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Denotation and Connotation (1): Figures of Speech

(pictorial) Figures of Speech (1)--Similes, Metaphors &

Personification (rhetoric) Figures of Speech (2): Irony & Hyperbole. Others: Understatement, Paradox, Pun, etc.

Richard Wilbur -- A. Rich -- S. Plath -- E. Dickenson General Questions

Denotation and Connotation

Denotation refers to the literal meaning of a word, the "dictionary definition." For example, if you look up the word snake in a dictionary, you will discover that one of its denotative meanings is "any of numerous scaly, legless, sometimes venomous reptilesKhaving a long, tapering, cylindrical body and found in most tropical and temperate regions."

Connotation, on the other hand, refers to the associations that are connected to a certain word or the emotional suggestions related to that word. The connotative meanings of a word exist together with the denotative meanings. The connotations for the word snake could include evil or danger.

(pictorial) Figures

of speech (1)

Poets often deviate from the denotative meanings of words to create fresher ideas and images. Such deviations from the literal meanings are called figures of speech or figurative language. If you giddily whisper to your classmate that the introduction to literature class is so wonderful and exciting that the class sessions seem to only last a minute, you are using a figure of speech. If you say that our textbook is your best friend, you are using a figure of speech. There are many different kinds of figures of speech, such as metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, understatement, paradox, and pun. It's important that you understand several kinds of figures of speech. A simile is a comparison between two dissimilar objects using a word like as or like to connect them. For example, if you say, "my boyfriend is like a watermelon in the summer," you are creating a simile that compares your boyfriend with a watermelon. If on the other hand you are mad at your boyfriend and say, "he's like a typhoon in the house," you're comparing your boyfriend with a typhoon. A metaphor is similar to a simile, except that a metaphor compares two dissimilar objects without using a word like as or like. If you write, "my boyfriend is an angel" or "my motorcycle is a bomb on wheels," you are creating metaphors. If you present an inanimate object, animal, or abstraction with human qualities and characteristics, as though it were a person, you are using personification. If you tell yourself that you have to put your new pencil back in the pencil box because it's lonely and wants to go home, you are

personifying your pencil. If you say that you have to talk sweetly to your computer because it is temperamental, you are personifying your pencil.

Figures of Speech(2): verbal Irony

Irony involves a contradiction. "In general, irony is the perception of a clash between appearance and reality, between seems and is, or between ought and is" (Harper Handbook). Verbal irony--"Saying something contrary to what it means" (Harper Handbook). In daily language, being ironic means that you say something but mean the opposite to what you say. "Oh, how lucky we are to have SO MANY online materials offered by the Introduction to Literature class!" you said, and you might mean it, or you might be just ironic. If you are ironic, there is a contradiction between your literal meaning and your actual meaning--and this is what we call verbal (rhetoric) irony. When the narrator in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" says, "Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones," the tone is ironic because the villagers seem civilized, but they are actually barbaric. Besides verbal irony, we have two other kinds of irony: dramatic irony and situational irony. "Dramatic irony"--"saying or doing something while unaware of its ironic contrast with the whole truth. Dramatic irony, named for its frequency in Drama, is a verbal irony with the speaker's awareness erased" -- so that the irony is on the speaker him/herself, but not what s/he talks about. There are a lot of examples in Dramatic Monologues. For instance, when the duke in "My Last Duchess" says of the late duchess, "There she is, as if alilve," the irony is on him because the duchess IS dead (though seems alive). Here the irony is not the duke's; it is on him because he thought he posesses her, though he cannot -- alive or dead. Situational irony-- "events turning to the opposite of what is expected or what should be. The ironic situation --the "ought" upended by the is -- is integral to dramatic irony"(Harper Handbook). In Alanis Morissete's "Ironic," we can see a lot of situational ironies -- or ironies of fate. (Rhetoric) Figures of Speech (2) Hyperbole (sometimes called overstatement) occurs when you exaggerate a point that you are trying to make. If you say that the lights in our classroom are too bright because they are brighter than ten thousand suns, you are using an example of hyperbole. Or if you say that you're so hungry you could eat a million cookies and six gallon of ice cream, you're using hyperbole.

Understatement is related to hyperbole in that understatement is the opposite of hyperbole: understatement implies more than is actually stated. Let's say on the exam over short stories, you receive a grade of 100 when the class average is 71. If one of your classmates ask you how you did on the test and you reply, "I did okay," that is

understatement. A sentence that contains a paradox seems initially to have contradictory elements in it but after some reflection those elements later make sense. To say, for example, that morning is the darkest time for me is paradoxical since mornings are bright and full of light but they seem mentally "dark" to me because I'm a night-person. A pun is a play on words that occurs when one word is used that reminds you of another word or words. You can, for example, use a word that looks like or sounds like another word. For example, if my dad says, "he is the son and all the world to me," there is a pun on the words son and sun. Richard Wilbur "A Simile for her Smile" (1950 p. 556)
What is a simile? Notice how the spelling of the word itself suggests a relationship with the word smile. 2. Does this poem contain many similes or just one simile developed in detail? What two elements does the speaker compare? What do the two elements have in common? How are they similar? What words in the poem can be used to refer to both elements? 3. Is the speaker comparing her smile to the arrival of a riverboat, or is he comparing his own experience of her smile, the memory of her smile, or the hope for her smile to the arrival of the riverboat?


Why is the word slip repeated? Why do you think the poem is divided into two similar stanzas?

A. Rich "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" (1951 p. 620) Her Photo and Questions about the Poem in General
Aunt Jennifer's tigers are symbolic, and in the poem, there are several metaphors or metaphoric expressions. For instance, the tigers are compared to "bright topaz denizens," and their pace is "chivalric." What do you make of these expressions? How do they help convey the symbolic meanings of the tigers? Another pair of metaphoric expressions are those about her fingers: first, her fingers "flutter" through the wool; second, the wedding band "sit heavily" upon her hand, and her hands "ringed" with ordeals. How are these two movements in contrast to each other, or related to each other? What do they suggest about Aunt Jennifer's marriage life?

S. Plath "Metaphors" (1960 p. 555) Her Photo and Questions about the Poem in General
Just as the speaker sees herself as a riddle, this poem is also a riddle composed of a series of metaphors. There is a lot of fun in finding out that the poem is actually about pregnancy. However, the poem is not just to have us get the answer. Examine each metaphor, be attentive to the tone(s)--humorous, ironic, excited, resigned, etc, -- in which the speaker presents them, and find out how this pregnant woman looks at herself differently from giving one metaphor to another. Do you find the poem ironic? How and why? Altogether what do these metaphors say about pregnancy? In what way are the images of the pregnant woman in this poem different from the stereotypical one you see on those milk and diaper commercials?

E. Dickenson "I'm Nobody! Who are you?" (1861? p. 530) Her Photo and Questions about the Poem in General
This poem offers itself also to a careful study of tones. Pay close attention to how the tones vary from one line to the next. The poem's language is simple, concise, but suggestive. We need to think more about the metaphors ("an admiring bog") and simile(Somebody as a "frog") that center around Somebody to know what Somebody represents--just as the Nobody-speaker expresses herself in many ways: in her words, her tones, as well as the contrast she makes between Nobody and Somebody.

Why does the speaker talks about the people around her in terms of Eyes and

"I Heard a fly buzz--when I died"(1862 p. 740) Questions about the Poem in General

Breath? Some similes and metaphors are used to give us a picture of the moment before death. Why is Stillness associated with Storms? What is the "assignable portion" that the speaker signs away? Why does the fly have "Blue--uncertain stumbling Buzz"? What is the Windows that fail at the end? What can the Fly be symbolic of?

General Questions
In the "Lyric and Tone" section, we talked about the poets' identities (as minorities or whites). In this unit, we have four poems by women, and one by man (Richard Wilbur). Do these four poems by women (one in the nineteenth century, one modern period and one contemporary) share any similarities or differences (because of their times)?