The Letters of Abelard and Heloise Literary Elements

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise Literary Elements


Epistolary novel.

Setting and Context

The story is set in the 12th century in Paris. The main characters write their letters from a cloister and from a monastery over the course of a few years.

Narrator and Point of View

Because the story is told through letters, we have to narrators, Heloise and Abelard, who tell the story from a first person subjective point of view.

Tone and Mood

Regretful, tragic

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonists are Abelard and Heloise and the antagonist is Heloise’s uncle.

Major Conflict

The major conflict is between Heloise and her uncle. The conflict between them makes it impossible for Heloise and Abelard to be together.


The story reaches its climax when the relationship between Abelard and Heloise is discovered.


In one his letters, Abelard mentions that he would like to be buried beside Heloise. This request came to pass when the two lovers were buried beside one another after they both died.


After Abelard was attacked by someone sent by Heloise’s uncle, he fled to a monastery hoping that he will be safe and accepted there. This proves to be an understatement because those living in the monastery start to attack Abelard because of his ideas so he is forced to run away from there.


Both Heloise and Abelard use figures of speech from the Bible and make allusions towards certain passages in the Bible. For example, when Heloise talks about the people Abelard teaches, she compares them with swine that are thrown pearls. This simile is taken from the Bible and it was used to describe people who heard the good news preached by Jesus Christ but were unable to understand the message.


The image of the tyrant is constructed around Heloise’s uncle. He is seen as an evil person whose sole purpose is to make sure that Abelard and Heloise are unhappy and that they never see each other again.


The way Abelard sees Heloise is presented as being a paradox in the novel. Even though Abelard tells the reader that God is the most important person in his life, he sees Heloise almost as a saint and her image haunts him. The effect the memory of Heloise has on Abelard is compared to the feelings a religious person experiences when he or she stands before a religious painting. In both cases, that person feels closer to God and feels a strong connection with him.


It is hinted that some parallelism exists between Abelard and the person to whom he writes his first letter, his friend Philintus. Even though not many information are given about Philintus, it is said about him that he experiences some kind of hardship that is similar to what Abelard went through. Because of this, Abelard choses to write to his friend, hoping that his experience will help Philintus in some way or another.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

When Heloise talks about the cloister, he talks about every person who lives inside the cloister, thus using the cloister as a metonymy to talk about a large group of people.


His discourse was a fire, which, instead of enlightening, obscured everything with its smoke; a tree beautified with variety of leaves and branches, but barren of fruit.

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