The elements of literature connote the aspects that make up a piece or work of literature such as a poem, biography, prose, epic, story or play. To be able to write a complete work of literature, a writer, poet, or playwright needs to use certain elements of literature to make the work have meaning.
The basic elements of literature found in most writings include the plot, setting, character, structure, conflicts, point of view and theme. These elements however differ from the various types of literature work. For example the literature elements found in novels or short stories might differ from those found in poetry or prose (Bhattacharyya, 2010).
DiYanni in his work mostly focuses on theme as the main element of literature in his analysis of various works. Theme is the central idea or basic meaning that is underlying in a story, poem, novel or play. The theme is identified in terms of looking at the characters in a literary work or the author’s perspective or view of the literature piece. The theme is seen to reflect the society or world as a whole (Werre, 2003).
DiYanni (2007) explores the theme of denial in his comparisons of literature by Faulknet, Miller and Poe. He notes that denial is very prominent in the story of” A Rose for Emily” and in the play “Death of a Salesman” and in the poem “The Raven”. Within the play, the story and the poem each, the theme of denial is prominent because of the central character’s refusal to accept the reality.
This creates a dreamlike situation that enables them to remain indifferent to the truth about their lives and surroundings. This state of denial is however seen to be a momentary solution to their problems.
In his theme analysis of “A Rose for Emily”, the main character, Emily Grierson is seen to be withdrawn into her own unrealistic dream world. The people in the town she lives in feel that disrupting her unrealistic world will upset her causing her to react in a negative way. When her lover, Homer, tries to threaten her unrealistic world, she kills him and hides his body in an upper bedroom in her house. Homer’s body is discovered well after Emily’s death and funeral (DiYanni, 2007).
Diyanni further analyses Emily’s character and her creation of the unrealistic world by looking at her actions that revealed she was in denial. In the story, we are told of how Emily keeps her father’s body for three days denying that he is dead and also denying the townspeople his body.
Her denial was evident in her refusal to believe that her father was dead despite persuasion from doctors and ministers who had called on her to dispose of the body. Emily’s other denial was that she saw her marriage to Homer Barron and his existence to never have been real. This is evident in the quote:
“The man himself lay in the bed…… The body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love has cuckolded him” (DiYanni, 2007, p.84).
In the story, the town gets free postal delivery services which require that every town’s member have a mailbox and house numbers attached to their house. All the townspeople agree to have the mailboxes and numbers attached to their houses except Emily. She refuses to get a mailbox and house numbers hanged on her house which is see to be a form of denial. Other than the mail services, she refuses to pay tax to the local government (DiYanni, 2007).
The townspeople also experience some denial where in a traditional stance; they claim that Emily is no longer a member of the upper social class because she does not possess the qualities to belong to that group. The townspeople believed the Grierson family held themselves in high esteem, more than what they truly were.
The townspeople also deny that they have a right and obligation to inform Emily that there is a foul stench around her house. They withdraw from the reality by covering up the smell with sprinklings of lime around her house and all the outer buildings. The townspeople also deny that Emily and Homer could be in a love relationship because they think it would be improper for a lady like her to have a relationship with a day laborer from the North.
They also deny that a lady from the Grierson family with such a high standing in society would take a person like Homer Barron seriously. They even go to the extent of denying the relationship by saying that grief would not cause a real lady to forget her high ranking social status in the town’s society (DiYanni, 2007).
DiYanni’s next analysis of the theme of denial is in Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman. The main character of the play, Willy Loman, lives in a delusional world in which he is successful and adored by the people around him.
Willy’s wife Linda and their two sons, Happy and Biff, support Willy’s unrealistic world because they do not want to disrupt his dreamlike state, claiming that he will eventually realize the truth on his own. Willy’s denial occurs when he denies that he is a mediocre salesman in the first Act of scene three. He claims that he is known in all of New of England in a conversation with his two sons (Diyanni, 2007).
He further exaggerates the circumstance of his denial when he claims that he can park his car in any London street and no one would touch it because the police would protect it like it was their own. He also appears to be delusional when he claims that he never has to wait in line to see a buyer.
Willy’s denial from reality is also evident where he is has an antagonistic view towards anyone or anything that wants to threaten his unrealistic world. This is evident when Willy tells off Bernard for saying that his son is about to fail school and also when he chases his son Biff out of the house for calling Willy a fake after discovering that he has a mistress .
Willy’s wife Linda also faces some denial when she refuses to accept the fact that her husband tried to kill himself. These is evidenced where she writes a letter claiming that all the car accidents Willy had been involved were not accidents at all. She first removes and later replaces a rubber hose from behind the water heater that Willy used to try and kill himself with because she feels that removing the hose might insult Willy.
Linda also contradicts the self-depreciating remarks that her husband makes. She is noted to say that her husband is the handsomest man in the world and that he doesn’t talk too much, he is just a man with a lively personality. She is also quoted as saying “There’s nothing to make up dear. You’re doing fine” (DiYanni, 2007).
Linda summarizes the things that have pushed her husband into denial as being his old buyers who were also happy to see him and brought him constant business when he was a younger salesman. Now his buyers were either dead or retired. She also says that Willy drives for seven hundred miles without making any money from his long and tiring journey.
To counter his wife’s statement about his fruitless sales journeys, Willy lies to his wife that the fifty dollars he borrows from Charley is the salary he makes when he goes on his seven hundred mile journey.
Willy’s sons are also in denial that there is something wrong with their father. They perpetuate Willy’s delusions by playacting out one of their father’s daydreams in which they are both successful businessmen. Happy is seen to be telling his brother about how they are going to sell start a sporting good line known as the Loman Line that will be worth a million dollars.
On the other hand, Happy’s brother Biff is pretending to go for a job interview with Oliver who is his former boss. The job will make him to be a successful salesman for sports goods (DiYanni, 2007).
When Biff confronts him with the rubber hose he used to try and kill himself with, Willy faces a nervous breakdown. Biff wants his father to acknowledge the fact that he was trying to commit suicide and he also confronts his father on the fact that Willy is not a successful salesman. He wants his father to accept the fact that he is a failure and a thief.
In the events that lead up to his death, Willy has a last argument with his son after which he drives off in his car and later crashes it. This scene is viewed to be a reflection of Willy driving away from the truth and reality of himself and his mediocre life.
The next theme of denial to be analyzed is Poe’s poem “The Raven”. The narrator of the poem attempts to deny the fact that his love, Lenore, is dead. He is faced with denial when he is made angry by the raven’s declarations that his lover Lenore no longer exists which in the end makes him view the raven as nothing more than just a bird.
In stanza two of the poem, the narrator denies that his Love Lenore is gone where he states” Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow from my books surcease of sorrow-sorrow for the lost Lenore” (DiYanni, 2007, p.1173).
In the fifth stanza of the poem, the narrator faces denial when he states in the poem that he gazed down the hallway and stood there reveling in the fact that his lover was no longer among the living. His denial is in evidence again in the eighth and ninth stanzas when he refuses to accept the fact that he is lonely. The stanzas in the poem also reveal that the presence of the raven is seen to be a distraction from the narrator’s experience of solitude and loneliness after the loss of his lover.
His denial of loneliness is also in evidence in the tenth stanza where he believes that the raven will leave at some point, likening its departure to that of his friends, his hopes and dreams. The narrator is in denial when he refuses to accept the fact that the raven is only just a bird. This is evident in the fifteenth and sixteenth stanza where he labels the raven to be a prophet of doom. He also likens the bird to a fiend and a devil.
DiYanni compares the different characters of the play, poem and story noting that the narrator of the poem, Emily Grierson and Willy Loman are all similar in that they allow outside influences and their unrealistic worlds to affect their decisions. DiYanni also notes that all the three characters are lonely with the narrator being lonely from the death of his lover, Emily Grierson loosing both her father and Homer and Willy being the lone salesman trying to make a living.
The characters are also lonely in that they live in their own delusional worlds which make it difficult for them to relate with the other characters in their lives, creating situations that are filled with tension and antagonism (DiYanni, 2007).
The aspect of the main characters in the play, poem and story placing some distance between them and the truth creates a situation where they are unreceptive and antagonize anyone who tries to threaten and distort the truth about their unrealistic world. In each of the three works, death is seen to be a consequence of each characters extreme denial.
In the case of Willy, the removal of denial from his life in the play gives him the motivation to commit suicide. Emily Grierson murders Homer as a result of a withdrawal from her unrealistic life while the narrator looses his sanity when he strains himself to question the reality of the raven (DiYanni, 2007),
Another similarity of the three works is seen when the family of Willy helps to perpetuate his fantasies because they believe they have no right to interfere with his unrealistic world. This is similar to when the townspeople help to perpetuate Emily’s delusions. All the three characters deny reality because the truth to them will mean having to reevaluate their ambitions, goals, priorities which would mean redefining their happiness.
Emily, Willy and the narrator use physical and violent outbursts as a way of showing their defiance and resistance to the fictional and factual true predicaments of their lives. The three characters also run from the truth about their unrealistic worlds by either committing murder as was the case with Emily killing Homer or committing vehicular suicide as done by Willy or becoming mentally insane as evidenced by the narrator questioning whether the raven was truly a bird (DiYanni, 2007).
The theme of denial in most of the works analyzed by DiYanni has revealed the fact that the character in focus by the author will most often face denial in the form of refusing to accept that their surroundings are real. The characters also refuse to accept that the existence of their friends and family members are real.
They refuse to deal with their emotions and deny any confrontations with the people that are close to them. The characters are seen to violently refuse any person or thing that tries to threaten their world or alter their chosen view of reality. An intrusion into their dreamlike worlds results in disastrous consequences which are more than likely death or suicide.
Bhattacharyya, A. (2010) Elements of Literature. Retrieved on September 2, 2010 from:
DiYanni, R. (2007) Literature, reading fiction, poetry, and drama. 6th Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Werre, P. (2003) The elements of literature. Retrieved on September 2, 2010 from: