(NOTE: Many of the following defintions have been appropriated from other sources and are for use as points of reference in classroom discussions only.)

Allegory – A story that has a dual meaning—one in the EVENTS, CHARACTERS, and SETTING, and the other in the ideas they are intended to convey. In an allegory, characters are usually PERSONIFICATIONS of abstract qualities and the setting is representative of the relations among the abstractions.

Blaxploitation – A film genre that emerged in the United States in the early 1970s when many exploitation films were made that targeted the urban African American audience; the word itself is a portmanteau, or combination, of the words “black” and “exploitation.” Blaxploitation films starred primarily black actors, and were the first to feature soundtracks of funk and soul music. Although criticized by civil rights groups for their use of stereotypes, they addressed the great and newfound demand for Afrocentric entertainment, and were immensely popular among black audiences. The blaxploitation genre officially began in 1971 with the release of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. This film is also noteworthy in that it was written, directed, produced, and funded by Melvin Van Peebles, an African American. This remained the premise of the early blaxploitation films: film by, for, and about black people.

Calvinism "The rigorous form of Protestantism founded by the French reformer and theologian John Calvin (1509–64) distinguished by belief in the Bible as the rule of faith, denial of human freedom since the Fall, and particularly emphasis on the arbitrary predestination of some to salvation and others to damnation" (Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy). God, in other words, rules over everything.

Communism – This is the stage following socialism in which class divisions cease to exist. According to Marx, a communist state could be accomplished by the lower, working class rising against and physically overcoming the upper, bourgeois, managerial class in an act of war. Communism is a fiery reaction to capitalism. It is in opposition to Marx’s notion of historical materialism, which sees the production of material goods as the primary determinant of psychological, social and cultural life.

Culture – Look in an old dictionary—say, a pre-1960 Webster's—and you'll likely find a definition of culture that looks something like this: "1. The cultivation of soil. 2. The raising, improvement, or development of some plant, animal or product" (Friend and Guralnik 1958). This use of the word has its roots in the ancient Latin word cultura, "cultivation" or "tending," and its entrance into the English language had begun by the year 1430 (Oxford English Dictionary). By the time the Webster's definition was written, another definition had begun to take precedence over the old Latin denotation; culture was coming to mean "the training, development, and refinement of mind, tastes, and manners" (OED). The OED traces this definition, which today we associate with the phrase "high culture," as far back as 1805. By the middle of the 20th century, it was fast becoming the word's primary definition. However, if you try a more modern source, like the American Heritage English Dictionary, you'll find a primary definition of culture which is substantially different than either of the two given above: "The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought." Why such a difference, and in such a (relatively) short period of time? In the past 40 years, the use of the word "culture" has been heavily influenced by the academic fields of sociology and cultural anthropology. These fields have gradually brought what was once a minor definition of culture (the last of eight definitions given in the old 1958 Webster's quoted above) into the mainstream.

Dark Romanticism – The grotesque, the gloomy, the morbid, the fantastic—the American Dark Romantics embraced all of these illogical elements and shaped them into perhaps the most popular sub-genre of American literature. While the Romantics believed reality to be pale and empty, the Dark Romantics thought quite the opposite. Life to the Dark Romantics was colorful, capricious, and contradictory. Unlike the Romantics, they acknowledged the evil of man and the horror of evil. Ralph Waldo Emerson had ignored the depravity of man, sin and Calvinist predestination, and the Dark Romantics stood to remind the world of the existence of evil. Like the Romantics and Transcendentalists, however, the Dark Romantics valued intuition and emotion over logic and reason and saw symbols, spiritual truths, and signs in nature and everyday events. The key figures of Dark Romanticism included Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Doppelgänger (German trans. “Double Goer”) In German folklore, a wraith or apparition of a living person, as distinguished from a ghost. The concept of the existence of a spirit double, an exact but usually invisible replica of every man, bird, or beast, is an ancient and widespread belief. To meet one's double is a sign that one's death is imminent. The doppelgänger became a popular symbol of horror literature, and the theme took on considerable complexity. In The Double (1846), by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, for example, a poor clerk, Golyadkin, driven to madness by poverty and unrequited love, beholds his own wraith, who succeeds in everything at which Golyadkin has failed. Finally the wraith succeeds in disposing of his original. More recent examples of the doppelgänger appear in Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club (1996) and my Dr. Identity (2007).

Dystopia – Greek for “bad place” or anti-utopia, dystopia argues that a purportedly perfect future society is, either intentionally or unintentionally, not conducive to satisfying human life. Dystopias almost invariably contain images of devolved and/or dehumanized future societies, pointing fearfully at the way the world is supposedly going in order to provide urgent propaganda for a change in direction. Thus dystopias are typically written to warn about would-be destructive trends in the writer’s present society. A common device is to satirize such developments by extrapolating them in an extreme form. Dystopian images began to proliferate in the last decades of the 19th century as the world experienced a surge in technological growth. A few popular dystopias include H.G. Wells’ When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), Yegevny Zamyatin’s We (1924), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), Ayn Rand’s Anthem (1938), George Orwell’s 1984 (1949), Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1951), Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (1980), Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), and the Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix Trilogy (1999-2003).

Formal Elements of Literature – The following is a list of key elements used to analyze literary texts. This list is by no means exhaustive.

CHARACTERS: The people who are involved in what happens in a story. Characters may by flat (simple, one-dimensional, static) or round (complex, dynamic, detailed). The main character can usually be labeled the protagonist or hero; he or she is often in conflict with the antagonist or villain.

DICTION: A writer’s choice of language, including words phrases, and sentence structure. Diction is an important element of style. The same idea will leave a different impression on the reader when it is narrated in street slang, in the precise language of an old schoolteacher, or in the professional jargon of a social worker.

FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE: Words and descriptions, including metaphor, simile, and personification, that differ from purely denotative, or literal, meanings to suggest comparisons between two or more terms or things.

NARRATOR: The dramatic voice of the person telling a story. A narrator can be reliable or unreliable and omniscient, limited omniscient or objective.

PLOT: The sequence of events in a story and their relation to one another.

POINT OF VIEW: The perspective of the narrator or protagonist of a story.

SETTING: The physical details of the place, the time, and the social context that influence the actions of the characters. Often setting also evokes a mood or atmosphere, foreshadowing event to come.

STYLE: The distinctive and recognizable way an author uses language to create a work of literature. This can involve the writer’s diction, sentence length and syntax, tone, use of figures of speech, irony and theme.

SYNTAX: A reference to the order of the words in writing of any kind. Syntax usually implies a word order that results in meaningful verbal patterns in the author’s choice of words, phrases, and sentence structure.

THEME: A generalization about the meaning of a story.

TONE: The way authors convey their unstated attitudes toward their subjects as revealed in style. Tone can be described as serious or comic, ironic or naïve, angry or funny, or any other emotional states that human beings can experience and find words to express.

VOICE: A term referring to the specific manner chosen by the author to create a story or poem. Voice encompasses elements of style such as tone and diction. It is usually difficult to get a sense of the original author’s voice in a text that has been translated from a foreign language into English.

Historicism – A theory that treats history as a perpetual, perceptual, malleable construction from the viewpoint of the present, which is continually influenced by local, often subjective conditions.

Panopticism – According to French philosopher/historian Michel Foucault, this is a metaphor for modern "disciplinary" societies characterized by illusory surveillance technologies. Foucault proposes that not only prisons but all hierarchical structures (e.g. the army, the school, the hospital, the factory) have evolved through history to resemble Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon. The notoriety of the design today (although not its lasting influence in architectural realities) stems from Foucault's famous analysis of it.

Passive Resistance – A method of non-violent revolt or action taken against oppressing powers for sociopolitical ends. It can take several forms, among them Civil Disobedience, which American transcendentalist author Henry David Thoreau popularized in his 1849 essay of the same name. To practice civil disobedience, however, requires that one breaks the law, whereas a law doesn't need to be broken to practice passive resistance.

Puritanism A Protestant sect that began in England in the 1500s when reformers attempted to purge the Church of England of its elaborate ceremonies, rituals, and hierarchical structure. For the Puritans, the pure word of the Bible, presented in part through inspired preaching, took precedence while direct revelation from the Holy Spirit superseded reason. Puritan ministers were generally well educated, and the congregation promoted ideals that helped lay the foundation for American democracy. However, because of their strict moral code, the Puritans were always on the lookout for satanic influence and, unfortunately, sometimes saw evil where none existed. In Salem in 1692, more than 150 people were accused of witchcraft and jailed. Twenty of them were executed. Nineteen were hanged and one was pressed to death. In a pressing, the executioners secured the condemned person, facing upward, on a bed of nails. Then they loaded weights onto his or her body. American dramatist Arthur Miller wrote a play, The Crucible (1953), about these trials. Belief in evil forces such as witches, warlocks, and diabolical spirits was widespread in America and Europe during and before the 17th Century.

Socialism – In Marxist theory, this is the stage between capitalism and communism that expresses the struggle for the equal distribution of wealth by eliminating private property and the exploitative ruling class. In practice, such a distribution of wealth is achieved by social ownership of the means of production, exchange and diffusion.

Society – A society is any group of people (or, less commonly, plants or animals) living together in a group and constituting a single related, interdependent community. This word is frequently taken to include entire national communities; we might, for instance, comment upon some aspect of U.S. society. Society can also be used to refer to smaller groups of people, as when we refer to "rural societies," "academic societies," etc. Society is distinguished from culture in that it generally refers to the community of people while culture generally refers to the systems of meaning—what Geertz calls "webs of significance" that govern the conduct and understanding of people's lives. Nevertheless, because of the close conceptual relationship between the community and its culture, the distinction between these words is often unclear in common use of "society" or its derivative words; for example, when we refer to "societal problems," we are referring to conflicts which have as much to do with culture as they do with society.

Transcendentalism – An American literary, political, and philosophical movement of the early nineteenth century. Key transcendentalists included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller and Amos Bronson Alcott. Stimulated by English and German Romanticism, the Biblical criticism of Herder and Schleiermacher, and the skepticism of Hume, the transcendentalists operated with the sense that a new era was at hand. They were critics of their contemporary society for its unthinking conformity, and urged that each individual find, in Emerson's words, "an original relation to the universe." Emerson and Thoreau sought this relation in solitude through nature and writing. Among transcendentalists' core beliefs was an ideal spiritual state that transcends the physical and empirical and is only realized through the individual's intuition, rather than through the doctrines of established religions.

Utopia – Greek for “good place” (re: eutopia) and “no place” (re: outopia), utopias attempt to represent perfect social justices and relations in the future. It emphasizes moral societal structure, especially for the lower classes, involving a large degree of class equality and regimentation in labor and lifestyles. Basic to utopian impulses is the conviction that humans can create an earthly paradise and reform themselves to live in a compliant, harmonious manner with one another. Furthermore, social harmony will lead to great gains in economic output and artistic expression. Popular utopias include Plato’s Republic (c. 380 B.C.), Thomas More’s Utopia (1551), Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888), William Morris’ News from Nowhere (1890), Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1914), Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Pacific Edge (1995).