more literary tropes, more ways to use figurative language, than definitely go out and look for them. Let’s talk about analogies. Analogies compare relationships.


He followed his father like chicks follow a mother hen. This analogy is telling us that the little boy, presumably, followed his father like chicks follow a mother hen. You can picture mother and all the chicks following along -by the, side- behind her, and this little boy follows behind his father the whole way. It lets you know that he’s always one step behind his dad, he wants to be right there where dad is.


I feel like a fish out of water. Well, think about how a fish would feel out of water, uncomfortable, out of his normal surroundings, maybe even like he can’t breathe. If you feel like a fish out of water, it means that you feel like you’re out of your normal surroundings. If it’s a really intense feeling, to where you’re uncomfortable, you may feel like you can’t breathe like a fish out of water would feel.


These are analogies, where you’re comparing the relationship between two things. The relationship between the father and his son, and chicks and the mother hen. The relationship between you and your surroundings, and the fish out of water. Next, let’s look at understatement. Understatement is when an author deliberately makes something sound less than it really is.


Paul Bunyan was pretty tall. Well, Paul Bunyan is supposed to be the tallest biggest man that ever lived, even though he’s based on a tall tale himself. To say he was pretty tall is an understatement. You’re making it sound like less than it really is. We have had a little rain. If you said this when the area is completely flooded, it would be an understatement. You didn’t just have a little rain, you had tons of rain, you had so much rain that your whole area is flooded.


If you said, “We have had a little rain,” then you’re understating it. That is an example of understatement. It makes the reader think, and it may make them say “Well, why did the author say this?” Or maybe it was just used to be entertaining. It is a literary trope. Next, we have rhetorical questioning. These are questions asked solely for effect.


The author is asking these questions, but they don’t expect a response. It’s used to get an effect out of you, it’s used to make an impression. How many people must die before we recognize this problem? Well, you’re obviously not going to answer with a number of people that have to die. The thought is just to make you realize people are dying This is a problem that needs to be addressed.


Our other example: don’t you know any better? A lot of times a parent may say this to their child, “Why did you touch the stove? Don’t you know any better?” Well, the kid probably didn’t know any better or he wouldn’t have done what he did. Even if he did know better he’s not going to say “Yes, I knew better. I shouldn’t have done that.”


It’s just something that you say, “Don’t you know any better?” Basically, you’re saying “You should have known better, you shouldn’t have done what you just did.” It’s not a question that meant to be answered, it’s a rhetorical question. The last literary trope we are going to discuss is irony. This is a very complex literary trope. One definition for it would be the middle ground between what is said and what is meant.


It’s not always- the words that the author is saying isn’t exactly what they’re meaning. You have to read into it a little deeper. There’s lots of different kinds of irony. I have a couple of examples here to give you an idea of it today. Sarcasm is heavy irony, and here’s an example of sarcasm: The Titanic did a great job of crossing the Atlantic.


Well, we’re clearly being sarcastic, which is ironic there, because the Titanic did not make it across the Atlantic on its maiden voyage, it sunk, and it was a big tragedy, lots of people died from this. Saying that it did a great job of crossing the Atlantic is ironic, because it’s not true, it’s not fact what the author is saying. Whenever you read that, you know about the Titanic, and you know it really didn’t do a great job of crossing.


You have to look at the rest of the passage to see what the reader was using irony for, but you can definitely tell that this is a use of sarcasm. Another example of irony would be a traffic cop gets his license suspended for unpaid parking tickets. His job is being a traffic cop, enforcing traffic laws, parking laws, and he loses his license because he had unpaid parking tickets.


He was in fact breaking laws that he was enforcing, and so that is ironic. It’s hard to put a specific definition on irony, so you may just want to look at more examples to get a better idea. Whenever you’re writing, you want to include some figurative language. You want to try to include similes, metaphors, hyperbole, analogies, understatement, rhetorical questions, irony. You may not be able to fit them all in. Pick a couple of the ones that you like best. The purpose is to establish a tone in your paper and engage the imagination of the reader.



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Last updated: 10/01/2018

 

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