The term literature has many definitions depending on the intention of the person defining it. Literature can be defined as a work of art which uses words or language creatively to express and reflect human realities. Literature can be defined as a mirror to social reality.


Literature cannot be isolated with the origin of man through labour process associated with the making and using tools.

Human beings had to use language to communicate different issues related to labour differentiation. Primarily, literature was in oral forms such as songs (labour songs) myths, fork tales aimed at warning, encouraging hardworking, criticising evil, and maintaining social value or ethics.

Relationship between language and literature:

•Literature and language are indistinguishable /inseparable because:

•Literature is created through language. It is called so when language is used creatively to reflect human realities. Language is the medium or tool of communication in literature, no language, no literature .It can also be argued that language develops through the four language skills which are listening, speaking, writing and reading.

•Therefore, literature as a work of art is different from other works of art such as pottery, sculpture, painting, carving, weaving, because it uses language creatively to describe or express human experiences and realities.

Generally, there are two types /genres of literature, namely:

1.Oral/old literature

2.Written/ modern literature

Oral/Old Literature

This is the type of literature which is presented through word of mouth from one generation to another. It is a primary source of literature because it started before written literature. It was practiced through verbal expressions from one generation to another. Oral literature originated with human being as human started to use it in a form of verbal songs, myths, folk tales, epics, etc. Therefore, oral literature is a foundation of literature even which we use today i.e. Written literature.

Written /modern literature

This is the type/genre of literature which is expressed in a form of writings. It started with the invention of writings. It is also called a Secondary source of literature because it started after oral literature and is a property of literate and semi-literates.

Written literature has three genres, these are:

1.Novels and short stories




This is a long narrative prose in which characters and actions represents real life and are portrayed in a complex plot. Examples of novel books are such as ―Passed Like a Shadow‖ written by B. Mapalala, ―Spared‖ written by S.N Ndunguru, Weep Not Child written by Ngugi Wa Thiong‘o, ―House boy‖ written by Ferdinand Oyono, ―A Wreath for Father Mayer‖ written by S.N. Ndunguru.

Short Stories

This is a fiction prose narrative which is shorter than a normal novel and restricted in characterization and situation. It normally deals with a single major event. Examples of short stories are from the book titled ―Encounters from Africa‖ by Macmillan Ltd. The book contains two stories, which are; ‗The Voter‟ and „The Smile of Fortune‟.


Drama is a literary work written to be performed /acted by actors on a stage before an audience. The word ―drama‖ means ‗to do‘ or ‗to act‘. It is a story which involves characters who acts before the audience which gets the message intended by the playwright. In order to be complete and effective drama needs actors or players, audience, language (diction), plot, setting, scenes, actions, etc.

Normally, plays belong to a different genre because they are border than other genre due to the economical use of words by the playwright. Examples of play;‗ This Time Tomorrow‘ written by Ngugi wa Thiong‘o ‗An Enemy of the People written by Henrik Ibsen ―The Black Hermit,‖ Kivuli Kinaishi and ‗The Lion and The Jewel‘ by Wole Soyinka

Elements of Literature

Literature has two important elements which includes form and content.

FORM: This refers to how a work or art is structured (how something is arranged or said). Form includes PLOT, STYLE/TECHNIQUES, SETTING, CHARACTERISATION, and LANGUAGE USE (DICTION)

Plot: This refers to how events are arranged in a novel /play. It shows how events are arranged in an artistic way through conflict which can be moral or personal or physical conflict.

Style/ technique: This refers to the way the work of art is made/composed. Style can be narrative where by an author accounts a story. It can also be part of the oral tradition which story is told in traditional styles such as a long a time ago……….., for many years ago……….. Style can also be straight forward where by events are narrated from what happened or takes place at the beginning to an end of the novel. We also have flashback techniques whereby an author may narrate events by moving back then forward through time. . Example of a book in which the author employed a flashback technique is ‗Betrayal in the City ‗by Frances Imbuga. Under technique style we also have a point of view, this refer to how events are observed. Depending on who sees the action and who tells the story. A story can be told from an omniscient point of view whereby the narrator is not known and has access to characters' thoughts feelings and all events. Third person point of view is used when the author describes his/her characters depending on what he sees, hears or thinks and the first person point of view uses 'I" and the author describes only what can be seen, heard or thought by a single character.

SETTING: This refers to environment or the immediate world in which the events in a story takes place. It includes time, culture and place where events take place. Setting can be physical real or imagery setting.

For example setting of this play ‗‘ This Time Tomorrow‘‘ is Kenya after independence and the setting of a book 'Betrayal in the City' is the Kafira state in Africa hence imagery since we have no such state in Africa.

Characterization: Is the description of characters in a story. Characterization refers to the creation of an imaginary person to exist as a lifelike human for the readers. A good writer always strives to create believable characters. We know a character by examining what she/he thinks, says/does and what other character say about him or her life in general. Character can be main/major /central character; that appears mostly in every page of the book or narrative and plays a big role to the portrayal of the intended message by the author. Character can also be minor. These appear few times or very scarcely in a work of art. They assist the main character in accomplishing some message to the reader(s).

Language, diction: Refers to the choice and arrangement of words in a literary work .We examine whether the language used is simple , complex, mixed, grammatical, or ungrammatical , normal ,or figurative language.

A figure of speech is a word or phrase that has a meaning other than the literal meaning.

A figure of speech is a rhetorical device that achieves a special effect by using words in a distinctive way. Figures can help our readers understand and stay interested in what we have to say.

There are many different types of figures of speech in the English language. These are some of the most commonly used.


Personification is a figure of speech in which a thing – an idea or an animal – is given human attributes. The non-human objects are portrayed in such a way that we feel they have the ability to act like human beings. For example, when we say, ―The sky weeps,‖ we are giving the sky the ability to cry, which is a human quality. Thus, we can say that the sky has been personified in the given sentence.

Common Examples

  • The wind whispered through dry grass.
  • The flowers danced in the gentle breeze.
  • The fire swallowed the entire forest.
  • The shadow of the moon danced on the lake.
  • The flowers were blooming, and the bees kissed them every now and then.
  • The skyscraper was so tall that it seemed to kiss the sky.
  • The ship danced over the undulating waves of the ocean.
  • When he sat the test, the words and the ideas fled from his mind.


Alliteration is derived from Latin‘s ―Latira‖. It means ―letters of alphabet‖. It is a stylistic device in which a number of words, having the same first consonant sound, occur close together in a series.

Consider the following examples:

But a better butter makes a batter better. A big bully beats a baby boy.

Both sentences are alliterative because the same first letter of words (B) occurs close together and produces alliteration in the sentence.

An important point to remember here is that alliteration does not depend on letters but on sounds. So the phrase not knotty is alliterative, but cigarette chase is not.

―The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,

The furrow followed free;

We were the first that ever burst

Into that silent sea.‖

In the above lines we see alliteration (―b‖, ―f‖ and ―s‖) in the phrases ―breeze blew‖, ―foam flew‖, ―furrow followed‖, and ―silent sea‖.


Archaism is the derivative of a Greek word, archaïkós, which means beginning or ancient. It is a figure of speech in which a used phrase or word is considered very old fashioned and outdated.. It is the use of older versions of language and art. Such as in these lines, ―To thine own self be true‖ (Hamlet by William Shakespeare). Sentences that may be considered as examples of archaism will most probably contain the words ―thine‖ and ―thou‖.

Evolution of Archaism

The English language which Shakespeare has written and spoken is very different from the English which is used today. The use of archaic language were found in the literary works of ancient medieval ages, as well as in the Victorian, Edwardian, 19th and 20th centuries.

Examples of Archaism from Literature

Archaism examples are found in the masterpieces of Shakespeare, S.T. Coleridge, Hemingway, and Keats.

It is an ancient Mariner,

And he stoppeth one of three.

‗By thy long grey beard and glittering eye, Now wherefore stopp‘st thou me?

He holds him with his skinny hand, ‗There was a ship,‘ quoth he.

‗Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!‘ Eftsoons his hand dropthe ‗I fear thy skinny hand!….

I fear thee and thy glittering eye,

And thy skinny hand, so brown.‘— Fear not, fear not, thou Wedding-Guest!

This body dropt not down…


Assonance takes place when two or more words, close to one another repeat the same vowel sound, but start with different consonant sounds.

For instance, in the following sentence:

―Men sell the wedding bells.‖

The same vowel sound of the short vowel ―-e-‖ repeats itself in almost all the words, excluding the definite article.

Common Assonance Examples

We light fire on the mountain. I feel depressed and wrestle Go and mow the lawn.

Johnny went here and there and everywhere

The engineer held the steering to steer the vehicle.


Consonance refers to repetitive sounds produced by consonants within a sentence or phrase.

For instance, the words chuckle, fickle, and kick are consonant with the same consonant „ck „


Hyperbole, derived from a Greek word meaning ―over-casting,‖ is a figure of speech that involves an exaggeration of ideas for the sake of emphasis.

Therefore, a hyperbole is an unreal exaggeration to emphasize the real situation.

Common Examples of Hyperbole

My grandmother is as old as the hills.

She is as heavy as an elephant!

I am trying to solve a million issues these days.

I will love you dear until China and Africa meet.

The blacksmith‘s hand was harder than the rock.

His classmates laughed at him, saying he had a pea-sized brain.


Metaphor is a figure of speech that makes comparison between two things that are unrelated, but which share some common characteristics without using conjunctions e.g. like, as etc

Examples of Metaphors

My brother was boiling mad. (This implies he was too angry.)

The assignment was a breeze. (This implies that the assignment was not difficult.)

Her voice is music to his ears. (This implies that her voice makes him feel happy)

Maria is an angel of Mwanza.

Melina‘s face is a map of Africa.


A simile is a figure of speech that makes comparison between two things that are unrelated, but which share some common characteristics by using conjunctions e.g. like, as etc

Common Examples of Simile

Our soldiers are as brave as lions.

He is as funny as a monkey.

The water well was as dry as a bone.

At exam time, the high school student was as busy as a bee.

The beggar on the road looked as blind as a bat.

The diplomat said the friendship of the two countries was as deep as an ocean.

The listened to his spellbinding speech as quietly as mice. The history paper was as tricky as a labyrinth.

The boys in the playing field were feeling as happy as dogs with two tails.


The term euphemism refers to polite, indirect expressions which replace words and phrases considered harsh and impolite or which suggest something unpleasant.

For example, ―kick the bucket‖ is a euphemism that describes the death of a person.

Examples in Everyday Life

You are becoming a little thin on top (bald).

Our teacher is in the family way (pregnant).

He is always economical in truth (liar).

We do not hire mentally challenged (stupid) people. He is a special child (disabled or retarded).


Sarcasm is derived from French word sarcasmor and also from a Greek word sarkazein that means ―tear flesh‖ or ―grind the teeth‖. Somehow, in simple words it means to speak bitterly.

Sarcasm is a literary and rhetorical device that is meant to mock with often satirical or ironic remarks with a purpose to amuse and hurt someone. It gives the meaning which is different from what the speaker intends to say.

For instance:

―I didn‘t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.‖ (Mark Twain)

―Friends, countrymen, lend me your ears.‖

(Julius Caesar by Shakespeare)


Satire is a technique employed by writers to expose and criticize foolishness and corruption of an individual or a society by using humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule. It intends to improve their characters by overcoming their weaknesses.

Examples of Satire in Everyday Life

Most political cartoons which we witness every day in newspapers and magazines are examples of satire. These cartoons criticize some recent actions of political figures in a comical way.

Some shows on television are satire examples like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and The Larry Sanders Show. These shows to target what they think are stupid political and social viewpoints.

Let us see a sample of Stephen Colbert‘s social satire:

―If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn‘t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we‘ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don‘t want to do it.‖


Irony is a in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words.. In simple words, it is a difference between appearance and reality.

Types of Irony

On the grounds of the above definition, we distinguish two basic types of irony: (1) and (2)

Verbal irony involves what one does not mean. For example, when in response to a foolish idea, we say, ―What a great idea!‖ This is verbal irony.

Situational irony occurs when, for instance, a man is chuckling at the misfortune of another, even when the same misfortune is, unbeknownst to him, befalling him.

Common Examples of Irony

Let us analyze some interesting examples of irony from our daily life:

You laugh at a person who slipped stepping on a banana peel, and the next thing you know, you‘ve slipped too.

―Oh great! Now you have broken my new camera.‖

Short Examples of Verbal Irony

The doctor is as kind hearted as a wolf.

His friend‘s hand was as soft as a rock.

The student was given ‗excellent‘ on getting zero in the exam.

He enjoyed his job about as much as a root canal.

A vehicle was parked right in front of the no-parking sign.

The CEO of a big tobacco company said he did not smoke.


is when a part represents the whole or the whole is represented by a part. Examples are:

Wheels - a car

The police - one policeman

Coke - any cola drink

Army - a soldier

Content: Refers to the main subject of a literary work presented in a written or spoken form. It also refers to what is being conveyed in a speech, an article or a certain program. Content includes the following elements: Themes, message, conflicts, climax, crisis and philosophy.

Theme: This refers to the major idea or subject contained in a work of art. It is represented through persons, actions, or concepts in a literary work. It may also refer to the major topic obscured and reflected or describe in the book. In Africa literature the main themes are such as corruption, position and role of women, irresponsibility, betrayal and African traditional, belief, poverty. Other minor themes can be alienation, protest, oppression, and humiliation, sacrifice, class struggle.

Message: This refers to the lesson we get after reading a work of art. . Example; is the play ‗This Time Tomorrow‘ we learn that, unity and solidarity is important for the liberation of the oppressed and humiliated society.

Conflict: This refers to the clash or opposition between one idea, thought or feeling and another, one person and another or conflict within an individual person. Conflict can be because of economic conflict, social conflict, political, personal or philosophical conflict between one idea and feelings and another.

Climax: This is a stage in which conflict reaches the higher point where resolution is inevitable or necessary.

Crisis: This is a point where conflict rises and causes some problems to the person or people involved and therefore, resolution is necessary. There may be different crisis each proceed the climax.

Philosophy: Refers to the belief or outlook of the author which he/she expresses in the book/story.

General Themes of Literature

Literature is not written in a vacuum, it emanates from a society to reflect its social, political, economic, as well as cultural aspects. Therefore, literature has a direct connection to human life and thus, it cannot be separated from human beings. The following are some of the important roles and functions of literature:

Literature criticizes societies. Authors of a literary work criticize society by revealing corruption, oppression, and humiliation, and inequality.

Literature expresses people‘s culture. This includes norms, values, traditional, and, practices so that people can follow them. It can also makes people abandon some bad cultural practiced such as female genital mutilation (FGM) for positive changes.

Literature educates people: it educates people about day to day happenings or events in their society. It widens their mind and thinking capacity.

Literature entertains people; people enjoy by watching and reading different works which appeal to their state of mind.

Literature is a tool of liberation. It makes people know the presence of exploitation, irresponsibility, it direct people to struggle for mental and physical liberation against these problems.

•Literature develops language because language is a tool or medium of communication in literature.

POETRY: is a genre of literature which expresses the feelings, ideas, and emotions of the reader(s) or hearer(s). The language used in poetry is characterized by imagery and rhythmical sounds.

Terms related to poetry

Poem: This is a piece of writing in a verse form which expresses the deep feelings using artistic language.

Persona: This refers to a character in a poem.

Poet/poetess: This refers to a man or woman who composes an oral or written poem.

Verse: This is a simple line in a poem.

Stanza: Is a combination or collection of verses to make a complete idea of a poem.

How poetry differs from other genres of literature?

The genre of poetry differs from other genres of literature like prose in the following aspects:

1.Poetry uses much imagery which appeals to the sense of touch, hearing, small and taste in a more concentrated way than prose.

2.Poetry is arranged in verse which forms stanzas to make a poem as whole while prose is written in sentences and paragraphs.

3.Poetry employs the use of much musical features such as rhyme and rhythm unlike to novels and Short stories which words are intended to be read silently not loud or sung or recited.

4.Poetry employs language economy. Few words convey such information. This is because even single word in poetry may hear a number of messages.

5.Poetry uses many figures of speech such as simile metaphor personification etc. than other Prose.

6.The character in a poem is called persona but in novel and play a character does not possess a name.

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