There are many different ways of reading and analyzing literature. One should approach a piece of literature individually, taking into consideration its given form and genre. Still, there are common guidelines that will help students achieve a careful, well-observed reading of any text.
Use the questions and terms in this tipsheet to guide your reading. It may be helpful to interrogate the text using the following guidelines, or to use these sections as a model to develop an outline of what you have read. Consult the terms and definitions on the reverse side of this sheet in your analysis, and consider whether these literary devices are present in the work you are reading.
Point of View:
Is the work in first person, second person, or third person? Is there a narrator? Is the point of view omniscient (everywhere, all-knowing) or limited to one or more characters? Is the narrator trustworthy? Is the narrator biased? Is the narrator mentally ill? Is the narrator young? Does the narrator have an accent, a style of speaking, a distinct voice? Tone:
What is the author’s attitude towards subject or audience? Is it humorous, satiric, sad, ironic, serious, light, sarcastic, bitter, or complimentary? How does this tone affect the meaning? Setting:
What is the physical or psychological setting? How does time function in the work? Does the story move forward or backward in time suddenly? Does the story take place in a moment, a day, a year, ten years? What role does place play in this work? Character:
Is there a protagonist, antagonist? Are characters round (described in depth) or flat (shallow, underdeveloped)?
Are characters allegorical (representative of larger principles) or archetypal (personalities that reoccur in literature)? Are characters static (unchanging) or dynamic (evolving)? Plot:
What is the story? What has already happened before the first section/chapter? Does the work begin in medias res—in the middle of action? Where is the central conflict? Where is the climax? Where is the resolution? Theme:
Has the writer focused on any subject in the piece exclusively? Are there any reoccurring images, items, situations?
Is there a motif—a dominant, reoccurring image/symbol? Symbol:
Are there natural symbols in the work (objects, characters, or settings that suggest larger concepts by nature—for instance, fire suggests destruction, water suggests change or time)? Are there contextual symbols in the work (objects, characters, or settings that suggest larger concepts, but only to those who are familiar with a given culture)? Are there constructed symbols in the work (symbols the writer has built and developed through the narrative)? Context:
During which era/movement did/does the writer live and write? What is the writer’s identity (race, gender, class, religion, sexuality), and how does this affect the writer’s perspective? Who were/are the writer’s contemporaries?
Meyer, Michael. The Bedford Introduction to Literature. 7th Ed. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2005. Allegory: A narration or description usually restricted to a single meaning because its events, actions, characters, settings, and objects represent specific abstractions or ideas. Characters may be given names such as Hope, Pride, Youth, and Charity.