Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Literary Analysis as a Conversational Art

Lucy and I both read Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution this week, and that's the key right there. Read the same book. As she was reading, I asked her how she was finding it.

"The beginning's a little stiff, but she seems to ease into the story about a quarter of the way through."

When I'd finished reading, she asked me how I found it.

"Well, I see what you mean by stiff. I agree, once the story shifted to Paris, it started to flow a lot better. It fell apart for me, though, in the time travel bit."

"Mmm. it wasn't as convincing as when she used the diary form."

" I know, and I'm not sure why. Maybe the characters weren't as well drawn."

"Maybe it was just too abrupt, suddenly being back in the past so late in the book ?"

"Mmm. I thought she handled the darkness in the book pretty well."

"Yeah, it was realistic but it didn't overwhelm me when I was reading it. And the ending was good. A bit sad, but real. "

"I know a whole heap more about the French Revolution than I did before I read it."

"Maybe too much!"

Not word for word, and I've never kidded myself that I have an ear for dialogue, but you get the gist of it, yes ? Merely through conversation, we've begun to analyse the book, to discuss what works, what doesn't, to begin to wonder why.

And we didn't need to lay it out for dissection first. Anaethesise your text. Cut into chapters. Discover the theme. We just talked, explored our responses - in a way that art of any form deserves to be explored - as a subject worthy of our conversation and our thought.

It might take some time for us to think further, to look back at the text and come up with ideas about technique. Why do the opening chapters lack flow ? Did the author spend too much time setting up her story? Why does the dark remain at bay ? Is there imagery used - of light and of song - that drags us back from the fall in the way the protagonist is saved by empathy and friendship ?

This is the way to study a book;  to think about it, talk about it, ponder it. Too often students move directly from reading to explanation, missing the conversation about response.

I might talk more with Lucy about thoughts I had today, on the train with Snowy,  asking her whether she thinks there is a parallel between the fallen King of France and fallen father.  She may or may not agree. This parallel may or may not be there in the book, in the author's intent.

It will definitely take some time to turn these thought into text, fitting neatly into its 5 paragraph format. But the essay is simply the end of the process, thoughts plated up for the diner.

The real essay begins in conversation, not a workbook or study guide in sight.

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