American Lit II (EL 267)


Close Reading

A close reading is a careful, thorough, sustained examination of the words that make up a text.

In a close reading, a literary work is not so much a window to look through, nor is it a mirror to reflect yourself. Instead, you look closely at the language the author chose, in order to analyze what the author has accomplished.

Note: Close reading is always re-reading.

  1. You will probably want to read your text once through fairly quickly, highlighting unfamiliar words or puzzling details (or marking them with sticky notes, if you're reading a library book).
  2. Go back and look more carefully at the places you marked. Did the ending explain some of the things you initially found puzzling? Do you see any recurring patterns?
  3. Once you have a sense of what you think is important, go through the text again, this time searching specifically for more of whatever caught your eye.
  4. Once you have identified the details that you find interesting, you should come up with a thesis -- a non-obvious claim, supported with direct quotations from the material you are studying. (It is not enough merely to write down a list of isolated observations, in the order they popped into your head.)

When you write a close reading, you should assume that your reader is not only familiar with the text you are examining, but has a copy of it within reach.

A close reading does not retell the plot. Neither should a close reading profile the characters, give advice to the author, speculate on which people in the author's life inspired the literary characters, or share your personal musings. A close reading does not use a literary work as a handy example to support general claims about the outside world (such as "racism is bad" or "women have come a long way").

What does a close reading do?

It might look closely at a monologue or brief scene, such as Hamlet's encounter with his father's ghost, and analyze the explicit plot points and the subtle foreshadowing contained in that scene. It might examine the representation of concentric rings of social power in the opening of "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," or it might make a specific claim about how and why the author uses references to other books.

What words did the author choose, what do they mean, and what function do they serve? In what ways is word order and grammatical structure significant? (One character might speak only a few words at a time, but grunt a lot; another may ramble. Talk like Yoda, another character might.)

See also:

Getting an A on an English Paper

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. -- Jack Lynch

How to Do a Close Reading

We need more evidence, so we go back to the text--the whole essay now, not just this one passage--and look for additional clues. And as we proceed in this way, paying close attention to the evidence, asking questions, formulating interpretations, we engage in a process that is central to essay writing and to the whole academic enterprise: in other words, we reason toward our own ideas. --Patricia Kain

Permalink | 26 Jan 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

RRRR (Read, React, Respond, Reflect)

A four-step process that helps you prepare for a productive class discussion using the SHU weblog system.

We will start out slowly at first, only completing a part of the RRRR process, so that the whole class has the chance to adjust to it. Once we start the full process, for each item or group of items marked as "Text" on the course outline, Read the assignment, react by posting an "agenda item" about 24 hours before the class discussion (see glossary), respond to 2-4 items posted by your peers, and reflect on the experience in a half-page essay (100-200 words -- see "reflection paper" in the glossary).

The process of reading, reacting, responding, and reflecting is part of all critical thinking and writing. In our online community, we will practice, in an informal manner, the intellectual activity that goes into the production of a college-level research paper.

While your agenda items and lengthier reflections should be a little more formal, when you leave comments, don't worry too much about typos or grammatical mistakes. Feel free to use :) and LOL if you like.

Permalink | 26 Jan 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Agenda Item

A short homework assignment, comprising a brief quotation from the assigned text,, a non-obvious question or observation, and a contribution to the class discussion (if called on).

The agenda item is part of "React," the second "R" in the RRRR sequence.

For each assigned reading that gets its own page in the course syllabus, post an agenda item about 24 hours before the reading is scheduled to be discussed. Your goal is to demonstrate that you are thinking about the assigned readings in advance, so that you have time to complete the readings, and you can arrive in the classroom with ready to respond to what your peers are thinking about it.

For readings that are listed for Tuesday, students in both sections are to post their agenda item by 4pm Monday (though I'll have more time to comment if you post by noon). For readings listed for Thursday, the agenda item should be posted by noon on Wednesday.

Permalink | 26 Jan 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Oral Interpretation

A spoken performance. Poetry is meant for the ear, and part of the pleasure of poetry is hearing poetry spoken aloud in such a manner that the speaker's voice (and facial expressions, gestures, even costumes and props, if you like) convey the poem's emotional core.

The point of an oral interpretation is not to demonstrate that you have memorized the poem (you're free to read it from a page) or that you can recite it in the secret, specific "right" way that the author and your teachers expect you to recite it.

Poets often play with ambiguous meanings and invoke many possible interpretations; your job is to find one consistent, coherent interpretation and communicate it to your audience.

An oral interpretation is an act of persuasion -- you're trying to convince your audience to accept your particular take on a literary work that may have multiple potential meanings.

As with any intellectual act of persuasion, it pays to lay a factual foundation. Look up the proper pronunciation and definition of all the words the poet uses, as well as the significance of allusions to historical events, public figures, mythological characters, flowers or animals, etc. If your work was written in the past, look in an older dictionary to find out what a word meant at the time it was written. (Consider words like "postal" in the light of recent incidents of workplace violence,

Permalink | 7 Feb 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

MLA Style

The citation and formatting style developed by the Modern Language Association, and used in all literature and modern language scholarship. The main components include parenthetical in-text citations that use the last name, no comma, and a page number (Smith 45), and a "Works Cited" list.

For details such as margin widths, spacing, and pagination, see Formatting a Paper in MLA Style. For help constructing a Works Cited list, see the MLA-Style Bibliography Builder.

Permalink | 9 Feb 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

MLA Style Citation for an Article from a Databasegh

Holstein, Suzy Clarkson. "Silent Justice in a Different Key: Glaspell's 
 
     'Trifles.'." Midwest Quarterly 44.3 (2003): 282-291. 

Reeves Library, Seton Hill University. Academic Search Elite.

EBSCOHost.. 21 Mar 2006. http://maura.setonhill.edu/~library/

Alphabetize by author's last name.

Use your word processor's "hanging indent" paragraph formatting, rather than using blank spaces or tabs to format your entries.

Double-space everything evenly. Do not skip any extra spaces between items (even though there may be extra spaces in the example on this website)..

Permalink | 21 Mar 2006 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)