Guide to Literary Terms Questions and Answers

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What is the definition of the word 'agency' in literature?

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yamaguchityler eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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write31 answers

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This is a great question. Agency is often times a term used in either philosophy and sociology, however it can be used in a literature sense as well.

What agency means, is essentially the freedom and capacity to live or act in a defined world. In a literature sense, we can interpret this in a few different ways. We could look at a specific character in a novel, and see his/her ability to make choices, act freely, and control their respective lives within the novel. The character is able to engage socially, take action on desired things, and have control over their own life. 

We can also interpret agency from a reader and author's perspective. For instance, in almost every novel you read, there is a symbolism or theme or lesson that the author always wants to convey. However, reading and understanding is a very subjective field, that's the beauty of it and why so many people enjoy reading. There is no one answer like there may be in a math question. Every reader can take away their own lesson that they got out of reading the book. This can be understood also as the agency of the reader. The freedom, the choice, and the ability to take away from a book whatever may have been learned. Sure the author wants to communicate a specific message, but it's ultimately the reader's experience and how they take away from the novel. Thus, the freedom to understand and comprehend literature in the reader's own way, is what is meant by agency.

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Lorna Stowers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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write4,625 answers

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What a great question. The definition of a word is very important in literature. Sometimes, if a reader fails to define a word as the author intended it, the meaning can be lost or the reader can become confused.

As for the different meanings of agency in literature, one can be sure that all of the meanings have been used in one way or another in many different texts.

Below are the definitions of agency and examples of how they would be used in literature.

1. A company who provides service for another. Example: The Child Services agency became involved in the case against David Pelzer (A Child Called It).

2. The mode or means of being instrumental or acting. Example: It became clear to the priests that the Devil was acting as an agency of Regan's (The Exorcist).

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thongolivia | Student

The term agency simply means to give voice , choice and power.

For instance , the aim of Dalit literature is to give agency to the Dalits, who are the socially discriminated.