How do you study literature? In this publication, we bring you some tips to teach you how to do what in English is called close reading or “attentive reading”. With this scheme you will learn how to make a perfect and complete critical analysis for your exams and college or university papers.
Here are the 6 fundamental points to keep in mind when studying a literary text:
1. Content, context and gender in literature
Analyzing the content of a literary text is fundamental. What is the text about, what does it want to tell us? If it describes a series of events or circumstances, surely these can be located in a specific time and place, either real or imaginary. Pay close attention to the changes of scenery, if the characters travel, if it is the narrator who does it.
In addition, it is important to distinguish between the order in which the different events occur and the order in which they are narrated. The narrator’s voice can be that of a character or someone who is not involved in the events being told.
- Historical and literary context
Can you place the text in a particular socio-cultural context? It is very useful to take into account the date in which the book was written and published. Does this coincide with the time in which the story is situated? The author has nothing to do with the narrative voice (in general terms) and a 21st century author can write about the 16th century or the future.
The three broadest literary genres in which we can categorize any work are: poetry, prose and theater. In addition, within each genre there are subgenres that tell us much about the characteristics of each work.
2. Theme, images and tone in literary work
What themes do we find threads throughout the text, and how can we relate them to the historical and literary context we mentioned earlier? A work can deal with everything from love, family relationships and peace to revenge, hate and greed. Once you discover the theme of the text, you will have half the work done.
- Images and tone
War, nature, birds, the industrial city… All the images that appear in a text, give form to its meaning. Metaphors have a why and you will have to discover what it is. Have you ever wondered why Lorca always used the number three or the color green? Nothing is coincidence!
The tone and atmosphere that is created in a work is also important. Is the tone comical, melancholic, sinister, realistic? You will have to analyze the literary techniques that make the text have this effect, such as repetition or the use of rhetorical figures. How would the author have wanted us to feel when reading the text?
3. Structure of the literary text
Depending on the genre to which the text belongs, its structure will be very different. Prose is divided into chapters and parts, poetry into stanzas and theater into acts and scenes. In addition to these structural divisions, each work has a structure of its plot (beginning, middle and end) and its timeline can be chronological or jump in time.
4. Perspective and literary intention
The perspective of the text is given by the narrator’s voice. Do you know who the narrator is? What is his or her age, cultural context or gender? It is very important to determine if it is an objective or subjective perspective, and if the facts being told affect him or not. Is the narrator’s voice different from the author’s? Does he tell us the story in first or third person? All these data are useful for your literary analysis.
In addition, the author or narrator may have a clear purpose for which he or she is writing a work or not. Who is the target audience and what is it for? The text can be descriptive, persuasive, philosophical, political, satirical, etc.
5. Style and language in literature
Not only what is told, the history, is important, the how is also fundamental at the time of studying literature. The form, which is given by the style, has to do with the register and the language. The work can have a formal or informal style, serious or humorous, realistic or fantastic, analytical or emotional, and it can also combine several.
The style or diction is given by the choice of words used in a literary work. Language can be colloquial or formal, abstract or concrete, literal or figurative, contemporary or archaic. The way a character speaks can give us many clues about his personality, his motives, his purpose.
6. Criticism and acceptance of the literary text
Literary criticism is important when studying a text. Was Jane Austen successful in the 18th century or did she become famous later? Why? Taking into account the context and reception of a work can help us a lot to discover the intention of the author, if he had political motives, if he was critical or complacent, etc.
Literature is very interesting and many times we do not stop to think about all the parameters to be taken into account when studying it. If you want to keep learning tips and squeezing the maximum out of the works you study, don’t stop reading.