English 1301 ONL / Skrabanek


When you read a novel or a poem, or when you watch a movie or a TV comedy, or when you listen to a song, you are experiencing the literary purpose. When you tell a joke or write a love poem, you are using the literary purpose. The literary purpose is used to entertain and to give aesthetic pleasure. The focus of the literary purpose is on the words themselves and on a conscious and deliberate arrangement of the words to produce a pleasing or enriching effect.

A writer often expresses a worldview when using the literary purpose. The writer might comment on human nature or behavior. The reader gains insight to the human condition by understanding the writer's ideas. When used as a secondary purpose, the literary purpose enhances the primary purpose through figurative or poetic or playful language and often a sense of human struggle.

Literary writing is usually fictional, and it makes use of figurative or symbolic language. When literary purpose is the primary purpose, the writing should be fictional. As a secondary purpose, literary writing can be found in combination with the expressive or persuasive purpose. Because literary writing is figurative, it is seldom found in combination with referential writing, which is literal.

Kinds of Literary Writing

Features and Characteristics

When You Use the Literary Purpose to Write


        She waited on the porch, swinging slowly to and fro, as the western sky melted from orange to gray to black. She heard the whine of the truck tires out on the highway and, farther, the lonesome song of the Sunset Limited, whisking people away to exotic places like Houston or beyond. A teasing breeze swept over her, coaxing her auburn hair across her face, and as she pushed the hair away, her finger burned with the tear that had pooled in her eye. Soon the lid could hold no more, and the tear blazed a trail down her lightly powdered face. He said he would be there an hour before, and still he did not come. Had he been in a wreck, or had he, like all the others before, only played with her trusting heart?

Read other literary examples below.

When You Analyze the Literary Purpose in Another's Writing

Example of analysis of the paragraph above:

        The writer uses the literary purpose to present a fictional slice-of-life scene. One key characteristic of literary writing, a sense of reality, is evident in the writer's use of common images that reflect everyday life, such as the character swinging on the porch and listening to the sound of traffic out on the highway. Another characteristic of literary writing appears as the writer introduces a problem, the fact that the character is waiting for some person to appear; the tardiness of the person produces sadness and doubt in the character. The writer has also used another key characteristic, figurative language, in suggesting that the sky is melting, that a breeze is teasing her, and that her tear is blazing a trail. The presence of these various characteristics demonstrates the writer's effective use of the literary purpose.

Notes on this analysis:

  • First sentence: identifies the purpose.
  • Second sentence: identifies a characteristic of literary writing and includes a related example.
  • Third sentence: identifies another characteristic of literary writing and includes a related example.
  • Fourth sentence: identifies a third characteristic of literary writing and includes a related example.
  • Fifth sentence: gives a summative conclusion and concise evaluation.

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    Primary Purpose: Literary
    Main Patterns: Narration, Description

    The Boys and the Frogs

    A fable, like a parable, is a fictional piece of writing that attempts to deliver a life lesson. What is the life lesson in the following fable? It first appeared in Fifty Famous Fables by Lida Brown McMurry (1853-1942). This book was published in 1910 by B.F. Johnson Publishing Company in Richmond, Virginia.

    The Boys and the Frogs

           "Let us go to the pond and have some fun," said George.

           "What fun can we have there?" asked Frank. "The pond is nothing but an old mudhole. We can not swim in such water."

           Down at the pond the sun shone warm, and an old mother frog and her children were sunning themselves on a log. Now and then one plunged into the water with a chug! and then crawled out on the bank. That was a happy time in frog land.

           In the midst of their play, they heard a sound which made the mother frog tremble. It was only a boy's laugh, but as soon as the mother heard it she said, "Into the water, every one of you. The giants are coming;" and they all jumped into the water.

           The giants had armed themselves with pebbles. Each one had a pocketful. As soon as they caught sight of the frogs, they cried, "Now for some fun!"

           Before the mother frog could reach the water, a stone hit her on one of her feet. The one-sided battle had begun. Every time a little frog peeped out of the water to get a breath of air or to look at the two giants, whiz! flew a pebble right toward it, and it never cared to look at its enemies again.

           The mother became very angry. She lifted her head boldly above the water. "Cowards!" she cried. "If we could sting, would you fight us? If we could bite, would you be here? You have great sport tormenting us, because we cannot fight for ourselves. You are cowards! cowards!"

           And all the little frogs echoed, "Cowards! cowards!"

    Primary Purpose: Literary
    Main Patterns: Narration, Description

    The Metamorphosis

    In 1916, Franz Kakfa (1883-1924) wrote his surreal novella, The Metamorphosis, about a young man who awakens to find himself transformed into a giant cockroach. The first three paragraphs of the novella follow. This translation was done by Ian Johnston of Malaspina University-College, Nanaimo, BC. You can find the complete text at http://www.mala.bc.ca/~Johnstoi/stories/kafka-E.htm.

    The Metamorphosis

           One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug. He lay on his armour-hard back and saw, as he lifted his head up a little, his brown, arched abdomen divided up into rigid bow-like sections. From this height the blanket, just about ready to slide off completely, could hardly stay in place. His numerous legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his circumference, flickered helplessly before his eyes.

           "What's happened to me," he thought. It was no dream. His room, a proper room for a human being, only somewhat too small, lay quietly between the four well-known walls. Above the table, on which an unpacked collection of sample cloth goods was spread out—Samsa was a travelling salesman—hung the picture which he had cut out of an illustrated magazine a little while ago and set in a pretty gilt frame. It was a picture of a woman with a fur hat and a fur boa. She sat erect there, lifting up in the direction of the viewer a solid fur muff into which her entire forearm had disappeared.

           Gregor's glance then turned to the window. The dreary weather—the rain drops were falling audibly down on the metal window ledge—made him quite melancholy. "Why don't I keep sleeping for a little while longer and forget all this foolishness," he thought. But this was entirely impractical, for he was used to sleeping on his right side, and in his present state he could not get himself into this position. No matter how hard he threw himself onto his right side, he always rolled onto his back again. He must have tried it a hundred times, closing his eyes so that he would not have to see the wriggling legs, and gave up only when he began to feel a light, dull pain in his side which he had never felt before.

    Primary Purpose: Literary
    Main Patterns: Narration, Description


    Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) is one of the best-known authors in American literary history. Like many of his poems and short stories, Poe's life and death were mysterious. "Eldorado" is a poem that is more optimistic than most of Poe's work.


    Gaily bedight,
    A gallant knight
    In sunshine and in shadow,
    Had journeyed long,
    Singing a song,
    In search of El Dorado.
    But he grew old --
    This knight so bold --
    And -- o'er his heart a shadow
    Fell as he found
    No spot of ground
    That looked like El Dorado.
    And, as his strength
    Failed him at length,
    He met a pilgrim shadow --
    "Shadow," said he,
    "Where can it be --
    This land of El Dorado?"
    "Over the Mountains
    Of the Moon,
    Down the Valley of the Shadow,
    Ride, boldly ride,"
    The shade replied --
    "If you seek for El Dorado."

    Primary Purpose: Literary
    Main Patterns: Narration, Classification, Evaluation

    The Declaration of Independence in American

    H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), sometimes called "The Sage of Baltimore," was a famous American newspaper writer, an often offensive wit, a critic, and an iconoclast. He often took a dim view of the intellectual capability of the average American. The following selection is his "translation" of the Declaration of Independence into common language. It was first published in the Baltimore Evening Sun, November 7, 1921. Mencken's piece can be regarded as satire or parody.

    Mencken provided the following foreword to his article:

    "The following is my own translation, but I have had the aid of suggestions from various other scholars. It must be obvious that more than one section of the original is now quite unintelligible to the average American of the sort using the Common Speech. What would he make, for example, of such a sentence as this one: "He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures"? Or of this: "He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise." Such Johnsonian periods are quite beyond his comprehension, and no doubt the fact is at least partly to blame for the neglect upon which the Declaration has fallen in recent years. When, during the Wilson-Palmer saturnalia of oppressions, specialists in liberty began protesting that the Declaration plainly gave the people the right to alter the goverment under which they lived and even to abolish it altogether, they encountered the utmost incredulity. On more than one occasion, in fact, such an exegete was tarred and feathered by the shocked members of the American Legion, even after the Declaration had been read to them. What ailed them was that they could not understand its eighteenth century English. I make the suggestion that its circulation among such patriotic men, translated into the language they use every day, would serve to prevent, or, at all events, to diminish that sort of terrorism."

    The Declaration of Independence in American

    mencken WHEN THINGS get so balled up that the people of a country got to cut loose from some other country, and go it on their own hook, without asking no permission from nobody, excepting maybe God Almighty, then they ought to let everybody know why they done it, so that everybody can see they are not trying to put nothing over on nobody.

           All we got to say on this proposition is this: first, me and you is as good as anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better; second, nobody ain't got no right to take away none of our rights; third, every man has got a right to live, to come and go as he pleases, and to have a good time whichever way he likes, so long as he don't interfere with nobody else. That any government that don't give a man them rights ain't worth a damn; also, people ought to choose the kind of government they want themselves, and nobody else ought to have no say in the matter. That whenever any government don't do this, then the people have got a right to give it the bum's rush and put in one that will take care of their interests. Of course, that don't mean having a revolution every day like them South American yellow-bellies, or every time some jobholder goes to work and does something he ain't got no business to do. It is better to stand a little graft, etc., than to have revolutions all the time, like them coons, and any man that wasn't a anarchist or one of them I.W.W.'s would say the same. But when things get so bad that a man ain't hardly got no rights at all no more, but you might almost call him a slave, then everybody ought to get together and throw the grafters out, and put in new ones who won't carry on so high and steal so much, and then watch them. This is the proposition the people of these Colonies is up against, and they have got tired of it, and won't stand it no more. The administration of the present King, George III, has been rotten from the start, and when anybody kicked about it he always tried to get away with it by strong-arm work. Here is some of the rough stuff he has pulled:

    The Declaration of Independence in American

           He vetoed bills in the Legislature that everybody was in favor of, and hardly nobody was against.

           He wouldn't allow no law to be passed without it was first put up to him, and then he stuck it in his pocket and let on he forgot about it, and didn't pay no attention to no kicks.

           When people went to work and gone to him and asked him to put through a law about this or that, he give them their choice: either they had to shut down the Legislature and let him pass it all by himself, or they couldn't have it at all.

           He made the Legislature meet at one-horse tank-towns, so that hardly nobody could get there and most of the leaders would stay home and let him go to work and do things like he wanted.

           He give the Legislature the air, and sent the members home every time they stood up to him and give him a call-down or bawled him out.

           When a Legislature was busted up he wouldn't allow no new one to be elected, so that there wasn't nobody left to run things, but anybody could walk in and do whatever they pleased.

           He tried to scare people outen moving into these States, and made it so hard for a wop or one of these here kikes to get his papers that he would rather stay home and not try it, and then, when he come in, he wouldn't let him have no land, and so he either went home again or never come.

           He monkeyed with the courts, and didn't hire enough judges to do the work, and so a person had to wait so long for his case to come up that he got sick of waiting, and went home, and so never got what was coming to him.

    The Declaration of Independence in American

           He got the judges under his thumb by turning them out when they done anything he didn't like, or by holding up their salaries, so that they had to knuckle down or not get no money.

           He made a lot of new jobs, and give them to loafers that nobody knowed nothing about, and the poor people had to pay the bill, whether they could or not.

           Without no war going on, he kept an army loafing around the country, no matter how much people kicked about it.

           He let the army run things to suit theirself and never paid no attention whatsoever to nobody which didn't wear no uniform.

           He let grafters run loose, from God knows where, and give them the say in everything, and let them put over such things as the following:

           Making poor people board and lodge a lot of soldiers they ain't got no use for, and don't want to see loafing around.

           When the soldiers kill a man, framing it up so that they would get off.

           Interfering with business.

           Making us pay taxes without asking us whether we thought the things we had to pay taxes for was something that was worth paying taxes for or not.

           When a man was arrested and asked for a jury trial, not letting him have no jury trial.

    The Declaration of Independence in American

           Chasing men out of the country, without being guilty of nothing, and trying them somewheres else for what they done here.

           In countries that border on us, he put in bum governments, and then tried to spread them out, so that by and by they would take in this country too, or make our own government as bum as they was.

           He never paid no attention whatever to the Constitution, but he went to work and repealed laws that everybody was satisfied with and hardly nobody was against, and tried to fix the government so that he could do whatever he pleased.

           He busted up the Legislatures and let on he could do all the work better by himself.

           Now he washes his hands of us and even goes to work and declares war on us, so we don't owe him nothing, and whatever authority he ever had he ain't got no more.

           He has burned down towns, shot down people like dogs, and raised hell against us out on the ocean.

           He hired whole regiments of Dutch, etc., to fight us, and told them they could have anything they wanted if they could take it away from us, and sicked these Dutch, etc., on us.

           He grabbed our own people when he found them in ships on the ocean, and shoved guns into their hands, and made them fight against us, no matter how much they didn't want to.

           He stirred up the Indians, and give them arms and ammunition, and told them to go to it, and they have killed men, women and children, and don't care which.

    The Declaration of Independence in American

           Every time he has went to work and pulled any of these things, we have went to work and put in a kick, but every time we have went to work and put in a kick he has went to work and did it again. When a man keeps on handing out such rough stuff all the time, all you can say is that he ain't got no class and ain't fitten to have no authority over people who have got any rights, and he ought to be kicked out.

           When we complained to the English we didn't get no more satisfaction. Almost every day we give them plenty of warning that the politicians over there was doing things to us that they didn't have no right to do. We kept on reminding them who we was, and what we was doing here, and how we come to come here. We asked them to get us a square deal, and told them that if this thing kept on we'd have to do something about it and maybe they wouldn't like it. But the more we talked, the more they didn't pay no attention to us. Therefore, if they ain't for us they must be agin us, and we are ready to give them the fight of their lives, or to shake hands when it is over.

           Therefore be it resolved, That we, the representatives of the people of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, hereby declare as follows: That the United States, which was the United Colonies in former times, is now a free country, and ought to be; that we have throwed out the English King and don't want to have nothing to do with him no more, and are not taking no more English orders no more; and that, being as we are now a free country, we can do anything that free countries can do, especially declare war, make peace, sign treaties, go into business, etc. And we swear on the Bible on this proposition, one and all, and agree to stick to it no matter what happens, whether we win or we lose, and whether we get away with it or get the worst of it, no matter whether we lose all our property by it or even get hung for it.

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