Use of Movements and Concepts in Literature


Each literary work combines the author’s ideas and concepts developed by previous generations of writers and thinkers. Some novels, short stories, and poems become the foundations of new genres and literary movements. This paper will identify and analyze such literary movements as romanticism, realism, and naturalistic determinism in Willa Cather’s Paul’s Case, metaphysical in Emily Dickinson and Edward Taylor’s poetry, and ambiguity in William Faulkner’s Barn Burning.

Examples of Romanticism, Realism, and Naturalistic Determinism in Paul’s Case by Willa Cather


At first glance, Cather’s Paul’s Case may seem like a short story about the aspirations and struggles of a teenager whose life ends quickly and tragically. However, the author skillfully combines several incompatible literary movements in her work. These are romanticism, realism, and naturalistic determinism. The manifestation of the first is in the actions of the protagonist. Motta (n.d.) states that “freedom, imagination, individual expression and irrationality are all main characteristics of Romanticism” (para. 1). Early in the story, Cather (2021) notifies the readers that Paul is a disobedient and insolent boy. The school, teachers, and students gradually begin to seem repulsive to him. The protagonist hides from the daily routine in his imagination. According to Cather (2021), “what he wanted was to see, to be in the atmosphere … away from everything” (p. 79). Paul wants to be free and runs away from his fate on the train to New York. All this ends with an irrational decision to commit suicide, not with a revolver but with a train.

Realism and Naturalistic Determinism

Realism patterns are noticeable throughout the story and especially in the ending. The goal of realism is “to represent reality through the depiction of real-life events and subjects in a naturalistic manner” (Realism, n.d., para. 1). Descriptions of the protagonist entering the teachers’ lounge and his physical condition in the ending are striking examples of it. When Paul thinks about carnations, the other flowers he saw, and their fate is a manifestation of naturalistic determinism.

Metaphysical, Emily Dickinson and Edward Taylor


Initially, the metaphysical appeared as a philosophical idea that later writers and poets adapted and turned into a literary device. In literature, metaphysical serves “to elucidate the fundamental nature of being and the world and is often used in the form of argument to describe the intellectual or emotional state an individual goes through” (Metaphysical, 2021, para. 1). This literary technique began to be used in the late sixteenth century and was popularized in the seventeenth century.

Metaphysical in Poetry

Emily Dickinson and Edward Taylor are prominent authors who often used metaphysical devices in their work. Metaphysical in Dickinson’s poetry is often present in complex and straightforward conceits (Chesters, 2018). In some of her poems, they form a sequence and are ideologically and conceptually interconnected, for example, in Grief is a Mouse (Chesters, 2018). Taylor’s poetry is also permeated with the metaphysical. Just like Dickinson, he uses conceits made of various images and their combinations. However, Dickinson uses conceptually neutral terms and phrases to achieve the metaphysical effect, whereas Taylor is usually associated with Christianity or the church’s criticism. It is safe to say that his poetry is strongly inspired by plots from the Old and New Testaments, Christian imagery, and Western Christianity’s history (Edward Taylor, 2021). Thereby, he connects the physical concepts and things beyond the human mind, simply put, metaphysical.

Ambiguity in William Faulkner’s Barn Burning


It is no secret that people often encounter ambiguity in their lives, so it is often present in literature. According to Cambridge Dictionary, ambiguity is “the fact of something having more than one possible meaning and therefore possibly confusing” (Ambiguity, n.d., para. 1). Writers and poets use ambiguity for various purposes, which include evoking complex emotions in readers, foreshadowing, and creating cliffhangers.

William Faulkner’s Barn Burning

William Faulkner’s Barn Burning is a perfect example of the frequent and skillful use of ambiguity in literature. Abner Snopes’ response to Mr. Harris’s advice to leave the country remains unsaid deliberately (Faulkner, 1938). The author only notes that the definition that the antagonist gave to the locals is rude and offensive. Abner’s reluctance to answer Justice’s question about the rug is another example of the use of ambiguity (Faulkner, 1938). It shows the spiteful and jealous but cowardly nature of the short story antagonist’s character. Barn Burning’s ending can also be called vague as the protagonist becomes free, but his and his family’s further fate is unknown to the readers. One can say that ambiguity creates one of the story’s central themes, namely the family-society dilemma.


This work explores various literary concepts, devices, and themes in the works of Willa Cather, Emily Dickinson, Edward Taylor, and William Faulkner. It was found that initially seemingly incompatible movements could be effectively combined. Moreover, the tone of metaphysical in a poem depends on the background of a poet. Another interesting finding is that writers use some concepts to both enhance the distinctive features of the characters and form central themes.


Ambiguity. (n.d.). Cambridge Dictionary. 2021, Web.

Cather, W. (2021). Paul’s case: A study in temperament. Willa Cather Archive. Web.

Chesters, T. (2018). The lingering of the literal in some poems of Emily Dickinson. In T. Cave & D. Wilson (Eds.), Reading beyond the code: Literature and relevance theory (pp. 149-166). Oxford University Press.

Edward Taylor. (2021). Poetry Foundation. Web.

Faulkner, W. (1938). Barn burning. Pedro Domínguez Caballero de Rodas. Web.

Metaphysical. (2021). Literary Devices. Web.

Motta, C. (n.d.). What is romanticism? Useum. Web.

Realism. (n.d.). Useum. 2021, Web.

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