Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Close Reading of a Text

Close reading can and should promote insights and questions about texts beyond the specific passage under consideration. Close reading should develop your ability to:

1) Identify specific rhetorical elements and literary strategies within a short passage.
2) Consider the effect these techniques have on a reader’s perception of tone and content.
3) Explain ideas about how the style of the entire text is connected to the content and theme of the entire text. These deep explanations are what is missing in your E's of your PIEs.

The Passage:
“He found pieces of flint or chert in a ditch but in the end it was easier to rake the pliers down the side of a rock at the bottom of which he’d made a small pile of tinder soaked in gas. Two more days. Then three. They were starving right enough. The country was looted, ransacked, ravaged. Rifled of every crumb. The nights were blinding cold and casket black and the long reach of the morning had a terrible silence to it. Like a dawn before battle. The boy’s candlecolored skin was all but translucent. With his great staring eyes he’d the look of an alien” (129).

1. Underline any word, phrase, or line that jumps out at you, even if you’re not sure why. Think about sound, diction, anything that even suggests style, whether you can put a name to what’s going on or not.
2. With a partner, see how many of your underlined words or phrases you can label. If you don’t know the actual name of the technique, or if you aren’t certain, describe the effect as best you can. Write your ideas in the margin.
3. Make a thematic connection to the underlined words or phrases. How does this stylistic element add to the text as a whole? Reflect not just on the element, but on the whole text—how are they related?

Try it again with one of the following passages:

“They scrabbled through the charred ruins of houses they would not have entered before. A corpse floating in the black water of a basement among the trash and rusting ductwork. He stood in a living room partly burned and open to the sky. The waterbuckled boards sloping away into the yard. Soggy volumes in a bookcase. He took one down and opened it and then put it back. Everything damp. Rotting. In a drawer he found a candle. No way to light it. He put it in his pocket. He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like groundfoxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it” (130).

“When he woke again he thought the rain had stopped. But that wasnt what woke him. He’d been visited in a dream by creatures of a kind he’d never seen before. They did not speak. He thought that they’d been crouching by the side of his cot as he slept and then had skulked away on his awakening. He turned and looked at the boy. Maybe he understood for the first time that to the boy he was himself an alien. A being from a planet that no longer existed. The tales of which were suspect. He could not construct for the child’s pleasure the world he’d lost without constructing the loss as well and he thought perhaps the child had known this better than he. He tried to remember the dream but he could not. All that was left was the feeling of it. He thought perhaps they’d come to warn him. Of what? That he could not enkindle in the heart of the child what was ashes in his own. Even now some part of him wished they’d never found this refuge. Some part of him always wished it to be over” (154).

For the second passage that you selected, write a paragraph in which you sum up how the style of the passage is instrumental in conveying the idea of the text as a whole.

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