Discourse Examples in Literature & Classification

Definition of Discourse

Discourse refers to communication of meaning through language. It includes both written communication, such as books, essays and online posts, as well as spoken communication like conversations, speeches and debates. More broadly, discourse involves the use of language in social contexts. It often refers not just to text and talk but to the ideas, perspectives and norms that shape a particular statement or expression. Discourse reveals underlying assumptions, beliefs and power dynamics in play.

For example, feminist discourse might critique patriarchal norms in media portrayals of women. Political discourse might encode certain partisan ideologies and interests. The discourse of climate science involves specialized terminology and modes of analyzing environmental data.

Classification of Discourse

Here is a classification of types of discourse:

I- Spoken vs written discourse

Spoken discourse refers to verbal communication such as conversations, speeches or debates. Written discourse refers to communication through texts like books, newspapers, websites and more. These two forms differ in features like permanence, formality and pace.

II- Academic vs non-academic discourse

Academic discourse uses specialized terminology and rhetorical styles aligned with academic disciplines and intellectual norms. Non-academic discourse encompasses the informal language used in everyday life and popular media.

III- Public vs private discourse

Public discourse includes modes of communication addressed to a broad audience, such as official broadcasts, published books or social media posts. Private discourse refers to communication in non-public settings and personal contexts among individuals through means like private letters or conversations at home.

IV- Institutional OR organizational discourse

This refers to communication shaped by bureaucratic cultures and hierarchies, with participants adopting professional linguistic norms. It includes corporate documentation as well as exchanges within government administrations, legal bodies, NGOs and other formal organizations.

V- Ideological discourses

These refer to modes of communicative action oriented towards certain ideologies, such as feminist discourse, Marxist discourse, populist political discourse and more. The terminology and rhetorical styles carry the assumptions and values of particular worldviews.

Discourse Examples in Literature

1- Feminist discourse

Feminist discourse refers to communication that critically analyzes gender-based discrimination against women in society and advocates for women’s rights and equality. It involves exposing and challenging sexist assumptions, norms and power structures that undermine or oppress women.

“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker

“I’m poor, I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t cook, a voice say to everything listening. But I’m here.”

This quote exemplifies the feminist discourse in Walker’s novel where she gives voice to the identity and personal agency of African American women facing race and gender based oppression. The protagonist Celie embraces her sense of self-worth in spite of pervasive cultural narratives denying the value of poor, black women.

2- Postcolonial discourse

Postcolonial discourse refers to intellectual perspectives and modes of communication that analyze the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism. It provides critique of how Western colonial powers dominated much of the world for several centuries, exploiting land, resources and peoples.

Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”

This excerpt criticizes and exposes the hypocrisy underlying imperialist discourse of European colonial expansion in Africa as a civilizing mission. Conrad establishes the racist ideology and oppressive agenda masked by the supposedly moral justifications for colonialism.

3- Existentialist discourse

Existentialist discourse refers to modes of communication, language and perspectives aligned with the philosophical tradition of existentialism. This discourse centers around ideas of individual freedom, responsibility and the search for meaning in an apparently meaningless world.

Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett

“Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not.”

This quote exemplifies the existentialist discourse in Beckett’s play which explores themes of meaninglessness and futility. The character Vladimir asserts the necessity of taking action and assuming agency even in an apparently absurd world devoid of religious or metaphysical purpose.

4- Marxist discourse

Marxist discourse refers to the concepts, terminologies, and frameworks of analysis rooted in the ideology, writings, and legacy of 19th century philosopher and political economist – Karl Marx.

Core facets of Marxist discourse include highlighting economic inequality, exploitation of labor, and deficits of social justice inherent in capitalist systems of production. Marxian perspectives focus on how those who own means of production (the bourgeoisie) extract surplus value generated by workers (the proletariat), creating class conflicts.

Hard Times” by Charles Dickens

“Do you know how the day laborers live? How they struggle, what their wages are, what they endure, and how they die?”

This passage epitomizes a central Marxist discourse in Dickens’ novel which exposes the harsh conditions and exploitation faced by the working class under 19th century English capitalism. By highlighting the grim realities behind economic production, Dickens’ constructs a critique of the utilitarian worldview that dehumanizes labor.

5- Poetic Discourse

Poetic discourse refers to the unique way poems communicate meaning through carefully crafted language, sounds, imagery, and construction. It differs from everyday speech or non-fiction prose in how it consciously leverages stylistic elements like rhyme, rhythm, metaphor and lyricism to evoke a particular emotional aesthetic.

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Shakespeare

“I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils;”

The lyrical voice and rhythmic meter allows the expression of emotions and imagination in a dense, evocative manner that distinguishes poetry from ordinary speech or prose. The personification of the daffodils as a joyful crowd, the isolated wandering cloud as symbol of the poet’s loneliness and the scenic imagery created via figures of speech like similes and alliteration all contribute to the poetic discourse. This form of discourse allows Wordsworth to elevate a common scene into an exalted, symbolic experience of awe and tranquility through his creative stylistic choices.

6- Transactional Discourse

Transactional discourse refers to communication aimed at conducting some form of business, commercial or financial exchange between parties. It seeks to achieve tangible, practical outcomes related to economic transactions.

“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe

“I want 500 pounds for the cow, not a penny less. You can examine her udders yourself, good yield in them. Pay up first, then you can take her.”

The aforesaid excerpt depicts negotiation between an owner and prospective buyer over sale of a cow. The discourse involves pragmatic haggling over price, assessing economic value based on expected production and concluding transactional terms like payment before transfer of goods. Such bargaining discourse facilitates economic dealings by establishing acceptable ratios of exchange between different goods or between goods and money.

7- Political Discourse

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

“The news continued awful, and as it got worse and worse I found myself searching my face in the mirror, searching for a way out. The Republic of Gilead, said Aunt Lydia, knows no bounds. Gilead is within you.”

This passage exemplifies a political discourse critical of totalitarian regimes and patriarchal oppression. Through the dystopian setting of Gilead where women are stripped of rights and freedom, Atwood constructs a commentary on political extremism and society’s tendency to normalize injustice. The metaphor of the totalitarian state existing “within you” signals how political ideologies permeate internal spaces to serve regimes of control. The narrative discourse reveals mechanisms by which political rhetoric and propaganda mask dehumanization while appearing moralistic. Through such literary-political critique, the novel advocates for feminist liberation and egalitarian governance against authoritarian doctrines.

Discourse Examples in Literature
Discourse Examples in Literature

Functions of Discourse

The main functions of discourse are:

Communication: Discourse facilitates the exchange of ideas, meanings and messages between people through spoken, written or signed language. It enables sharing information and expressing thoughts and feelings.

Social interaction: Discourse is crucial for interacting and relating with others, building relationships, coordinating behavior, maintaining social order and organizing social groups.

Construction of knowledge: Discourse supports constructing new insights, perspectives and learning. Academic discourse in fields like science, law and education allows formulating, debating and establishing what counts as knowledge.

Mediation of power: Discourse shapes, perpetuates or challenges relations of power and dominance in society regarding factors like gender, race, class and sexuality. Political discourse for example mobilizes support for hierarchies and marginalization.

Promotion of ideologies: Ideological discourse propagates particular worldviews and belief systems through text and talk by embedding assumptions and values in its terminology and style.

Constituting identity: Discursive practices contribute to the formation, signaling and modification of personal and group identities. Self-disclosure for instance helps articulate notions of selfhood.

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