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In literature, anatomies are the division of a literary work or idea into parts. This is done so that a reader might better analyze the individual pieces.

Often, when a literary work is quite long or is diverse, it’s helpful to break it down into its individual pieces. After this is done, it’s easier to see what information one is dealing with and what it’s going to take to create an adequate analysis of it. Not only are anatomies used to analyze individual literary works, but they’re also used, and perhaps more commonly, to discuss ideas or concepts. There are a few famous examples of anatomies discussed below. These speak on broad topics like criticism and wit.

Anatomy pronunciation: uh-nah-toe-mee

Anatomy definition and examples

Definition of Anatomy in Literature

In literature, the word “anatomy” is used to describe a work that goes into detail about a single subject. That subject, whether it’s another literary work, an idea, concept, or principle, is divided into sections and carefully and deliberately analyzed. A writer will attempt to develop an overall scope of a theory or idea while also diving into its individual parts in anatomies. Depending on who is doing the writing, there may be other approaches or methods that are interesting and/or focused on. These works may include an introduction that defines the importance or need for the subject they focus on. Later, readers might find themselves exploring the history of the chosen literary subject, various theories related to it, and why it’s important to reconsider the term, idea, principle, or literary work in a different way.

Examples of Anatomies in Literature

Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays by Northrop Frye

Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays by Northrop Frye is one of the best-known examples of an anatomy in literature. It was written in order to create an overview of criticism. This includes its theories, techniques, and principles. His work was inspired by symbols, myths, and something he called “an interconnected group of suggestions.” His Anatomy of Criticism was an extremely influential text that was divided into four parts. They are:

Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton

Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, which has the fun title of: The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cut Up), was first published in 1621. It is presented as a medical textbook in which Burton explores melancholy, or melancholia. But, it is more of a philosophical or literary work than it is an informational guide. The writer uses melancholy as a way of redefining how one might understand the world. When writing about melancholy, the author pens:

Melancholy, the subject of our present discourse, is either in disposition or in habit. In disposition, is that transitory Melancholy which goes and comes upon every small occasion of sorrow, need, sickness, trouble, fear, grief, passion, or perturbation of the mind, any manner of care, discontent, or thought, which causes anguish, dulness, heaviness and vexation of spirit, any ways opposite to pleasure, mirth, joy, delight, causing forwardness in us, or a dislike.

The author used everything from theology to psychology and demonology to speak about his subject.

Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit by John Lyly

Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit is described as a didactic romance. It was written in 1578. The book is made up of a series of letters that discuss topics like love and religion. Within the publication, the author created a new style of writing that gave rise to the euphemism. It is based on puns, allusions, and antithesis.

Why Are Anatomies Important?

Anatomies, although not the most thrilling of all literary works, are an important part of the literary world. Today, writers might take the time to create anatomies on anything from a theme in contemporary politics to one in contemporary romance novels. There are many different possible approaches to this kind of writing and a seemingly endless number of conclusions to be drawn.


Why do writers create anatomies?

Writers create anatomies in order to delve into a specific subject in detail or to give a broad overview of that subject’s parts. It’s possible to find writing based on what seems to be a simple fact of life or of literature. But, when studied in detail, is revealed to be far more complex.

What is criticism in literature?

Criticism is the analysis of a literary work. It is broken down into parts and the critic considers each element carefully. They might critique the writer, or the subject, on its influence, importance, and quality of the writing.

What do writers focus on in an anatomy?

Writers could focus on anything from an analysis of a specific literary work to a literary term. It’s also possible to find anatomies written on other subjects, like emotions, skills, and character traits. For example, writing about the effects of humor in theatre.

What is the tone of anatomies?

Anatomies are formal, educational works of literature. They’re meant to share information with readers in an interesting, and informative way. This means the tone is usually formal as well.

  • Critique: defined as an evaluation of something, whether that be visual or literary arts. It analyzes all of the writer’s choices.
  • Cumulative Sentence: a sentence that begins with an independent clause and then adds subordinate clauses.
  • Literary Modernism: originated in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was mainly focused in Europe and North America.
  • Literary Argument: a piece of literature is a statement, towards the beginning of a work, that declares what it’s going to be about.
  • Logos: the use of logic to create a persuasive argument in writing.

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