To successfully analyze literature, you’ll need to remember that authors make specific choices for particular reasons. Your comments should point out the author’s choices and attempt to explain their significance.
In order to do so, you´ll need to develop your argument based on any single term (or combination of terms) listed below.
Setting – the place or location of the action. The setting provides the historical and cultural context for characters. It often can symbolize the emotional state of characters. Example – In Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, the crumbling old mansion reflects the decaying state of both the family and the narrator’s mind.
Character – representation of a person, place, or thing performing traditionally human activities or functions in a work of fiction
- Protagonist – The character the story revolves around.
- Antagonist – A character or force that opposes the protagonist.
- Minor character – Often provides support and illuminates the protagonist.
- Static character – A character that remains the same.
- Dynamic character – A character that changes in some important way.
- Characterization – The choices an author makes to reveal a character’s personality, such as appearance, actions, dialogue, and motivations.
Look for: Connections, links, and clues between and about characters. Ask yourself what the function and significance of each character is. Make this determination based upon the character’s history, what the reader is told (and not told), and what other characters say about themselves and others.
Plot – the arrangement of ideas and/or incidents that make up a story
- Foreshadowing – When the writer clues the reader in to something that will eventually occur in the story; it may be explicit (obvious) or implied (disguised).
- Suspense – The tension that the author uses to create a feeling of discomfort about the unknown
- Conflict – Struggle between opposing forces.
- Exposition – Background information regarding the setting, characters, plot.
- Rising Action – The process the story follows as it builds to its main conflict
- Crisis – A significant turning point in the story that determines how it must end
- Resolution/Denouement – The way the story turns out.
Point of View – who tells the story and how it is told. The point of view of a story can sometimes indirectly establish the author’s intentions.
- Narrator – The person telling the story who may or may not be a character in the story.
- First-person – Narrator participates in action but sometimes has limited knowledge/vision.
- Second person – Narrator addresses the reader directly as though she is part of the story. (i.e. “You walk into your bedroom. You see clutter everywhere and…”)
- Third Person (Objective) – Narrator is unnamed/unidentified (a detached observer). Does not assume character’s perspective and is not a character in the story. The narrator reports on events and lets the reader supply the meaning.
- Omniscient – All-knowing narrator (multiple perspectives). The narrator knows what each character is thinking and feeling, not just what they are doing throughout the story. This type of narrator usually jumps around within the text, following one character for a few pages or chapters, and then switching to another character for a few pages, chapters, etc. Omniscient narrators also sometimes step out of a particular character’s mind to evaluate him or her in some meaningful way.
Structure – The way that the writer arranges the plot of a story.
Look for: Repeated elements in action, gesture, dialogue, description, as well as shifts in direction, focus, time, place, etc.