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Literature Glossary

Don’t be an oxymoron. Know your literary terms.

Over 200 literary terms, Shmooped to perfection.



Any Shmoop scholar worth his or her salt knows all about the western literary canon. The canon is a tacitly agreed upon collection of literary works that are deemed super important and of the highest quality by all the folks that, well, deem things. That is, these are the books, poems, and plays that are widely anthologized, taught in schools, and thought to be all-around masterpieces.

While the canon has traditionally consisted of literature by Old White Dudes (the usual suspects include heavyweights like Homer, William Shakespeare, and John Milton), recent scholars and critics have worked to expand the canon to acknowledge brilliant works written by people of color, women, and LGBTQ writers, too. Revising the canon can stir up a whole lot of controversy, especially in higher education. 

We should note that the word canon can refer to all of the writings by a particular author, or it can refer to all the books that make up the Bible.