Analysing a Prose

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Analysing prose
Objectives
To establish a strategy for approaching unseen prose texts To practise close reading of prose texts To look at examples of commentaries on prose texts

Part 1 The commentary

Analysing prose is not so very different from analysing poetry. In both you have to look at literary techniques, at choice of language, imagery, structure and so on, but these may be used in different ways to achieve different effects in prose. You may have to read even more carefully when studying prose passages as the techniques used may not be so readily detected. Most of the prose passages you will be asked to analyse will be extracts from longer pieces of work, rather than complete texts, although occasionally very short essays or stories are set which are complete. When writing your commentary on a prose text you will need to examine closely the writer’s style in order to analyse the way the language is used. You will need to be aware of the features to look for and the ways in which the author’s choice of style can influence meaning and effect.

“A writer’s personality is his manner of being in the world: his writing style is the unavoidable trace of that manner.” Zadie Smith

Examining writers’ styles
Throughout this book you are being asked to think not only about what writers are saying – the content of their work – but also about how they write. This means examining the particular combination of literary devices, structures, and vocabulary which a writer uses and which go together to form that writer’s individual “style”. From your own reading you will know that some writers’ work is easy to recognize immediately because they have a distinctive “style”. However, it can be more difficult to explain exactly which characteristics make a writer’s style recognizable. As a student of literature, you will need to develop the ability to analyse and write about style. One shortcoming noted by examiners is that students fail to take account of this and do not engage in enough detailed analysis of how texts are written. It is easier to concentrate on the writer’s use of language when studying poetry, but it can be tempting, when writing about novels or other longer prose works, to focus on the content or the ideas and neglect to examine other features that make up the writer’s style.

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Analysing prose

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Analysing prose

The following are aspects of prose that you need to examine: Theme: General or specific? Banal or profound? Obvious or hidden? Point of view: First or third person? Centred on one person? STYLE Language: Simple or complex? Poetic or everyday? Formal or informal? Emotional or objective? Imagery: Visual or other senses? Vivid or subtle? Original or conventional?

over her dark curls, her beautiful warm face, so still in a kind of brooding, was lifted towards him. It was dark and rather cold in the shed. Suddenly a swallow came down from the high roof and darted out of the door. ‘I didn’t know a bird was watching,’ he called. Syntax: Short or long? Simple or complex? Varied or monotonous?

Part 1 The commentary

Part 1 The commentary 38

He swung negligently. She could feel him falling and lifting through the air, as if he were lying on some force. ‘Now I’ll die,’ he said, in a detached, dreamy voice, as though he were the dying motion of the swing. She watched him, fascinated. Suddenly he put on the brake and jumped out. ‘I’ve had a long turn,’ he said. ‘But it’s a treat of a swing – it’s a real treat of a swing!’ Miriam was amused that he took a swing so seriously and felt so warmly over it. ‘No; you go on,’ she said. ‘Why, don’t you want one?’ he asked, astonished. ‘Well, not much. I’ll have just a little.’

Sound: Harsh or mellifluous? Rhythmic? Is there rhyme? Varied or monotonous?

Thinking or feeling “Style” can also be viewed as the...
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