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What literary device is this?


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Hi there!

I have no idea if this post falls into the right category, as it is a question with a very precise answer, I guess. It's about finding the name of a particular literary device, that I encountered many times but don't know the name of.

Let's take o short story by Cortazar, for instance "Letter to a young lady in Paris". In the first paragraph, we learn about the narrator's issue with "the bunnies", though we have no idea what it is all about. Here is the beginning of the story:

http://akissonthephiltrum.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/letter-to-a-young-lady-in-paris-julio-cortazar/

We incidentally find out much later about his peculiarity of throwing up small cuddly bunnies every now and again (it's a fantastic tale, so we mustn't be too surprised!). But this is just an example of a literary device that Cortazar - and many others alike - uses a lot: introducing an element (here, the mysterious bunny) from the start, as if we already knew it, and only pages or tens of pages later revealing the true nature of that element. This way, of course, it adds up suspense and mystery to the story.

It's a device somehow similar with that of cataphora in linguistics, as I see it: first comes the cataphoric element into the text, and only then comes the reference.

E.g.: He's really stupid. He's so cruel. He's my boyfriend Nick.

Do you happen to know the name of this literary device?

Thanks a lot!

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It's a bit of a narrative hook, but I don't think this device really has a name--it's pretty standard for the construction of plots when relying on dialogue/first person perspective. To have people explain everything in this sort of format (in this case, epistolary) makes no sense and is unrealistic--it would be exposition that doesn't occur in the world. Same reason in dialogue, people will refer to things that they're both familiar with without explaining them immediately after. It's just good writing, and a basis for narrative structure in general.

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It's a device somehow similar with that of cataphora in linguistics, as I see it: first comes the cataphoric element into the text, and only then comes the reference.

E.g.: He's really stupid. He's so cruel. He's my boyfriend Nick.

Do you happen to know the name of this literary device?

Thanks a lot!

Both Anaphora and Cataphora make more sense poetically or in small excerpts of prose rather than drawn out over a long plot. If I had to pin the tail on this donkey with words I already knew before I Wiki-ed Cataphora, though, I'd call it foreshadowing, though that doesn't quite assume the reader knows anything yet.

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Elementary my dear, Watson (or stephenfirrell, ha). What you have there is ''prolepsis.''

Not sure I'd classify it as that, either. If the bunnies did not yet exist at the beginning, yes, but it sounds like it's just a matter of gradual exposition...

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I agree, Galoup. At least in my experience, prolepsis is more of a sustained, flash-forward scene, not just a passing reference of something that will be explained later. (Best example I can think of is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - the flash-forward scenes of Sandy as a nun later in life.) Or I have totally misunderstood this lit term (a distinct possibility).

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Yeah, Galoup11 & anxious_aspirant, I think too prolepsis is not the best of choices, because it's not a step into the future, it's got everything to do with the present. I think it's a cataphoric device whose referent is put off again.. and again and again - sometimes till the end of the story. If my memory serves me right, I think the same happened with another story by Cortazar, "Encounter within a red circle", where the narrator (the "I") reveals his identity only at the end of the story, which totally changes the perspective.

It's a really common device, used mostly by writers who intend to obscure their message, to turn the reading itself into a sort of labyrinth

Maybe it's just a cataphora after all?

Thanks a lot for all your comments anyway

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