How do I analyse a quotation effectively?

By GCSE, you will probably be familiar with the P.E.E (Point, Evidence, Explain) structure but even then, analysing your ‘evidence’ without simply feature spotting can be quite difficult. As you learn more terminology, there is an increasing danger of simply vaguely explaining that they have used a feature such as a metaphor or simile. 

The aim is instead to really understand WHY they have used this feature and to what effect, instead of just understanding that they have used it.

Here is an example, explaining how to analyse a quotation from Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

‘In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars’. - Chpt 3

To avoid feature spotting, perhaps it is best to firstly think of the effect of the sentence rather than the rhetoric devices used. Look at the key words used and their connotations and the accumulative effect that this has. Here the key words seem to be:

blue - normally thought of as being a rather depressive, cold or mellow colour

men and girls - the juxtaposition of ‘men’ is suggestive of maturity against ‘girls’ which is reflective of youth rather than maturity, implying that there is an unnatural balance of genders. There is also the more misogynistic undertone that the ‘men’ are there for their personality and conversation yet the ‘girls’ are there for their youth and presumedly, their beauty too.

moths - moths are well known for being attracted to the light, thus equating the party guests to moths is a rather satirical suggestion that they are mindlessly drifting to the ‘light’ (the party).

whisperings - connotations of being secretive 

champagne - reflective of the hedonism surrounding the party, champagne is thought to be a drink for the celebratory and the rich.

stars - quite a romantic image yet also a distant and vague image. ‘Stars’ can refer to not only the stars in the sky but also the colloquial term for celebrities who acquaint Gatsby’s parties.

By combining all of these thoughts on the key words we can identify that there is a rather biased tone set by the narrator who sees the party guests as vacuous people drawn to the party purely for the glamour and atmosphere, rather than the host himself. 

It is important however to also identify the features as to let the marker know that you have an awareness of the terminology, but more importantly the importance of it’s use in this instance.

Here there is:

 a simile - ‘like moths’ - the importance here is not that they have used the simile but that they have likened the guests to moths, therefore analyse the subject rather than the device.

a triplet (or a polysyndetic list) - ‘the whisperings and the champagne and the stars’- the repetition of ‘and’ aids the sense of excess.

the use of the tense - ‘came and went’ - the fact that the narrator is describing a current party using two past tenses suggests a sense of restlessness as people seem to be constantly moving around without settling. 

I have purposefully analysed this sentence in a LOT of detail and as much as this can be useful  when analysing in depth, this much is not necessary as long as what you do analyse is effectively done.  Most of the time, the author has wrote what they have for a reason, so be sure to get as much information from the sentence as you can but be careful to remember - only write what you believe! Don’t analyse things with grand statements just as to appear impressive - if you don’t believe what you’re writing, the person reading it won’t either!

Jessica B. GCSE English Literature tutor, A Level English Literature ...

2 years ago

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