Close reading
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Close Reading. a step-by-step demonstration. What is it?. Close reading is the basis of almost any kind of analytical writing about literature. The body paragraphs of an essay about a literary work ARE close readings.

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Close Reading

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Close reading

Close Reading

a step-by-step demonstration


What is it

What is it?

  • Close reading is the basis of almost any kind of analytical writing about literature.

  • The body paragraphs of an essay about a literary work ARE close readings.

  • Roy Johnson calls close reading “the most important skill you need for any form of literary studies.” He’s right.


What are the benefits to you

What are the benefits to you?

Close reading allows you to--

  • demonstrate your understanding of a text;

  • display your sensitivity to and awareness of language;

  • frame an interesting discussion or a compelling argument about what is going on in a text.


What steps should we follow

What steps should we follow?

Alyssa Harad, professor of writing at U. Texas, suggests you follow the following steps in the course of a close reading:


Step 1 information

STEP 1: Information

  • In this first step, you provide the context (characters, speaker, audience, setting, situation) related to your selected passage.

  • This step “involves straightening out difficult syntax, establishing context, looking up unknown vocabulary and so on” (Harad).

  • Remember! If your reader doesn’t know “the name of the character in the passage, the time of day, where the characters are,” he or she will find it difficult to follow the rest of your reading.


Example wife of bath s tale lines 8 13

Example: Wife of Bath’s Tale, lines 8-13

I speke of manye hundred yeres ago. But now kan no man se none elves mo, For now the grete charitee and prayers Of lymytours and othere hooly freres, That serchen every lond and every streem, As thikke as motes in the sonne-beem,

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These early introductory lines in Alison’s tale follow a humorous but stern rebuke by the Friar, who begs her to finish her lengthy prologue (more than twice the length of the tale) and move on to the tale. Alison opens the tale with a once-upon-a-time approach through which she contrasts the ancient days of magical “elves” to the contemporary world, polluted by “lymytours” and “freres,” such as the Friar himself.


Step 2 analysis

STEP 2: Analysis

  • This second step involves “the often very concrete work of noticing that prepares the reader for interpretation” (Harad).

  • When analyzing the passage, you should be zooming in on details at the level of language. You might consider the overall structure of the passage, word choice, repetition of words or phrases, types of words, sentence/line/stanza structure, literary devices, rhythm/meter, etc.

  • This is where your reading should be very, very close.


Example

Example

I speke of manye hundred yeres ago. But now kan no man se none elves mo, For now the grete charitee and prayers Of lymytours and othere hooly freres, That serchen every lond and every streem, As thikke as motes in the sonne-beem,

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Alison’s diction and descriptive language serve to strengthen her satire of the Friar. The double negative (“no,” “none”) in line 9 serves to drive home her opinion on the detrimental effects of wandering figures like the Friar. Her voice oozing with sarcasm, Alison explains that elves are no longer to be found, due to the “grete” works of traveling clergymen. The overly polite mention of “charitee and prayers” pokes even more fun at the Friar,

The combination of alliterative “s” sounds and visual description in lines 12-13 produce a memorable image of nosy, wandering Friar-like figures who are compared to “motes,” or bits of dust.


Step 3 interpretation

STEP 3: Interpretation

  • During this stage, Harad, says, you should be asking and answering the following questions for your reader:

  • What is the significance of the information [you’ve] gathered? What new light does it shed on the passage? How does it reveal the importance of the passage [you’ve] chosen to the rest of the text?


Example1

Example

I speke of manye hundred yeres ago. But now kan no man se none elves mo, For now the grete charitee and prayers Of lymytours and othere hooly freres, That serchen every lond and every streem, As thikke as motes in the sonne-beem,

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This passage represents one of the few moments when we see Alison interacting with the other pilgrims. It is a telling exchange.


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