Unit 6 Overview: Literary Techniques in Longer Works

4 min readjanuary 24, 2023

Minna Chow

Minna Chow

AP English Literature 📚

145 resources
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Welcome to Unit 6. In this Unit, we’ll be looking at Longer Fiction and Drama again. However, this time we’ll be delving deeper into these longer works. Just like how Unit 4 was about the complexity of short stories, Unit 5 is about the complexity of longer works. In longer texts, you'll often find complexities in character development and actions, interruption in the stream of a narrative, and unreliable characters and narratives. These exist in short stories, of course, but they can be more well-developed and therefore more complicated in longer novels, because the authors have the page count to do so! You'll also find more subtle or more developed symbols than you would in short stories.
What will we be covering in this Unit…?

6.1 Interpreting foil characters

Important Skill: Identify and describe what specific textual details reveal about a character, that character’s perspective, and that character’s motives.
Important Skill: Explain the function of contrasting characters.
Important Skill: Explain the function of contrasts within a text.
In this guide, we’ll be discussing how characters can work with one another structurally by examining a common character relationship: the foil. A foil is a character that directly contrasts another in order to make the other character stand out more. Foils (and contrasting characters generally, such as two characters who disagree on a topic) can work within a narrative to emphasize the motivations, decisions, and character traits of their counterpart.

6.2 Understanding and interpreting character motives

Important Skill: Explain how a character’s own choices, actions, and speech reveal complexities in that character, and explain the function of those complexities.
In this guide, we’ll be discussing how to understand and interpret character motives. Characters may or may not tell us what their motives are directly. For example, Shakespeare likes having his characters give soliloquies that reveal their goals and motivations — examples of this are Richard III and Edmund from King Lear. However, often characters, just like humans, don't’ outright say why they do the things they do, and even when they do they can be lying. We can analyze character motives outside of their own confessions by examining their choices, actions and speech (the things they say and the way they say it.)

6.3 Understanding nonlinear narrative structures like flashbacks and foreshadowing

Important Skill: Identify and describe how plot orders events in a narrative.
Important Skill: Explain the function of a particular sequence of events in a plot.
In this guide, we’ll be talking about some of the exciting things works of literature can do to play around with the traditional linear narrative. In the traditional linear narrative, events in the text are depicted in the order they take place. Non-linear narrative structures such as flashback, foreshadowing and in media res don't follow this rule. This messing with timelines can be very confusing. This guide will help you identify different narrative structures and understand why authors choose to use non-linear ones.

6.4 The effect of narrative tone and bias on reading

Important Skill: Identify and describe details, diction, or syntax in a text that reveal a narrator’s or speaker’s perspective.
Important Skill: Explain how a narrator’s reliability affects a narrative.
In this guide, we’ll discuss how to analyze narrators. Even if they're not unreliable narrators (narrators that aren't telling the truth of what happened), the tone they use to tell a story and any biases they might have will influence the way we experience the story. Ask yourself, is the narrator trying to convince me of something?

6.5 Characters as symbols, metaphors, and archetypes

Important Skill: Identify and explain the function of a symbol.
We've talked about objects as symbols before, such as a white dove for peace or a red rose for love, but did you know that characters can be symbols as well? In this guide, we’ll discuss characters as not just fictional people, but also symbols and metaphors. For example, a villain's innocent child could be a symbol of his humanity, and the death of that child a symbol for the utter destruction of that humanity. Sometimes, character types are so common and culturally significant, such as the "hero" or the "mentor," that they become archetypes. 

6.6 Developing literary arguments within a broader context of works

Important Skill: Develop a thesis statement that conveys a defensible claim about an interpretation of literature and that may establish a line of reasoning.
Important Skill: Develop commentary that establishes and explains relationships among textual evidence, the line of reasoning, and the thesis.
Important Skill: Select and use relevant and sufficient evidence to both develop and support a line of reasoning.
Important Skill: Demonstrate control over the elements of composition to communicate clearly.
In this guide, we’ll take our essays one step further by discussing how to develop literary arguments outside of the AP test. (Of course, this guide will help you for the AP test as well!) We'll be doing this by developing literary arguments within a broader context of works: using other works to help inform our interpretation of the text we're reading right now. This can take the form of citing other books for comparison or contrasting purposes, looking at other books to establish trends in fiction in a certain region or time period... the possibilities are limitless.

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