Critical Reading Handouts
anupama jain Fall 2006
A GUIDE FOR CLOSE READING LITERARY TEXTS
Read a passage (or poem) a few times,
assuming that all words and ideas are significant to the author’s meaning.
- Circle important words and phrases in the selected piece of text.
- Determine the meanings of all words and references unfamiliar to you.
- What impression does the piece initially give you?
- Examine the language of the passage.
a) Diction or word choice: is the language formal, simple, unusual, etc.?
b) Connotations: do words have more than one meaning? what moods/attitudes do you associate with the words?
c) Allusions: are there references made to historical events, myths, other works of literature, etc.?
d) Imagery: Are there metaphors, similes, analogies, personifications, metonymy, etc.? What do these images have to do with one another?
- Examine the structure of the passage.
a) Form: Consider the presentation of the passage. How does it look on the page? Does this relate to the meanings?
b) Development: How does the piece develop? Examples include: through chronology, by cause and effect, by free association, by repetition, by mood.
c) Punctuation: What kinds are used in the passage? Does it affect how you read it?
- Connect the images, language, and structure together to describe how they collectively contribute to a broader meaning for you.
- What do you think the overall significance of this passage is? For example, what is the author’s attitude towards the themes in the passage? What makes you think this?
- What does the piece convey about issues that may be of significance to all or many people?
- What is the piece’s overall mood, purpose, intent, or conclusion?
- How does this text help you understand common literary themes or ideas?