You will choose a very brief part of a text we have already read for class and produce a close reading or textual explication Call me Ishmael”

You will choose a very brief part of a text we have already read for class and produce a close reading, or textual explication. The explication will be brief (one-two pages double spaced) and need not have a tight argument or make any grand claims about the entire text. Rather, you will analyze the relationship between the mechanics of the language (form) and what the writer is saying (content). The goal of a close reading is to reveal not only how form embellishes content but how form affects and sometimes even produces content.


How to pick a passage:

Your passage should be extremely brief: anywhere between a clause and a few sentences (for example, “Call me Ishmael” could provide enough material for an entire paper).


The language of the passage should provoke questions for you – start with uncertainty and allow your exploration of that uncertainty to create your final claims. Close reading is ultimately an exercise in deduction.


This will be more important in longer, argument-driven essays, but the passage should reflect, in a micro form, a larger thematic at stake in the work (for example, the imperative “Call me Ishmael” invokes the larger exploration of free will in Moby-Dick).


How to close read a passage:

Read and re-read and re-read again. Read aloud. Mark up the passage multiple times. Some, though by no means not all, aspects you might want to consider:


1 . Examine the language of the poem. Look up any words that seem important in the OED. How does the text make use of the particular connotations of its words? Do any words carry unexpected etymologies?

  1. Are there patterns of word choice (diction), such as language associated with religion or economy? Are these patterns of word choice congruous with the claims the author is making? How does the writer’s syntax emphasize or marginalize certain concepts?
  2. What images and image patterns are most prominent? What are the associations of these images? Do the images take on larger significance as symbols or allegories? 4. Is the author using metaphoric language and what is the specific logic (substitution, analogy, etc.) behind these various metaphorical forms?
  3. Is the author using a traditional form or genre? How does the form or genre suit the poet’s intent?
  4. What sounds do you notice (alliteration, assonance, caesurae etc.) and how do they fit the larger effects of the work?

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