The 7 Major Elements of Literature

 Literary Elements: 7 Elements of Literature and Their Meaning

Elements of Literature


There are many different elements of literature that can be analyzed, including theme, plot, setting, characters, and style. These elements are often interrelated and work together to create a coherent and effective work of literature. A good example is the novel "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen. In this novel, the themes of love and marriage are explored through the relationships between the characters, who are set against the backdrop of the English countryside. The style of the novel is witty and satirical, which helps to bring the characters and setting to life.

Major Elements of Literature

Literature is made up of certain elements, which include subject matter, theme, point of view, plot, setting, character, and conflict.

1. Subject Matter

Every literary work has a subject matter, which is the topic (subject) on which an author has chosen to write. There are different topics or subjects that writers can write about. This may include subjects such as politics, violence, death, marriage, and love. Essentially, subject matter refers to a particular subject (topic) that matters to a writer.

2. Theme

Theme is another important element of literature. It is the main or central idea or underlying meaning of a literary text. It is essential to state that subject matter and theme are not the same.

The subject matter is larger than the theme. While subject matter gives the general view of a literary piece, theme states specific messages identified in such a text. For instance, if a literary work has politics as its subject matter, themes may struggle for power, politics as a dirty game, and electoral malpractices. Thus, it is from the subject matter that themes are drawn.

3. Point of View

This is the vantage point (angle) from which a story is narrated or presented. The major types are first-person narrative and third-person narrative. In the first-person narrative, the writer uses one of the characters as the narrator, from whose point of view the narrative is presented. On the other hand, third-person narrative makes use of a narrator whose face is not seen throughout the events in the story. This type of narrator could be an omniscient (all-knowing) or limited third-person narrator. If the narrator appears to know everything about all the characters, motives behind actions, outcomes of actions, and so on, it is called an omniscient point of view. However, if the narrator's knowledge about the whole narrative is restricted, it is called a limited third-person point of view.

4. Plot

Plot is defined as the sequence of events or incidents in a literary work with emphasis on causality, that is, cause and effect. A plot is different from a story in that it focuses attention on causes and the effects of actions. Characters and conflict are the major contributors to the development of a plot. The plot of a literary work can be chronological or episodic. Usually, a plot has five major parts, which are the exposition, complications, climax, falling action, and denouement. Alternatively, these may be referred to as introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Plot as an element of literature is restricted to drama and prose.

5. Setting

Setting refers to the time and place in which events in a literary work are situated. It is the overall locale, historical time, and social circumstances in which the action in a prose or drama occurs. Setting is basically divided into two, namely temporal (time) and locale/spatial (physical) settings. William Shakespeare's Macbeth is set in medieval Scotland; Emmanuel Babatunde

Omobowale's Seasons of Rage is set in contemporary African society replete with violence, struggle for power, rivalry, and betrayal; Wole Soyinka's The Lion and the Jewel is set in colonial Yorubaland; and Charles Dickens' Great Expectations is set in nineteenth-century England, London, and Kent. Setting contributes meaningfully to the thematic preoccupation of a literary work.

6. Character

Characters are the fictional characters in a work of art. They can be human beings, animals, or abstract concepts that are given human attributes. Characters are an important element of literature. They perform actions that lead to the development of the plot. Hence, there is a relationship between plot and characters. This is because actions are performed by characters, while characters are revealed through actions. Types of characters include round characters, flat characters, foil characters, protagonists, and antagonists. Okonkwo is the protagonist of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, while Wale is the protagonist of Adenike Akinjobi's Mirage.

7. Characterization

Characterization has to do with various ways, methods, and techniques through which writers depict and represent their characters. It includes role assignments. Characterization techniques are basically two, namely telling and showing. This is achieved through authorial presentation, dialogue, psychological disposition, setting, and interior monologue or soliloquy.

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