Close Reading

  • Close Reading of a Literary Passage

    To do a close reading, you choose a specific passage and analyze it in fine detail, as if with a magnifying glass. You then comment on points of style and on your reactions as a reader. Close reading is important because it is the building block for larger understanding. Your thoughts evolve not from someone else's truth about the reading, but from your own observations. The more closely you can observe, the more original and exact your ideas will be. To begin your close reading, ask yourself several specific questions about the passage.

    I. First Impressions:

    • What is the first thing you notice about the passage?
    • What is the second thing?
    • Do the two things you noticed complement each other? Or contradict each other?
    • What mood does the passage create in you? Why?

    II. Vocabulary and Diction:

    • Which words do you notice first? Why?
    • How do the important words relate to one another?
    • Do any words seem oddly used to you? Why?
    • Do any words have double meanings?

    III. Discerning Patterns:

    • Is there any repetition within the passage? What is the effect of that repetition?
    • How many types of writing are in the passage?
    • What is left out or kept silent? What would you expect the author to talk about that the author avoided?

    IV. Point of View and Characterization:

    • How does the passage make us react or think about any characters or events within the narrative?
    • Are there colors, sounds, physical description that appeals to the senses? Does this imagery form a pattern? Why might the author have chosen that color, sound or physical description?
    • Who speaks in the passage? To whom does he or she speak? Does the narrator have a limited or partial point of view? Or does the narrator appear to be omniscient, and he knows things the characters couldn't possibly know?

    V. Symbolism:

    • Are there metaphors? What kinds?
    • How many different metaphors are there, and in what order do they occur? How might that be significant?
    • How might objects represent something else?
    • Do any of the objects, colors, animals, or plants appearing in the passage have traditional connotations or meaning?