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CLOSE READING. An introduction to reading for Eng. 132 Adapted from Jack Lynch – Rutgers University by Adam Hazlett - HFCC. Nothing will make an English professor’s day like a student who CLOSELY ENGAGES THE LANGUAGE OF THE TEXT

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close reading


An introduction to reading for Eng. 132

Adapted from Jack Lynch – Rutgers University by Adam Hazlett - HFCC

Nothing will make an English professor’s day like a student who CLOSELY ENGAGES THE LANGUAGE OF THE TEXT

That means reading every word: it's not enough to have a vague sense of the plot. Maybe that sounds obvious, but few people pay serious attention to the words that make up every work of literature. Remember, English papers aren't about the real world; they're about representations of the world in language. Words are all we have to work with, and you have to pay attention to them.

something more
Something more…

A text is never as simple as one believes it to be. Often uninitiated readers will assume a writer does something in a story simply because he or she wanted to.

Nothing is ever placed in a text by accident. Even if it is, it has potential to be something greater!!!


Often a student will see the moves made in texts and ask, “If he/she meant X in their story, why didn’t they just come out and say it?”

The short answer to this is…because if he/she did there would be no pleasure in reading

think about it
THINK about it…

You don’t watch CSI because you KNOW who the killer is and you don’t spend hours playing video games because you KNOW the end of the story…the joy is in the discovery.

Usually the question, “Why did he/she do that in the story?” is a good start.

This should not be the end though…you should seek to answer that question and in your answer you will have found your thesis

for example
For example…

If you analyze a story like “Cinderella” you begin to see something deeper.

Why does Cinderella have to wait on the Prince to be “saved”?

Couldn’t she just do it herself?

Isn’t the glass slipper something both fragile and feminine?

things to look at when analyzing
Things to look at when analyzing
  • Diction - Diction means word choice. In English, we usually have a choice of several ways of saying more or less the same thing: see and observe and notice and spot; overweight and portly and fat; have intercourse with, make love to, and fuck. Notice that they're never perfectly interchangeable: some are formal, some are euphemistic, some are clinical, some are vulgar. Pay attention to similar words authors might have used, and try to figure out why they chose as they did.
Word Order. Most declarative sentences and clauses in Modern English (since about 1500) follow the word order subject — verb — object. Adjectives tend to come before nouns, adverbs usually come before verbs or adjectives. You know all that. If a poet departs from standard English word order, consider whether it's important. (It's not always, but usually.)
Verb Forms. Most narratives are told in the past tense, active voice, and are usually in either the first person ("I") or the third ("he," "she," "they"). But not always, and not consistently. What might it mean if an author relies on the passive voice? Why is this narrative written in the present tense? Teach yourself to look for these things. (Pay particular attention when they change. If a work suddenly switches from the past tense to the present, or if a work filled with the active voice begins to rely on the passive, or a third-person narrative changes to first, it's almost certainly important.)
Point of View. Narratives have to be told from some point of view: the narrator might be the central character in the work (as in Rule of the Bone, narrated by Bone himself); he or she might be a secondary character in the work (as in Winesburg, OH, narrated by George Willard); or the narrator may be "omniscient" (as in Pride and Prejudice, narrated by someone not in the story and able to tell what happened to all the characters). Some works mix things up, telling different things from different points of view (as in As I Lay Dying, where different chapters are told from the point of view of different characters.)
Narrators might also be reliable — readers are expected to take their word for everything — or unreliable — readers have reasons to doubt the narrator is telling the story "straight." Try to stay conscious of these things. Often there's nothing to say about them, but sometimes they really pay off. Look especially for changes in the point of view: if a narrative has been described from the point of view of one character all along, and it suddenly shifts to someone else, that's almost certainly worth thinking about.
things to think about beyond the words
Things to think about beyond the WORDS…
  • Imagery: What sort of imagery is invoked? How do the images relate to those in the rest of the text? How do the images work in the particular passage and throughout the text? What happens to the imagery over the course of the passage? Does the passage noticeably lack imagery? If so, why?
Metaphors. Metaphors — the likening of one thing to another — are much more common than most casual readers realize. Here's a passage from chapter 12 of The Scarlet Letter: "It was an obscure night in early May. An unwearied pall of cloud muffled the whole expanse of sky from zenith to horizon." The word pall here means "covering" — he's just talking about cloud-cover. But a pall is actually a piece of velvet used to cover a coffin: think about the implications, then, of likening clouds to a shroud. Metaphors are often lurking in the literal meanings or etymological origins of common words that don't seem metaphorical at all. Disaster, for instance, comes from the words for "bad star," on the assumption that the heavens influence things on earth: it's a metaphor from astronomy. Ardent, meaning "passionate," comes from the Latin word ardere, "to burn," and therefore originally meant something like "burning with passion." Most people who use ardent aren't thinking of fire, but some — including many good poets — are. Pay attention to such things.
Sound and Rhythm:Acquire a feel for the sound, meter, and rhythm; note any aural clues that may affect the meaning. Even punctuation may be significant. Be alert to devices such as alliteration, assonance, rhyme, consonance, euphony, cacophony, onomatopoeia. See a dictionary of poetics or rhetoric for precise definitions of these and other terms. Examine the meter of the passage in the same way. Is it regular or not? Determine whether the lines breaks compliment or complicate the meanings of the sentences.
Themes: Relate all of these details to possible themes that are both explicitly and implicitly evoked by the passage. Attempt to relate these themes to others appearing outside the immediate passage. These other themes may be from the larger story from which the passage is excerpted; or from other tales; or from knowledge about the narrator; or from the work as a whole.
Various theoretical questions – gender, class, race, place, history and cultural context might all play into your close reading of the text. Think about the culture in which the text was written, the culture it is about, and the culture it is for and you’ll begin to formulate questions and ideas about theoretical questions.
the most important thing
The most important thing

DO NOT TAKE ANY TEXT AT FACE VALUE… There is always something deeper or at least the potential of depth.

Remember, a close reading is a deep analysis of the WORDS within a story and how those WORDS interact with character, author, reader and world.