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What Is the Function of Alliteration in Literature?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
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  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2016
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The function of alliteration in literature is to provide emphasis on a particular point or to make some aspect of the work more memorable. In prose, for example, alliteration is often used to draw the reader's attention to a particular sentence and make it stand out. Alliteration is also frequently used in naming characters, to make them have more memorable names that are fun to say aloud. While the function of alliteration is much the same in both poetry and prose, poets often use it to establish the rhythm of a poem and for its aural qualities.

Alliteration in literature is the use of certain words together with similar consonant sounds, usually at the start or in the same place in each word. The very title of this article includes alliteration as it has a repetition of not only the “l” sound at the beginning of each word, but also the “t” sound that follows it. Alliteration is often used in both prose and poetry, though it can achieve different things in each form.

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In prose, it is typically used to make a particular line stand out more against those lines around it. The final line of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald provides an excellent example of alliteration in literature, consisting of “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” This repetition of “b” sounds reinforces the initial idea of beating stated in the sentence, and creates a rhythm and sound within the line almost like a drum. Through alliteration in literature, Fitzgerald supported the idea presented in the line by using the words within it to evoke a sense of rhythm and pounding against an object like a boat against waves.

Alliteration is also frequently used by authors when coming up with character names. Popular comic book character names such as Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, and Clark Kent, as well as cartoon characters such as Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Bugs Bunny all use alliteration. This creates names that are fun to say and hear, and also easy to remember.

The use of alliteration in literature also commonly extends into poetry as well. In poems, alliteration is often used for the way in which it makes a line or phrase sound. Since poems are frequently read aloud, this sound quality that such words have can be much more important. The line “the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain” in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven features alliteration and onomatopoeia together. Poe’s word choice and the “s” sounds in those words are not only alliterative, but also create the very sound of those curtains rustling and shifting together.

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indigomoth
Post 4

@pastanaga - It probably depends on the author. I'm sure books do get well over-analyzed, but I also think there are some amazing authors out there who will go over each sentence with a fine tooth comb and wring out every little bit of meaning they can get.

pastanaga
Post 3

@bythewell - Well, I mean, Mary-Jane wasn't the only character that didn't have an alliterative name and she wasn't even the original love interest for Spiderman, although most people seem to remember her better. The original love interest was Gwen Stacey.

It kind of makes you wonder how often people assume that techniques like alliteration are being used deliberately when they might actually be accidental. The definition of alliteration doesn't require the technique to be deliberate and I think a lot of the time the author might not even realize that they are doing it and might just be putting together a phrase that happens to sound good to them.

bythewell
Post 2

My dad always liked to point out that the only person in Spiderman who had a name that wasn't alliterative was Mary-Jane Watson and that was because she was intended to be the most important character. The impetus for everything that Peter Parker does, even more so than the death of his uncle.

I don't know if that distinction is still true, because my dad read the comics when he was a kid, but I did always like his theory. And it's pretty cool that they must have taken the time to do that and even to make sure that she had the initials M. W. which are the opposites of each other.

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