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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Major Art Movements Which Have Influenced Literary Style and Technique : Realism, Naturalism, Impressionism, Surrealism, and Stream-of-Consciousness

Since critical norms governing style and technique vary according to the peculiar emphases of artistic movements, it would be wise for the literary critic to acquaint himself with the characteristics of the major --- if not all --- artistic movements. These characteristics will more or less define the particular qualities peculiar to what is considered as “good art” or formally excellent objects of art in any given period of artistic development.

It is the student’s familiarity with the literary practices of these movements which would lead him to the formulation of his conclusions on the literary norms governing the literature of that time.

The following are capsule discussions of five major literary movements which have influenced modern literature considerably. They are included here as a reference material and hopefully a springboard for further research on the part of the reader.

(The following pages Pages 238 to 260 have been reproduced from A. B. Casuga’s The Aesthetics of Literature, a collection of lectures on Aesthetics, Literary Theory and Criticism)


(Click on the Image to read the Page)


Tuesday, September 29, 2009



B. Order of Structural Parts. When a poem uses the dramatic incident context, the chronological order is normally utilized. Assertive context uses the logical order. When the context is an argument, either the logical order or psychological order is used depending on who is arguing and the state of his mind at the moment he makes the argument.

That order which brings about clarity, harmony, and integrity for the work should be the most effective.

The order in “Desert Places” (chronological, and also logical to a certain extent) serves the artistic purpose of objectifying the experience of a man who realizes his own emptiness because it starts from an awareness of external realities which become the stimuli for his realization. The cause of the realization properly precedes the effect which is asserted in the final stanza.

The poet who minds his technique is aware that the effectiveness of his poem depends largely on how he presents his images --- in an order which considers the workings and limitations of the mind and the processes of emotional reaction and motivation.

If T. S. Eliot proves difficult in his presentation of his selected objective correlatives, it is probably because the order he follows is beyond the real plane --- and that his metaphysical plane rarely takes as its springboard a definable reality limited by physical boundaries and constraints. The uncaring ellipses between his strofes do not make for a continuity that explains the interrelationship between and among allusions and assertions, dramatic incidents and assertions, and the like. Because they are unfamiliar, they baffle the reader into giving up on the poem.

In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, one is hardly able to follow the order even from the persona’s point of view. Even when it is viewed as a dramatic soliloquy, one would still be at a loss about the structural link of references to Michelangelo and the women vis-à-vis allusions to Prince Hamlet and Lazarus.

That is a clear order which finds its basis on some principle --- whether it is an order set by the consciousness of the poem’s persona, an order demanded by the intrinsic relationship between cause and effect, or from the seat of the unconscious which must, at any rate, find order in the choice of and connections articulated into various objective correlatives.

That order must first be understood in order to achieve a successful communication between poet and reader. It is, after all, a case of the appreciator knowing whereof to begin. It is only when he has started somewhere that the reader might permit himself to be “lost” in pleasant marvelling at the poem. Drifting with the images ends in further drifting – it is directionless – ultimately, fruitless.

Summarizing the elements of technique (which must be criticized alongside the poem’s style in order to render an evaluation on the work’s artistry), one may arrange these in the following organization:


a. Presentation of Structural Parts. Central or Primary Structure, Secondary or Minor Structure, and Representational Structures
b. Scale of Poem. Stanza Forms, Lines, Words, Format
c. Order of Structural Parts. Chronological, Logical, Psychological, In Medias Res


Earlier analyses of “Desert Places” and “A Theory of Echoes” have provided enough empirical data on which criticism may now be based. The student, if asked to render a criticism of these two (Style and Technique), should therefore find it easy to judge the formal excellence of the poems. Testing himself, he should now try to criticize both poems for his personal satisfaction. The previous discussions provide the norms governing the critical process.

Since critical norms governing style and technique vary according to the peculiar emphases of artistic movements, it would be wise for the literary critic to acquaint himself with the characteristics of the major --- if not all --- artistic movements. These characteristics will more or less define the particular qualities peculiar to what is considered as “good art” or formally excellent objects of art in any given period of artistic development.

It is the student’s familiarity with the literary practices of these movements which would lead him to the formulation of his conclusions on the literary norms governing the literature of that time.

Next: Major Literary Movements Which Have Influenced Modern Literature: Realism, naturalism, Impressionism, Surrealism, and Stream-of-Consciousness


Part 5: Criticizing the Technique of Poetry


Selected materials and compositional prowess generally do not achieve the artistic purpose alone. They must be articulated and presented in a technique which may produce an interesting for the poetic experience.

A. Presentation of Selected Structural Parts. It is a basic assumption in the appreciation of a poem that, if the author can suggest significance through the structure printed on the page, he will do it. Analytical reading favours the student’s attentiveness to certain suggestions made by the structure visualizing the poem’s meaning.

And since communication is not only semantical and syntactical articulation thought but also structural suggestion of message (meaning “the medium is the message,” as Marshall MacLuhan puts it), (1) the poet reinforces his communication potential if he harnesses his structural arrangements of details in the form. Thus, the arrangements of words, stanzas, image-structures, letters, and the like may contribute to the visualization of the meaning.

When the poet takes advantage of this technique peculiar to the visual arts, he must not, however, sacrifice the primacy of the literary devices in the function of subjectification. In other words, the structural arrangements are there simply to provide an interesting visage for the objectified phenomenon --- the poem on the page.

The primary structural part --- the central image --- must pervade in the poem; i.e., it recurs throughout the poem. Technically, this means the poet either directly includes a facet of this central structure in each part, or he suggests its presence throughout through synecdochal images.

For instance, in “Desert Places”, the desert of snow is suggested in every stanza in terms of the key words distributed adroitly by the poet; viz., ground covered with snow, few weeds and stubble showing last, woods have it, all animals smothered in their lairs, blanker whiteness of benighted snow, empty spaces --- all culminating in the final assertion which ends with the persona realizing that the “desert places” are within him.
The minor images, of course, must be evenly distributed throughout the poem such that they recall the major image if not reinforce it.

Language devices are responsible for positioning these images in such a way that cannot but result into a complete picture when they are placed in context. The poet needs certain linking concepts in between these images if he is to succeed in unifying the disparate pictures. Figures are such concepts. In “Desert Places”, the personification “the loneliness includes unawares” links the persona (a minor image) to the central image, until both merge in the over-all picture: the unified gestalt.

An injudicious spraying of images in an arbitrary manner is not useful in a poem which is not purportedly a presentation of random awareness. Automatic writing of the Surrealists includes the writing down of objects of awareness apprehended at random with the end in view of letting the accidental juxtaposition of these images result into meaning.

The formally excellent poem rarely succeeds in emotionalization or subjectification when it remains on the level of mere objectification, which is what happens in automatic writing. Mere presentation of the picture seen in disparate planes of consciousness does not mean anything save the fact that here is awareness.
Poetry is more than objectification in that it is also an interiorization of the external reality so that this reality may be transformed into the energized conception of the artist. Naturally, this conception will be more alive --- because of the subjective comment --- than the unslanted objective situation used.

B. The Scale of a Poem. The poem’s scale is not arbitrary. When the poet’s experience demands a mode of objectification, chances are that the poem’s length follows the dictates of the subject matter. Ezra Pound’s decision to cut “In A Station by the Metro” from the original 30 lines to the two-line version is a classic case of artistic consciousness about the correctness of scale. (2)

Proceeding from the fact that the subject or content is simply an apparition, the author must have realized that the fleeting quality must be objectified in as brief a manner --- two lines.

The rule of thumb in the choice of scale is that which is followed in the choice of stanza forms: the more serious the context and experience, the longer the stanza form; the lighter the experience is, the briefer the stanza form. When this is ignored or even violated, it is because the artist would want his stanza form to play a more distinct role in the expression of an experience.

Stanza forms, the length of the composition, its lines, and the verbal dimensions vary according to the different types of poetry. Lyric poems generally use shorter stanza forms; narrative and dramatic poetry use either ballade forms or the longer epic forms since they must convey a story.

The traditional forms like the triolet, rondeau, villanelle, sestina, sonnet, ballade, and the like, are governed by rules peculiar to their composition.

For instance, the sonnet form as used by Elizabethan writers retains the practice of crystallizing the assertion or argument of the poem in the last two lines which is always a couplet. While the first twelve lines may either be composed of an octave and a quatrain, or series of three quatrains, the last two lines remain as clinchers.

Villanelles introduce unity into the 19 lines through the repetition of the first and third lines of the first stanza. These are usually “content” lines in that they crystallize the persuasion of the poem. Since they are sometimes made to be sung, they are normally in pentameters. Rhyming is normally along the masculine-full rhyme variety.

Vers Libre, however, follows a scale pattern which is consistent to the patterns of thought or span of speech. It is more faithful to the workings and exigencies of the creative mind whether the composition proceeds centrifugally or centripetally.

A scale which best serves the demands of the subject matter, context, theme, or structural unity is considered appropriate and effective. For instance, the scale of “A Theory of Echoes” is appropriate because the pattern of reversals in the echo must be shown. The first two stanzas are symmetrically countered by the last two; the lines are also reversed in the last two stanzas to objectify the concept of echoes and their being extensions of sound, that contraries are actually part of a universal unity according to Heraclitean cosmology, E pluribus unum. (From the many, one) The axiom is: “opposites are different aspects of the same thing.” Hence, death is simply an extension of life, and some such applications of the concept. (3)

The scale of “The Desert Places” is effective because the fist three stanzas provide the premises for the gradual growth of the loneliness in the persona such that the mood actually grows on him as he describes the external conditions while he gets affected. As far as the burgeoning of emptiness in him is concerned, the gradual dawning of the realization is objectified also in terms of the scale in a manner that the realization comes only in the final stanza after an inspection of the barren scene outside as described in the first three stanzas. (4)

It is not sprung upon the reader without a foreshadowing. The reader is adequately prepared to accept the assertion in the final stanza. In other words, the scaling or pacing in the stages of awareness correspond to the gradual growth of a realization in the persona who is shown reflecting on his external situation before he relates this to his internal condition, his life, in terms of an extended realization: “They cannot scare me with their empty spaces… I have it in me so much nearer home to scare myself with my own desert places.”

Scale becomes doubly important in the use of ideographic devices on the page. Aside from imaging the content, the scale also suggests the point of the poem---i.e., the poet’s comment. For instance: “Frogs”.

in Mrs. T’s
pond whistle,
Sanchez shouted once
in his sleep. Next day, Mr. T
killed all the frogs in the pond. (5)

The positioning of the protagonists in the triangle is a study of conscious scaling. Sanchez, the man in the middle, is placed between Mr. and Mrs. T with whom he (Sanchez) maintains a two-sided, perverse, and illicit affair. The triangle (ménage a trois) itself is necessary to “image” the content.


1 Marshall MacLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Pg. 23. McGraw-Hill Book Co., N.Y. 1964.

2 Ezra Pound, as quoted by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren in Understanding Poetry, pg. 90. Here is what Pound himself writes of the origin of his poem:

“Three years ago in Paris I got out of a Metro train at the La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion… I wrote as thirty line poem and destroyed it because it was what we call a work of second “intensity.” Six months later, I made a poem half that length; a year later I made the following. . . sentence:

“The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.”

I daresay it is meaningless unless one has drifted into a certain vein of thought. In a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.”

3 A Theory of Echoes

1. Axiom

Echoes shape corridors lean
Leaving them a cipher’s silence

Not unlike the axiom of a day:
All things go up to fall the way

Fractured bird wings fall, violence
Met in the loins of wind.

Lean corridors shape echoes
Silence ciphering them, leaving

A day axiomed as not what is unlike
The way the fall of things strike:

Violence on the fractured bird wing,
Winds loyned with zodiaqual zeroes.

2. Echo





By Robert Frost

Snow falling and night falling fast oh fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last

The woods around it have it – it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is, that loneliness
Will become more lonely ere it will be less—
A blanker whiteness of benighted
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars—on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

5 A.B. Casuga, “Frogs,”, Sunday Times Magazine, January, 1970.

PART 6: Criticizing the Techinique of Poetry: Order of Structural Parts

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Part 4: Criticizing the Style of Poetry --- Linguistic Devices: Literary Devices (Words Have It)

2. Literary. The words are the fundamental units of meaning in the poem. Upon their use depends the yoking together of images and symbols to form the poetic gestalt. Therefore, the poet must, first of all, possess a mastery of his language, syntax, and his grammar.

a. Words. Denotations/Connotations. The literal meaning of a poem can generally be found in the denotations of the words used. Denotations are conventionalized significance which the author must also be aware of when he articulates his thoughts in terms of words. When these words are used esoterically, chances are that they would be vague if not nonsensical therefore confusing to the reader.

Connotations depend upon the history of meaning a word has. Most of the connotations in the language are, of course, a matter of convention; but they may also be coloured by one’s stock experiences. They may also be meaning emanating from the peculiar arrangements and juxtapositions of words and poetic lines. The poet must, therefore, be careful about his connotative equipment, such that he does not use a word in a manner that makes it alien to the subject matter-experience or theme he is trying to objectify.

b. Figures. As their name implies, these language devices create the concrete shape of an idea in terms of the limited resources of the medium. They put a “figure” on the mood, idea, or feeling.

Figures of speech, thought, and language have been made to make the concretization or objectification of experience easier. Instead of describing something in terms of an equally abstract concept, one can use a figure.

For example: “Love” as it stands alone may not sound as appealing. “Intense” love, as qualified may neither be here nor there. The reader normally demands that the intensity be quantified since that is how he ordinarily understands things owing to various limitations in conceptualization. Therefore, the figures come in full regalia. “I love you with the smiles, tears of all my life; but if God choose, I shall but love thee after death.” Or, “My love is as bright as the sun” (corny, but it attempts to quantify). “I can’t bear your deafening silence. He sleeps like a log,” And the like.

What makes a figure appropriate?

A figure is said to be appropriate when it earns the meaning by making it assume an exact, concrete, and clear picture. It suits the idea in that its use does not steal away attention from the meaning. For example:

When you reach for me in that obscure
World where like ashes of the air
Your eyes and hands and voice batter
With stark and ghostly urgency
The transparent doors of my closed lids

Like ashes in the eyes, the memory of one being addressed intrudes; the yes, sensing, become doors forced open by the memory – by the ashes.

A figure is said to be necessary when not using it results into a reversion to the rhetoric of poetry making it “poetic” (meaning, artificial or simply a gush of language which does not make the object palpable). For example:

And life, a little bald and gray
Languid, fastidious, and bland,
Waits, hats and gloves in hand…

The underscored personification puts a figure on “life”, which, if simply described as “fastidious, languid, and bland”, would not be half as clear as the picture of an old man properly dressed and waiting.

A figure is said to be effective when it contributes to the objectification of the point of the poem by providing a major slice of that which “can hold” about an otherwise elusive/illusive phantom of fancy. Most beginning poets mistake a dash of rhetoric for good poetry. If at all, they may succeed in sheer lyricism, but their experiences may not even jell in the minds of the appreciator.

Here is an example of an effective use of figure:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs it muzzle on the window panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

Only T.S. Eliot could have thought of the fog as a cat. One is impressed by the conceit which makes the motion of the fog clear in terms of the movements of the feline. At the same time, the atmosphere is explained, the mood is established.

Figures could, of course, be abused. The Elizabethan sonneteers were scoffed at by the Metaphysical poets because of their excesses in the use of similes and metaphors. Before the 17th century group led by John Donne put an end to this abuse, Shakespeare himself satirized the metaphor used unto hyperbole. In Sonnet 130, the Bard said:

My mistress” eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground;
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare
. 4

This was, of course, Shakespeare’s reaction to the overdone metaphors of his compatriots which bordered on figures like” “The lady’s eyes are suns, her cheeks are roses and lilies, her teeth are pearls, her bosoms are as orotund as the globe, her hair as wires.” The enterprising student should try to sketch the likeness of this lady so he will fully appreciate the reaction of Shakespeare and the metaphysical poets.

Between the concrete and the abstract concept in poetry, most conscientious poets would rather pt for the concrete, but not at the expense of good taste and sincerity.

c. Archetypal Materials. Any attempt by the author to reinforce the objectiveness of his experience through the use of established universal cultural patterns like myths, allusions, and the like, should not frighten the critic. These are materials available to the poet as other means of objectifying experiences in terms of bodily transported mythological, historical, and biblical lore.

For instance, T.S. Eliot uses the Holy Grail myth and the Tarot Rites in his “The Wasteland”. Not that he would like to make this poem abstruse, but these mythical details are supposed to have a predetermined set of evoked feelings, such that when encountered once more, they would make the appreciator react in this “canned” set of emotions. Therefore, the poet builds on this and weaves the myth into his poetry thereby also making his poems assume a universal relevance --- because myths are universal.

Allusions, as literary devices, serve the same function as the figures in that they are ready-made objects which have a history of significance in themselves. Their significance, which may be found in history or past lore, evoke thoughts and feelings which may very well become part of the appreciator’s experience in the appreciation of a poem.

Thus, when the poet makes an allusion, he expects that the educated reader would respond to this allusion as he ordinarily would to a cue. The allusion is calculated to earn the meaning in terms of accomplished fact. If anything is meaningful, they are those that have already become part of history since their import have been moulded into definite significant patterns.

For example:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, . . .
Almost, at times, the Fool
. 4

Allusion to Prince Hamlet here recalls the tragic experience of that young man who was wracked by his indecision on whether or not he would slay his mother and his uncle who were conspirators to his father’s assassination. Of course, the allusion is calculated to recall all possible shades of meaning in the Hamlet story by Shakespeare. Quite naturally, the Hamlet-complex is being contrasted to that of Prufrock in this poem by Eliot. Somehow, therefore, the poet succeeds in abbreviating his rhetoric and is now depending upon a fact of literature to do the configuration of a thought for him.

When allusions, however, obtrude and mislead, they are a flaw in the poem. Allusions, therefore, are functional only when they aid in the refurbishing of the matrix of meaning and subjective significance that the poet is working towards in his poem.

For instance, the following allusions are pretentious:

Suburbia of the paid-for ecstasy
Until her aldermen began to think
In terms of the Great City --- a fallacy
Considering her midnight dens of finks
That make her Sodom sans the opulence;
Or yawning whores recalling ancient Rome
If only for the waxing decadence
Described in Gibbon’s silverfishing tome
. 5

The underscored are pretentious allusions because they are not successfully woven into the poem’s matrix such that they reinforce not assume the principal function of objectification. Sodom is not half as clear as a description of actual sodomy in the suburbia. Ancient Rome would actually bait mnemonic irrelevancy, in that the context may even suggest the Rome of Peter or the Empire of Caesar, and not the Decline; Gibbon’s book (The Decline of the Roman Empire) is not functional in that it is an obiter dictum, scarcely significant because it is so esoteric to many who are not collectors of books. Federico Licsi-Espino has written better poetry than this.


A. Selection of Details.
Imagery, Symbols, Context (dramatic incident, assertion, argument)
B. Linguistic Devices. Literary (words, figures, archetypal materials, myths, allusions); Verbal (phonemes, organized sounds – alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance, consonance; rhyme, rhythm)

(To be continued)


1 Edith L. Tiempo, “What Distance Gives” The Tracks of Babylon. Pg. 16. Swallow Paperbooks, Denver. 1966.

2. T.S. Eliot, “Spleen,” (see previous entry)

3. T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,”.

4. William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 130”

5. F. L. Espino, “Pasay,” Tinikling: A Sheaf of Poems, Pg. 7. Private Edition, 1972.

Next: Part 5 Criticizing the Technique of Poetry

Saturday, September 26, 2009



Style in poetry is best manifested in the use of the medium. Poetry uses a usually patterned or measured language. The word “usually” is used advisedly because not all poems use measured language. Vers Libre or free verse does not use the regular measures, but it follows the rhythm of thoughts, feelings, and even speech/breathing spans.

(Click on Image to read text)
When the critic renders a judgment on the style of the poet, he invariably criticizes the author’s use of his literary devices: both the literary and verbal energies of the language.

1. Verbal. Poetry, from the beginning of its composition, was made to be recited. This is the reason why poets who know their craft never abandon the use of the verbal energies of their language to objectify and subjectify their experience. How do these sound devices help in achieving the artistic (poetic) purpose?

a. Phonemes. The English language --- or any language for that matter, most especially the Chinese --- prides itself on the ability of each phoneme (articulated unit of sound equivalent to the letters of the alphabet) to exude a meaning depending on its duration, inflexion, volume, and pitch. Each sound, therefore, has the capacity of expressing a mood, a feeling, or even a thought.

For instance, English speaking people consider their long “O” and long “U” (as in “gold” and “tune”) respectively as their most expressive sounds. A preponderance of these sounds in any poem should not simply be considered a mere accident of composition. A poet who is sensitive to the possibilities behind the use of these phonemes will see to it that his use is contributory to the achievement of the twin purposes of objectifying and subjectifying the poetic experience.

Therefore, when phonemes are dominant in a poetic line or in the stanza, or throughout the poem, they must have a purpose. They must have a function.

For instance, Frost uses a preponderance of the “S” sounds and the long “O” sounds as aids in the establishment of the mood of the poem (“Desert Places”), the physical atmosphere, and also the internal condition of the persona who is seen ruing the emptiness that he perceives from without. (See blog entry on Analysis)

According to Gerald Sanders in his A Poetry Primer (1), certain sounds in English suggest meanings which may stand on their own. For example: the long vowel sounds (a, e, i, o, u) suggest slow movement; the short vowels suggest motions done in a hurry.

“Of the consonants, the liquids (l, m, n, r) combine easily with other words and are used frequently where the verse is to be read rapidly. On the other hand, a group of consonants called mutes are the most difficult to utter because they close air passages, hence, are used to suggest impediments and to force a slower movement of the verse. There are three groups of these: labials (lip sounds) b, f, p, v; dentals (tooth sounds) d, t, dh, th; and gutturals (throat sounds) hard c, g, k. Still another group of consonants, the sibilants z, sh, zh, are used to gain such effects as surprise, solicitude, amazement, and contempt.”

The different sounds in English offer a wide range of significance which would, when recognized by the sensitive writer, enhance the tonal quality---the melody---of his poetry.

For example:

1. Long O (ode) --- solemnity, power, mournfulness
2. Long I (kite) --- happiness, lightness, like “rise and shine
3. Long A (ale) --- lazy deliberation, slow movement, undeviating straightness
4. Long E (eel) --- keenness, fear
5. Long U (tune) --- soothing, curative, and smooth
6. Short A, E, I, O, U --- (man, egg, in, on, undo) --- dull, platitudinous, commonplace
7. R - calm – (long vowel, row, rake) --- but becomes harsh when combined with other consonants (grrr, brrr…)
8. L (love, lean, laugh, lolling) --- romantic, liquid
9. S (swish, sea, sail, asp, lass) --- agile (provided it is not bound in long vowels)
10. P, T, B --- fast and businesslike, casual, clean (e.g., pass, touch, blast)
11. G, H, J --- gruff, rough, unsophisticated (e.g., guilt, ogre, agh, hurl, uhuh, jagged

Considered the most beautiful sounds in English are: Long U (as in “tune”); Long OO (croon); Long A (ale); Short E (well); Long E (be)l; Circumflex O (all). The “ugly” sounds in the language are: OU (as in Pout, snout); OI (boil); Short A (fat).

Sounds, no doubt, should make sense in the poem.

Of course, non-native speakers --- unless they have mastered the language --- may find it difficult to assign these phonemes with the significance they want.

But it is taken for granted that when these sounds become components in the word, their function and significance are dictated by the semantical meaning of the word.

When sounds are used in an unnaturally recurrent manner without any recognizable function, the may result into doggerel or irritating alliteration.

b. Organized Sounds. Alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance, consonance are used by the poet to emphasize content words especially those found the rhyming ends of the poetic line. They must, therefore, contribute to the achievement of melody and rhythm. When poets use them without any apparent purpose---either melodic or structural--- (they may also serve to organize images), they ordinarily degenerate into senseless ornaments. Ornaments are hardly needed in poetry which is a composition characterized by conciseness and integrated compactness. Economy of expression demands that no organized sound units be used as pretentious ornaments.

c. Rhyme. Defined as the similarity of end sounds and words in the poetic lines, rhyme may be used either as a melodic or organizing element.

As a melodic element, it emphasizes words and sounds which carry the poem’s significance. As an organizing element, it shapes up the materials into stanza forms for purposes of unity, clarity, and the fulfillment of the demands of the subject matter.

Effective rhyming is in pursuit of these two functions. When rhyming does not help in the suggestion of the experience being objectified and subjectified, it may end up as doggerel or as an unexplainable choice of key words.

d. Rhythm. Like Rhyme, it also serves as either a melodic or organizing element. Its choice is no accident. Usually, the sensitive poet chooses a rhythm that approximates the mood, tone, content of the context being used, or feeling.

Certain traditional significance may also be attached to different types of rhythm. For instance, the iambic pentameter has always been considered as the traditional rhythm for the villanelle or the Miltonian blank verse. It is said to be the most sober, and it approximates the naturally rhythmical Anglo-Saxon speech.

Provided it helps in the concretization of the experience, the rhythm used is said to be appropriate and necessary. Its effectiveness lies on whether or not it is capable of evoking an emotional reaction in the reader. E. A. Poe’s “The Raven” (2) uses a rhythm which is akin to soulful mourning, --- slow, deliberate, and stately --- so that one is easily affected by the macabre effect of anguish and gloom that the poet tries to convey.


1 Gerald Sanders, A Poetry Primer. Pg. 21 etseq. Holt Rinehart & Winston, N.Y. 1962.

2 Poe analyzes the genesis of “The Raven” in an essay entitled “The Philosophy of Composition,” Graham’s Magazine, April, 1846. Anthologized in A College Book of American Literature, Ellis et al (Eds), Pg. 421 etseq.

Poe said: . . .I pretend to no originality in either the rhythm or meter of “The Raven”. The former is trochaic---the latter is octameter acatalectic alternating with the heptameter catalectic repeated in the refrain of the fifth verse, and terminating with tetrameter catalectic. Less pedantically---the feet employed throughout (trochees) consist of a long syllable followed by a short: the first line of the stanza consists of eight of these feet---the second of seven and a half---the fifth the same---the sixth three and half. Now each of these lines, taken individually, has been employed before; and what “The Raven” has, is in their combination into stanza; nothing even remotely approaching this combination has ever been attempted. The effect of this originality of combination is aided by other unusual, and some altogether novel effects, arising from an extension of the application of the principles of rhyme and alliteration.

(Click on Image -- Top -- to read an excerpt of "The Raven")

Next: Part 4: Criticizing the Style of Poetry --- Literary Devices (Words Have It)

Friday, September 25, 2009



The formal excellence of a poem could be determined from the style and technique appreciated in the work of art.

What is an effective style in poetry?


A. Selection of Objectifying and Subjectifying Details (Images, Symbols, and other structural materials).

In the process of objectifying his aesthetic experience, the poet, who might have been stimulated by external or internal experiences, generally decides on the shape his experience will take. His imagination supplies this shape which he forthwith communicates in terms of his medium and content. In poetry, medium takes the form of words that suggest pictures, and content suggests a definite, particular situation where the images could assume significance. In technical parlance, these are the imagery and context of the poem.

1. Imagery. The system of images in the poem must create an objective center of significance for the poem. In other words, there must be a central image which is reinforced by minor images. The minor images are related pictures which help in making the central image vivid, definite, and particular. It is the main objectifying element. The central image is needed because of the demands of clarity. When there is pivotal image, the reader will find it easy to pinpoint a carrier of meaning which will become his cue for association.

The use of images is governed by the following:

a. Functional Nature. The image used is not extraneous, in that it is necessary for the objectification of an otherwise abstract idea, mood, or feeling. By its very nature, the central image serves to concretize the “point” of the poem. The minor images assist in this effort by elaborating on the central image such that the latter will become an unmistakable symbol for the as yet impalpable idea.

For example: In Frost’s “Desert Places,” the central image of a “desert of snow” is not only appropriate in the concretization of the loneliness and barrenness, but it is also effective because it prevails throughout the poem as a pivotal or recurring image which the minor image adhere to and gain significance from. The minor images like night, smothered animals, stubble, woods, and grass covered with snow, empty spaces, all define a facet of that physical emptiness of the “desert of snow.” These disparate pictures produce a complete and distinguishable picture which will become the basis for the association of meaning. It is only when the reader can see an entire picture (a gestalt) of all the images that he begins to make mental relations leading towards the comprehension of the poem’s meaning.

The gestalt from the imagery is said to be functional when it leads to an unmistakable association of meaning which when interpreted also jibes with the poetic utterance and the conventional significance of the literary and linguistic devices.

b. Logical Consistency. Minor images must not jar against the major image. They are not supposed to present a counterpoint vis-a-vis the central image to the extent that they become a stark contrast to the main image. In other words, all images must proceed from one principle of meaning; i.e., they are consistent to the logical dictates of the subject matter.

The defect in the following example lies in the inconsistency of imagery:

The ancient willow tree, bent
In a daredevil manner, prays on
The bed of sand in the womb of
Mother Time.

There is an inconsistency in the use of “ancient” and “daredevil manner.” It would be uncharacteristic of an ancient man to assume a daredevil stance. Besides, if what the lines imply is that the age of the willow tree makes it look forward to being buried in the bed of sand, the use of “womb of Mother Time” jars against the idea of death (in the ancient willow tree) because the former speaks of birth. Unless what is being conveyed is that “oldness is youth,” and “death is birth.” Even metaphysical poetry would not get away with that in terms of forced conceits. The sample is a case of “mixing metaphors.” The writer should avoid this like the plague.

c. Clarity. Images must be vivid, picturesque (in the sense that they create recognizable phantasms), and exact. Images are said to be vivid, exact, and picturesque if they have objective correlatives in physical existence which are known to and verifiable by the beholder.

Because the poet is engaged in the “earning” of his meaning through the images, he must use those words that suggest pictures which may unmistakably be associated with the point being made by the poem.

Hardness of image calls for the recognition of something palpable and existing, or something capable of existence and participation in external reality. Figures of speech like metaphor, simile, personification, metonymy, synecdoche, and apostrophe ordinarily serve this purpose of making an image “hard,” “exact,” and “clear.”

For instance:

When the evening is spread against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table. 1

The picture of the evening looking like a patient etherised upon the table does not only suggest its blandness but also the ennui and the moribund mood of the evening being described.

d. Harmony. When the major image and the minor image make each other clear in a vice-versa relationship where one defines the other, and both contribute to the objectification of the experience such that a gestalt is produced, the imagery is said to have harmony.

Absence of harmony can result in all types of mnemonic irrelevancy because of the confusing references and cross-references among the images. The “single-effect” of the poem on the appreciator will naturally be scuttled. “Desert Places” reflects such harmony among the images.

e. Integrity. The wholeness of a poem depends on whether there is one and only one central image, and all other images are tributaries to the major image. Their relationship is a case where the central image literally “gives birth” to the minor images and the latter bear witness to the former as fragments from the whole which makes the central image what it is --- exact, vivid, and hard.

The defect in Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees” (2) lies in the absence of a central objectifying image --- he uses three disparate images as objective correlative of the “beauty of a tree,” so that one is left to determine what the persuasion of the poem is. Is it a man, woman, or child which could best objectify the uniqueness or loveliness of a tree?

A tree whose hungry mouth of pressed
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast

(A Baby?)
. . .
A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts its leafy arms to pray

(A Praying Man?)
. . .
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair
(A girl with ribbons on her hair?)
. . .
Upon whose bosom snow has rained
Who intimately lives with rain. . .

How can the tree be all these at the same time? The difficulty of imaging lies in the disparateness of the images. The reader has to determine which mode of loveliness among the images best objectifies the experience of a lovely tree.

2. Symbols. These may either be images or objects which have conventionally accepted significance, such that when they are used, they invariably assume an institutionalized meaning. They, too, are used for objectification and subjectification. For instance, a rose is an accepted symbol of “love.” Hence, when Burns says, “O, my luv is a red, red rose,” he probably meant his love is intense or burning (no pun intended).

Symbols vary from time to time, depending on the use people have for them. The symbol of a generation may not be the same as that of the next. A study of symbolization will take the reader as far back as Greek mythology to contemporary signs like the “peace” sign of the middle and forefinger resembling a “V”.

When they are used, symbols must be governed by the same criteria for images, since these, too, in a sense are images.

3. The Context. When the poet engages in the objectification of an aesthetic experience, he invariably thinks in terms of a situation which is most familiar to his reader. This situation --- which may be a dramatic incident, an assertion or a statement of a fundamental truth, or an argument --- is the simplest form that the experience can take. It is usually a human experience which is demanded by the subject matter and the theme of the poem.

For instance, in “Desert Places”, Robert Frost, when asserting a truth about the human condition, chose to dramatize this truth in terms of a situation where a man is confronted by an external barrenness which he later related to his condition. This incident, which bears a beginning, middle, and an end, could easily be visualized by the reader. If this situation is known to the reader, he would find it easier to associate the images and symbols with his stock experiences. If these stock experiences jibe with the significance found in the text, it is altogether possible that the reader will render a valid interpretation of the work’s point.

The poet, of course, cannot choose such a situation arbitrarily. This situation must be consistent to the demands of the subject matter as well as theme.

Ordinarily, a lyric poem uses an assertion for a context. A narrative poem uses a dramatic incident; a dramatic poem uses both types.

The context is the most recognizable mode of objectification. This is the reason for the reader’s effort in determining initially the context in which images and symbols are used. As soon as he recognizes the context, he may now be able to interpret the significance of the images and symbols as seen in their proper context.

A context which best objectifies the experience is one which presents situations textured by symbols and images that create the picture which best represents the experience being conveyed. It is a picture or image which becomes the material for the beholder to gain his aesthetic experience from.

Different moods of art, of course, present the context peculiar to their traditions. For instance, Surrealistic and Symbolist poetry may find the Realistic context, as we know it, inadequate. So, poets of these trends create their universe of meaning and try to define another reality by using dreamlike situations, fantasy, and the like.

(To be continued)


1 T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," The Complete Poems and Plays. Harcourt, Brace, and Co., Inc. 1952

2 Joyce Kilmer, "Trees". In fairness to the poet, the whole poem is reproduced here in full:

I think that I shall never see

A poem as lovely as a tree,

A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed

Against the earth's sweet flowing breast,

A tree that looks at God all day

And lifts its leafy arms to pray,

A tree that may in summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair,

Upon whose bosom snow has rained

Who intimately lives with rain,

Poems are made by fools like me

But only God can make a tree.

Next: Part 3 Criticizing the Style of Poetry --- Linguistic Devices

Thursday, September 24, 2009



The proper object of criticism in poetry is the artist’s achievement in the objectification and subjectification of his experience in terms of his language (style) and the articulation/ presentation of his selected details (technique).

In the formalistic approach, certain standards considered to be common among all types of poetry may serve as yardsticks in the measurement of the poem’s artistry.

The artistic achievement refers to the created reality which is the poem. As an artistic result, the poem is a separate entity distinct from the author’s personality. It is a “being” in itself and has a complete “universe of meaning”. It can explain itself. This is a product of its being objectified by the poet.

To objectify means to utilize language as poetry’s primary material to give a concrete existential form to the otherwise abstract aesthetic (poetic) experience. This form’s objective components are the linguistic devices and energies articulated into the work so that it may assume a distinguishable or recognizable form whether it is printed as text on paper or verbalized in terms of song or speech.

Objectification is the artist’s first responsibility. In order to achieve this, he must have a reasonably intelligent grasp of his language. Normally, the poet’s language is imagistic (in that it is capable of evoking images in the imagination), concrete (as opposed to abstract, it is definable and particular), and familiar (in that it makes use of the conventions of language such that it fulfills the requirements of communication). When the poet uses his language, therefore, he is equipped with this information about his medium.

The other half of the poet’s job is to subjectify or emotionalize the objectified experience. Since the objectification is simply a rendering of the experience in terms of recognizable situational experiences, the reader (left to appreciate this alone) will simply confront a literal context of pictures which, if disparate, may fail to produce a meaningful gestalt (whole picture).

Subjectification refers to the author’s comment on this objectified set of images which ties the disparate pictures together thereby advancing the subtleties of the experience to the appreciator. To subjectify, therefore, is to shape the objective experience into the artist’s conception of this reality --- in other words, he “interiorizes” this external experience and it comes out with a peculiar slant towards the point of the poem.

Subjectification may be achieved by the author’s selection of objectifying materials (images, symbols, figures, context, etc), his direct assertion of a realization about the objective elements he articulates into the form, and his personal comment on the shape of things within the poem.

In brief, the author’s responsibility is the “objectification of his subject (experience) and “the subjectification of his object (form).”

For instance, if an author is concerned with the expression of ennui and the rueful atmosphere in a funeral, while at the same time commenting on the peremptoriness of death such that it requires the man to be in perpetual “readiness,” he may objectify his experience in this manner:

Sunday: this satisfied procession
Of definite Sunday faces;
Bonnets, silk hats, and conscious graces
In repetition that displaces
Your mental self-possession. 1

In selecting his objectifying details, the author must have focused on the commonplaces of a funeral --- Sunday, Sunday faces, bonnets, silk hats, conscious graces in repetition. As images, they “image” the procession of mourning people; hence, the author succeeds in objectifying the experience. The commonplaces of the funeral serve as the familiar images which are conventional signals for associations about the abstract experience which originated with the poet.

The last two lines “subjectify” the object in that they include the reaction of the persona witnessing the procession. It is, therefore, a comment. It makes clear the relationship between the poet and his object --- the procession “displaces/ Your mental self-possession.” The use of “satisfied” and “definite” are also indications of the author having “interiorized” the external elements (in terms of the images), and has, therefore, coloured the objects with his comment. In this manner, the literal object assumes a texture --- one can therefore react to the object because it now suggests a stance which may evoke reaction.

It is when the poet fails to evoke feelings or reactions from his reader through a mere objectification that indifference towards the poem sets in.

The poet fails to subjectify his object in the following poem by Guillermo V. Sison:

Candles, yellow and white, burning;
Incense-smoke heavenward ascending;
Veils, black and white, half-concealing;
Voices, music, mingling, blending;
Saints, priests, sinners, marching;
Men, women, mumbling, praying;
Serpent-like, the procession coiling, moving. 2

Although the picture is presented, it lacks the element which made the earlier version of the procession by T. S. Eliot in “Spleen” more expressive. The Eliot poem comments on the objective correlative. In the Sison poem, there must likewise be a comment on the picture as a reality. Otherwise, it will not serve to articulate the point which is being communicated by the poet to the reader. The Sison poem will simply leave the reader askance as to what it is trying to say.

Since all works of art are supposed to accomplish these two processes, the first item of criticism would be on whether or not there was an achievement of these two functions. Quite naturally, the achievement of these functions is precisely the artistic purpose of every work of art. Criticism, therefore, must be concerned with the evaluation of whether or not these functions were fulfilled by the poem.

Like the criticism of fiction, the criticism of poetry must also start with the definition of the artistic purpose. As a common denominator of all poetry written from the Classical to the Modern Times, the purpose of objectification and subjectification of an experience is a safe enough base to proceed from.

Does the poem succeed in objectifying the experience? Does the poem succeed in subjectifying the object of the experience?

Style and technique, as has already been argued, are those two factors mainly responsible for accomplishing the artist’s twin functions in connection with his work of art.

How effective is the style in serving the artistic purpose of objectifying and subjectifying the aesthetic experience being conveyed? How effective is the technique in serving the artistic purpose? These are the major considerations in the criticism of a poem.

There are, however, certain standards which govern the use of language and the presentation of poetic material. Before one can criticize whether a poem has formal excellence or none, he must at least be aware of these common criteria.


1 T. S. Eliot, “Spleen"

Sunday: this satisfied procession
Of definite Sunday faces;
Bonnets, silk hats, and conscious graces
In repetition that displaces
Your mental self-possession.

Evening, lights and tea!
Children and cats in the alley;
Dejection unable to rally
Against this dull conspiracy.
And life, a little bald and gray,
Languid, fastidious, and bland.

Waits, hats and gloves in hand,
Punctilious of tie and suit
(somewhat impatient of delay)
On the doorstep of the Absolute.

2 G. V. Sison, “Procession” as quoted by Rolando Tinio in “Period of Awareness: The Poets,” Brown Heritage, pg. 626, Ateneo de Manila University Press, Quezon city, 1967.

Next: Part 2 Criticizing Style in Poetry

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


(Point of View, Order of Actions, Characterization, Scale)

Does Poe's technique serve his artistic purpose of achieving the single effect of that sense of horror over a man's tansformation because he succumbed to the supreme madness of hatred and revenge?

Is his technique effective?

(Please click on the image to read the pages. Pages 175-182)


Tuesday, September 22, 2009



(The Plot, Characters, Setting, Language, Symbols)

(Please Click on the image to read the page. Pages 162 to 174)

Next: Part 3 Practicum: Criticizing Poe's Technique in "Amontillado"

Monday, September 21, 2009




Applying the previously discussed norms of the criticism of fiction, the student should find the following essay helpful in understanding the difference between literary criticism as a discipline and the literary review as it appears in literary supplements.

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" is a classic in the short fiction genre and is almost always useful as a clearing ground for practical literary criticism.

The following serialized pages earlier published in a monograph on "engaged literary criticism" are reproduced from the author's The Aesthetics of Literature.

(Please click on the image to read the page. Pages 157 to 161 as Part 1 of the series.)

Next: Criticism of Poe's style in "The Cask of Amontillado" Part 2

Saturday, September 19, 2009



Would Scale (the length of the story) also contribute the concretization of the theme? It would, especially in Impressionistic stories like those of Hemingway. In “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” which deals with the description of the malaise of hollow men who are bored with living their routinary lives, Hemingway was more than curt in describing the “nothingness” of their lives with the word “nada” (nothing) --- nada y pues nada --- in the context of extremely ordinary and routine things in the lives of menial workers.

Scale refers to the arrangements of the episodes in the story, the chapters in a novel, and the scenes in the play. It may take the shape of its content, i.e., if the actions are fast, correspondingly, they should be written in brief paragraphs; of course, a lot briefer than those Melville-500-word-one-sentence paragraphs (which were mostly descriptions in the deranged mind of Capt. Ahab).

Scale comes to a wonderful use in Nick Joaquin’s “Candido’s Apocalypse” when it creates the episode where the rest of the story’s characters --- the Father, Mother, Aunt, Sister Sophie, and Brother Junior and the Maids --- talk about Bobby Heredia who had been hunting for Pompoy Morel whom he wanted to shoot. Aside from its purpose of characterizing Bobby Heredia (a.k.a. Candido) through their testimony, the episode simulates a film sequence where a fade out in one scene fades in to another, and there is a rapid continuity of disparate scenes which are all on the missing Bobby. This scale tells the background of the story which somehow makes the reader understand why Candido ran and what’s happening to him in the present context of the story. 1

Scale also refers to the length of the expository narrations in the story. Written by an artist who is sensitive to the strengths of his medium, this technical element will not only contribute to the achievement of a verisimilitude but it will also objectify the scene in terms of language (or the medium). For example: In “Candido’s Apocalypse” by Joaquin, the author uses lengthy paragraphs with a mellifluous flow of lengthy sentences that run to 500 words per paragraph when he is narrating a past action. He uses short dialogue lines and brief descriptive paragraphs when he is narrating a present action. The structure of the sentences and paragraphs literally correspond to the duration of the experience or action being narrated. They suggest, through their structural composition, the nature of the experience. This further creates a convincing, palpably present story.


There are as many techniques as there are original literary manners during the different stages of the development of fiction. For instance, Realism demands a strict chronological narration of a story; Impressionism follows the subjective reactions of the narrator, and this reaches its most acute form in the stream-of-consciousness technique which is almost an automatic listing down of random thoughts of the characters as the story unfolds --- the story is told through the different streams of consciousness of the characters without apparent design or logic.

(A forthcoming part in this series discusses the characteristics of this technique. Other literary trends are also explained for purposes of cross-reference --- the student needs the information in order to determine the qualities that make literature in these trends “excellent.”)

The so-called Hemingway technique was demanded by the stark realism which characterized his stories. Besides the spare, almost terse, sentences jibed quite well with his subject matters which were mostly about hurt men who spend their lives telling the world how hurt they are through their silences or their lifestyles --- usually cynical but courageous. For instance, Ole Andreson and Nick Adams in “The Killers”; Robert Cohn and Jake Barnes in “The Sun Also Rises”; the bartender in “A Clean Well-Lighter Place.” His stories were take-offs from his pet theme of “loss of limb is loss of love” and the living of an absurd life with grace in spite of the pressures.

A test of how successful an artist is might be the number of devotees to his technique. Hemingway excited the modern world with his almost journalistic objectivity, but he was simply implementing the aesthetics of Marcel Proust and the French writers he met during his Paris years.

When these borrowed techniques are used, they are supposed to be functional. They must not remain to be pretentious adornments that identify the story with the technique’s originator. They must help in the concretization of the theme --- in other words, they must be the most appropriate techniques for the subject matter being conveyed to the appreciator through the concrete form of the work of art (short story, novel, drama, poetry, and essay). Otherwise, they would simply stigmatize the work as the copycatting of another story by another writer who might just be inferior.


It is actually the artistry employed in the style and technique which excites the intellectual delight in the appreciator. It is the marvelling at how ingenious an artist is in transforming his otherwise inanimate materials into living, moving things in his art form which is a source of the countless joys in art appreciation. This partakes of the marvelling which is not unlike the reaction to the usually unexplainable miracles of childbirth, of love, and the universal verities of compassion, justice, and courage.

The criticism of style and technique results in the appreciation of how excellent the form has been rendered by the artist. The excellence of form is the proper stimulus of the appreciator’s sense of the beautiful (which is after all the ultimate object of activity in art appreciation).

To determine how artistic the work is, the critic must study the different aspect of style and technique. This process will also enable the critic to determine how closely the artist has come to the perfect type of human action --- the creation of an independent being --- a god-like act which becomes man as a proto-type of his Creator.


1 Nick Joaquin, “Candido’s Apocalypse,” The Philippines Free Press, Dec. 11. 1965. Pages 9 et seq.

Next: a Practicum on Literary Criticism --- Applying the Norms

Friday, September 18, 2009



The believability of the story depends a lot on the type of characters used by the artist and how he characterizes them (or how he shapes them up so they would “appear” capable of doing what they are made to do in the story).

TYPES: The story writer may use any of the following types of characterization:

1. Descriptive Characterization

a. Round. When the character received full characterization on all levels (physical and psychological) and in all manners (direct – physical description through the author’s exposition, mental limning, dialogue and accompanying description of manner of speech, and physical description of character made by other characters in the story; indirect – through testimony of other personae on the personal idiosyncrasies of the character, through the author’s exposition on the significance of the character’s actions, through the character’s actions and reactions to certain given conditions in the plot). Main characters --- protagonist and antagonist --- should receive this type of characterization. The rounder they are, the more developed they would appear, hence, would be more believable.

b. Flat. When one of the outstanding aspects of the character is emphasized --- for instance, his physical assets --- he is said to be a “flat” character. While this may sometimes be considered a weak point in characterization, especially when the character involved is a major persona, it may also be deliberately used to portray some narrow-minded character, or some such uneventful character.

2. Characterization through Action

a. Developing Character. When the character evolves or changes in the process of unfolding the plot because he is affected by the events, he is said to be “developing.” This means, he does not remain the same throughout the story, but that he is transformed by the course of events because they were deliberately introduced to change him. Major characters in the story are normally developing characters.

b. Static Character. As the label implies, this type of character remains unchanged throughout the story. Minor characters are usually this type so they would not overshadow the major character who is, after all, responsible for carrying out the main action of the story; i.e., he figures in the main conflict, changes it, or is changed by it. In the case of the major characters, static characterization is often considered a fault unless this is called for by the subject matter or role played by the character.

3. Roles.

a. Protagonist. In layman’s language, he is the “hero” of the story. However, this does not mean that he has the classical traits of the hero. He is simply the major character who must be the main actor of the main line of conflict, and he is the persona around which most of the actions revolve. As a main character, he is said to be an effective protagonist if he is responsible for the advancement of the action towards its logical conclusion in the climax.

b. Antagonist. He opposes the actuations of the protagonist. He provides the obstruction to the protagonist’s plans or line of action so that conflict may arise. The conflict is not dramatic --- and often uninteresting --- if the antagonist does not provide an opposing force. The antagonistic force may be other than human beings; calamities, fortuitous circumstances beyond the characters control (not Deus ex Machina, or fate); they may also be the protagonist’s psychological condition so that he goes against himself as in cases where the ego and the super-ego clash; they may also be spiritual forces like the Gods or belief, or entertainment of deity who interferes with the affairs of men.

c. Minor characters. They may be used to provide:
(a) Foils. Characters that have opposite traits are harnessed so that the author may succeed in contrasting them for the sake of clarity, distinctive characterization, and conflict. One makes the other more distinctive.
(b) Confidant/e. May be used by the author to provide characters on whom some major personae may confide the things in their minds which should otherwise remain unrevealed (in stories which make use of the Objective-Witness point of view, this may be a way through which the mental state of a character could be revealed).
(c) Commentators. They may serve a function similar to that assigned to the Greek Chorus, in that they supply the narration of certain actions that would subtly advance the action or observations which would lead to a more vivid characterization, or they may simply be there to provide authenticity to the locale (as if they were part of the fiction’s furniture).


1. Direct. When the author himself undertakes the description through his expositions, the characterization is said to be direct. It could take the form of either physical or psychological description of the character. For example:
a. Physical: “He accosted me with excessive warmth. He had been drinking much. The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting party-stripped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells.” (Description of Fortunato in “The Cask of Amontillado”)
b. Psychological: “He had a weak point --- this Fortunato --- although in other regards he was a man to be respected and feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship of wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit…in painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countryman, was a quack --- but in the matter of old wines, he was sincere.” (From “The Cask of Amontillado”)

2. Indirect. The author may limn the character through the latter’s manner of speech;
For example:
“P-p-p-lease, a-a-a-accept m-m-m-my a-a-a-apologies, M-M-M-Madam, b-b-b-but I-I-I wa-wa-wa-was na-na-na-napping… (Without saying he is a stutterer, the fact may be seen from the manner of speech. This could also reveal dread in the one talking.)

Or, in the observation of others about the personality of the character. The character may also be revealed by what he does under certain defined circumstances --- his actions and reactions.

Indirect characterization may also be both physical and psychological, but all the while, it must be done by somebody else other than the omniscient author.


1. It must draw the character vividly.
2. It must make the character alive and active.
3. It must be unobtrusive. It is not a forced effort on the part of anybody to reveal the likes of a character without any need for it.
4. It must be consistent to the demands of the subject matter. If the subject matter calls for an intelligent but cold-blooded criminal, at no time should characterization show the character as wavering, unsure, or a bumbling clown.
5. It must make the character believable in such a manner that he acts according to the demands of the situation and to his natural disposition as spelled out by hi role in the story.
6. It must contribute to the objectification of the theme.

These are common denominators for all the fiction written in the different stages of literary development (from Classical to Modern and Post-Modern). There may, however, be some peculiar qualities demanded by other Art Periods, Moods, or Traditions; for instance, in the Absurdist Tradition, the characters need not be consistent to the logical bend of their character. By reason of their absurdity, they violate the line of action that they should normally take in realistic fiction. Thus, they may say nonsensical things or act in a ridiculous manner where the word not suit the actions and vice versa. Obviously, in the case of this type of fiction, the rules may not apply. We hasten to say that this does not necessarily make this type of literature inartistic. But this is subject for another discussion.


Types: Descriptive: Round, Flat. Characterization through Action: Developing, Static. Roles: Protagonist, Antagonist, Minor (Foil, Confidant, Commentator)

Methods: Direct: Physical, Psychological. Indirect: Physical, Psychological (through other characters other than the author)

Qualities: Vivid, Alive, Active, Unobtrusive, Consistent, Believable, and characterization contributes to objectification of the theme or germ of idea being related through the story.

Next: Part 9 Literary Criticism: Criticizing the Scale of the Fiction and Other Techniques