Literary Appreciation

Literary appreciation revolves around reading, understanding, analyzing and making judgement of a work of art. It helps in detecting the style, theme, diction, figurative devices, tone, and other elements of literature. 

Literary appreciation makes the reader get the meanings of a book, get the value and make it relevant in contemporary society. Also, it enables the reader to journey into the writer’s muse, thought, values and emotions when s/he is writing the work of art. It makes the reader go into details, in fact, at times, even more than the writer’s knowledge of his/her work. 

By reading a work of art – drama, prose, poetry – a reader is expected to study, understand, analyse and evaluate the literary work. S/he should be able to make critical judgement concerning what s/he reads. 

So, in any examination, students will be given unseen prose, drama or poetry, it is now left to the literary wit of the students that will determine his/her success in the aspect of making critical judgement about appreciation of a work of literature. 

The Benefits of Literary Appreciation

  1. Literary appreciation helps the reader think critically. The reader will have the opportunity to think about the effect of a literary work in contemporary society. 
  2. It gives the reader value. By evaluating a work of art, the reader tends to learn much and know much and it formulates the reader’s knowledge. 
  3. Literary appreciation helps the reader to undergo the feelings of the writer. The reader will traverse into the source of the writer’s disposition to write the work of art.  Through literary appreciation, the reader will be connected to the emotion of the writer while writing the literary work. 
  4. It shows the values and the beauty of the work of art. The essence of writing any book of literature is to give value to society. People tend to learn about different cultures, plots, stories, and settings used in literary works. And it makes the people understand the reason for writing the work of art. 
  5. Literary appreciation enables the proper analysis of literary work. Not many books are embellished with the sauces (literary devices). There are many that really lack the elements of literature. So, literary appreciation will help people to make critical judgement about the work if it is literary or non literary. 

Elements of Literary Appreciation 

The elements of literary appreciation. I have discussed drama, prose and poetry with their types and elements and also figures of speech. All of them are essential in literary appreciation. 

First off, in any work of art, there are six important elements that I will first discuss here; they are; subject matter, background, setting, style, theme, literary devices. 

  • Subject Matter 

Subject matter is also known as summary. It is a detailed account, though brief, of the work of art. It is the issues or points that the writer discusses in the book. Each work of art has topics that are discussed or shown: the topics are the subject matter. It is the summary of the plot of a story. The difference between the plot and subject matter is longevity. However, the subject matter tries not to go into all details but the important ones in the work of art. 

  • Background 

No one just takes a pen to write a story, drama or poem. However, something propel him or her to put pen on paper in order to write. The background gives the issues that propel the writer to write the story. It gives the reader cursor to see things beyond what is written in the book. The background revolves around the setting, the issues that make the writer write the work of art, the reasons why s/he writes it and the points s/he is trying to make. 

For instance: Richard Wright’s writings center on the racial segregation that the black in America passed through in his lifetime. He wrote about their plights – marginalization, imposition, racial segregation, and other unpalatable experiences experienced by Africans living in American in the early 1900s. 

  • Setting

Setting refers to the time and place of a literary work. Every literary work, either prose, drama, or poetry has a setting. It is noteworthy for any literatus to understand the time and place of a work of art. The place may be physical, spatial, temporal or psychological. 

The reader has to study the environment of which the plot takes place. It can be on a tree, in the house, in a palace, at the river bank, in a hotel, just to mention a few. In a bigger sense, it can be a state or a country or a continent. The reader must take cognizance of the place in a work of art. 

Also, to study the time is essential. A work of art can be BC or AD; it can be the time of monarchy, or the time of civilization. It can also be in any century. What makes the reader to know the time of a work of art is their dressing, the words that the characters or poetic persona use, the place that they live and everything that they do. 

Let’s check the setting of the poem below. 


The land is a giant whale

that swallows the sinker,

with hook, line and bait

aborting dreams of a good catch

fishers turn home at dusk

blue peter on empty ships

all Peters with petered out desires.

The land is a sabre-toothed tiger

that cries deep in the glade

while infants shudder home

the grizzled ones snatch their gut

from bayonets of tribulation

halting venturous walk at dusk

The land is a giant hawk

that courts unceasing disaster

as it hovers and hoots in space.

The land lies patiently ahead

awaiting in ambush

those who point away from a direction

where nothing happens

towards the shore of possibilities. 

The poem is written by Prof. Gbemisola Adeoti, a lecturer in Obafemi Awolowo University. 

We can deduce that the place of the happenings in the poem is Africa, particularly Nigeria, having known that the poet is an African and a Nigerian. This means that the said land that makes every effort useless is Nigeria or Africa at large. There are three places mentioned in the poem, the air, the land and the water. We see a hawk, a tiger and a whale which tell us that the land – Nigeria – is ready to crush anyone through whatever means. However, the time of the setting is post independence, that is, the time that the Nigerians started governing themselves.  

  • Style 

The style is the way that the writer simply conveys his/her messages to the readers or audience. It is the way the writer uses words to narrate the story. In poetry, it is the voice that speaks to the audience. In prose, it is the narrator of the story. Style creates the atmosphere that the audience or reader uses to understand any work of art. 

There are elements of style. 


Diction is the choice of words that a writer uses to convey his message to the audience or reader. Some writers use difficult-to-understand (high-sounding) words in the story while some use easy-to-understand words so that an average audience will understand everything in the work of art. However, it all depends on the level of intelligence of the targeted audience that will determine the choice of words of the writer. Diction may be formal, informal, sarcastic, abusive, figurative, etc. The diction dictates the mood, tone, theme and the expression in a prose, as well as other genres of literature. 

It is the word choice that will create the tone and the mood of the literary work. 


The tone expresses the feeling of the writer or the narrator or the poetic voice. It shows the attitude of the writer that creates the emotional display through the choice of words. Writers use diction, figurative devices, other literary devices, punctuation marks and sentence structures to convey the tone through the narrative voices. It only shows the feeling of the narrative voice. Nevertheless, a tone can be sarcastic, threatening, abusive, hateful, harsh, solemn, fearful, and others. 


Thou son of a bitch 

Thy mother of a thousand demons

Say I will thread over your lifeless body

And proclaim victory over the land. 

The tones of the poem are anger, hate, abuse and threat. 


Mood is also known as atmosphere. It is the feeling that evokes in the mind of the audience through the characters or the narrative voice. It brings the connection of what the characters pass through on the plot to the emotional response of the audience. 

In a nutshell, the mood of a literary work depends on the occurrences in it. For instance, a person who wins a lottery will have a mood of joy, while the person who loses his beloved person will have a mood of sadness and depression also known as melancholy. 

The mood of a story can be despair (loss of hope), nostalgia (a bittersweet yearning for the things of the past) calmess, anger, frustration etc. 


Imagery is the descriptive element of narrative that creates mental imagination in the mind of the audience. It helps the audience have the mental picture of the events in a literary work. To add a verisimilitude, a good imagery enables the audience to journey into the writer’s creativity and see the descriptions of entities in sight, hearing, tasting, etc. 


The night was black as ever, but bright stars lit up the sky in beautiful and varied constellations which were sprinkled across the astronomical landscape. 

The imagery here uses color to describe the sky. It tells the readers that it was black, but the stars brightened the sky. A reader will have the image of a sky lit with stars at night. 

There are six elements of imagery. They are; visual imagery, auditory imagery, olfactory imagery, gustatory imagery, tactile imagery and kinetic imagery. 

Visual imagery is also known as pictorial imagery or imagery of sight. It makes the audience see the descriptions in the work of art. It appeals to the sight. 

Auditory imagery is also known as imagery of hearing or sound. It deals with the descriptions of sounds in a work of art. The audience will journey and hear the sounds in a literary work as if s/he were the narrative voice. 

Olfactory imagery is also known as imagery of smelling. It appeals to the sense of smell of the audience. It gives the descriptions of an odour or aroma of something in a literary work. 

Gustatory imagery is also known as imagery of tasting. It appeals to the sense of taste of the audience. The audience, through the descriptions, will traverse into the events where tasting occurs in the literary work and feel as if s/he were the one tasting the food or whatever entity that is used. 

Tactile imagery is the imagery of touch. It appeals to the sense of touch. It is a visual imagination by an audience in which s/he sees a character or the poetic persona touch an entity in a work of art. 

Kinetic imagery is the imagery of movement. It appeals to the sense of moving. This enables the readers to have the descriptions and imagination of the movements that occur in a literary work. 

  • Theme 

Theme is the central idea or message in a literary work. It is a phenomenon in human existence that the author puts as a centre of discourse. The phenomenon may center on love, death, quest for power, authority, tyranny, greed, anxiety etc. So, any message (not frequently didactic) that the writer passes across is the theme. 

In a literary work that depicts an act of love, we can have the theme of love, betrayal, hate, revenge and the likes. In the same vein, if a work of art revolves around politics, it will have the theme of quest of power. The literary works that talk about the adventures of the white in Africa have the theme of colonization, abandonment of culture, cultural clashes, the quest for supremacy, the inferiority of the black and their cultures and the likes. 

  • Literary Devices 

These have already been discussed in figures of speech. 

To add little, a work of art can depict a figurative device in its entirety. For instance, Buchi Emecheta wrote a novel titled “The Joy Of Motherhood”. However, in the story, the author shared the woeful experiences that an average African woman passes through in marriage. This means that the title is an irony. It is supposed to be ” The Sorrow of Motherhood.” 

Gbanabom Hallowell in his poem “The Dining Table” discusses the sum of what is lost during the war. As a matter of fact, this means that the dining table as a title of the poem is an euphemism, saying an unpleasant thing in a pleasant way. 

However, John Donne is not left out of this. He made a use of the apostrophe, the address of an idea, in his poem titled “The Sun Rising”. Without mincing words, the major figurative device in the poem is the apostrophe in its entirety. 

The Sun Rising 


               Busy old fool, unruly sun,

               Why dost thou thus,

Through windows, and through curtains call on us?

Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?

               Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide

               Late school boys and sour prentices,

         Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,

         Call country ants to harvest offices,

Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,

Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time. 

John Donne through the personal voice addresses the sun, an idea. 

Other Elements 


Symbolism embraces the use of symbols to represent an idea. It uses a character or an entity to create and communicate ideas in the mind of the audience. 

For example: the use of a cross in a literary work always symbolises salvation or protection from destruction. 


Allegory is a work of art that has a hidden meaning through the representation of ideas but communicates morals and values to society. In short, allegory often uses symbols and animals to represent the actions of human beings. 

Allegory is a fictitious narrative which uses animals, objects and abstractions as characters to represent different ideas, such as, greed, wickedness, usurpation, faithfulness, and many more in the society. The characters are significant and symbolic in likeness to several attributes and qualities of people (both good and bad) in the association of human beings. Examples: Animal Farm by George Orwell, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Buyan etc.


Motif is the predominant and the recurring idea in a literary work. It is an idea in reality that is repeated to create effects in a work of art. 

For instance: the author may constantly use superstition (a belief that isn’t based on fact) a lot in the story. The use of flashbacks and other literary devices repeatedly is motif. 


Objectivity relates to facts. Being objective means being factual or truthful. In literary analysis or interpretation, objectivity evolves in telling or analysing the story without adding or removing anything. In fact, objectivity deals with nonfiction.


Simply put, subjectivity relates to being not factual. It is a based judgement based on the opinions and sentiments of the writer or an audience. Subjectivity uses appealing words to analyse a literary work in order to make it appealing to the audience. Subjectivity deals with fiction.


Verisimilitude is very close to being factual. It is a fictional work of art that has a semblance of the truth. This presents the use of characters, and other elements that constitute the plot in a way that looks real but it is an imaginary work. Nonetheless, verisimilitude deals with fiction but looks like nonfiction.

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