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EKS

Why is literary analysis important?

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LOL - Yup. I can understand the second one, thanks to the translation. Which is sort of beside the point. But anyway... (Do you know the joke about why UUers can't sing?... They are too busy reading the words to see if they feel comfortable singing them. I am not one of those sorts of UUers. And something totally off topic now - did you see my post about head voice vs chest voice?)

 

-Nan

 

LOL We always joke about this. Did you see the article about using the word Spirituality in this month's UU World? Loved it.

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My version of recipes, I suppose.

 

:lol::lol::lol:

 

As someone with only a high school diploma that represents a lousy education, I've really appreciated your clear communication here, EM. You've helped me to understand some things I'd never have thought of on my own. For me, with absolutely NO literary qualifications, you've given me some tangible principles to keep in mind. It's sort of like TWTM and TWEM books - they gave me solid principles/methods/ideas to guide me, and when I get comfortable with each step of the way, I can branch out. But I need that structure first, to figure things out. Thanks.

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:lol::lol::lol:

 

As someone with only a high school diploma that represents a lousy education, I've really appreciated your clear communication here, EM. You've helped me to understand some things I'd never have thought of on my own. For me, with absolutely NO literary qualifications, you've given me some tangible principles to keep in mind. It's sort of like TWTM and TWEM books - they gave me solid principles/methods/ideas to guide me, and when I get comfortable with each step of the way, I can branch out. But I need that structure first, to figure things out. Thanks.

 

:iagree: :iagree:

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I .

 

See? Pragmatic. No need for arguments and angst!:D

 

I agree. :) I don't really worry about college, having already had one graduate (and the one coming up-- it's possible there will be struggles (minor, I hope) in some areas that some professors might scratch their heads over, but that's why I am paying good money for what I hope is good instruction and/or tutoring lol.

 

I do think some folks are more interested in thinking about and discussing these sorts of challenges and ideas. :) I know I enjoy these types of discussions.

 

I don't think there is anything at all to argue about, especially if one is speaking to the idea of form and structure in the art of writing itself. There are bigger picture literary ideas, of course; for instance, when something is profoundly & beautifully written it will evoke something personal in the reader, but that joy/whatever is not about the actual mechanics and form used to create that beauty. (Although there is awe for me when I read something I know is stunning in it's form.)

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I have different ideas as to when, where, and how far one should "tailor" the education to an individual student and their preferences (barring cognitive barriers; if we are talking merely about preferences towards one approach, one "learning style", etc.) - and my view, that tailoring does not include approches which are, or are in the great danger of, "walking out of discipline" and tackling the topic from fundamentally non-literary angles.

I find it interesting that these sorts of discussions always seem to end with those who believe that their method of education is the only "correct" method suggesting that those who disagree are flirting with "great danger," by "tailoring" our kids' educations to their "preferences" (AKA "coddling," "indulging," "dumbing down," etc.) — as if the only parents who would ever choose a different approach are those whose children are either incapable of doing it "properly" or too spoiled to work hard.

 

In fact, I'm tailoring my children's educations to my preferences. The fact that my approach to education does not exactly mirror yours isn't because I'm ignorant of those methods or my children are incapable of doing the work; it's because I disagree fundamentally with the assertion that your "rigid, compartmentalized" (in your words) approach to education is the best or most "correct" approach.

 

I'm afraid there is simply no way to reconcile the opinion that there are many valid paths to producing highly-educated, critical-thinking children, and the opinion that there is only one way — yours. I don't post in these threads in order to persuade you otherwise; I post in order to present alternatives to other homeschoolers who may not realize that there are alternatives.

 

Jackie

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Ok, I'm going to be very brief here, because I want to enter the conversation and have only a short amount of time. First, it seems to me there are a lot of big concepts, very good ones, being thrown in with a bunch of words. To address some of EM's concerns:

-content vs. perceived meaning. Yes, I definitely think this is an issue. In fact, there's sort of an intellectual arrogance potentially with the student thinking his opinion on something actually has validity, worth, or weight. It's something people disagree on. Where I went to college (and the way my dh thinks), your opinion was basically worth NOTHING till grad school, so stick to the facts. I think she's right on here.

-joy is irrelevant. Huh?? How about if we tie that in with a later comment you made about customization and multiple paths to a good end. Double huh??? I mean seriously? The less mature the student, the more careful we are to balance the inherent rewards of work with pleasures they can grasp more readily. In fact, in the right hands, this type of process SHOULD be enjoyable. (At least I always found it that way.) Perhaps you have a different culture over there? Really, this might be one where you try to allow for different temperaments, as Austen would say. Many people on this board are dealing with 2E, special needs kids who are both profoundly able and profoundly unable at the same time. The parents develop a lot of wisdom in how they nurture these kids, and I think it reflects a pretty small amount of imagination if you can't open up to that thought, that what is working very well for you would kill the pig in someone else's house.

-literary analysis as a way of teaching logical analysis, aka rhetoric. You got to this in the last paragraph of your first post in this thread, and I think it's where you overlap with KarenAnne without even realizing it. (Or else you acknowledge it later, the thread was long and I've only read it once.) Karen just has the background to take it broader.

-age limits. Again, I'm surprised on this one, given the consistently advanced work many on the boards do, how advanced your kids usually are, and that KarenAnne's dd is profoundly gifted (something most of us can't say, hehe). I'm just saying on that one I could probably defer to the wisdom of the teaching parent in applying the concept. We are dealing in this thread with moms who all have unusually capable kids. That's not the population as a whole, but I dare say it is in this thread. And that alone probably makes it all the more important for the teaching parent to think through carefully. We have kids who WANT to think on that level, who AREN'T going to do without questioning the most blind, formulaic, stupid level of analysis, who are READY to appreciate some inter-disciplinary rhetoric-type thought, but who are still kids, prone to immaturity, uninformed conclusions, etc.

-as stepping stone to university classes--I thought Karen's explanation was very interesting here. Indeed, my dh ended up taking quite a few literature classes in engineering school, followed by more occupation-specific writing courses. But his experiences were totally different from mine or what I've heard in some other colleges and universities. It just really varies. And MORE IMPORTANTLY, any student who can do KarenAnne's type of thinking well can probably learn a more specific application quite easily later. I just don't see the trouble here. The world will NOT END, at least in America, if we don't do certain things. Our system has those built-in catches. I even talked this over with a friend of mine with a PhD in education who works at a university. She said they studied their incoming freshman classes, and the homeschooled students, while initially often behind in writing, quickly caught up and by the end of the year were indistinguishable from the others. So there's no statistical reason to say any good rhetorical analysis won't prepare them for university level work. Any student doing what KarenAnne describes would be well-ahead of what most of those incoming freshman had.

-inability to bring down concepts. Really?? I don't know, what Karen said made a lot of sense to me. These are the types of things my dd wants to do.

 

-a lot of kids with analytic minds would enjoy this.--Ok, so we take what we, as linguistically gifted people, enjoy and extrapolate that to what ALL children should do??? That doesn't even make sense. Here in America, with the homeschoolers I know in person, there's SUCH a huge spread in interests, academic pursuits, etc. The bare minimum you need to do here is SO much lower than what gets talked about on the boards, I think any mom attempting anything even close should just pat themselves on the back and eat a chocolate bar. I mean mercy, we're hanging out here with women who are pushing for very high standards, all of them. I'm telling you the NORM isn't even close. Maybe at an occasional school. Not in general. And so the teacher talks them through some formulaic paper of literary analysis, gives them the outline, spoonfeeds the whole process to them. Did the kid LEARN anything? Did he grow in his ability to think? But if you do like KarenAnne says and meet them where they are, look at what they're studying, and then start guiding that into the next step of analysis, discussion, and writing, isn't that where it's at? Because after they've done that, they'll be more able to do some specific, disinterested little analysis of some stupid literary term applied in a novel they didn't care a rip about. But at least they started with something they did like, with something that did engage them.

 

Just my two cents. In other words, I agree with everything of EM except the close-mindedness and lack of ability to walk in another's moccassins, and I think KarenAnne came on to blow our minds with how much broader this could be if we let it. Now I'm going to go rest my mind.

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I think those two sites are fairly representative of what colleges consider "literary analysis" — and you can see that in no way do they limit it to strict formalist/structural analysis. In fact quite the opposite — there is a strong emphasis on content and meaning.

 

For those who said that the idea of emphasizing the mechanical components of a work (e.g. "The organizational relationship between short stories and a unity of a novel in Don Quijote") really clicked with them, those sorts of papers are certainly welcomed. But parents of kids who click with a different approach, or who worry that they are not able to teach the sort of formalist analysis Ester Maria talks about, should not feel that their kids will be unprepared for college, because other approaches are considered every bit as "legitimate" in college literature classes.

 

Jackie

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I don't disagree that other approaches are considered legitimate, depending on the class and/or the instructor, year of study etc. If it's a form and mechanics class, the expectations will be different. At that point, a good instructor will make clear his/her intentions and expectations. With decent foundational skills, a student should be able to manage the expectations, even if they have to dig a little.

 

I am the one who wrote that I wasn't feeling the clarity. That's not fear on my part, but it a question of how much foundational preparation is needed to be able to meet the expectations of a college instructor.

 

 

 

those sorts of papers are certainly welcomed. But parents of kids who click with a different approach, or who worry that they are not able to teach the sort of formalist analysis Ester Maria talks about, should not feel that their kids will be unprepared for college, because other approaches are considered every bit as "legitimate" in college literature classes.

 

Jackie

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I do feel when anything outside of the most narrow definition of technical literary analysis is referred to with phrases like “nonsense,†“not valid,†or are lumped in with “bloody positivism,†or is judged impossible or impracticable, that my professional judgment is, if only by association, being undermined in unfair and untruthful ways.

 

Those playing the game of critique and making fun might extend this same generosity of spirit ...to my professional judgment, which is based on credentials including...............

 

And now let the games continue for those of you who have fun while misrepresenting, mocking, or condemning as impossible or impracticable the practices or judgment of those who think other than you do; “taking sides†or agreeing with one person at the expense of another where no such sides were ever intended, by me at least.

 

I am not planning on trying to justify myself, correct gross distortions which are employed to misrepresent or to undermine serious literary fields of study, or otherwise become embroiled in anything other than an open and fair-minded discussion...

 

KarenAnne, I think you have some good food for thought to share, with your opinions of literary analysis and writing. Of course these boards are open to widely varying opinions, and I'm sure there are lurkers who are appreciating your thoughts and breathing sighs of relief - you are probably accomplishing what you seem to want to accomplish in that regard.

 

But with these parts of your posts I've picked out, it seems to me that you are taking things personally here. I don't believe anyone is knocking your professional judgment, yourself, your credentials....I don't believe EM (or others) posted here in order to mock you, or to be untruthful, condemning, misrepresenting, or undermining anything about you or your professional pursuits. This thread is about the purpose of analyzing literature and the purpose of learning to write a literary essay. I read some interesting responses in direct response to that, and I found it frustrating to see the thread going off into what seems to be personal issues. You can reach lurkers with your opinion about lit. analysis, without talking about how differing opinions undermine your professionalism.

 

Original question: "What is the purpose of analyzing literature? And what is the purpose of learning to write a literary essay? "

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-joy is irrelevant. Huh?? How about if we tie that in with a later comment you made about customization and multiple paths to a good end. Double huh??? I mean seriously? The less mature the student, the more careful we are to balance the inherent rewards of work with pleasures they can grasp more readily. In fact, in the right hands, this type of process SHOULD be enjoyable. (At least I always found it that way.) Perhaps you have a different culture over there? Really, this might be one where you try to allow for different temperaments, as Austen would say. Many people on this board are dealing with 2E, special needs kids who are both profoundly able and profoundly unable at the same time. The parents develop a lot of wisdom in how they nurture these kids, and I think it reflects a pretty small amount of imagination if you can't open up to that thought, that what is working very well for you would kill the pig in someone else's house.

 

 

Forgive me if I derail the thread. I cannot address the issue of literary analysis with the knowledge or eloquence of other posters. But given that this thread is taking a turn into educational philosophy, I am prepared to wade into these waters.

 

About joy: I wonder if there are cultural differences here. For the life of me, I could not find much joy in my piano technique exercises; but great joy was found when I was able to apply the mastered technique in a "real" piece of music.

 

So it seems to me with other disciplines. I do not believe that parents need to stand with a whip at the ready when students are working on their mathematics. But not every student finds joy in factoring quadratics. Yet if one wishes to pursue higher mathematics, the basic skills of factoring (acquired by practice--akin to those piano technique exercises) are required.

 

Granted, some of the posters have profoundly gifted students. My son is not. My son could not factor polynomials at the drop of a hat. If your kid grasps the Rational Root Theorem, Descartes Theorem, etc. without several notebook pages of practice, bravo! But it was not joyous for him to do these problems. Yet they were a means to an end. They were a necessary step in his mathematical progression to Calculus.

 

 

-age limits. Again, I'm surprised on this one, given the consistently advanced work many on the boards do, how advanced your kids usually are, and that KarenAnne's dd is profoundly gifted (something most of us can't say, hehe). I'm just saying on that one I could probably defer to the wisdom of the teaching parent in applying the concept. We are dealing in this thread with moms who all have unusually capable kids. That's not the population as a whole, but I dare say it is in this thread. And that alone probably makes it all the more important for the teaching parent to think through carefully. We have kids who WANT to think on that level, who AREN'T going to do without questioning the most blind, formulaic, stupid level of analysis, who are READY to appreciate some inter-disciplinary rhetoric-type thought, but who are still kids, prone to immaturity, uninformed conclusions, etc.

 

 

 

There is something that I would like to see addressed by those far more knowledgeable than I in the area of literary analysis since I could have benefited from it. (Too late now as my son is in college.) Again, my son is not the profoundly gifted child who apparently is being addressed in this thread. My son is bright, articulate and a reader. But he was profoundly literal throughout most of high school. How do our experts suggest teaching literary analysis to this sort of student?

 

My son loved Moby Dick. For him, the book was a key to understanding a place to which we regularly travel, a former whaling community. In fact, he has an internship at the historic museum in that town this summer. I could not, in my own ignorance, begin to analyze something like Moby Dick with him. We could compare the novel to a town we knew and how that place flourished and then failed with whaling. We could talk about obsession. But we really enjoyed the natural history and sailing aspects of the book. What should we have done?

 

 

-Ok, so we take what we, as linguistically gifted people, enjoy and extrapolate that to what ALL children should do???

 

 

 

But isn't that what we do in science, mathematics, and foreign language study? There is a standard body of knowledge that is usually covered in Intro Biology or Intermediate French.

 

I think I am confused. Are you addressing the canon of literature or the method by which the canon is analyzed?

 

My name is Jane and I am a reader. I was not an English major but I did take a number of Literature courses as an undergraduate in order to have an excuse to read. I lack the credentials of many of the other posters in this thread so take my comments with several tablespoons of salt.

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I don't disagree that other approaches are considered legitimate, depending on the class and/or the instructor, year of study etc. If it's a form and mechanics class, the expectations will be different. At that point, a good instructor will make clear his/her intentions and expectations. With decent foundational skills, a student should be able to manage the expectations, even if they have to dig a little.

 

I am the one who wrote that I wasn't feeling the clarity. That's not fear on my part, but it a question of how much foundational preparation is needed to be able to meet the expectations of a college instructor.

Oh I wasn't disagreeing with you, or even directing my comments specifically at you — I was just responding to the links you posted, because I do think they are representative of the way most American colleges (and high schools for that matter) approach literary analysis.

 

FWIW, I never had a literature class that was purely a "form and mechanics class" or that required that approach in all writing assignments; IME that is not how either composition classes or 100-200 level lit courses are taught here. In fact, most composition classes that I have seen (in researching current Gen Ed requirements at various colleges) do not focus purely on literary analysis, let alone a very narrow formalist approach to literary analysis, but rather incorporate many types of research and writing (as Karen pointed out earlier).

 

I would imagine that, at an American university, a class in strict formal/structural literary analysis would be an upper level or graduate course, in which case students would have already taken a number of introductory literature classes and would therefore have the necessary foundational skills to tackle it. I think that analysis of content, meaning, context, etc., is actually more accessible to younger students and that very detailed formalist analyses require more advanced background and training (IOW, the reverse of the order Ester Maria recommends). And that does in fact seem to be the order in which these things are taught in American universities.

 

Jackie

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When one professional explicitly states that another professional's opinion is "not valid," it's not hard to understand why that might be taken as an attempt to undermine that person's professionalism.

 

 

 

Although based on what I observed in grad school, it's pretty much the way things are done :tongue_smilie:

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. That's not fear on my part, but it a question of how much foundational preparation is needed to be able to meet the expectations of a college instructor.

 

I haven't read the majority of the thread......too much for my frazzled, stressed-out brain to process. But, I did want to suggest a source for those that might want an idea of what is expected at the college level. The guidelines for AP Lit and Comp are fairly detailed and available free online.

 

Here are just a couple of brief quotes from the College Board:

 

Such close reading involves the experience of literature, the interpretation of literature, and the evaluation of literature. All these aspects of reading are important for an AP course in English Literature and Composition, and each corresponds to an approach to writing about literary works. Writing to understand a literary work may involve writing response and reaction papers along with annotation, freewriting, and keeping some form of a reading journal. Writing to explain a literary work involves analysis and interpretation, and may include writing brief focused analyses on aspects of language and structure. Writing to evaluate a literary work involves making and explaining judgments about its artistry and exploring its underlying social and cultural values through analysis, interpretation, and argument.

 

* An effective use of rhetoric, including controlling tone, maintaining a consistent voice, and achieving emphasis through parallelism and antithesis

 

It is important to distinguish among the different kinds of writing produced in an AP English Literature and Composition course. Any college-level course in which serious literature is read and studied should include numerous opportunities for students to write. Some of this writing should be informal and exploratory, allowing students to discover what they think in the process of writing about their reading. Some of the course writing should involve research, perhaps negotiating differing critical perspectives. Much writing should involve extended discourse in which students can develop an argument or present an analysis at length. In addition, some writing assignments should encourage students to write effectively under the time constraints they encounter on essay examinations in college courses in many disciplines, including English.

 

Here is the link to AP English Lit. http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/sub_englit.html At the top there is a link to the pdf file for the course description. Please note that the literature portion of the pdf doesn't start until somewhere around page 50 b/c the 1st half of the pdf pertains to the AP English Comp course.

 

In the pdf you will find sample essay questions such as:

Read carefully the following poem by the colonial American poet, Anne Bradstreet.

Then write a well-organized essay in which you discuss how the poem’s controlling metaphor expresses the complex attitude of the speaker.

 

 

and

 

Read carefully the following passage from Joy Kogawa’s Obasan, a novel about the relocation of Japanese Canadians to internment camps during the Second World War. Then, in a well-organized essay, analyze how changes in perspective and style reflect the narrator’s complex attitude toward the past. In your analysis, consider literary elements such as point of view, structure, selection of detail, and figurative language.

 

Our homeschool does focus on in-depth lit analysis during the high school yrs similar to what the AP course reflects.

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I imagine that when posters are use words like "nonsense" and "pseudo-intellectualism" in reference to what someone does for a living, or when they mock those who take a different approach to literary analysis as "intellectuals" in ironic quotes and "bored egotists," or when they offer exaggeratedly absurd essay titles as representative of a nonformalist approach, it can seem a bit personal.

 

When one professional explicitly states that another professional's opinion is "not valid," it's not hard to understand why that might be taken as an attempt to undermine that person's professionalism.

 

I still think EM tried very hard to tailor her comments to a mostly North American audience. She also added explanations about various terms she used; I believe so that people would realize she wasn't being personal, and so people would realize that she recognizes her opinions are her opinions and not universal fact. Goodness, she even included lots of "smilies," as suggested in the board rules, so people could "hear" her coffee-talk tone better. I guess those explanations and the big picture of her posts are going unnoticed. She, KarenAnne, and others all have thought-provoking things to say to the OP.

 

I'm not a professional *anything,* but I have watched other professionals (and many just really, really experienced people even if not credentialed) objectively discuss things here on the high school board over the past seven years. So when a self-described multi-credentialed person shows up on a thread to add an in-some-ways-similar-but-also-opposing viewpoint to a previous professional viewpoint, I am surprised when personal offense seems to be taken. I just assume professionals are trained to talk frankly with each other without saying things that make others think they are taking things personally. Maybe I'm making a wrong assumption about KA's posts, but it does seem to me that some of it is personal, and I don't think it needs to be in this discussion.

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Really, this might be one where you try to allow for different temperaments, as Austen would say. Many people on this board are dealing with 2E, special needs kids who are both profoundly able and profoundly unable at the same time. The parents develop a lot of wisdom in how they nurture these kids, and I think it reflects a pretty small amount of imagination if you can't open up to that thought, that what is working very well for you would kill the pig in someone else's house.

 

But EM has added specific disclaimers, in this and other threads, that she is not talking about LDs, special needs, etc. And she has specifically said, again in more than one thread, that she believes in "your homeschool, your rules."

 

 

We have kids who WANT to think on that level, who AREN'T going to do without questioning the most blind, formulaic, stupid level of analysis, who are READY to appreciate some inter-disciplinary rhetoric-type thought...

 

Do you really think that basic literary analysis is blind, formulaic, and stupid? I don't. I understood EM's point to be that literary analysis should be taught before interdisciplinary analysis is attempted, not that students should never be allowed to do anything else.

 

 

...some specific, disinterested little analysis of some stupid literary term applied in a novel they didn't care a rip about.

 

Forgive me, OH, but the above sounds so angry. Another poster (Corraleno, I think) compared literary analysis to dissection. Is dissection "stupid" because not everyone finds it interesting? Should a student skip learning the frog's anatomy because he or she would rather research the ways in which frogs interact with their environment? Would not this research be much more fruitful if performed by someone who already thoroughly understands the frog's body?

 

There was some other thread in which someone asked why the criterion of fun is so often applied to literature classes, as opposed to, say, science or math classes. We seem to think that literature is recreation. It certainly is for me! But it's also crucial to understanding a civilization's history and culture, and I don't think it's out of line to require its serious study of our children, starting with basic literary analysis, just as we require them to study science and math, starting with the "grammar" of those disciplines. If any of these can be made fun and engaging, fantastic. But it's not always going to happen, and that's okay.

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What is the purpose of analyzing literature? And what is the purpose of learning to write a literary essay?

 

...crucial to understanding a civilization's history and culture, and I don't think it's out of line to require its serious study of our children, starting with basic literary analysis,

 

I think this is an excellent response to the OP!

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I haven't read the majority of the thread......too much for my frazzled, stressed-out brain to process. But, I did want to suggest a source for those that might want an idea of what is expected at the college level. The guidelines for AP Lit and Comp are fairly detailed and available free online.

 

Here are just a couple of brief quotes from the College Board:

Such close reading involves the experience of literature, the interpretation of literature, and the evaluation of literature. All these aspects of reading are important for an AP course in English Literature and Composition, and each corresponds to an approach to writing about literary works. Writing to understand a literary work may involve writing response and reaction papers along with annotation, freewriting, and keeping some form of a reading journal. Writing to explain a literary work involves analysis and interpretation, and may include writing brief focused analyses on aspects of language and structure. Writing to evaluate a literary work involves making and explaining judgments about its artistry and exploring its underlying social and cultural values through analysis, interpretation, and argument.

 

Thank you for posting that! Even in a frazzled, stress-out state you are apparently thinking more clearly than I — the quote from the College Board summarizes in a clear, succinct, and objective way, what some of us have been inefficiently rambling on about for the last 7 pages. :tongue_smilie:

 

It also directs the discussion back to what is probably the key point here: even if a parent believes that literary analyses involving "experience," "interpretation," "reaction," "artistic judgements," and "social and cultural values," are complete BS, those things are an integral component of literary analysis as it is taught and defined in college and AP courses here. Therefore, even if a parent considers "focused analyses of language and structure" to be the only approach worthy of the name, IMHO students should ideally be exposed to all aspects of analysis, not just one.

 

Jackie

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You can reach lurkers with your opinion about lit. analysis, without talking about how differing opinions undermine your professionalism.

 

That would indeed be an ideal world; but it would depend on others also reaching out to lurkers with their own opinions without feeling compelled to point out, every single time, that they find any opinion that differs from their own flat-out wrong -- every single time.

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And she has specifically said, again in more than one thread, that she believes in "your homeschool, your rules."

 

Indeed yes; and then she proceeds to taketh away with the other hand what she gave with the first, by adding, inevitably, that in her professional opinion any rules that differ from hers are wrong. Nice if it works for you; but it's wrong.

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(will quote myself below, because it's the part KA quoted as part of her following response)

 

You can reach lurkers with your opinion about lit. analysis, without talking about how differing opinions undermine your professionalism.

 

but it would depend on others...

 

I disagree. Refraining from talking about something does not depend on others. You have control over what you express in your own posts.

 

those things are an integral component of literary analysis as it is taught and defined in college and AP courses here.

 

I think EM talks about these types of things being taught in a university education. The general "spirit" of posts 17, 22, 23, 25, and 30 are why I think this.

 

Back to the literature discussion, I think Laura Corin had a great reply to the OP, about acquiring the habit of analysis in general. If inexperienced people who think like me hope to acquire this habit using lit. analysis as one tool, we have to start off using narrow definitions of lit. analysis. :D

 

And hmm....now I'm wondering what the OP had in mind when she first posted. Was she asking why "narrow definition" literary analysis was important? Or was she asking why "broad definition" literary analysis was important?

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I was going to leave it at my single flippant comment, but now I keep thinking about it, so I'll add rambling thoughts. I think that largely I'm agreeing with Ester Maria, but I don't know that that means that I'm disagreeing with anyone else, really. I guess what I would say is that close reading isn't a skill that's taught to most high school students, and that it's absolutely essential that it be at the core of any kind of analysis or criticism. The dissection analogy works well for me; my personal statement for grad school talked about how my engineering-minded father didn't get what I did and suggested comparing it to computer repair: we take books apart to see how they work. So, yeah. Isn't it Michael Clay Thompson who says that the text will tell you how to read it? That. I was surprised in grad school to find that a lot of my best papers were historicist (but not New Historicist ;)). I thought of myself as all New Criticky and pure and all that, but when I read the text carefully and listened to what it was saying, certain theses really wanted to be argued. So I don't think historicist criticism or feminist or queer theory or whatever is the problem; I think the problem is when you take a meaning and assign it to the text rather than reading the text and letting it speak for itself. And since this happens frequently at the graduate and professional level, I think it's certainly valid to suggest that high schoolers aren't ready to take it to that level. Any analysis needs to be grounded in a close reading of the text, so close reading is a skill that needs to be practiced and practiced and practiced and mastered. I'd also say that doing justice to a social or historical criticism of a text requires just a heck of a lot of research and outside reading and time beyond the ability of even very dedicated high schoolers.

 

My own kids are young, so I have no idea at what level they'll be working when they get to high school. But based on my experiences teaching college freshman, I would say that a kid who graduates high school able to state and defend a simple thesis, argue from the text, and use complete sentences will be way ahead of the curve. I guess I'd also throw out that, again, based on my experiences, the level at which college freshman can discuss literature is much, much different from the level at which they can write about it. I had smart kids (this was a selective university, and there was no option to place out of freshman comp with test scores; I had the whole spectrum) who could speak intelligently and enthusiastically about what we were reading. Based on class discussions, I would have expected at least a few really great papers...but I almost never--really never--got them. They just weren't able to organize their ideas into a coherent argument on paper. So I don't think suggesting carefully focused topics grounded in the text for essays means you don't discuss the other stuff.

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I just assume professionals are trained to talk frankly with each other without saying things that make others think they are taking things personally. Maybe I'm making a wrong assumption about KA's posts, but it does seem to me that some of it is personal, and I don't think it needs to be in this discussion.

Colleen, personal words have been shared on both sides of this conversation (e.g. "nonsense," "beat endlessly, and "gibberish" were a few nuggets in the first post that got personal and I have not seen anything even close to that kind of vocabulary in any of the quotes you critique). Plus you're sharing your personal opinions, while you ask others not to, which doesn't make sense to me.

 

I personally would expect homeschoolers to be passionate and emotional about education, since it isn't just a job but our own precious children who are the reasons we carefully choose to do what we do. Many of us also feel passionate about the homeschooling families we know who gave up because they were intimidated by high school, and we feel sure they are not getting a better education back in ps. So with all these passionate folks together on a board, why would we expect frank and impersonal? And really, is frank and impersonal all that far from aggressive and dismissive?

 

And hmm....now I'm wondering what the OP had in mind when she first posted. Was she asking why "narrow definition" literary analysis was important? Or was she asking why "broad definition" literary analysis was important?

Again, I'm mostly confused about whether you're following your own rules here? You've had several posts *not* about the OP.

 

But my opinion is that threads often take on their own life, like a room full of conversation. Some of these conversations in fact reflect a previous thread or a past history you may not know about. Sure, I agree it's courteous to make sure an OP gets her questions answered, and you can feel free to focus on that. But to jump in and police a conversation seems controlling to me.

 

Clearly *several* of us are trying to be heard, and Karen Anne (and Jackie) went to great lengths to try to defend the side that feels it isn't being heard -- and that side is simply that there is more than one true and valid and important way to homeschool our children in literary analysis. I would think on a board hosted by SWB, who promotes discussion and writing about things like "why literature works for the student" starting at an elementary age, another voice should be expected in this conversation.

 

Julie

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Whoa. This thing has really grown since I last checked.

I apologize for my absence. I don't use the internet much, and it has been a long time since I've checked back in. I've looked over many of the posts that followed mine, but I'm not really paying much attention, because I've been chewing my intellectual cud about literature and it's relatives, and come to my conclusions, which I spent a few hours typing up.

 

This post is mostly for EKS, who asked a very good question: why learn literary analysis? (Inherent in this is defining literary analysis.)

 

I'm going to skip over my broad objectons about modern processes because that seems to have stirred up the most contention, and it is not essential to me. I don't mind if you do it your way.

 

I spent hours writing and rewriting this up for y'all, because literature is a passion of mine, not a profession. I'm afraid I have written a small pamphlet, and it will definitely need to be put up in at least two posts. Forgive me if it comes out garbled; still getting used to the board.

 

So! What is my literary analysis process?

Three things have combined to make my literary analysis process.

Firstly, I was interested in writing scripts. Studying scriptwriting was extremely useful in learning to evaluate literature, because scripts are basically abbreviated novels, novels cut to their essence. Scripts and epic poems were also the predecessors to novels, and they’ve been around since the beginning of writing (Greek plays), as has the theory behind them. Aristotle’s Poetics (I think that’s the one I read) set some principles for evaluating plays that could be applied to literature. For example: Aristotle said that a playwright ought never to get his characters into a mess and inexplicably bring in outside figures to save them. I discovered that this was a very good principle to apply to my own fictional writing: your characters ought to solve their own problems. Years later, I read Moliere’s Tartuffe and was disgusted with the resolution. Sure enough, the conclusion did exactly what Aristotle had said not to do: Moliere had to save his characters using an outside source (the priest, I think). This is an excellent principle for literary analysis.

I could list many other principles I learned form script-writing, but I’ll provide a unifying criterion in a minute.

The second thing that helped my literary analysis was my study of Biblical Hermeneutics. That's right. Hermeneutics. For years I have studied the correct interpretation of the Bible, and one of the main principles that stuck with me was let the book speak for itself. Too often we get caught up in what people say about a book, rather than what the book is actually saying. This is the primary reason I throw out all the psychoanalysis and symbolism. (Sorry.) Unless the author actually intended for some symbolism (such as in Pilgrim's Progress), I never force any upon the author, even when it is possible. That would be unfair to the author, and distracting for everyone involved.

Again, there are other principles, but I need to get to my unifying criterion.

Finally, an understating of how to analyze great works of philosophy, ethics, and science helped my literary analysis. Why? Because they're not that different. Over the year i have found that literature is only halfway art; it is also partly a science. Mortimer J. Adler’s book How to Read a Book provided an excellent guideline for studying and analyzing works of philosophy and science. His brief instructions for literature were nothelpful, but I realized one major principle for evaluating works of science could be applied to literature with minimal adjustments. What is that principle?

Ask, How well did the author fulfill his purpose?

This is the essence of my literary analysis, my unifying criterion. M. J. Adler says that in nearly all scientific and philosophical works, the author will present a question to be answered, a hypothesis to be proven, a dilemma to be solved, and your evaluation is your analysis of how well he succeeded. Just apply this to literature.

Every author states his purpose somewhere in his work. Sometimes they’ll actually just come out and say it, such as when Homer asks the Muses to sing to him of the strife of Achilles or the wanderings of Odysseus, or when the ancient Greek playwrights would have the dilemma explained at the outset of their plays. Later on, we see Don Quixote go mad or Gulliver begin wandering, and instantly find our dilemma to be solved. Don Quixote is the story of Don Quixote’s delusional adventures and recovery, while Gulliver’s Travels is the story of Gulliver’s explorations and eventual conclusions. Oliver Twist poses the plight of an innocent boy who has fallen into bad company, how he extracts himself (with the help of others), and the repercussions such an action has. At the outset of Hamlet a ghost introduces the problem Hamlet must solve; in the Midsummer Night’s Dream, forbidden marriages drive two couples into the forest where they have a series of adventures before succeeding in their marriages, Paradise is Lost. Get the idea? Every author states his purpose somewhere along the way. It might be hard to find, such as in Rip Van Winkle, but it’s there. That’s my starting point.

The meat of my analysis is, how WELL did the author fulfill his purpose. I can assume the author fulfilled his purpose, otherwise he wouldn’t have written. But the journey from the problem to the conclusion is where all the rhetoric, the poetic descriptions, the twists and turns of storytelling, the ingenious plot constructions, the debate, the fascinating characters come into play. That is not the story, it is only the author's tools, the weapons he uses to enrich his story or play and transform it from mediocrity into something millions of people spend hours on the internet debating. It has been said of Shakespeare that he had no original plots (except maybe two, and one of those I doubt). And yet he’s perhaps the greatest author to ever pick up the pen. Why? Because his plot execution was brilliant. The lines he gives his characters, the twists and turns, the revelations, the lofty rhetoric, and so forth. Admittedly, sometimes the genius is in the plot’s novelty or the fact that a plot does not go where you expect, but usually this does not change the fact that it’s the plot execution that makes a writer a great writer.

There is plenty of leeway in this analysis. One can easily evaluate why one of Shakespeare’s characters has such an important role, or what that role is, or why certain of Shakespeare’s lines are so brilliant. But if I get to the point of discussing why one of Shakespeare’s plays is an argument for communism or capitalism, or why I think Huckleberry Finn is like you, I have strayed from my unifying criterion of how well an author fulfilled his purpose.

(To be continued...)

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Let’s take an example. The Illiad. You know that the story is about Achilles’ grudge against his own commanders and the suffering it caused. The end of the story will be the end of Achilles’ grudge and the suffering (presumably). In other words, you know that Homer is going from point A to point B. But how does Homer get there? First, he makes initial events follow logically one from another (this is the other task of the novelist, to make his story believable, but that’s another topic) to set things in motion. Once Achilles is stewing in his tent, the Greek army begins to suffer, and herein lies much of the poetic description and action and tragedy; then the Greeks tempt Achilles back onto the field, and herein lies much of the rhetoric and debate. Achilles refuses, and it looks at this point like the story will go on forever in a stalemate. That’s when Homer gets more brilliant. Pay careful attention: Patroklos convinces Achilles to let him don his armor and enter the battlefield, where Patroklos is slain. This tragedy forces Achilles to make a decision, and he ends his grudge and become a grim desperado bent on vengeance and resigned to his fate as he reenters war. The story has its flaws, but my overall conclusion is that it was excellent because Homer fulfilled the potential marvelously. Of course, one might disagree about his excellence or determine that he had a different purpose. One can still evaluate the work on the basis of fulfilled potential.

Literary genius is fulfilled potential. If I say I’m going to tell you a story about a Hobbit in Middle Earth who joins a wizard and his band of roguish dwarves in search of dragon’s treasure, you lean forward in your seat because you see the potential. If I then proceed to tell my story in one paragraph with a dull vocabulary and rhetoric and no wit or intellectual stimulation or mystery, I am no Mr. Tolkein. But I just told his story. The difference was, he fulfilled the potential of the story, and even exceeded it. I fell short. Great writers fulfill and exceed potential.

(This does not mean that the story must be sophisticated and intelligent. If I were writing a fictional diary of a child, it would be necessary for me to write in a simplistic manner. That would be fulfilled potential. It all depends on what the purpose of the story is.)

This is the reason I find literature so exciting and fascinating; I want to see how writers fulfilled the potential their stories had. I think other people would find literature more exciting and meaningful if they evaluated it with this in mind instead of a more subjective take. I was relieved to know that it wasn't about me. It’s about the author, his dream, his goal, his vision, his art, the beauty of fulfilled potential.

This has been my universal principle upon which all others can be founded, and it has yet to fail me. Whatever the literary nomenclature might be, I can always revert to this principle to evaluate literature, and I suggest fellow amateurs do the same. It encompasses all my other principles. For instance, my example from Aristotle’s poetics. The author has not fulfilled his potential when he brings in an outside figure to solve the characters’ difficulties because this led to massive unfulfilled potential. The author has just spent his entire story giving his primary character a problem and then not let him face and solve it. He just waves his story-telling wand and POOF, no more problem, no more conflict--the story was aborted. Contrarily, when Patroklos died, Achilles had to face up to the fact that his grudge had now touched him and was becoming self-destructive, and he had to decide where he was going from there.

So whatever you do, don’t forget the author’s stated or implied PURPOSE. Don’t begin reading Alice in Wonderland expecting a gripping, exciting tale of adventure and heroism. Carroll makes fairly clear from the outset that he’s writing a rather idle story of nonsense and fantasy. That’s his purpose. It would be unfair to criticize him because he was not thrilling (like I once did). These days I always begin reading a book with an open mind, ignoring everything the critics have said, ignoring even context. Oh, I do my research and keep it all in mind, but if the author states that his purpose is different from what everyone else said it is, even his contemporaries, I believe the author. I’m prepared for whatever the story might bring.

If the story apparently has no purpose, chances are the author is engaging in one of those ill-fated attempts to change the definition of literature itself by calling something a novel/play which is in fact not a novel/play. Such books are few and I know of none on an average literature list, so I don't worry about them.

Finally, if I look at the side-stories, the characters, the sub-plots, I always do it with an eye toward overall purpose.

 

This works because the author’s work might have enormous potential that could go many directions, have many subplots and themes. To use a scientific analogy: I recently finished the Antifederalist Papers, a document written in response to the Federalists. These papers could be considered on inherent value as a political treatise, but I instead evaluated them according to whether I thought they won the debate they were having with the Federalists, as I had also just read the Federalist Papers. Either is correct because the authors had both purposes (and possibly more) in mind. The same is often true of literature. The author might have had several purposes in mind. But if I evaluate a purpose that I can't be fairly certain a book ever had, is it really about the book? I would be using the infinite potential of the uncertain to advance a cause, and my excuse would be the book. It makes the whole literary experience ludicrous and unbearable to me.

 

This is the brunt of my system of literary analysis. I have many other principles and tricks and nuances, but I thought it should be kept very simple, because I want to help people analyze literature and enjoy it as much as I do. If you have other questions or criticism or want me to further explain something, don’t hesitate to ask. It just might be a while before I get back to you.

 

Alex

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Plus you're sharing your personal opinions, while you ask others not to, which doesn't make sense to me.

 

Again, I'm mostly confused about whether you're following your own rules here? You've had several posts *not* about the OP.

 

I agree it's courteous to make sure an OP gets her questions answered, and you can feel free to focus on that. But to jump in and police a conversation seems controlling to me.

 

I am not asking others not to share their personal opinions - a careful grammatical look at my sentences (which are statements, not requests or commands) would hopefully make that clear. I am also not "policing (pretty strong verb - was that meant to be sarcastic to me? If so, why?) a conversation" - just stating what I'm observing and concluding about things, just as others are doing. I won't defend myself further, but let my previous posts speak for themselves to anyone who wishes to review them.

 

I also have no idea what you are talking about with the rules comment and my quote above it.

 

I see Alex has written some long posts about literature - they'll be an interesting read for me to return to tomorrow.

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I am also not "policing (pretty strong verb -

I don't know, Colleen, maybe I misinterpreted. But sentences like "I don't think it needs to be in this discussion" and your always ending your posts with a reference to the OP's question (not really to answer it, but seemingly to scold others for not adhering to the OP as often as you do) felt like you were making rules about what can and cannot be discussed.

 

But maybe I'm just tired and over-responding to what has generally felt like kindly condescension toward good posts that were finally expressing something *I* felt strongly about -- the disrespect and disservice in saying there is only one way to teach something. I'm sorry if I'm reading more into your posts than I should, but I had hoped I was communicating ideas -- such as "a room full of conversation" and some of the natural reasons for that occurring -- more clearly than it looks like I was.

 

was that meant to be sarcastic to me?

No. I thought I had said something worth saying, not wasted time on pointless sarcasm, but apparently it was not said well enough to contribute anything.

 

a careful grammatical look at my sentences

I guess your grammatical constructs aren't coming across correctly here any more than mine are coming across over there. Oh well, we tried.

 

Julie

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I don't know, Colleen, maybe I misinterpreted. But sentences like "I don't think it needs to be in this discussion" and your always ending your posts with a reference to the OP's question (not really to answer it, but seemingly to scold others for not adhering to the OP as often as you do) felt like you were making rules about what can and cannot be discussed.

 

Sometimes it's just really hard to convey my intentions over the internet, I guess. My ending posts with reference to the OP's question is just my attempt my get myself back on track, because I don't want to derail a thread. Looks like I failed my goal anyway. :D Sorry about that.

 

But maybe I'm just tired and over-responding to what has generally felt like kindly condescension toward good posts that were finally expressing something *I* felt strongly about -- the disrespect and disservice in saying there is only one way to teach something. I'm sorry if I'm reading more into your posts than I should, but I had hoped I was communicating ideas -- such as "a room full of conversation" and some of the natural reasons for that occurring -- more clearly than it looks like I was.

 

Not kindly condescension, just not being able to fathom why certain things were happening and why they were necessary here (although I do "hear" you about why you thought it happened). If my assumptions were wrong she could have corrected them. I also did state that I thought her other input here was good food for thought, remember. I meant that; I am not being condescending.

 

I did hear you, too, about the way threads meander. I know they do - but in this one, I wondered about something, talked about it, and then tried to get myself back on what I thought was the track because I felt bad about going off it; because I didn't want to take away from the literary analysis discussion.

 

No. I thought I had said something worth saying, not wasted time on pointless sarcasm, but apparently it was not said well enough to contribute anything.

 

OK, thanks.

 

I guess your grammatical constructs aren't coming across correctly here any more than mine are coming across over there. Oh well, we tried.

 

Julie

 

We did try. :D We are all just not seeing eye to eye on some things, and that's alright. I hear you, I hear KarenAnne; I just don't agree that there was disservice and disrespect, and I think that people are operating under different definitions of "literary analysis." I'm just going to chalk it up to agreeing to disagree. But really and truly, I did read all the posts here and I do hear what others are saying, even if I don't agree with something. And I'm *sure* lurkers are reading yours and KarenAnne's and silently agreeing. Whenever people post here on what is a public forum, it just makes sense that with somewhere around 30,000 registered users, that *someone* out there is being affected by your posts in the way you hope they will be affected. Even if the actual participants disagree with each other on some things. Agreed? :D

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To my mind, a core issue going through what I've been able to read of these posts is a sort of cart/horse problem.

 

Literary analysis is important, but not for its own sake. So when it is taught and why it is taught matter. Considered in itself, the goal is not to make people enjoy a text but to enable them to understand it better. However, I believe with the classical tradition that understanding often precedes enjoyment.

 

But every story has a common nature and that nature is the most important element of learning how to read closely. It's very simple: every story is about a person who does something for a reason. Every story is about human action (even a fable about animals).

 

We love to see human actions imitated in stories for a lot of reasons. But it seems to me that the main reason is that we are constantly trying to figure out our own lives and its easier and more pleasant to do so with pictures than with lectures.

 

Younger and less experienced readers, therefore, should not get lost in the details of literary analysis. They should be absorbed in the actions of the story. I content that the best question to discuss in order to do that, and the question that drove the writer when he wrote the story (even if he didn't know it) is very simple: Should the main character (or any other character really) have done his main action (or any other action)?

 

Alex above used the Iliad, so I'll draw on that:

 

Should Achilles have withdrawn from the battle? (or, Should he have killed Agamemnon in the first book? should he have sent his friend into battle in his armor? etc.)

 

Or try Tequilla Mockingbird:

 

Should Atticus have defended (I forgot his name, sorry)?

(or Should Scout have crawled under the neighbor's fence, etc.)

 

Or try Shakespeare:

 

Should Lear have handed his realm to his daughters?

Should Hamlet have avenged his father?

Should Benedick have given his heart to Beatrice?

Should Richard Burton have tamed Liz Taylor?

 

 

Or try history:

 

Should Washington have crossed the Delaware?

Should Caesar have crossed the Rubicon?

Should Moses have crossed the Red Sea?

Should the US have "revolted" against Britain?

Should the south have seceded?

Should anybody who did anything have done it?

 

I would argue that none of this IS dissecting the story, but all of it MAKES dissecting the story worth doing. It turns it from a technical analysis (profitable for many) into a pursuit of wisdom (profitable for all). It precedes analysis; it does not undercut but enlivens it. And it makes for incredibly interesting discussions and essays.

 

This is the analogy I like to use:

 

If you want to study a frog, you have to first see it as a living creature. You need to go to the pond and watch what it does: how does it behave, eat, reproduce, play, grow, die, etc. etc. That's a frog. Play with it first.

 

Then murder it and dissect it.

 

But remember, the thing you are dissecting is not the frog, but the frog's body. They aren't the same thing.

 

So it is with literary analysis. First, let the story live. Enter into it. Follow the character through his actions and let him move you or not. Wonder what will happen next. Ask whether you would have done what he did. And so on. Play with the story, in other words.

 

Then when you have done that for a while, your should question will naturally lead you into a very useful and practical and purposeful literary analysis. First you'll probably ask about characters, comparing them with each other and noting their relationships.

 

Then you'll probably start noticing settings and their effect on characters' actions.

 

Then you might accidentally start wondering why Bronte put that house in that strange and desolate location or why Frost had the horse stop there in the woods or why Coleridge put the ship in the doldrums. Is he trying to tell us more than what is obvious?

 

Next, if you drop your guard, you might start noticing that the number three keeps popping up or that there seems to be smoke every time this character comes on board or that every time a certain action occurs its opposite pops up somewhere else. Now you might start bumping into motifs or even, horrors, themes!

 

If you aren't careful you might find yourself asking some very profound questions. If that happens, feel free to pursue them, but don't let them prevent you from continuing to play with a good story.

 

The thing is, literature is approached differently in different settings and with different readers. As home school parents, you have the burden of figuring out how to approach it at those different levels and from those different angles.

 

I would recommend beginning with the narrative approach that some have talked about: read aloud and with your children and explain things or ask about things as they come up.

 

Start out very concrete (characters and actions) and work your way gradually to the abstract (themes and motifs). Never let the concrete disappear though.

 

Benefits:

 

Now to the main question: How important is literary analysis. Here's my opinion: it is as important as the reason for which it is done.

 

If you want to do it to show off how bright your child is, forget it.

If you want them to learn how to read deeply so they can learn to gain wisdom and deeper pleasures from their reading, go for it!

 

Literary analysis is wonderfully helpful when you want to interpret the Bible. One thing that is crucial, is to note the different kind of thinking that literature cultivates in us. When we do math, we want precise answers. When we do science, we want very specific and precise answers. But with literature it is not the same. It is not obvious that Caesar should have crossed the Rubicon, and whatever position you take, someone can justify taking a different one.

 

The discussion that surrounds that taking of positions is what connects reading history and literature to real life. The lessons learned are eminently practical. Your children learn to see things in more nuanced ways.

 

Literary analysis is glorified by ordering itself to the pursuit of wisdom. But the reader needs first to see the beauty of the whole before parsing it into its its parts. And if you lose the beauty of the whole, I'm not sure how profitable it is to see the parts. It would have utility, but that's about it.

 

I hope this offers some helpful ideas.

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Or try Tequilla Mockingbird:

 

Oh! This really needs to be submitted to one of those hysterical "auto-spell disasters" sites.

 

Truly laughing out loud.

Jetta

 

P.S. This math/science mom has really enjoyed reading this thread. Thank you to all who have contributed.

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What a wonderful post, Andrew! I particularly like this:

 

One thing that is crucial, is to note the different kind of thinking that literature cultivates in us. When we do math, we want precise answers. When we do science, we want very specific and precise answers. But with literature it is not the same ... whatever position you take, someone can justify taking a different one.

 

The discussion that surrounds that taking of positions is what connects reading history and literature to real life. The lessons learned are eminently practical. Your children learn to see things in more nuanced ways.

 

It summarizes perfectly the problem I have with trying to limit literary analysis to a purely formalist approach. E.g.:

The formalist literary analysis is often referred to as a scientific approach to literature because of the unembellished and literal analysis method that is applied to the written text. Formalist critics do not discuss any elements outside of the text itself such as politics or history. The formalist critic analyzes the form of a text rather than its content.
Formalist criticism is decidedly a “scientific†approach to literary analysis
To the formalist critic, art is style, technique and craftsmanship, and the primary function of criticism is the objective and scientific analysis of literary style.

 

IMO, this "scientific" approach to literature will only take you so far, as you pointed out:

... remember, the thing you are dissecting is not the frog, but the frog's body. They aren't the same thing.

 

Jackie

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Jackie,

 

I agree, the scientific approach will only take you so far, but it will take you somewhere if it is ordered to the right end. What I don't want to do is to put the two in conflict with each other.

 

But the whole is more important than the part and wisdom is more important than analysis. Therefore, the way the "two sides" can be at peace is when the analysis submits to the true, the good, and the beautiful - to the pursuit of wisdom.

 

Thanks for your kind comments.

 

On the Tequilla Mockingbird, I confess that I snuck that in there on purpose. I want to open a Mexican restaurant with that name. ;)

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Working on school plans for next year, I stumbled upon writings of Joseph Conrad that seemed to resonate as we question the how and why of analyzing literature:

 

"A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line. And art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colours, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential--their one illuminating and convincing quality--the very truth of their existence. The artist, then, like the thinker or the scientist, seeks the truth and makes his appeal. . . . My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel -- it is, before all, to make you see. That -- and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm -- all you demand; and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask."

 

Peace. :)

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I agree, the scientific approach will only take you so far, but it will take you somewhere if it is ordered to the right end. What I don't want to do is to put the two in conflict with each other.

Oh I agree that there needn't be any conflict at all between formalist analysis and other approaches. To me, formalist analysis is one of many tools in the larger "literary analysis tool box," each of which contributes to the understanding and appreciation of literature as a whole (just as dissection contributes to, but is not sufficient for, an understanding of amphibians). Limiting one's analytical "tool box" to a single tool, IMO, would be like having a tool box at home that included nothing but screwdrivers; suggesting that hammers, wrenches, saws, and drills are also useful is in no way a criticism of screwdrivers.

 

I especially agree with what you said about discussion: "The discussion that surrounds that taking of positions is what connects reading history and literature to real life." I attended an LAC where Socratic questioning and small, seminar-style discussions formed the core of my undergraduate education. It's precisely those sorts of discussions, where kids are forced to find and defend their positions and think deeply about literature, history, and philosophy, as well as the connections between them and the connections to the student's own lives, that I try to emulate in homeschooling. To me, that is the real essence of a classical education. What matters in the long run isn't what curriculum someone uses or which Great Books list they read or exactly how they approach literary analysis; what matters is all that questioning, discussion, and analysis.

 

Jackie

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However, I believe with the classical tradition that understanding often precedes enjoyment.

 

I'm quite a beginner when it comes to reading deeply and teaching my kids some things about reading (we're pretty good at grammar-stage narrations so far! :D and muddling through with learning how to use the logic stage lit. questions in WTM, in a way that gives us a thinking pattern to use but doesn't bog us down - loved SWB's literature lecture on that). But I have found what you said above to be true. The few books I've read so far with the help of TWEM have been satisfactory to read, because after I read the first time and dug back in with the "logic-stage" questions, I did understand the events better, and it was just plain old satisfactory. It was going through the structure that helped me.

 

every story is about a person who does something for a reason.

 

Should the main character (or any other character really) have done his main action (or any other action)?

 

Huh. Very interesting food for thought.

 

But remember, the thing you are dissecting is not the frog, but the frog's body. They aren't the same thing.

 

So, when you dissect the frog's body, you are analyzing the structure/etc.; but when you are looking at the (live) frog, you are looking at the bigger story? Is that what you mean?

 

Literary analysis is wonderfully helpful when you want to interpret the Bible.

 

Will you elaborate more on this? Or maybe elaborate in a new thread? It's something I'm always wondering about, esp. since, as a Christian, I've been on a Bible-reading hiatus for a long time...trying to get out of a previous mindset about Bible reading.

 

ETA: oh, hey, I just finally read Alex's posts...he wrote some things in there about Bible analysis, too.

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Alex, I have no lengthy reply to make. Just want to say that I *really* appreciated reading your posts here (when I could finally get the time to really study them). Tell your Mom bravo! once again for the job she has done in home educating you and your siblings. I've *always* enjoyed her posts here. And it's fun to see her kids posting every so often.

 

The second thing that helped my literary analysis was my study of Biblical Hermeneutics. That's right. Hermeneutics. For years I have studied the correct interpretation of the Bible, and one of the main principles that stuck with me was let the book speak for itself. Too often we get caught up in what people say about a book, rather than what the book is actually saying. This is the primary reason I throw out all the psychoanalysis and symbolism. (Sorry.) Unless the author actually intended for some symbolism (such as in Pilgrim's Progress), I never force any upon the author, even when it is possible. That would be unfair to the author, and distracting for everyone involved.[/size][/font]

 

Hermeneutics, eh? Care to share a little more about that and how it has helped shape your studies? I like what you have to say here about it.

 

Ask, How well did the author fulfill his purpose?

 

I think I've seen this idea in TWEM.

 

But the journey from the problem to the conclusion is where all the rhetoric, the poetic descriptions, the twists and turns of storytelling, the ingenious plot constructions, the debate, the fascinating characters come into play. That is not the story, it is only the author's tools, the weapons he uses to enrich his story or play and transform it from mediocrity into something millions of people spend hours on the internet debating.

 

But if I get to the point of discussing why one of Shakespeare’s plays is an argument for communism or capitalism, or why I think Huckleberry Finn is like you, I have strayed from my unifying criterion of how well an author fulfilled his purpose.

 

More good food for thought for me.

 

This is the reason I find literature so exciting and fascinating; I want to see how writers fulfilled the potential their stories had. I think other people would find literature more exciting and meaningful if they evaluated it with this in mind instead of a more subjective take. I was relieved to know that it wasn't about me. It’s about the author, his dream, his goal, his vision, his art, the beauty of fulfilled potential.

 

The same is often true of literature. The author might have had several purposes in mind. But if I evaluate a purpose that I can't be fairly certain a book ever had, is it really about the book? I would be using the infinite potential of the uncertain to advance a cause, and my excuse would be the book. It makes the whole literary experience ludicrous and unbearable to me.

 

(bolding is mine) Yes, I understand what you mean about the relief. The mindset that it's all about me seeps into other areas of society (I'm thinking some parts of Christianity). So for some weird reason I don't know how to articulate, the idea that I can use tools to analyze a book *for the sake of letting the book speak for itself and determining how well he fulfilled his potential* really appeals to me. Maybe it's because deep down I think life isn't all about me and my small corner of the world. Maybe I think it's about something Bigger. Maybe it's because I can't take the weight of the world upon myself. Must think about this some more.

 

Thanks so much for sharing here.

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Thanks to Colleen for the kind comments.

 

You asked how Biblical Hermeneutics helped. It helped my literary analysis because people are always trying to force the Bible to say things it doesn't say. (Hermeneutics actually has half a dozen terms for varieties of these manipulative approaches.) So over the years, Biblical Scholars have had to go back again and again to such things as context, theme, literal and symbolic meanings of words, and so forth. Essentially, they debunked all of the wild and weird ways people subjectively misinterpret a book's theme or language to get somethng out of it that isn't there. The main way they debunked such theories was to let the Bible interpret itself, let it speak for itself. This is not to say that all books should be approached as so many Bibles. All I'm saying is that it has been a good guideline for my literary analysis. I am giving an author my undivided attention for a moment, giving him a chance to draw me into his world, letting him set the terms, letting HIM tell HIS story. I purge myself of any preconceptions before I read a book (especially political ones), and this I think I learned from Biblical Hermeneutics. That's why it's not about me. Or you or that guy over there or that critic or that commentator: it's about the author. The reason I so adamantly immerse myself in a book is that when I see people go on and on about their wild and wacky theories about a great work of literature, I see people who just missed the whole point, and I don't want to do that. It's akin to someone sitting down and listening to a Vivaldi concerto and then saying, "Wasn't that an interesting comment on the social affairs of 18th century Venice?" For crying out loud, it was beautiful music!

 

I understand that it is impossible to be perfectly objective. But my literary analysis has come about because I want to become a writer, I want to write good books. So I want to know what makes a good book. The only real test of a good book is time, which is why the great books (of olden times) are generally considered the best. So when I read a great book I think long and hard about what made it great. When I pick up a book I evaluate it on the merits of plot construction, character developement, imagery, rhetoric, atmosphere, believability, etc. When I look at a book, I see an author who is playing both sides of a chess game: he knows what he's going to do, he knows how its going to end, but there is a beautiful way to play a chess game, and there is an ugly way.

 

Anyway, I think the reason literary analysis is such a tricky subject, and so many people are looking for help, is that Hollywood has trained people to expect instant gratification. I studied script-writing and BELIEVE me films and tv-shows are all about emotional addiction. They want people hooked. They want you to come to expect the emotional buzz because it's a lucrative business. So literature people invent gimicks like personal identification or moralizing a story to try to make you more involved by making the story about you, the reader. Its the only way to get most of today's instant-gratification crowd to even bother with literature, especially classical literature. You have to be patient, and use more of your intellect in literary analysis. That's been the real key for me.

 

Anyway. Must sleep, unfortunately. Not sure why God made man that way, but, what're you gonna do about it?

 

Alex.

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Literature is partly an art, and this makes its absolute value hard to evaluate. But I beleive what someone once said, "Art is it's own reason for existence." A work of literature, in its artistic aspect, should be so. A bad work of art prompts someone to ask what Einstein did of Brahms' works: "I do not understand why it was necessary to write them." Amen, brother. Amen.

 

Alex.

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I want to thank everyone who responded to this thread. I really appreciate the detailed, thoughtful responses. I never imagined that this tread would grow to the size it did. The discussion here has helped me make peace with my decision to move away from literary analysis/essays next year with my dyslexic, engineering-minded son.

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Kai -

Thanks for raising this issue. I am going to print out parts of this discussion to help me organize our World Lit. curriculum next year. I am going to try to expand my "response paper question formats" to accomodate several of the methods suggested. Both of my dds enjoyed checking in to see where the discussion was going.

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...f I get there, I will end up in another soapbox, so I will keep my mouth shut. :D

 

 

 

NOO...!

don't keep it shut.

I am, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE,

thinking there may be some interesting analytical exercise

here instead of all the annoying nonsense...

I have read for pleasure in self-defense,

but I would have loved to learn LitAnalysis

the proper way...

Any text recommendations for us??????

DC would actually really enjoy Lit A

the way you are describing it!

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NOO...!

don't keep it shut.

I am, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE,

thinking there may be some interesting analytical exercise

here instead of all the annoying nonsense...

I have read for pleasure in self-defense,

but I would have loved to learn LitAnalysis

the proper way...

Any text recommendations for us??????

DC would actually really enjoy Lit A

the way you are describing it!

 

 

Unfortunately, this thread is over two years old. One of the posters is banned and another has not been on here in probably a year, which is a shame in my unasked for opinion. But thank you for giving this thread another airing. I can't believe I missed it the first time around since it is on one of my favorite topics

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oops...i guess i won't get a book recommendation...

how did this pop up?

it just came up on the list with the other topics...

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oops...i guess i won't get a book recommendation...

how did this pop up?

it just came up on the list with the other topics...

 

Are you looking to work strictly with formalist criticism or are you interested in expanding beyond that?

 

I find it difficult to view a good work through only one lens. For example, my son and I just finished The Epic of Gilgamesh. We have talked about the use of repetition to create a certain cadence and the use of parallelism in our study of the hallmarks of Akkadian literature. But we have also used the archetypal lens to discuss the heroic journey and the cleansing flood. Because we try to pair our literature with our history readings, the historical lens is critical with a work like Gilgamesh, which is also a primary source that shows the religious beliefs, the economic resources, and the king's duties in ancient Mesopotamia.

 

I can't make a book recommendation on the level that Ester Maria is probably talking about, but for high school, I have found Tim Gillespie's Doing Literary Criticism to be handy. And just to let you know how completely nonacademic we are, my kids actually enjoy reading How to Read Literature Like a Professor. Literary analysis does not get the sacred cow treatment at all in this book, but it is highly useful.

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I would say I need the basics--I am ashamed I don't know what

"formalist criticism" means. I just want basic good lit.analysis of the

kind you guys were talking about. Sorry...engineer here...love books, never

learned Lit.Analysis properly...

Where do you learn to recognize repetition, call it cadence and where

do you learn what parallelism is? From the book you recommend? (I'm off

to amazon right after this!)

I did read How To Read Literature Like A Professor. I greatly enjoyed it too.

Thanks for the book recommendation!

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I would say I need the basics--I am ashamed I don't know what

"formalist criticism" means. I just want basic good lit.analysis of the

kind you guys were talking about. Sorry...engineer here...love books, never

learned Lit.Analysis properly...

Where do you learn to recognize repetition, call it cadence and where

do you learn what parallelism is? From the book you recommend? (I'm off

to amazon right after this!)

I did read How To Read Literature Like A Professor. I greatly enjoyed it too.

Thanks for the book recommendation!

 

 

I am so sorry. I was way off base. Is this just for you or are your kids going along on the journey?

 

I would leave the one book I recommended for later and read something like Deconstructing Penguins to understand how to take a text apart on a basic level and Figuratively Speaking for understanding terms. I have other recommendations if you want something a bit more sophisticated, but these are a good place to start.

 

Don't get caught up in "doing it right" when it comes to literary analysis. Find a like mind and talk, talk, talk about your books. I love that I have kids who are old enough to read the books that I like and offer me some perspectives that I had never thought about before.

 

I wish KarenAnne was still on here. She is very skilled at bringing new meaning to a text without drying it out. I am not very good at explaining this, but analysis should breath new life into a text for its reader, not kill the text off. Often, in the schools, the kids will have to annotate every line and analyze every word to the point the detest the work. I avoid that at all costs.

 

Search under Lori D.'s name. If I remember correctly she has some great suggestions too.

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Thanks for the other book recs. It's for both of us. (DC15--math type; I'm engineer type)

 

DC read Deconstructing Penguins; I read How to Read Like a Professor.

I have added the Gillespie book and Figuratively Speaking to my English plan

for this year.

 

Thank you for all the advice! I will bug you again when we have finished these!

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Thanks for the other book recs. It's for both of us. (DC15--math type; I'm engineer type)

 

DC read Deconstructing Penguins; I read How to Read Like a Professor.

I have added the Gillespie book and Figuratively Speaking to my English plan

for this year.

 

Thank you for all the advice! I will bug you again when we have finished these!

 

 

If you find that you want to go deeper than the Figuratively Speaking book, try Essential Literary Terms with Exercises by Sharon Hamilton. We have a link somewhere on here for the elusive answer book, so I will see if I can find it.

 

For fun, you and your son or just you, might like Literary Lessons from Lord of the Rings. I have to admit that when I first heard about this curriculum, I was skeptical about using non-secular materials to teach literary analysis. I don't care to have Christian interpretations attributed to pagan authors as happens with some non-secular curriculum. However, I really like the material in this program and think it is well-done. There are several units that are not directly tied to LofTR, that bring in ancient and medieval classics. We covered "Exploring Epics" in 6th grade, but I have pulled that section out again for review for my 9th grade son while he reads The Iliad and The Epic of Gilgamesh. We didn't bother with the fill-in-the-blank study guides or the vocabulary exercises. You can easily get away with a used first edition teacher's guide. If you enjoy Tolkien's works, this is a delightful way to expand your skills.

 

FYI - it works both ways. Now that I have spent a couple of years teaching math and science to my kids, I wish I was more literate in both and am slowly working on that. Sometimes I think we do our students a huge disservice to say that they are either STEM or liberal arts. Why not both?

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