Literary Devices that Start with M

There are many literary techniques, elements, and concepts that start with the letter M. Here are some of the most prominent and common ones explained in detail with examples:

1- Main Idea

The main idea refers to the central or overriding idea or message in a text. It is the primary point that the writer seeks to convey and develop through supporting details. Identifying the main idea helps summarize key points.

For example, the main idea of an essay about environmentalism may be that more people need to take action to protect nature and combat climate change. The supporting details would provide facts and arguments to build on this main idea.

Examples in Literature

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

The aforesaid quote has been spoken by Atticus Finch. He is one of the central characters in the novel. Atticus imparts this lesson to his daughter and Scout as he tries to teach her the importance of understanding others by seeing the world from their perspective. The central message of the novel is that, it is essential to confront and challenge your biases and preconceptions so as to counter the racism and injustice. The main idea encourages the readers to look beyond the surface and empathize with the experiences of others.

“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger

The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.

This statement of Holden Caulfield, protagonist of the play, captures the main idea of the novel. The central theme is the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Another theme is realization. It is important to find meaning and purpose in everyday life rather than seeking grandiose ideals.

2- Malapropism

A malapropism occurs when someone mistakenly uses an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, creating a humorous, nonsensical effect. For example:

  • She was a blessing in the skies. (blessing in disguise)
  • We must nip it in the butt. (nip in the bud)

Examples in Literature

“The Rivals” by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Mrs. Malaprop: “He is the very pineapple of politeness!” Lydia Languish: “Pinnacle, aunt, you mean.”

In this example, Mrs. Malaprop, a character known for her misuse of words, says “pineapple of politeness” when she actually means “pinnacle of politeness.” The humor arises from her unwitting substitution creates a comical and absurd image in the mind of the reader and audience. The consistent use of malapropisms by Mrs. Malaprop throughout the play adds a humorous element to the dialogue.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde

Lady Bracknell: “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

The aforesaid line is also the clear example of malapropism. Here, the Lady Bracknell humorously uses the word “carelessness” instead of “unfortunate” while discussing the death of parents. This creates a comical effect as she unwittingly downplays the significance of losing both parents. .

3- Maxim

A maxim is a short statement that expresses a general truth or principle. Maxims serve as advice or wisdom about life. For example:

  • A penny saved is a penny earned.
  • Look before you leap.

Examples in Literature

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.

‘Austen’ presents a maxim about the swiftness with which some individuals especially women of her time might progress from admiration to marriage. This maxim shows that society pushes women to marry quickly and that making impulsive choices in love can lead to big problems. It is a reflection of the novel’s themes on courtship and societal expectations.

“The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner

I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire… I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it.

This is famous maxim of Quentin Compson. It conveys the idea that the past is inescapable and that dwelling on can be destructive. Quentin suggests that it is important not to always dwell on the past. Instead, to take breaks from the memories can provide relief from the weight of history.

4- Meiosis

Meiosis is intentional understatement for ironic effect or to downplay something. It is the opposite of hyperbole. Meiosis is less common than hyperbole. It can be found in literature for various purposes, such as humor or irony. Some common examples are as under: –

  • Saying “he’s not very bright” to mean he’s unintelligent
  • “It was a minor mishap” to understate a major accident

Examples in Literature

“Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare

Antony, in his famous speech, says, “This was the most unkindest cut of all.”

In the aforesaid extract, Antony uses meiosis by describing Brutus’s betrayal as “the most unkindest cut of all.” He uses downplay while discussing the betrayal of Brutus with the word “unkindest”. He cleverly makes it seem even more serious, which helps turn the crowd against Brutus and the conspirators.

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

Lord Henry says, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.

In this context, Lord Henry employs meiosis to understate the nature of temptation. He suggests that yielding to temptation is the only way to eliminate it. He humorously simplifies the complexity of human desires and choices.

5- Melodrama

Melodrama refers to artistic works that exaggerate plot and emotions in a sensational, exaggerated way to appeal more to emotion than reason. It often includes scheming villains, unlikely coincidences, and cliffhangers.

Melodrama is more commonly found in plays and films, however it can also appear in literature. Following are the examples of melodrama in literature: –

Examples in Literature

“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte

The character Bertha Mason in the novel is Rochester’s first wife. She has been depicted as a melodramatic figure. She is locked in the attic of Thornfield Hall and her portrayal is sensationalized and filled with madness and violence. The melodramatic portrayal of Bertha adds gothic elements to the story, which heighten the emotional intensity and creating a sense of foreboding.

“Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens

In this novel, Miss Havisham is the character who embodies melodrama. She is a wealthy and eccentric woman who has stopped all the clocks in her home at the moment she was rejected at her wedding day. Her obsessive behavior, wearing her wedding dress for decades and her desire for revenge on all men reflect melodramatic elements. This contributes to the dark and emotional tone of the story.

6- Memoir

A memoir is a reflective autobiographical account of the writer’s life, focusing on a specific time period or theme. Unlike autobiography, memoir emphasizes selected memories rather than a full life story. Memoirs can encompass various literary devices and techniques.

Examples in Literature

“The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank

I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.

Anne Frank’s diary is a memoir that reflects her experiences and thoughts during the Holocaust. She expresses her enduring belief in the goodness of people despite the horrific circumstances. The memoir offers a window into her innermost thoughts and feelings, which make it a powerful and personal account of the time.

“Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt

You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.

Here the memoir of McCourt is a reflection on his impoverished childhood in the Ireland. This quote captures his ability to find solace and richness in the world of books and education despite the material poverty. The memoir uses such reflection to create a vivid portrayal of his coming of age story.

7- Metalepsis

Metalepsis refers to an author directly addressing the audience or referring to the artificiality of the work itself. It breaks down the illusion between fiction and reality. It can create interesting connections and layers of meaning in the literature. Here are examples of metalepsis in the literature:

Examples in Literature

“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck

I seen hunderd’s of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads.

In the above referred passage, Steinbeck uses metalepsis by quoting to the “bindles on their back”. The bindle or bundle represents their homelessness, nomadic lifestyle and economic hardship. This figure of speech simplifies a complex reality, which evoke empathy for the plight of the characters.

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s

I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.

In this quote, the narrator uses metalepsis to describe his experience of being “within and without.” He is not only talking about his physical presence at Gatsby party but also his emotional and psychological state. This figure of speech emphasizes the sense of being both an insider and an outsider. It deeply affects the extravagant world of the wealthy.

8- Metaphor

A metaphor makes a direct comparison between two unrelated things, stating one thing is the other. For example:

  • Her eyes were crystal blue lakes
  • The website was a maze of confusing links

Examples in literature

Here are some examples of metaphor in literature:

“As You Like It” by William Shakespeare

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

Shakespeare compares the world to a stage and people to actors, emphasizing the idea that life is like a performance with different roles and stages. The metaphor conveys the transitory and performative nature of human existence.

“Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.

Dickinson compares hope to a bird with feathers that resides in the soul. This metaphor paints a clear picture of hope as something fragile yet always there to bring comfort even during tough times.

9- Metaphysical

Metaphysical poetry deals with profound questions of existence, truth, and the cosmos. Metaphysical poets like John Donne used wit, paradoxes, and elaborate conceits in their poetry. They often used elaborate metaphors and unconventional themes.

Examples in literature

Following are the examples of metaphysical elements in literature:

“A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” by John Donne

Our two souls therefore, which are one, though I must go, endure not yet a breach, but an expansion, like gold to airy thinness beat.

John Donne uses the metaphysical conceit of a compass to describe the relationship between him and his lover. He likens their love to a compass, which shows that even when they are apart, their souls stay connected and grow together in harmony. This extended metaphor is a hallmark of metaphysical poetry.

“Easter Wings” by George Herbert

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store, though foolishly he lost the same, decaying more and more till he became most poore…

The writer employs a unique visual structure to complement the metaphysical content. The poem looks like two wings, which represents how the human soul goes from being rich to spiritually poor and then is renewed through Christ’s sacrifice. The shape of the poem enhances the metaphysical theme.

10- Meter

Meter refers to rhythmic patterns in poetry established through stressed and unstressed syllables in lines of verse. Common types of metric patterns are iambic, trochaic, spondaic, and anapestic.

Examples in Literature

“Paradise Lost” by John Milton

Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste.

Milton’s epic poem has been written in a blank verse. In epic poem, the meter is consist of unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter. The absence of rhyme allows for a more natural and flexible rhythm. Blank verse is commonly used in epic and dramatic poetry, which allows for extended narratives and monologues.

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

The poem has been written in anapestic tetrameter. It is comprised of four stressed syllables in each line with alternating stress patterns (unstressed, unstressed, stressed). This meter creates a flowing and musical rhythm aligning with the poem’s theme of deep cultural roots

11- Metonymy

Metonymy is a figure of speech where a word or phrase is substituted for something associatively related. For example using “crown” to refer to royalty or “the pen is mightier than the sword” for the written word being more powerful.

Examples in literature

“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens

The pen is mightier than the sword.

In the aforesaid phrase, “the pen” stands for the written word and “the sword” represents military force. It illustrates how the power of words and ideas can be more influential and lasting than physical violence. This metonymy is a concise way to convey the idea.

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.

In aforesaid passage, the phrase “within and without” is a metonymy for the complex mix of emotions and perceptions that Nick Carraway experiences. It symbolizes his inner and outer self, which highlights his fascination and revulsion with the world he encounters.

12- Mnemonic

A mnemonic device uses patterns, acronyms, rhymes, songs or images to help remember large amounts of information. Many students use mnemonics to study and memorize information.

Examples in Literature

“Through the Looking-Glass” by Lewis Carroll

The Queen said — ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.’

The writer introduces a concept called the “Red Queen’s Race.” This is a mnemonic device, which is used to explain the idea that in the looking glass world, one must run as fast as possible just to stay in the same place. It serves as a memorable way to illustrate the strange and paradoxical nature of this fictional world.

13- Monologue

A monologue is a speech given by a single character in a literary work. The character speaks their thoughts and feelings aloud. Monologues reveal the psychology of characters.

Examples in literature

“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

To be, or not to be: that is the question…

The famous soliloquy of the hamlet is one of the well known monologue in the history of literature. In this introspective speech, Hamlet contemplates the nature of life and death. He ponders the idea of existence and the pain that life can bring. The monologue provides a deep insight into Hamlet’s complex character and his internal struggles.

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Nick Carraway thinks about time passing and how history keeps moving forward. His monologue captures the book’s ideas about looking back, having big dreams and how things always change. These all make it a touching end to the story.

14- Montage

Montage refers to quick cuts between short scenes and images to condense space, time and information in a work like a book or film. Montage creates connections between seemingly disparate ideas and events.

Examples in Literature

“Ulysses” by James Joyce

In the “Sirens” episode of “Ulysses,” Joyce employs a montage technique to create a polyphonic soundscape. He weaves together various snippets of conversation, thoughts and ambient sounds from different characters and locations. This montage effect immerses the reader in the cacophony of a busy Dublin night, which reflects the chaotic and diverse nature of the city.

“U.S.A. Trilogy” by John Dos Passos

The trilogy of the writer incorporates a narrative technique known as the “Newsreel” section. It features a montage of newspaper headlines, song lyrics, biographical sketches and other diverse texts. This montage serves to provide historical and cultural context to the narrative, which created a broader portrait of America during the early 20th century.

15- Mood

Mood refers to the overall emotional atmosphere of a literary work or passage. Mood is established through setting, imagery, tone, and descriptions to evoke certain feelings in the reader.

Examples in Literature

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

I heard many things in hell.
How, then, am I mad?
Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I tell you the whole story.

In this context, the mood is strange and unsettled. The narrator’s tone is calm and measured. He insists he is not mad despite his disturbing actions. This adds to the sense of unease. The mood of the story is one of suspense and impending dread.

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“The world was so recent that many things lacked names,
and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”

The mood in the novel is often magical and dreamlike. The use of lush and imaginative descriptions of the writer creates an otherworldly atmosphere. The mood is characterized by a sense of wonder and the fantastic.

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The mood in the above lines is one of nostalgia and reflection. The narrator Nick Carraway looks back on the events of the story with a sense of longing and a desire to recapture the past. The mood is bittersweet and wistful.

16- Motif

A motif is a symbol or theme that recurs throughout a literary work. Motifs serve to develop or reveal key ideas and reinforce meaning. Common motifs are light/dark, wilderness/civilization, etc.

Example in Literature

“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck

Motif: Journeys and Roads

The motif of ‘journeys and roads’ is central to the novel. It represents the physical and emotional odyssey of the Joad family, as they have migrated to the west during the Dust Bowl era. The road symbolizes both hardship and hope, which is reflecting the resilience and determination of the characters.

17- Mystery

Mystery in literature focuses on a puzzling event or crime that remains unsolved and builds suspense for the reader trying to predict solutions. Mysteries encourage active reading to put together clues.

Examples in literature

“The Hound of the Baskervilles” by Arthur Conan Doyle

Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!

The central mystery revolves around the legend of a supernatural hound, which haunts the Baskerville family. The quotation highlights the mystery element as Dr. Watson and Holmes investigate the origin and reality of the hound. It raises the questions about the natural and the supernatural.

18- Myth

Myths are traditional stories about gods, heroes or origins that explain the worldview and customs of a people. Myths use fantastical elements and symbolism to reveal truths. Myths are featured in Greek/Roman mythology, Native American folklore, etc.

Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes”: “Myths are early science, the result of men’s first trying to explain what they saw around them. Only as man’s knowledge grew did myths become less satisfying.”

In this non-fiction work on mythology, Edith Hamilton explores the role of myths in early human culture. This quotation highlights the idea that myths are humanity’s initial attempts to make sense of the world and its mysteries. It explains the origin and importance of myths in literature and culture.

In summary, these are some key literary elements and techniques starting with the letter M ranging from forms like the memoir and monologue to devices such as metaphor and maxim. Mastering these terms enables deeper analysis of the meanings and messages in literature.

Literary Devices that Start with M
Literary Devices that Start with M

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