Katherine Mansfield close reading
how to analyse prose fiction
Close reading is the most important skill you need for any form of literary studies. It means paying especially close attention to what is printed on the page. It is a much more subtle and complex process than the term might suggest. Close reading means not only reading and understanding the meanings of the individual printed words; it also involves being sensitive to all the subtle uses of language in the hands of skilled writers. This can mean anything from a work’s particular vocabulary, sentence construction, and imagery, to the themes that are being explored. It also includes the way in which the story is being told, and the view of the world that it offers. It involves almost everything from the smallest linguistic items to the largest issues of literary understanding and judgement. One of the first things you need to acquire for serious literary study is a knowledge of the vocabulary, the technical language, indeed the jargon in which literature is discussed. You need to acquaint yourself with the technical vocabulary of the discipline and then go on to study how its parts work. What follows is a short list of features you might keep in mind whilst reading. They should give you ideas of what to look for. It is just a prompt to help you get under way. Close reading – Checklist
The author’s choice of individual words – which might vary from plain and simple to complex and ‘literary’. Syntax
The arrangement of words in sentences. Often used for emphasis or dramatic effect. Figures of speech
The rhetorical devices used to give decoration and imaginative expression to literature, such as simile, metaphor, puns, alliteration, and irony. Literary devices
The devices commonly used in literature to give added depth to the work, such as imagery or symbolism. Rhythm
The cadence or flow of words and phrases – including stress and repetition. Narrator
Ask yourself, who is telling the story.
First or third person narrator. (‘I am going to tell you …’ or ‘He left the room in a hurry’) Point of view
The perspective from which the events of the story are related. Characterisation
How a character is created or depicted.
How any dramatic elements of a piece of work are created and arranged. Plot
How the elements of the story are arranged.
The author’s attitude to the subject as revealed in the manner of the writing Structure
The shape of the piece of work, or the connection between its parts. Theme
The underlying topic or issue, as distinct from the overt story. How to read closely
Close reading can be seen as a form of special attention which we bring to a piece of writing. It involves thinking more deeply than usual about the implications of the words on the page. Most normal people do this automatically, without being specially conscious of the fact. The academic study of literature brings the process more to the surface and makes it explicit. There are four levels or types of reading which become progressively more complex. Language – You pay especially close attention to the surface elements of the text – that is, to aspects of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. You might also note such things as figures of speech or any other features which contribute to the writer’s individual style. Meaning – You take account at a deeper level of what the words mean – that is, what information they contain, plus any further meanings they might suggest. Structural – You note the possible relationships between words within the text – and this might include items from either the language or the meanings. Cultural – You note the relationship of any elements of the text to things outside it. These might be other pieces of writing by the same author, or other writings of the same type by different writers. They might be items of social or cultural history, or even other academic disciplines which might seem relevant, such as...
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