Section H. WRITING TO LITERATURE
Critical Thinking Alternatives
for Section H.:
This page presents three alternative methods of
writing about literature. They can be used as a ways to write entire
papers or to write shorter sections or paragraphs within standard literature
Critical Thinking Alternatives: Explication
of Text, Comparison/Contrast, and Opposing Thoughts
You can develop Your metacognitive thinking
skills (Your skills in "thinking about thinking") better by working in
several additional ways with literature. One of these ways is a method called
"explication of text." A second way is to compare and contrast two
differing literary works. A third is to add "opposing thoughts"
sections to your interpretive analyses. And a fourth is to consider how
you might use several of the rhetorical modes of composition.
EXPLICATION OF TEXT
An "explication of text" is a
particular type of interpretive thesis that, usually, starts with a poem, a very
short story, or a very small section of a long story or novel (perhaps as little as
a paragraph or a page) or of a poem (perhaps as little as one or two lines). You analyze this short selection to find an overall pattern or
purpose in it as it fits into that part of the work, or the work as a whole.
Then, step by step, piece by piece--and literally
word or sentence by word or sentence--you guide your reader through an
explication or explanation in great detail of how this pattern or purpose
exists. This method often works better with poetry; however, you can choose 1/2
to two pages of a story or novel as well. If choosing a small part of a larger
work, you should look for a significant turning point. (Often, but not always,
such points come at the one-third and two-thirds points in stories and novels.)
Whichever kind of work you choose, you then show the pattern or purpose as you
argue a thesis in a interpretive thesis: you use the small details as proofs
first, then the larger details.
If, for example, we were to explicate a
selection from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Tale, we might choose the
turning point when Mr. Scrooge watches with the Ghost of Christmas Present as
Scrooge's relatives have fun at a Christmas party. Scrooge begins to lose his
crusty attitude as he recalls how he used to dance and love like a normal human
being. We might start our thesis by looking at the particular use of words--the
rhythms, rhymes, symbols and descriptions--which occur at the beginning and the
end of our page or two, showing how they change from words and symbols of
Scrooge's crustiness to ones of emotional sensitivity. We might further describe
how the characters around him change and how his own character changes. We might
then relate this to how the plot and theme demonstrate at this turning point the
change that Scrooge is going through, showing how the larger symbols demonstrate
this change. Finally, we might make our point that a change of heart is implicit
in almost every sentence, every image, that occurs in these one or two pages. In
this way, we would prove our thesis--that the very structure of the writing of
these two pages demonstrates a change of heart in Scrooge.
This method of reading and writing relates to the
concept of "close reading," which is explained in a part on "Critical Reading"
of a chapter in this textbook chapter called "How to Read Texts."
COMPARISON/CONTRAST OF LITERARY WORKS
Comparison and/or contrast is another way to
develop critical thinking skills when writing about literature. The basic idea
is simple: instead of writing about one literary work, we write about two,
comparing and contrasting them. If that is the only part of the assignment, then
the paper is simple: it goes through the elements, comparing and contrasting
each of them in the literary works. However, a better--and more
difficult--comparison-contrast paper develops a single thesis or idea and shows
how this idea is treated in both literary works, comparing and contrasting how
the idea occurs in both. This type of interpretive literary thesis of two works
also will often make a final judgment about which literary work does the better
job of working with this idea.
For example, it is possible to compare and
contrast the idea of justice in Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and
Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. If we start with small details, we find that
justice is represented in Mockingbird in a small-town setting within the
context of a family, racism, and language both loving and dark. In Mice,
however, justice is represented in a country setting within the context of
friends and fellow workers, prejudice against the developmentally disabled, and
language that is usually very hopeful and almost innocent. There are many
comparisons and contrasts we can make about how justice is illustrated and
symbolized in these two novels. In the end, the moral in Mockingbird
seems to be that laws can and must be upheld; but in Mice, that laws are
relative to circumstance and need. Yet both novels have an underlying sense of
justice as something absolutely necessary in life. Mice delivers this message in
a more shocking way, Mockingbird in a more loving way; but perhaps Mockingbird,
of the two, gives us a much better sense of both the need for and workings of
For more on the comparison/contrast, see the part on
it in this textbook's chapter called "Modes."
AN "OPPOSING THOUGHTS" SECTION/PARAGRAPH
An "opposing thoughts" section also
may be added to some types of analysis or thesis papers, or to a section of
them. If you write an entire "opposing thoughts" section, it can offer one or
more interpretations that differ from your own. If you do the same as just a
paragraph (or two) in a single section, you would likely try to do the same in
your other sections, as well.
In an opposing-thoughts section or paragraph,
you first would present the ideas of those who disagree with you, give
supporting reasons and details for their ideas, and then show (sometimes with
more details) why you believe their ideas are incorrect of insufficient.
Often you would place such a section or paragraph at the end of the paper or
section. However, on occasion it is useful to start a paper or section
with the opposing position; then you can use this through the rest of the paper
or section as a starting point by writing such transition phrases as "Another
reason the idea of ____ is insufficient/wrong is that ____."
Sometimes a writer is able, on the other hand, to
simply add the opposing thoughts a sentence or two at a time throughout the
paper. The result is a paper that is rich with contrast. However, if
you try this, be sure that the paper is clear in thought to the reader and easy
to follow in style. However, most writers find it simpler to add opposing
thoughts in complete sections as described here.
For more on writing using opposing thoughts, see
this textbook's chapter called "Disagreement"
USE OF THE RHETORICAL MODES IN WRITING TO
Though all of the rhetorical modes of composition
are fair game in any kind of college paper, three in particular are worth noting
in a section on writing to literature, as each may prove helpful in further
detailing your literary text and your own ideas about it. They are the the
rhetorical modes of argument, exemplification, and classification. Here is what
Argumentation or argument is, simply, educated
guessing or expressing of opinion--anything not very factual. "Men have
walked on the moon" is a fact. However, "People will walk on Venus in
the next ten years" is an opinion. Anything that reasonably can be debated
is an argument. A simple argument paper usually presents a debatable opinion and
then offers supports in favor of it, or sometimes an argument paper will discuss
both sides of an issue and then give good reasons for choosing one side over the
Exemplification or example is the giving of a
specific, detailed example. As structure, exemplification is most often obvious
when it is long and developed. A reading might try, for example, to prove a
point by developing three long examples of what it is saying--just to show,
define, or prove something. Parables--little moral stories--from such sources as
Aesop's fables, the B'rer Rabbit stories, or the Bible are examples of the use
of exemplification to prove some kind of moral or point.
Classification means that a subject--a person,
place, event, or object--is broken into parts and sub-parts. Sometimes
classification is used in order to show us that something is much worse than, or
much better than, we had imagined--just because its parts are worse or better
than we had realized. This is called argument by association: for example, if
14-year-old Janie wants to hang out with friends on a dangerous street downtown,
a caring adult might point out to her that this activity can be broken down into
parts which include not only friendship and fun but also drugs and harassment.
Therefore, by classifying the subject for her, Janie can see (hopefully) that
her activity may lead to danger.
For more on the rhetorical modes, see this
textbook's chapter called "Modes."
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