How do I do a close reading?

Close readings can often seem daunting but they are the easiest way to demonstrate familiarity with the text and to show that you understand that the specific choices that the author has had an impact on the meaning of the text.

1. Decide what you want to argue or explore through your close reading. This will help you focus your analysis and create a strong, structured argument.

2. Choose a passage to analyse. When looking at a novel or a play, try to find a passage where some of the themes of the overall text are being explored. For example, when looking at Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, it would be useful to look at the scene in which Frankenstein creates the monster as this links to the novels wider themes, such as the themes of science, parental responsibility and of monstrosity. When looking at a poem, find a line or two that express the overall themes of the poem.

3. Look at the narrative structure of the passage you have chosen. Assess who is speaking, who is being addressed, what tense is being used and what effect this has. For example, you might argue that the first person narrative of Jane Eyre helps readers to empathise with the protagonist as they see the world through her eyes and thus experience the alienation and loneliness that she experiences.

4. Look for any words that you find interesting. Why do they stand out? What connotations do they have? For example the use of the vocabulary ‘Devil’ which is repeated throughout ‘Frankenstein’ and is often used by Victor Frankenstein to refer to the monster has biblical connotations and makes readers the ethical consequences of Victor’s creation. It has horrific and scary connotations and these imply that the monster is inherently bad – a topic which the novel asks readers to debate. Moreover, this singular word implies that there is a hierarchy between Frankenstein and the monster: if the monster is a devil, Frankenstein must be an angel – this analysis gives us important information about how Victor perceives himself and helps us to question his character.

5. Look for any literary techniques contained within the passage. These include, but are not limited to: alliteration, antithesis, assonance, foreshadowing, hyperbole and imagery. What effects do these techniques have? Why have they been used? How do they link to the wider context of the text?

6. What punctuation has been used within the text? Has the author used short sentences to speed up the tempo and create suspense or to slow the reader down and make them reflect upon a certain sentiment?

7. Always ask why. Authors use specific words, punctuation and literary devices in order to create an effect. While you may never know the author’s intent you can speculate and can use your own response to the text to dig deeper and to uncover meanings.

8. Link back to the argument you are making and emphasise how your point has been strengthened by this close analysis.  

Francesca S. A Level English tutor, A Level English Language tutor, A...

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