Definition of Monologue
Monologue is a literary device featuring a “speech” made by a single character in a work of literature or dramatic work (for theater or film). Monologues allow a character to address other characters present in the scene and/or the reader/audience. Monologue originates from the Greek roots for “alone” and “speak.” This literary device is purposeful and effective in storytelling as it provides the reader/audience details about a character and the plot. In addition, monologue is a useful method for writers to share the internal thoughts of a character as well as their backstory to enhance the reader’s understanding of the character’s motivations and importance to the narrative.
For example, in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel American Gods, the character Samantha Black Crow delivers a monologue including this passage:
I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck.
This character’s monologue serves to illustrate their complex inner thoughts as well as reveal for the reader the underlying theme of the novel which is that duality and the interdependence of opposites is fundamental in terms of existence.
Purposes of Monologue
Monologue is an effective literary device, particularly in terms of developing a character and contributing to the reader’s understanding of that character. In addition, a well-written monologue can be a powerful method for a writer to deliver their thoughts, ideas, and beliefs regarding an important subject through one of their characters, as well as enhancing the reader’s enjoyment of the narrative’s plot. Here are the primary purposes of monologue in literature:
- Voice of character: When writers include a natural monologue that is relevant to the story, it allows the reader to become familiar with a character’s authentic voice and point of view.
- Motivation of character: A well-written monologue can help readers understand a character’s motivation in terms of behavior within a narrative.
- Backstory of character: The use of monologue is important for character and plot development, as it can reveal details about both of these story elements. These details provide information and meaning for the reader, move the narrative forward, and indicate the impact of a character’s traits and past events in terms of the overall story.
Examples of Lines from Famous Movie Monologues
Many classic and/or famous movies utilize monologue as a device to showcase an actor’s brilliant performance, deliver resonant script writing, and establish pivotal scenes as well as cultural moments for movie goers. Movie monologues often feature memorable lines that are frequently quoted among audience members and in popular culture. Here are some examples of lines from famous movie monologues:
- I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. –Say Anything
- A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. –The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
- You don’t know about real loss, because that only occurs when you love something more than you love yourself. –Good Will Hunting
- I coulda been a contender. –On the Waterfront
- I want no one else to succeed. –There Will Be Blood
- Let me tell you the story of Right Hand, Left Hand. –Do the Right Thing
- Coffee’s for closers only. –Glengarry Glen Ross
- And I remember that some of it wasn’t very nice, but most of it was beautiful, and you were all there. –The Wizard of Oz
- They dream about being able to watch their kids swim in a pool without worrying they’ll have to have a hysterectomy at age 20… –Erin Brockovich
- You got today and today only to show me who and what you’re made of. –Training Day
Examples of Shakespearean Characters that Deliver Well-Known Monologues
William Shakespeare frequently utilized monologue as a literary device in his dramatic works, both comedies and tragedies. Shakespearean monologues often move the plot forward while allowing the audience to know and understand a character’s thoughts and feelings. Here are some examples of Shakespearean characters that deliver well-known monologues in his plays:
- Ophelia (Hamlet)
- Kate (The Taming of the Shrew)
- Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
- Macbeth (Macbeth)
- Rosalind (As You Like It)
- Helena (All’s Well That Ends Well)
- Ghost (Hamlet)
- Friar Laurence (Romeo and Juliet)
- King Ferdinand (Love’s Labour’s Lost)
- Desdemona (Othello)
Difference Between Monologue and Soliloquy
Monologue and soliloquy are similar literary devices in the sense that they are spoken by single characters in a theatrical production or literary work. However, these literary devices serve different purposes. A soliloquy is meant to reflect private, internal thoughts and feelings that are articulated during a pause in the action of a story. A soliloquy is not directed towards any listener, including other characters and/or an audience.
Like a soliloquy, a monologue is also spoken by a single character, but it is not private in that it is addressed to fellow characters that are present in the scene. A monologue can also be addressed to the audience and/or reader. Therefore, a monologue does not function as a private expression in literature in the way that soliloquy does.
Examples of Monologue in Literature
Some of the greatest and most memorable writing in literature is present in the form of monologue. Though it can be difficult for a writer to feature monologue in a story without interrupting or detracting from the natural flow of the plot and behavior patterns of the character, this literary device is also an effective and excellent method for showcasing brilliant writing and encouraging deep thought in response on the part of readers.
Here are some examples of monologue in works of literature:
Example 1: The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
…there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft…when you kill a man, you steal a life…you steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness…there is no act more wretched than stealing…a man who takes what’s not his to take, be it a life or a loaf of naan…I spit on such a man. And if I ever cross paths with him, God help him…
In Hosseini’s novel, the main character’s father, Baba, delivers this monologue to his son Amir. The words are powerful for the reader in terms of defining and categorizing theft as the source of sin, and the monologue reveals the internal belief system of Baba. This literary device is also fundamental to the plot of the novel in that Amir internalizes his father’s abhorrence of theft and uses that knowledge to frame Hassan for stealing. Amir believes that Baba will banish Hassan upon learning of his “theft,” which, in Amir’s mind, will alleviate him of the guilt he feels regarding his decision to not intervene when Hassan is violated.
Example 2: To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe—some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others—some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men.
But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal—there is one human institution
that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the
equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the
United States or the humblest J.P. court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have
their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts
all men are created equal.
Lee’s use of this literary device as the closing argument made by Atticus Finch during Tom Robinson’s trial is one of the most well-known and brilliant monologues in literature. The reader is aware, unfortunately, of Tom’s likely fate. However, Atticus’s inspired and impassioned speech regarding the justice system in America holds out hope for the reader of a possible, different outcome. The monologue in Lee’s novel reflects the complexity and hypocrisy of equality and justice in America, not just in terms of Tom Robinson’s case, but in terms of the nation’s history.
Example 3: Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison)
Whence all this passion towards conformity anyway? Diversity is the word. Let man keep his many parts and you will have no tyrant states. Why, if they follow this conformity business, they’ll end up by forcing me, an invisible man, to become white, which is not a color but the lack of one. Must I strive towards colorlessness? But seriously and without snobbery, think of what the world would lose if that should happen. America is woven of many strands. I would recognize them and let it so remain.
In Ellison’s novel, the narrator and protagonist “Invisible Man” delivers several monologues for the reader as a means of forwarding the plot and relaying his experiences. As this passage indicates, Ellison’s use of monologue is also a vehicle for expressing his thoughts and ideas so that they are impactful and significant for readers. Interestingly, in this novel, the narrator’s frequent monologues addressed to the reader provide a level of insight into the backstory and experiences of the character, yet the reader is held at a distance due to the ambiguity of the character’s actual identity. This allows the reader to process the protagonist’s words and generalize their effect to a more universal group rather than an individual character portrayed in the novel.