Quite a few novels and films have titles which, if they appeared as phrases in everyday speech or writing, would normally have to be preceded by an article or other determiner. Some examples: Animal Farm, Little House on the Prairie, and Tropic of Cancer among novels, and Easy Rider, Taxi Driver, and Rear Window among films.

My question

My question is this: what artistic or literary effect does the omission of the leading determiner have in my six examples? Or, equivalently: why might an author prefer the above-cited versions of the titles over, say, An/The Animal Farm, A/The Little House on the Prairie, The Tropic of Cancer, The Easy Rider, The Taxi Driver, and The/A Rear Window?

I doubt it's the same reason (or group of reasons) in all cases. For example, in the answer which I posted below, I argue that the reasons for dropping the article from Easy Rider are unlikely to apply to Little House on the Prairie. This is why I think one needs to consider a number of examples before any patterns start to emerge.

A bit of grammar

Let's temporarily treat each of my six titles not as the name of a novel or film but as just a bit of regular text, a ‘word group’, and let's see how it behaves when we try to form complete sentences with it. We will soon notice two things.

First, we are normally forced to add another word in front of our word group, e.g. my little house on the prairie was a good place to grow up and next they saw an animal farm. Words that will work (which we'll called determiners) include (1) the possessives such as my and Alice's, and (2) the determinatives, which include the articles a and the as well as words such as some, this, that, each, and every.

Second, the grammatical behavior of our word group is inherited from one of its nouns (farm, house, tropic, rider, driver, and window), which is therefore called its head. By ‘grammatical behavior’ I mean facts like these: once we add a determiner, the word group can function as the subject of the sentence, the object of a transitive verb, etc.; when it is the subject, we must have subject-verb agreement; and so on. We say that adding the determiner to our word group turns it into a noun phrase (NP).

A word group whose head is a noun but which has no determiner is often called a nominal or sometimes a bare nominal. Some nominals can be acceptable even without adding a determiner, in which case they are called bare NPs and are often described as carrying the zero article or sometimes the null article.

The reason our titles (when viewed as just text) normally require a determiner is that their head nouns are all count nouns in the singular. (Count nouns are also called countable nouns.) Normally, a nominal can escape the requirement of having a determiner only if its head noun is one of the following: (1) a proper name, (2) a count noun in the plural (houses on the hill), or (3) an uncount noun (also called a mass noun, uncountable noun, or non-count noun—e.g. deep blue water).

English wouldn't be English if there weren't any exceptions, and indeed there are some rare exceptions to what I just said, see here. None of them apply to our titles, however.

Ambiguities: those I excluded, and those that could help

The problem, to repeat, is to explain what is the literary effect of having a normally unacceptable nominal be the title—or, equivalently, what reason an author might have for choosing such a title.

I have picked my particular examples in part because they cannot be explained by pointing out that the lack of an article makes for an interesting ambiguity as far as whether the word is really a noun, or rather an adjective (as in Alien) or a verb (as in Network).1

1True, farm and house are also verbs, and tropic is also an adjective. But in my examples, other words make it clear that they are used as nouns there.

I suppose there could be cases where the ambiguity that's being played on is that between the countable and uncountable readings of the head noun. I don't think that's the case in my examples; I don't think any of the head nouns in my examples have any uncount meanings at all (at least not any relevant meanings; house does have one uncount meaning, that of a style of dance music).

Further, I think my six examples also can't be explained by postulating a non-standard usage for the head noun, in which a normally count noun is to be interpreted as an uncount one. That explanation might be viable with some other titles,2 but I don't think it's a believable one with my six examples.

2I am purposefully not going to give possible examples that come to my mind, so as to not encourage straying off topic.

One kind of ambiguity that does seem possible is that between the indefinite and definite readings of the noun group. This could be relevant to some of my examples (though I don't think it could apply to all of them); in my answer below, I explore this kind of ambiguity in the case of Easy Rider.

Finally, there could be an ambiguity in the grammatical number, i.e. in whether the noun group has a singular or a plural meaning. This is a bit of a stretch in my examples, in which all the head nouns have plurals that are not base plurals (i.e. whose form is not identical with the singular). Nevertheless, I will briefly explore this possibility on the example of Easy Rider.

I'm sure that titles of some dramas and even of some operas also fall within the scope of my question. However, for definiteness, unless there is a particularly compelling reason, let us please stick to titles of novels and movies.

What I am not asking

Let me stress from the outset that this is not a grammar question. Coming up with the title of a work of art is itself a creative process, for the title can influence the reading of the rest of the work.

Also, this is not a question about headlines and the writing style used in them, which is sometimes called 'headlinese'. Although the topic of headlinese might be somewhat related to my question, it is still true that newspaper/magazine/blog post/etc. articles are not normally taken to be pieces of artistic literature (unless they explicitly are, as when a magazine publishes a short story; that case, of course, is fair game). In headlines, the main consideration is that of saving space. In contrast, while titles of novels and films are usually relatively short (although see here), it seems to me that this is primarily for aesthetic reasons, not pragmatic ones. Moreover, headlinese has many other features, besides the dropping of articles, which are not shared by titles of novels and films. Some examples of these are (1) the preference for the simple present tense (e.g. Governor signs bill), (2) the extensive use of abbreviations and metonymy (e.g. Wall Street for the financial industry), (3) the absence of honorifics before names of individuals, and (4) the preference for short words which are only much more rarely used in normal speech and writing in that meaning (e.g. bid for 'attempt', see for 'forecast', and tap for 'select an appointee'). In short, it cannot be said that titles of novels and films—even those where articles are dropped— are written in headlinese.

Similar comments apply to any connection to the language of signs and notices.

I am not asking about titles of poems. Poetic language presents a whole other level of complication which I don't want to get into. I admit that some titles of movies and novels could be taken as being poetic, but I also think that this is not a fair thing to say about e.g. Rear Window or Taxi Driver.

I take song lyrics to be a species of poem, and so I don't want to consider titles of songs, either.

Titles of visual works of art, especially the more abstract and conceptual art, are also often too far removed from ordinary speech and writing to be useful for the purposes of my question. However, visual art of earlier epochs is probably fair game, as is art that is more in line with the traditions of earlier epochs, and which is often more figurative. Indeed, I've found a relevant discussion in that context. In the summary of the research I've done so far, I will present what seems to me the most interesting part of that discussion (Japanese Vase vs. A Japanese Vase vs. The Japanese Vase).

I am not asking about band names (i.e. the names of rock/pop/rap/etc. music groups)

And I am also not asking about brand names.

Grammar Girl has an interesting discussion of article use in both band and brand names (here), but in the end, her conclusions are not relevant to my question. I will explain why in the summary of the research I've done.

I am not asking about the names of ships, trains, and the like (see here and here). That context is simply too different from my question. Similarly, I am not asking about the names of lakes, mountains, and the like. And I'm not asking about the names of superheroes.

Summary of the research conducted so far

At the suggestion of Gallifreyan, I've migrated the research I've done so far to an answer (see below). It's quite long, and it includes works by others as well as a little original analysis of mine that I've done for the case of Easy Rider.

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    This is a very impressive question, in that it is very well-defined, and clearly conducted a great amount of background research yourself... so why not just post your research as an answer? I admit I haven't read your question in its entirety, but partial answers are still very much answers, and, to be fair, right now your research part kind of bloats the question to the point it's not just a question :) Oct 21, 2018 at 20:24
  • @Gallifreyan Thanks... OK, I'll consider it. After I take a bit of a pause... Oct 21, 2018 at 20:35
  • @Gallifreyan OK, done! Oct 21, 2018 at 20:47
  • 3
    I am ridiculously impressed by this question and answer. Bravo, and take an upvote on each from me!
    – auden
    Oct 21, 2018 at 21:12
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    If I remember right "Animal Farm" was the new name of the farm after the revolution. If so, that would explain why the title of the book is Animal Farm rather that The Animal Farm. You could then ask why the pigs didn't call it "The Animal Farm" but that would be a different question.
    – user14111
    Aug 8, 2021 at 0:03

2 Answers 2


Originally, what follows was a section of the question. However, at the suggestion of Gallifreyan, I've migrated it to this answer. It's quite long, and it includes works by others as well as a little original analysis of mine that I've done for the case of Easy Rider.

Summary of the research conducted so far

'Book titles and their articles' by Leszek Berezowski (here)

This author is a linguist who actually wrote a whole book on how to understand article-free noun phrases (The Myth of the Zero Article, here). The paper under discussion deals with non-fiction, and particularly with titles that feature of-phrases (Psychology of Reading vs. The Psychology of Reading vs. A Psychology of Reading), and so is not that relevant to most of my examples. Nevertheless, since one of my examples features an of-phrase, I should briefly explain what the paper says.

Basically, Berezowski says that the contrast between The Psychology of Reading and Psychology of Reading is the following. In the former, we have a narrowing down of the field of study from everything that can be asked about reading to specifically its psychological aspects. In contrast, in the latter, there is no such narrowing down. Just as

soup of the day is not an aspect of the day but a dish named after its French model, Journal of Linguistics is not a subfield of the study of language but a periodical devoted to language research,

so the authors of Psychology of Reading

do not view psychology as merely one of the angles at which the process of reading can be researched but treat psychology of reading as a fully fledged discipline in its own right. In other words the title proclaims that the book will survey an entire existing branch of knowledge or create a new paradigm of research.

This, however, does not explain Tropic of Cancer. Of course, this title is a play-on-words that needs a bit of explaining. In the first place, in its 'standard' meaning (which by the way always includes the definite article), the Tropic of Cancer, also called the Northern Tropic, is 'the most northerly circle of latitude on Earth at which the Sun can be directly overhead. This occurs on the June solstice, when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun to its maximum extent' (source). Its southern counterpart is called the Tropic of Capricorn. From the same source:

When this line of latitude was named in the last centuries BC, the Sun was in the constellation Cancer (Latin for crab) at the June solstice, the time each year that the Sun reaches its zenith at this latitude. Due to the precession of the equinoxes, this is no longer the case; today the Sun is in Taurus at the June solstice. The word "tropic" itself comes from the Greek "trope (τροπή)", meaning turn (change of direction, or circumstances), inclination, referring to the fact that the Sun appears to "turn back" at the solstices.

As far as the book, its author Henry Miller said the following (here):

Do you know why I called my first book Tropic of Cancer? It was because to me cancer symbolizes the disease of civilization, the endpoint of the wrong path, the necessity to change course radically, to start completely over from scratch … Yes, from scratch, no question about it, for better or for worse … What I want is to halt evolution, to go backward down the path we have taken, to back to the world before childhood, to regress, regress, regress, further and further, until we get to the place we have only lately left behind, where culture and civilization do not figure … It is time we start to think, to feel, to see the universe in a way that is uncultivated, primitive—but this is also without doubt the most difficult thing in the world to do.

There is even more that can be said: cancer means crab, which is 'the only living creature which can walk backwards and forwards and sideways with equal facility.' A nice discussion can be found in the blog post 'Naming Tropic Of Cancer', here.

But for our purposes, note that neither the 'regular' meaning nor Henry Miller's wordplay fit Berezowski's paradigm. In the regular usage, the narrowing down goes the opposite way than in Berezowski's examples: there are two tropics, and the of phrase specifies which one. To fit Berezowski's paradigm, we would need to interpret [the] Tropic of Cancer as referring, in the first place, to the general topic of 'cancer', and then to a narrowed-down topic of tropic as it concerns cancer. And that, of course, makes no sense in either the regular or Henry Miller's sense of the phrase. In this respect Henry Miller's meaning is similar to the regular meaning: the turning or regression he is talking about is not a narrowing down of the topic of the disease of cancer, but rather something like a regression caused by that disease. Alternatively, this turning is like the walk of a crab.

One could argue that Miller is dropping the article as a hint that he's not talking about the Northern Tropic but about something else. I don't find this persuasive. Even if the definite article were retained, I don't think readers would need a hint to consider the possibility that the title is somehow symbolic or a play-on-words. Conversely, I don't think there's much symbolism in the title of the movie Moon, and yet the usually required definite article is dropped. All said, I very much doubt that Miller's primary consideration in dropping the article was to make sure people consider what else his title might mean other than the Northern Tropic. Maybe that was part of it, but I can't believe that's the full explanation.

'Riding a Straight Line between The Wild One and Wild Hogs' by Thomas Goodmann

The following passage makes a comparison between the titles of the movies The Wild One and Wild Hogs,1 specifically as far as what effect the inclusion or exclusion of the article has on them:

1True, Wild Hogs doesn't belong to my paradigm, since hogs is a count noun in the plural and so it could appear without a determiner even in everyday speech and writing. However, perhaps any insight gained in this case could be helpful with my examples as well.

The title of the film likewise performs work of cultural containment when read against its precursory text. Like many narratives of heroism and anti-heroism, The Wild One instantiates the exceptional—indeed, marginal—masculinity of a single member, Johnny Strabler, among a group of men, a trope in narrative evident since Gilgamesh and the Odyssey, and extant in American culture from James Fennimore Cooper’s novel The Deerslayer (1841), to Michael Cimino’s film The Deerhunter (1978), and beyond. In the case of Benedek’s film, the plural title, lacking a definite article, emphasizes the corporate community of identity in the non-gang relations of the four Wild Hogs, each supporting one another, yet not within a hypermasculinated group, such as a motorcycle gang, so that each is not code-bound to prioritize the group over the self, and is therefore free to pursue his own pursuits, while maintaining membership. It is significant then that when Damien Blade asks the Hogs, “What do you call yourselves?” they answer initially by giving their first names, so that Blade reformulates the question to elicit their group identity as “Wild Hogs.” The non-gang’s interrelations emphasize somewhat fluid and empathic masculine identities, as opposed to the comically flattened characters and more strictly stratified relations of the “real” motorcycle gang, whose stereotyped identities signal their outmoded masculinity, replete with clubhouse/bar, ape-hangers and loud pipes, coercion, and threat of violence. And as we will see, a latent impulse of homosexual violence erupts from gang member Red, only to be slugged into silence by Blade.

(source, boldfaced emphasis mine)

Does the above succeed in explaining why the filmmakers chose to go with Wild Hogs rather than The Wild Hogs? I am not sure. The claim is that the lack of the definite article emphasizes that 'each [member of Wild Hogs] is not code-bound to prioritize the group over the self'. I wish Goodmann provided an argument for it. If the argument succeeds, it might be relevant to Animal Farm. Though the title of Orwell's novel is not the name of a group but of a place, perhaps the animals who live in that place identify with it strongly enough that it becomes, in effect, the group name as well.

Three blog posts

'David V. Appleyard's Guide to Article Usage in English' (here)

There is one mention of book/movie titles:

To give added punch, articles are often dropped in the titles of books, movies, music and other works of art. (Example: Journey into Hell sounds even more thrilling than The Journey into Hell.)

For our purposes, this is almost an empty statement. Added punch simply means that the author thought it sounded better, which of course the author did, or else he or she would not have dropped the article. The question is why does dropping the article have that effect.

'The Huge Impact of ‘The’ in Movie Titles' (here).

This contains an opinion regarding my question:

Unsettling Absence

And finally, sometimes the absence of “The” gives a movie title an unsettling aura. It doesn’t sound wrong, but it feels like there’s something missing or just a little off-kilter about it.

Psycho, Alien, Aliens, Predator, Blade Runner, Gladiator

Without “The,” none of these titles point to a definitive subject. They become rather subjective and even more fascinating as we explore their full implications as the story unfolds.

The main comment here is that these titles would also not point to a definite subject if they were preceded by the indefinite article.

'The "the" is THE best thing to happen to the titles of the movies in the theaters' (here)

Unfortunately I didn't find anything useful in this blog post, and I'm only mentioning it because 1. it sounds as if it should be relevant, and, more importantly, because 2. it disputes the claim that the title is 'punchier' without the definite article. (Provided, of course, the whole post isn't tongue-in-cheek, which it may well be.)

An explanation from wordreference.com

Here is an attempt at an explanation (in the context of titles of paintings), which however I don't think succeeds ('Usage of articles in the titles of paintings', here).

Japanese Vase - a Japanese vase chosen at random from many examples probably because (i) it was convenient and/or (ii) it appealed to the artist.
A Japanese Vase - An example, probably typical, taken from many Japanese vases.
The Japanese Vase - (i) the definitive example of vase of Japanese origin or (ii) the Japanese vase that is associated with some commonly known event/person/history/style/etc. (iia) used where the painting is really famous: “The Mona Lisa,” “The Sunflowers,” “The portrait of Whistler's Mother.”

The contrast between the A and The versions is clear enough, but I'm not sure I understand the explanation of the contrast between Japanese Vase and A Japanese Vase. According to the explanation, both Japanese Vase and A Japanese Vase refer to Japanese vases chosen from many other vases. Could not the former be 'a typical example' of a Japanese vase? Could not the latter be a vase that was either convenient or that appealed to the artist?

Questions on Stack Exchange

Over on the English Language and Usage Stack Exchange (EL&U SE), there was the following recent question: Zero articles in movie and book titles (which, frankly, was what motivated me to pose this question on the Literature SE). The accepted answer there said

Consider the case when someone shouts out your name: you turn to look, without concerning yourself whether they have defined fully who you are. The essential quality of the communication is that both sides understand what is meant, in the minimum of words.

This is along the lines of the 'saving space' explanation of headlinese, and as such I find it unconvincing. The title of a film or a novel is part of the artistic expression of the work, and can color the entire reading of it; I simply do not believe that efficiency is the primary consideration of literary authors when choosing the title of their work.

Another answer said that

Much of the time a title, especially that of a book or movie, is meant to entice, describe, but also leave a question in the air, so to speak.

This is close to the explanation given in the 'unsettling absence' passage, above. But is it really true that Taxi Driver sounds more mysterious than The Taxi Driver? And if it sounds more 'enticing' without the article, is there anything one could say as to why that is so?

There was a missed opportunity to address this issue in another question (Usage of “a” and “the” in titles) on EL&U SE, as it was not discussed why Apple should be without an article.

Yet another question, Articles in movie or book titles: noun vs. adjective, turned on playing up ambiguity in the titles, which, as I said, I don't believe is what's happening in my examples.


One of the answers to the question 'When should articles be avoided in titles?' (here) says the following:

For example, Heart of Darkness by Conrad was a choice in part by the author to convey a general sense of Man's deepest psychology. If the title were to have an article it would signify one of many (a) or a specific one (the).

This is an interesting attempt, but it needs more fleshing out. As it stands, the final sentence is dubous. After all, both the indefinite and the definite articles allow for generic reference. If we say a dog likes to eat far more than a human being we don't mean 'one of many dogs likes to eat far more than one of many human beings'. Rather, we mean that dogs generally like to eat far more than human beings. Similalry, when we we say the gorilla is a shy retiring creature, we don't have any specific gorilla in mind; rather, we are talking about gorillas generally (both examples are from Collins COBUILD English Guides: Articles, p. 35).

Another answer begins promisingly,

The meaning of the title will initially be like a hook to arouse the reader's curiosity based on any past associations and then resolve itself to have its own meaning within the context of the narrative.

but in the end, I didn't find it useful for my purposes.

Band names

The main difficulty in applying the discussion of band names to my question is the same as it was with the discussion of the movie Wild Hogs: both band names and motorcycle gang names are names of groups of people. This is just not the case in (at least) five of my six examples, and thus much of the discussion surrounding band names is irrelevant to my question. (Though, again, Animal Farm might be an exception.) This is the case with the discussion on Grammar Girl (here) as well:

The bottom line is that fans are likely to think a band name should have the in the name if they view the name as describing the members rather than being collective. In other words, we probably don’t call it The Led Zeppelin because we simply think of Led Zeppelin as the name of the band, and don't think of it as describing the band, but we probably do call them The Eagles because we’d say “Don Henley is an Eagle.”

This is interesting, but not relevant to my question.

Brand names

Here the difficulty is that brand names have a very particular purpose which is not shared by titles of novel and movies. The Grammar Girl says the following :

One reason for [dropping the articles from brand names] is to save space and characters in Web addresses and tweets, but another reason, according to two marketing experts quoted in the article, amounts to the idea that a singular count noun without an article sounds like something more personal than a mere object or corporation.

This is again interesting, but not at all relevant to my questions. There is no issue of presenting something as personal vs an object or a corporation in my six examples.

An attempt at answering my question in the case of Easy Rider

In a documentary, the film's director and co-star Dennis Hopper explained the meaning of the term an easy rider as follows:2

An easy rider is a person that is not a pimp, but he lives off a woman; he lives off a whore. He's her easy rider. He's the one that she loves and she gives money to. He doesn't pimp her, but he's her easy rider.

2It was the screenwriter Terry Southern who came up with the title. Dennis Hopper claimed this was actually Southern's only contribution to the film, despite being listed as a co-screenwriter together with the film's co-stars Hopper and Peter Fonda; see here.

I found Roger Ebert's original 1969 review of the film quite useful. The suggestion there seems to be that while the middle class is prostituting itself to the establishment, the so-called non-conformists like the Fonda and Hopper characters (Wyatt and Billy) are just as bad. They have also sold out; they also are prostitutes, or, more precisely, they are those who freeload off prostitutes: the 'easy riders'.

Personally, I also have other associations with the term an easy rider: it could refer to the type of motorcycle that the movie made famous, as being easy to ride (though they absolutely were not in reality); or perhaps it could refer to the kind of people who ride them, because they ride them effortlessly (though actually they were not that easy to ride, especially at long distances). Both interpretations would serve to identify Wyatt and Billy as those who are the ‘easy riders’ here also in the other meaning of that term (“freeloading lovers of prostitutes”).

Now, about the articles. Because there are two 'easy riders' in the movie, neither The Easy Rider nor An Easy Rider seem suitable (there are probably other reasons as well, but this one is arguably sufficient on its own). This leaves us with the following choices: (1) The Easy Riders, (2) Easy Riders, and (3) Easy Rider.

Option (1) sounds like the name of a motorcycle gang. If that association were made, it would be a very relevant one in this particular movie. As Roger Ebert wrote,

“Easy Rider” takes the gang leader (Fonda) and condenses his gang into one uptight archetype (played by director Hopper.) It takes the aimless rebellion of the bike gangs and channels it into specific rejection of the establishment (by which is meant everything from rednecks to the Pentagon to hippies on communes).

However, in the context of the movie, the Easy Riders would not make sense as a name for this skeleton band. For most of the movie, Wyatt and Billy think they are being very clever and free and so on; it is only at the very end that one of them realizes it's not so (the 'We blew it' line of Fonda). Therefore, for most of the movie, if they were to name themselves at all, it would be something more positive. I would think calling themselves “the Easy Riders” would be too cynical and out of character. Peter Fonda's charater in particular often tries to be high-minded and non-cynical, like when he says to the rancher, 'No, I mean it, you've got a nice place. It's not every man that can live off the land, you know. You do your own thing in your own time. You should be proud.'

Option (2) could also be a gang name (like Wild Hogs), in which case what I just said about option (1) applies. Alternatively, option (2) may suggest there are other 'easy riders.' And on the one hand, there are: there are no doubt countless others who are trying to avoid the various negative aspects of conventional life, but end up selling themselves out in one way or another. But on the other hand, the movie clearly emphasizes individuality and individualism. There are many kinds of sellouts, but in this particular movie we probably don't want to suggest it's some sort of homogeneous mass.

This leaves us with option (3). It may seem we have now arrived at it by a process of elimination, once we realized that the other four possibilities are all unsuitable for various reasons. However, we are actually not done yet. After all, this option carries its own set of connotations and associations, which could conceivably make it even more unattractive than the other options. So we have to now analyze this option.

It is the most basic of all the options, in the sense that it involves the base form of the noun. Without any marks of definiteness or indefiniteness, this option comes the closest to denoting 'the pure concept of easy-riderness'. It does so without having to use words such as riderness or ridership or riding, which, I will admit, obviously sound plain ugly, at least if one tries to use them in this particular title.

Another way to get at 'the pure concept of easy-riderness' is to consider what kinds of ambiguity are present. Here we might have an ambiguity of definiteness: it's simultaneously 'an easy rider' and also 'the easy rider'. (Perhaps it's even also 'easy riders' as well as 'the easy riders'—indicating an ambiguity of the grammatical number—if the base form is looked at abstractly enough. I admit this sort of ambiguity seems like a stretch in this case, however.) At any rate, the article-free base form perhaps manages to convey at least some of these multiple meanings simultaneously.


I've presented several attempts to understand the omission of determiners in titles such as Animal Farm, Little House on the Prairie, Tropic of Cancer, Easy Rider, Taxi Driver, and Rear Window. In the case of Easy Rider, I eliminated all other possibilities on various grounds, and suggested that the article-free base form expresses the pure concept behind all of the variations of that form whose definiteness is fixed (an + singular, the + singular, the + plural, no article + plural).

Even if that last suggestion of mine works for Easy Rider, I don't think it works always. In particular, I can't see how it would work for Little House on the Prairie. Incidentally, that title is the one whose explanation is perhaps needed most urgently, because the adjective little carries a special connotation when used without an article. For example, She has little time for that means she has basically no time, whereas She has a little time for that means she can indeed spare some time. True, little can't be used literally like that in the construction that appears in the title, but here we are talking about language whose rules have been relaxed and where associations are much more free-flowing.

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    If you put in an article, you have two choices for the article. For example, A Little House on the Prairie and The Little House on the Prairie, both of which actually would work here. Possibly in some cases, the author doesn't like either one, and chooses to leave the article out.
    – Peter Shor
    Oct 22, 2018 at 11:19
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    @PeterShor But that is exactly my question: what might be some of the reasons why the author may choose to the leave the article out? What, precisely, is the literary effect of that choice? One reason why I did the analysis of Easy Rider is to give an example of what that kind of reason might be. Oct 22, 2018 at 15:26

This question fascinated me, and as I read, my own theory developed. This "theory" feels to me as much a question as the original post, so I leave it here as a jumping off point for further discussion and deny any claim to it being The Answer. I'd love to hear thoughts on it.

Perhaps articles are omitted so the reader/viewer is left for themselves to decide is this just one of many like it (A Little House on the Prairie) or a unique entity, unlike any other (The Little House on the Prairie)? This can profoundly affect the reader's/viewer's relationship to and comfort with the material. If it is one of many, A Little House on the Prairie takes on larger historical significance; A Taxi Driver becomes even more disturbing with the idea that each cab you enter could be operated by someone of similar bent. If it is a unique example, The Little House on the Prairie becomes more intimate, personal, and of special significance; the terror of The Taxi Driver is slightly diluted by being identified as a singular case, an outlier worthy of fascination, not a cautionary tale of what might lurk behind any steering wheel. By leaving the article out of the title, the artist allows reader/viewer to determine which of these meanings to use - to generalize a sweeping historical view or enjoy a shared intimacy in Little House on the Prairie; to turn the terror up or down on Taxi Driver. Indeed, many readers/viewers probably toggle between these nuances, personalizing these works in a way that would be impossible if the artist chose for you. By defining the article, the artist defines and thus limits the work. By leaving the article out, the artist allows two things to simultaneously be true. Additionally, and perhaps without the artist's explicit intention, this invites the reader/viewer into the very creation of the story and its themes through their own subconscious.

(As an aside, this may contribute to why we see such strong, diametrically opposed views on certain works. Those who read a scene of The Little House on the Prairie could very easily see it quite differently from those who read the same scene of A Little House on the Prairie. Pinpointing this subtle, subconscious act as the reason for the difference might be all but impossible.)

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    Jul 5, 2023 at 19:55
  • Great question. Great answer. But the reader does not necessarily have to choose between meanings (general or particular). The meaning of a title without an article can remain in limbo, neither general nor particular. The reader's mind can deal with that ambiguity, mainly by not worrying about it. Jul 6, 2023 at 15:48

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