Writing a Literary Commentary
Read the passage you are given a few times. Read it once through to get a gist of what the speaker is saying. Jot down your initial reactions to certain parts of the text so you can refer to them when you are writing. When you have finished, go back and read it again, this time underlining key words and phrases and jotting notes to yourself in the margins. While the minimum number of times you should read something is two, it is ideal that you read each passage three or four times. Plan your commentary. List the key points that you need to cover. Arrange them in a logical order so that your commentary does not sound jumpy. Find quotations from the text for each point you make. You should comment on all of the following (though not necessarily in this order): o Theme/Topic/Subject - What is the point of the text? There may be many themes, but try and find one or two key ones to discuss. It may help to consider information that you have such as the writer's name or the date it was written. o Voice - Who is speaking? Address whether the text is in the 1st or 3rd person. If the former, is it the voice of the author or of someone else? To whom is the text addressed? You should also use this time to address the setting and how it affects both the voice and the overall meaning of the passage. o Form/Structure - Determine the form (fiction/nonfiction, essay, journal, travel writing, etc) of this passage. Is the passage a circular or retrospective narrative? Look for obvious ways to divide the passage into sections (physical or otherwise). Determine how the chosen structure and form affect the meaning or message of the text. o Message/Purpose - Determine the aims and purpose of the writer. Is the text persuasive, informative, descriptive? Address subtext and any irony or satire present. o Tone/Atmosphere - Discuss the tone of the piece. Is there a strong mood or feeling present throughout the...
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