What does "metaphysical features" mean when discussing literature?

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The term metaphysical refers most generally to ideas that are beyond physical and so belong in the realm of the intangible, the ethereal, or simply the non-physical. 

Historically, the term "metaphysics" has been associated with philosophy but there was a literary movement of metaphysical poetry as well. Though the phrase "metaphysical features" is not widely used in literary studies, it has a fairly definite meaning.

Thus "metaphysical features" in literature will include passages and discussion of non-physical, philosophical and spiritual ideas. These passages will not be fantasy and will not be allegory, but serious contemplations of the nature of these subjects.

"Metaphysical features", as a critical term, is most likely to be applied when the discussion can be seen as one situating the soul within its natural state or questioning that state. (This is, clearly, a somewhat abstract definition but "metaphysical features" are by nature abstract.)

Some common metaphysical subjects are: 

  • the nature of time
  • the concept of truth
  • the concept of freedom
  • free-will and determinism or fate

Each of the ideas listed above has been explored in numerous works of fiction. Examples of novels that are particularly interested in metaphysical subjects include All the King's Men and The Sound and the Fury and Moby Dick. Many poets over the years have also been interested in metaphysical explorations, including Emily Dickinson.


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