How do I incorporate technical concepts into my analysis to improve my English Literature essays?

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First off, you obviously need to understand these technical concepts in order to use them well. There are plenty of databases online that will define these words and give examples of their usage. But if you're aiming to get an A or A* in your English Literature GCSE, you need to structure your thinking around technical analysis, rather than adding it in as an afterthought. It's easiest to explain this process with an example, so let's look at a poem.

I'm randomly choosing 'Born Yesterday' by Philip Larkin. Try reading through it now, looking to find not just the meaning of the poem, but the devices used. Have in mind this question: "How does Larkin explore the theme of love in 'Born Yesterday?" (and what devices does he use to do this?)

Looking through the poem I can see there is no obvious use of devices like alliteration or tripling; in fact the only thing that immediately sticks out is the first line: "Tightly-folded bud." (If alliteration and tripling are unfamiliar terms for you, please look them up.)

It seems that Larkin is not literally addressing a bud, as he talks about a "lucky girl" and "other women", so the image of the bud is likely a metaphor. However, telling the examiner that we know this is a metaphor will not get you anywhere on its own. We need to relate this technical knowledge to the question. 

The question was "How does Larkin explore he theme of love in 'Born Yesterday?" Now, you shouldn't think of a poem as a riddle with a right answer, but you should also use every clue available to you. As long as your argument is well reasoned, the examiners will give you credit. It is always helpful to look at the title of a poem, and 'Born Yesterday' gives us a pretty clear idea of what the poem could be about. This poem points relatively clearly to one reading. Take a minute to think about it.

It’s about a child right? Who was ‘Born Yesterday.’ Now let’s look back at the device we found, the metaphor of the “tightly-folded bud.” Metaphors work by comparing things that are different, but have some similarity. A bud is not literally a baby. But a baby and a bud have something in common. A baby grows into a human being, and a bud into a leaf or flower. Additionally, looking at a baby, it is hard to see the intelligence and complexity of the adult it will grow into, just as looking at bud you cannot see the beauty of the flower it might become. Now we understand the metaphor, but we haven’t crafted it into a point yet.

How does comparing a baby to a bud explore the theme of love?

There are multiple ways you could answer that, but I will give you a potential one:

The image of the bud creates a feeling of something small and delicate, which creates the sense that the parent has a protective kind of love for their child. Also, the metaphor implies that the bud will become a flower in the future: something beautiful, and therefore that the parent will have an even greater love seeing their child grown up.

Notice how I’m mentioning the word love twice, to make sure it is clear that I am answering the question. Now I’m going to rephrase my argument more formally.

‘The quality of vulnerability evoked by the image of a “bud” creates the sense of a parent with an emotional commitment to protecting their child. Furthermore, the implied metaphorical blossoming of the child into an adult suggests joy and pride in the future. Therefore, the metaphor of the bud displays both a protective form of love, and a possible greater love and admiration when the child has matured.’

Now we have written one point with a technical concept at its core. Often the best way is to start with the technical analysis, and then see how you can relate it to the question, as we have here. Hopefully this has helped you grasp the basic process from which you can build up many related points to create a sophisticated argument. If you can’t find any other technical points in this poem, have a look at the gcse bitesize page, which makes some points about tone and word choice.

The matter of building up an argument from points like these is another matter, so if you are unsure about it do let me know and we can look at the broader structure.

Boyan B. GCSE English tutor

About the author

is an online GCSE English tutor with MyTutor studying at Bristol University

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