Right now, you are advancing through your High School career. In your English classes, you have completed paper after paper, studied and comprehended grammar, practiced your public speaking skills, and made a public presentation project. After all this work and you graduate your Senior year, you can finally move on to college and...take 2 more semesters of English classes? But you just spent 4 years mastering this material and taking the SAT exam to prove it, so why are you being forced to take more English classes, as English is part of the General Education Program (GEP)? This chapter aims to explain why, some tactics that college English courses solidify in students, and how English as a whole affects how you perceive the world.
“To call for close reading, in fact, is to do more than insist on due attentiveness to the text" - Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction
How do you generally read a novel? Maybe you analyze the characters, the settings, the plot, and other important facts that stand out. Throughout your time as a high school student, you have probably done these analyses too many times to count. This is one strategy that every student learns how to do: close reading - which is analyzing the aspects of a novel or short story past the plot. In this lesson, we will delve into what close reading can reveal about a passage through literary devices.
Close Reading: Connecting Scenes Together to Form a Bigger Picture
Have you heard of such words as flashback, foreshadowing, and irony? If you have, then you know a bit about literary devices, which can play a huge role in close reading. A literary device is a concept that focuses on a particular aspect of a passage. Let's focus on the three I have provided in the first sentence, which you will undoubtedly learn or potentially know now. A flashback is a pretty famous literary device, as these happen all the time in movies. It cuts away from the present time to show a significant moment in the past that reveals new information. Instead of using text, however, I want to prove that close reading is applicable to sources outside of novels and short stories. Watch this scene from Forrest Gump, where Forrest reflects on the moment he first ran, and determine if the literary device of flashback exists in the very same nature as it is in the movie.
This is a powerful use of a flashback. This scene reveals not only when Forrest stop using his leg braces, but he reminisces with a smile, showing his happiness and triumph of this moment. Keep this flashback in mind when discussing the next two literary terms. Let's examine the second literary devices; foreshadowing. Foreshadowing provides subtle hints about events that will happen in the future of the plot. Now, it might be possible (if you have seen this movie before!) that you asked, "Wait, doesn't this scene foreshadow when Forrest runs across the United States later in the movie?" And you are absolutely correct! Literary devices do not exist solely within themselves; multiple literary devices can exist in one scene, and the better you become at close reading, the more readily you are at detecting this. Now examine this scene from Forrest Gump and notice how elements in the first scene foreshadow elements in the second scene.
With these two scenes in mind, would you expect a kid who has leg braces to not only be running later in life, but love to run as well? This is a good place to introduce irony, which has multiple definitions and confusion surrounding it, but in this case, is the unexpected result versus the expected or actual result. Click the link below to read more about the different functions and definitions of irony:
In total, we have three literary devices existing at once now. Although these examples are in the form of a movie, the same situation can easily exist in the world of literature. Take this excerpt from The Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway.
Another literary device you may be familiar with is symbolism, which is when one object represents another concept, person, or object. Here, the barren side of the junction can signify death and barren life, and the lush, green side may represent life and birth. This scene can also foreshadow future events to come in the short story. This is what is taught at the University level, where the student learns to appreciate the language presented to him/her and scrutinizes details very finely. Also, at the University level, you will be dealing with far more mature and real-life problems, because these topics are very prominent in our lives and the lives of authors. Far more literary devices and application exist, but here is just the basic overview of how they coexist and can connect multiple scenes together to form a bigger picture. If you want to challenge yourself further and see how the author of the work can interject his/her own experiences, philosophy and personality into his/her works, check out the rest of this short story and this brief biography of Ernest Hemingway.
- Literary devices play an important role in how we read any piece of literature
- These can be applicable to both literature and movies
- Multiple literary devices can exist in one scene and harmonize
- At the University level, these tackle more mature and serious issues that may be faced in life
- An author can interject himself/herself into a work, and this adds more details about how characters and scenes may relate to the author personally.
Introductions, for most students, are the hardest part of any paper. Where do I begin? How do I make a compelling introduction that is interesting to read but also has good content? Well, forming a strong thesis statement is the first step. A thesis statement details what your paper is about and what you are proving. With a strong thesis statement, you can form a thought-provoking introduction, a logical flow to your paper, strong content to support your claim, and a conclusion showing that you proved your thesis statement. In a way, you may think to yourself, "The thesis statement sounds like the whole paper..." and you would be entirely correct! A good thesis statement essentially writes the paper for you, and gives you a strong outline, a strong rough draft, and what you need to improve to support your claim during the proofreading stages. Now, take a look at one of my introductions. Identify the thesis statement above (I will remind you, a thesis statement states the author's topic and objective (what you are venturing to prove)). If you think it is the last statement, you would be correct! Here, I clearly defined it, and you can do that, but in some other papers, the thesis statement is a bit more implicit and less obvious. Read this article to find out a bit more of how to dissect introductions and formulating a great thesis statement!
If I said, "I'm not busy this weekend" and then said "It's cold outside", you would probably think, "What does one have to do with the other?" Well, maybe it will be cold over the weekend and I am staying inside this weekend, but I did not lead you to think I was going to say that and therefore it was confusing. That one crucial sentence in between can make such an impact in understanding my reasoning for saying such two differing subjects. Although this pertains to conversation, conversational and compositional transitioning are very similar in that there needs to exist a logical reasoning as to why I am delving into two differing topics and trying to connect them. Strong transitioning leads to what we call a "flow", which leads the reader into expecting a logical sequence and understanding why the evidence being presented to them is being presented in a certain order. At the university level, transitioning is a bit more tricky, however. Definitively saying, "My next argument is..." or "My next piece of evidence for my thesis is..." is a bit odd. The reader is expecting the author to provide a evidence and the next paragraph will either provide a new topic or furthered explanation, so the reader knows what is coming up. Therefore, transitioning is taught to be implied, and lead your reader into what to expect next without directly stating a sentence that can be reworded as, "Here's my next paragraph". Multiple phrases provide strong transitioning, such as "However" (leading to a contrast view) or "Subsequently" (leading to a chronological view). Watch this video about the numerous types and strategies to creating a strong transition.
How Literary Theory Adds a Third Dimension to Novels
Literary Theory incorporates Historical Context, which is evidence from the time period a work of literature is written to explain certain aspects of the characters, setting, or plot. Take the character Othello from Othello by William Shakespeare, for example. In the time period it is set (early 1600s), race was a prominent issue. Othello is a black man who, later in the play, feels that he is isolated from Venetian society because of his skin color, despite him being a powerful Captain in Venice. This opens many routes for us to travel down when thinking of Othello as both a novel and the character himself. In what scenes are race a prominent theme? Who uses race as a way of de-humanizing Othello? These are the types of questions that are enabled through Literary Theory and Historical Context. Take this quote that Iago says early in Othello. In what ways does this quote fixate the issue of race in Othello and also de-humanize Othello?
"Sir, you're robbed. For shame, put on your gown! / your heart is burst. you have lost half your soul. even now, now , very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe." iago to brabantio about othello and desdemona
Karl Marx: Influence on Literature
If you have discussed communism before in your history classes, you may have heard of Karl Marx. Marx was a philosopher who wrote about how the economy, social class, and labor dictated the world and personalities. His philosophy is now referred to as Marxism, which details his perception and is the founding basis for Communism. If you want to learn more about Marx and his perception, including his vocabulary, click the button below.
How does his work and research influence novels and poems we read, though? Marx describes certain mannerisms, ideals and perceptions of the proletariat, or the working class. Many characters in literature are influenced by their capital, or the power that is determined by culture and social status. Cultural Capital are aspects about you that show your wealth and education (i.e. a high school diploma). Social capital is how you use characteristics of your cultural capital to give you more power and influence in society (i.e. expensive clothes or profound vocabulary). In the video below, Brittany Thompson details Marxism and how understanding the influence of social capital and cultural capital might affect your perception of characters and the plot of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Watch it and take some notes.
In the previous sections, you may have noticed a recurring theme. All the strategies that I spoke about, from close reading to compositional skills and literary theory involve written speech. But how do you normally communicate with people? By speaking and interacting physically, of course! This section pertains to how your speech and language can influence your emotions and perception of the world. However, I am disclaiming here that this is only a hypothesis. Although the material (I find to be very intriguing!) is useful and insightful, there is no definitive truth that this phenomenon exists. As the title states, this is only a hypothesis, which is a proposition that has some truth to it, but cannot be concretely proven. With that clarified, let's see how language influences your interpersonal relationships!
Have you ever noticed the way you speak when you are angry or sad? Maybe when extremely angered, you might find yourself using expletive words and curses far more than usual. When your sad, you may notice you describe objects and people more vividly, remarking them in a more dull sense with a bleak outlook. This is the premise of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, a proposition that your language influences your perception of the world and how you interact with it. Notice that I said language, because the notion of your word choice is not the sole proponent of this hypothesis. The language you speak also has a direct impact and a questionable real world implication. To demonstrate this point, let's compare two very contrasting languages. Let's take Russian and English, which do not even share the same alphabet. Look at the sky in the back ground of this text. I want you to use one word to describe the sky. Although I do not actively know what you said, I think I would be safe in assuming you said "blue". You may have saw the dark blue and light blue shades, but I limited you to one word, so you cannot say that. However, in Russian, words such as "dark blue" and "light blue" have their own, distinct words, and therefore do not need the "light" or "dark" preface to detail it. As a result, Russian's have a far more unique and deep appreciation for shades of colors and identify them more quickly, according to their language. This is the premise of the hypothesis, that word choice, vocabulary and language structures all influence the way you interpret the world. Below are two videos: one detailing the linguistic standpoint and the other explaining the interpersonal consequences if the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is true. Watch one of them (preferably both) because they are very interesting and pertain to your life heavily!