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Literary Criticism

Aids to Literary Study

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

- Rudyard Kipling

The interrogative pronouns what, why, when, how, where and who form a handle that helps you to be good journalist and a writer that covers the basics of a topic well. If you can find good answers to all of these pronouns (and a few more questions), you should have covered the basics of that topic.

For literary study some acronyms may be much better, by jogging the memory and thereby helping analyses. A few of them are given further down. Acronyms work like handles that can be used over and over for different issues that more is hitched to. For example, the A in AIR-BOC is the first letter in 'author' in that acronym. Once you recall what the A and the five other letters stand for, you could be on your way to quickly get to some basics about a poem, a novel, a movie, or real-life happenings, and on your way to getting amply rewarded. Different acronyms tell of varying approaches concerningliterature analysis in general. They serve like handles - also called memory pegs -, to adequated coverage of important sides to lots of texts.

The acronyms above derive from key points of well established criticism. So what you derive from getting into the acronyms that follow, will serve as your bundle of memory devices that can greatly help you to get a grip on literary work - understanding, discussing, and analysing both poetry and prose.

The AIR-BOC item should perhaps be learnt first of the listed memory handles (acronyms) on top of the page. And the approaches that they stand for, is fit for studying films and living persons too.

If you can, have a heart and maintain calm, enough zest or a joyous spirit as you go about. Thereby your heart finds learning in many a field all right for you. It can be good for the evolving individual to learn with some measure of joy intact. If not that: calmness with sane attention to getting details better, improving things - then some measure of gladness and content may rise inside you, because mastering things gives rise to joy. There may be other reasons too. Study techniques may be tentatively, individually assessed by such measures. Being "in the flow" speaks for it too. Thus: adhere to calm and even zest whenever you can. As a result, you may not stop delighting in learning even in school. It remains to be seen.

Learn by heart by spacing out repetitions

Learning is had by cramming. Cramming counteracts forgetting. There is some drill involved, and what is to be learnt by heart, has to be tackled - but not furiously. One of the secrets is repetition. Another is calm. A third is the help that glad interest gives almost automatically.

Such facets of our study work may be studied further. For example, studies have shown that about 80% of the study time should be repetition work: that yields better results [see Ams, His] One reason for repeating the essence of what you have studied is that mamory may fail you later. Both interest, overlearning (a technical term) and repeating things may help. How do do it? By repeating wisely and well.

When you space out your repetitions according to plan, you gain more by less efforts, and it helps in the long run. We give such hints on other pages.

Base your learning on what helps. In some waters (terrains) what you need first and foremost, is to remember good points. If so, be allied with knowledge of how memory works. There are good methods.

Good acronyms offer help down memory lane

Acronyms (words made of letters from other words) should be worth studying, for (a) they condense highly useful information in a handy manner and make it quite easy to get to it again. Examples:

Radar: radio detecting and ranging (made up in 1941)

Nato: North Atlantic Treaty Organization (signed on April 4, 1949 and entered into force on August 24, 1949)

Laser: light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation (made up in 1960)

If you put yourself into it, you may find out more about each, the radar and laser.

Learn the secrets of O TAKQ-SPIR

O TAKQ-SPIR is the "shorthand" that refers to a basic study technique that may bring real help. [LINK]

If you learn it, you have a grasp of a fit, neat and much all-round study technique, and will know what steps are involved, who comes first, and then you won't deceive yourself or anyone else into thinking you have studied well if you have not.

Nidaros Cathedral with takspir. Click on the image to find O TAKQ-SPIR described.

What does O TAKQ-SPIR mean? The acronym surely carries good meaning in Norwegian: 'Tak' means roof and 'spir' is a steeple, a spire.

Learn to visualise. Mind images is what the bulk of learning is made up of. We can remember astoundingly much through mental images. Think that you stand beside the cathedral in Trondheim and look up. Because you bend your neck, the first word becomes 'takq' - it's a little joke.

Have a look at the picture of a landmark building in a Norwegian university town. It has a roof and a spire - O TAKQ-SPIR. The basic study technique that is shown through it, is described here: [Link]

First try to learn the acronym that sums up the most important parts of what you study. Then link up to its letters one by one. In just one day you may have learnt top things (top subjects) without much cramming. That's when the fun begins: you are ready to expand your learning. Adjoin the key phrase(s) or key words and learn them well. Then you may wake up one morning and remember it all. That means you have gained mastery of elementals, probably.

When you master basic parts of what you're into, you may try to make money, if you adjust to rulers.

What we give, is great help to come a long way in getting to grips with the essentials, the bare bones of subjects. Then you are on your own.

First remember things, then seeing on top of that

You see, the memory phrase (acronym) is like a handle fixed to something bigger. It is much easier to remember the big subject if you have a well organised handle to catch and hold on to it by. That's why we present these teachings. They may help both students and youngsters into better performance.

Learning is had down memory lane in the first place. The other aspects of knowing and accomplishing come on top of recall, ie memory. Have a go. You may find this training funny. And you may be surprised at how easy it is to remember through handy helpers.


Entering the Field

This study is help for holding better parts of a study well in mind in mind. The acronyms we go into below, if well remembered, give surveying help and assist summary making. Most important, they serve the memory in a life and can do the same on exams. They may assist or even bring confidence by letting you know you are not totally unprepared.

Literary study made really easy

  • Make not your sail too big for the ballast. (Proverb).
  • Stretch your arm no further than your sleeve will reach. (Proverb)

The proverbs indicate that to succeed when you comment, analyse, expose or interpret a text, sane moderation could be welcome. It's often wise to go for that, and not overstretch in any major way, at least.

  • He who would search for pearls, must dive below. (John Dryden, 1631-1700)

On the other hand, you may have to go further and explore things a bit or a lot on your own. There may be dangers in that. Divers could have to withstand more pressure than others. It depends on the agreements you get, perhaps.

  • There are more ways to the wood than one. (Proverb)

This saying is about method. After all, there may be more than just one. It should be good to bear that in mind, to avoid getting one-sided or biased around the bend.

Below is great help for generalised literary study, rooted in a nice little primer for university students and perhaps some others too [See Gls]. The acronyms that are found, have been added. They are based on findings of how memory works, among other things. Good use of them could make learning and expressing easier and more fun. Good luck with that.


AIR-BOC Makes Glad

AIR-BOC is for approaching a text or film at first, and tentatively. According to this, you may approach and study a text somewhat tentatively in relation to such as:

A AuthorOr maker: It's the source of some form of intellectual or creative work.
I IdentityStudy and express things about the work with a view to its own inherent identity, ie the work as an entity in itself, in its own right.
R ReadersWho were/are they? How did/do they respond? Another angle: "Popular literature no longer springs from the people; it is handed to them." [Britannica Online]. But significant readers evolve ideas on top of thoughtful reading. You may study them.
B BackgroundJudge it as it is. And reflect if it pleases, that a work's background may reflect or show both stances and good themes in itself.
O Other literatureYou may check that up. Things to consider: language, national origin, historical period, genre, and subject matter with similar works, perhaps, or other outputs by the same maker.
C Criticism, criticsPast and present. Seminal idea: "The English critics ... largely confined themselves to acknowledged masterpieces and general ideas." [Britannica Online]

The letters of the acronym AIR-BOC need to be read, understood and next remembered. Overlearning helps it, and memorisations. These two work together. Good acronym 'pegs' like this one can and should make learning and express writing more fun. And you should memorise them so well that they can last a life-time. It's easy once you know how.

Good acronyms belong to memory items that can serve as handles: they may afford hard, good grips, ie mastery of basic presentation. That's what we're into on this page.

Then, one of these days or preferably on "the next exam" you may draw on them to check that you have covered basic aspects. It can be great help.


ATRI-DAID Fits Competent Criticism

TO DELIVER criticism or critique, pay attention to and appraise (estimate the value or quality of) things like:

A Artistic wholeThink of what makes the text an artistic whole if you can. Vent some opinions if you care.
T ThemeThink up the theme or themes that are used. Themes can be subjects or topics of discourse or of artistic representation, and concerns. Ask: "What is it about"? Sum it up and you may arrive at themes.
R Restricted criticismBook criticism, text criticism: It may be very good for the inexperienced writer or critic to restrict (limit) his or her criticism to the work at hand, the work itself.
I Intention of authorAn authors expressed intentions may be interesting, but above that is how the text or work actually works on readers. That may be different, (a) as author intentions may not be realised in full or halfway or less; and (b) one may expect different outlooks from different readers. We should allow for that.
D DescribeDescribe well so as to infer or go into meanings that are thought much of. You could do well to focus on the whole product and the main, central and salient parts, if any.
A Analyse the storyWhen you analyse things, first think How well is it narrated? How is the content handled? Well enough? Those questions may open up things for you. Try to tell significant things from the content and elucidate well - fine passages too. Techniques of narration belong to things you should look into. Also, you could find what is called broad criticism helpful, or you may restrict your stuff to the text itself.
I Illuminate somewhat- if you can or dare. There may be roles, structures, and meanings you may want to search. Illuminate through the use of good concepts and samples. A text may be more broadly illuminated through inferred meanings on top of that again.
D Dear, oh dear"Dear" - what is in the work of costly value, perhaps. We would not look too much into bygones, but others prefer it differently. Try to sort out what's not cheap, but nice and sweet-looking instead. To give vent to plausible surprises, annoyance etc may be well too.

Welcome or even dear criticism links up the parts of criticism to the whole somehow, and attains a fine organic wholeness on its own, in its own right. Some may also gain an artistic presentation in so doing. It depends on what is welcome and called for, among other things. You should play safe unless explorations and deviations are very welcome - that's in the real world.

To criticise or bring critique can be done on many levels and through a lot of angles. Before you form a judgement (evaluation), analyse and assess to avoid blunders and scapegoating. This implies you are to handle important facets of the content and perhaps language too - it depends. There are settings where an impressionistic criticism may be called for. That means you take your impressions as a base. There are others where the author's intentions are in focus, and so on. Bear in mind:

"What the author actually did counts, maybe not what he tried to do."

You could try to get to a point of view that helps you to illuminate the form (how the text is written), the setting and important themes. You may vent some opinions after you have built such a platform. Vent some opinions as to the artistic wholeness, for example.

There are many other sides to a good presentation than what these pointers tell. Bear that in mind.


STERN OSCAR: A help to sort out predominant character elements

There are other elements to go into than the ones below, but we have sought to make a fair key selection, all in all. And remember that the listing may be expanded. You or a fictional character may be characterised. In fiction it may be through elements like these:

S StatementsAuthor statements that appear particular and outstanding.
T Towering traits and thoughts:Search for towering character traits involved in (eg. beautiful) appearance, practical successes, skills, and damages. Also: predominant mental positions or thoughts, the arguments and claims held.
E ExternalsExternals may include one's possessions and the like.
R RevelationThis refers to direct revelation. It's an author's devise where he informs us "how it is" straight away.
N Nipple (added)A nipple sticks out or has that potentiality; it may be covered for a while, waiting for intimate deals etc. One should try to go into "things of nipples" figuratively.
O OthersThe reactions of others as they are expressed, is a useful devise. Questioning could ease your thought in the matter; ask: "How, where, when, why, when and who react? And how far?"
S SpeechThe exceptional may be looked at first. Speech is a way of characterising that employs things like dialect, defects and shortcomings. Author's misuse of speech may be looked on as mean or low if it raids worth, and maybe too cheap to be of real life value. After all, Jesus spoke a dialect, Aramaic, they say.
C Confidant?Is there a confidant or confidante through which one is characterised?
A ActionActions or functioning speak louder than words. There is good and bad functioning. It's often like that.
R Riding activities and routinesA riding activity includes routines; they often take place in the humdrum. Many don't aspire higher, many don't express over and above it - over works and drills done routinely.

Finally, to use this peg system, one has to get well-informed about individual works too. And for reliable character descriptions in real life, being well-informed is also needed. Psychology may focus on other facets too.

We find that characters may be marked by voluntary actions or assembled routines which they may find themselves fixed in. Such hallmarks may be more valid than airy or good-looking statements brought about.


Many Keys for Text Study

Texts may be novels, short stories, dramas, poems and blends among them. Below is a menomonic phrase and key-words to it. If you apply yourself to the strong points and learn them better and better in time, you could end up wiser in many ways.


SOME KNOWLEDGE of Celtic myth and Latin will help:

The Poseidon of the [ancient Celtic] Tuatha De Danaan Pantheon was called Lir [Lyr], but we hear little of him in comparison with his famous son, Manannin, the greatest and most popular of his many children. [Charles Squire, Mythology of the Celtic people, p 60]

Lir . . . appears in two distinct forms. In the first he is a vast, impersonal presence commensurate with the sea; in fact, the Greek Oceanus. In the second, he is a separate person dwelling invisibly on Slieve Fuad," in Armagh. We hear little of him in Irish legend, where the attributes of the sea-god are mostly conferred on his son, Mananan. [T. Rolleston: Myths and Legends of the Celts]

The following tale is to see to that the name Lir is easily recalled:

The Children of Lir

LIR, THE father of the sea-god, had married two sisters in succession. The second of them was named Aoife. [Pronounced "Eefa"] She was childless, but the former wife of Lir had left him four children. Lir loved them so intensely that the step-mother became jealous. In the end she resolved to destroy them.

Aoife went on a journey to a neighbouring Danaan king, Bov the Red, and took the four children with her. When she arrived at a lonely place by Lake Derryvaragh in Westmeath, she ordered her attendants to slay the children. They refused, and rebuked her. Then she resolved to do it herself; but she could not bring herself to do it. Instead of killing the children she changed them into four white swans, and laid on them a curse:

"Three hundred years you are to spend on the waters of Lake Derryvaragh, three hundred on the Straits of Moyle (between Ireland and Scotland), and three hundred on the Atlantic by Erris and Inishglory. After that, "when the woman of the South is mated with the man of the North," this evil spell will end."

When the children failed to arrive with Aoife at the palace of Bov what she had done was discovered, and Bov changed her into "a demon of the air." She flieed forth shrieking, and was heard of no more.

Lir and Bov sought out the swan-children, and found that they had both human speech and could make wonderful music. From all parts of the island companies of the Danaan folk went to Lake Derryvaragh to hear their wondrous music and talk with the four swans. During that time a great peace and gentleness reigned in the whole countryside.

At last it was time for the swan-children to leave the fellowship of their kind and move to the wild cliffs on the rough sea of the northern coast. Here they knew the loneliness, cold, and storm. Forbidden to land, their feathers froze to the rocks in the winter nights, and they were often buffeted and driven apart by storms. Fionuala sang:

Cruel Aoife
Played her magic on us,
And drove us out on the water -
Four wonderful snow-white swans.

Three sons and a single daughter,
In clefts of the cold rocks dwelling,
The hard rocks, cruel to mortals -
We are full of keening to-night."

Fionuala, the eldest of the four, took the lead in all their doings, mothered the younger children most tenderly, and wrapped her plumage round them on nights of frost.

At last the time came to enter on the third and last period set for them. They took flight for the western shores of Mayo. Here too they suffered much hardship; but a young farmer named on the shores of Erris Bay, found out who and what the swans were, and became their friend. They told their story to him, and through him it is supposed to have been preserved and handed down.

When the final period of their suffering was close at hand they resolved to fly towards the palace of their father Lir, who dwelled at the Hill of the White Field, in Armagh, to see how things have fared with him. They did so; but found nothing but green mounds and whin-bushes and nettles where the palace of their father had been. They could not see it any longer.

On Erris Bay they approach a hermit and make themselves known to him. He instructed them in the Christian faith, and they joined him in the church singing.

Now it happened that a princess of Munster (the "woman of the South") was betrothed to a Connacht chief, and begged him to give her the four wonderful singing swans as wedding gift. He asked them of the hermit, but he refused to give them up. And then the "man of the North" seized them violently by the silver chains that the hermit had coupled them with, and dragged them off to his princess. But the moment they came in front of her, the swan plumage fell off and revealed four withered, snowy-haired, old human beings, shrunken in their vast old age. The princess fled the place in horror, but the hermit prepared to baptise them at once, for the four old people were now about to die.

"Lay us in one grave," said Fionuala, "and place Conn at my right hand and Fiachra at my left, and Hugh before my face, for there they were wont to be when I sheltered them many a winter night on the seas of Moyle."

And the hermit sorrowed for them to the end of his days. As for the rest of the mnemonic phrase we have coined for tackling literate study:

vis is Latin for "power";

mea, is "my, mine", if uttered by a woman, for example as in "mea culpa".

You may see that Lir's swan-children eventually skipped all consideration for and connection with their father, because they were not allowed to find his elfish castle, in time.

His wife skipped all consideration and connection with him too, after being blinded by jealousy and significant power, (her "vis mea").

In the light the tale and the added pinpointing above, the mnemonic phrase SKIP LIR, VIS MEA serves as a comment to recall.

S Structural graspThe structural grasp of a poem is very important, but such a grasp is behind prose texts as well and makes for the artistic whole - the whole can be judged by its structure of parts. Structure shows how various parts or items are put together, organised. It may reveal the author plans and maybe procedures as well.
K Character, Karakter -There are "flat and round" characters of fiction. Flat characters are two-dimensional in that they are relatively uncomplicated and do not change throughout the course of a work. Or perhaps they are stereotypes. By contrast, round characters are complex and undergo development, sometimes sufficiently to surprise the reader. You're also referred to the mnemonic STERN OSCAR above.
I Imprecated, irresistible soundsIn poetic texts, sounds and sound-flow are important. Alliteration is just one example of use of sounds in regular, established ways. They play a role in prose too. In the opening paragraph of the second chapter of the novel Hard Times by Charles Dickens, there is a Thomas Gradgrind (gradually grind, or graduate grinder etc). The name is associated with mechanical, repetitive drudgery. One more: "Mr. Gradgrind . . . gradually grinds childish fancy, curiosity . . ." (Jane Vogel) [Link]
P PlotThe structure of interrelated, selected and arranged actions by the author. A plot organises events in a course or 'movement'. Plot can also be understood, in some contexts, as an outline of the carrying events. There is a variety of interpretations of plots, what they are, and what is highlighted.
LI Lief (dear) languageIt is both figurative and rhetorical language with various relevant components (for your topic) - Figurative language is the flower of written communication - where the statement means something else (also over and above) what is literally expressed. Figures of speech are formed by extending the vocabulary of something already familiar and better known to something less well known. One may keep a tentative outlook for such as allegories, personifications, similes, mixed metaphors, figures of speech, synechdotes, and implicit metaphors. These are means to express well. Figurative language became one of the parts of a text that the New Criticism looked sharply at. For rhetorical language items: Links: [A  B]
R, RhythmRhythm is essential to poetry; prose may exhibit rhythm but in a much less highly organised sense. Rhythm may be hard to define, but involves peculiarities of movement and repetition, and there is pattern and the overarching structure. Rhythm can be patterned recurrence of specific language features marked by some sort of regularity. Metre can be one way of of organising a poem's rhythm, but metre is not needed for poetry. There are metrical schemes to take into consideration too. And did you know that some authorities recognize a further source of poetic rhythm in the highly organized patterning of imagery?
V View-pointsA point of view (shooting angle in motion picture) reflects a standing or stance.
I Ideas and imageryWe refer to ideas suggested, connotations, and imagery made use of first and foremost.
S SettingThe place and time frame of the action of a narrative.
M Meaning-makingMeaning in fiction can be debated. Figures of speech, connotations, obscure artistry, allusions and other means confer meaning-making on the art critics at times.
E Esthetic relevance (US spelling)This one is added here. TK - Let there be room for elegant use of aesthetic intuition (Cf. Thomas Huxley). It may work well to end a summary of a text by pointing to its artistic merits and hence artistic relevance.
A Accommodating hivernantes (winter tourists)(Also added:) You could make pregnant, poignant, and very well organised memo-summaries to last for "the winter" and further. [See mind maps, for example]

What is given here, is a multi-purpose, open-ended blend. The mnemonic letters in the pale blue boxes (S, I, Li, R, I, E) show elements commonly found in poetry. Firm Criticism has unified them here. Since genres may fuse and blend, it makes good sense to have a close look at:

  • Structural items;
  • Figurative elements;
  • Suggested connotations (almost the same in some cases);
  • Aesthetic (artistic) relevance.

It's only fair to include them and the others in a survey. And if you mean to learn gist (central items) so that it sticks, think of yourself as one of "the hivernantes" and so on.

This study is much compressed. It needs to be coupled to textbooks or texts to work somewhat as intented.


Literary Criticism and Acronyms, LITERATURE  

Ams: Atkinson, Richard et al: Introduction to Psychology. 9th ed. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1987.

His: Atkinson, Rita et al.: Hilgard's Introduction to Psychology. 13th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt College, 2000. —— The sixteenth, revised edition, Atkinson's and Hilgard's Introduction to Psychology, is scheduled to get published in March 2014.

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Literary Criticism and Acronyms USER'S GUIDE - Bibliography, dictionaries, site searches, abbreviations, etc. [Link]
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