The literary procedures go from the macrostructural aspects (literary genre, text structure) to the microstructural aspects (stylistic devices, images, lexicon).
Macrostructure and microstructure are inseparable in the same way as form and content but the literary commentary enables us to desintegrate the text as the small pieces if a mechanism and then assemble then to assemble it again.
- PREVIOUS STEP. TEXT UNDERSTANDING AND SOLUTION OF DOUBTS:
Before beginning the commentary of any kind of text, we have to read it deeply, repeatedly and accurately so as not to have any kind of doubt. If we have a good understanding of the text, it will make the commentary easier. We have to look every new word up in the dictionary.
In this previous step, we have to understand the text and clear up all the problems from the lexical, syntactic and morphological point of view.
- EXTERNAL STEP. APLICATION OF PREVIOUS KNOWLEDGE:
- Location of the text in a global frame:
We have to locate the text in some precise coordinates. This means that we have to establish the period, the movement, the date to which the text belongs. Then we will have to locate the text in the author´ s whole production, if it is representative of his work or not. Everything will depend on being a fragment or a complete work and if we know the author of the text or not.
- Literary genre and way of expression:
We have to see which literary genre (poem, novel or play) the text we are commenting on belongs to and so which structural, formal and thematic features can be implied.
Taking into account the features of each genre, we have to see which of them predominate, showing the author´ s originality or the complete submission to the genre norms, which characteristics of the genre appear. We have to analyse the kind of language they use: formal, colloquial, slang. Once we have precised the genre, we have to precise the subgenre.
In this step we will also have to point out the way of expression or kind of text (narrative, descriptive, dialogue, expository, argumentative, instructional etc). There are 3 steps in constructing these texts: invention, disposition and elocution. The last step is the one we will analyse.
- CONTENT ANALYSIS:
- The author in the text: attitude-point of view-implication:
We have to study the way in which the author shows himself in the text, his way of developing the plot, the structure and the form.
We have to establish the way in which the author is situated in front of reality and the technique he uses to convey the message: 3rd person narrator, 1st person narrator, 2nd person narrator and dynamic narrator. The author can show himself in the text as a character, witness or observer. He can restrict himself to what he sees or locate in the inside of a character (omniscient, he can separate himself from his characters. He can have a fixed or a multiple point of view, he can adopt different positions (objective, subjective), different disposition in the transmission of ideas (idealistic, realistic). It is very important to make a clear difference between author and narrator. The writer is out of the text and chooses the narrative point of view and the narrator tells the story.
- Plot, topic, structure
The plot is a selection of actions and events with a higher or lower base in reality (verisimilitude) and using some literary devices to present it. They must have verisimilitude, that is, events must seem real even if they are not. As for the events we have to point out where and when they take place if the setting is precise or not, if the time is a point in time or a long or short period.
We have to take into account there is interdependence between plot, topic and structure. The analysis of the plot is the answer to the question: what happens? The analysis of the structure is the answer to the question: how is it organised? and the analysis of the topic is the answer to the question: what is the basic idea of the text? Which is the sense of the plot?
- Content structure
The content of the text, that is to say, the plot takes a specific disposition. Now we have to precise how content is organised, we have to establish the text structure. We have to point out the disposition and organization of the content in independent but related cores and establish the kind of relationships between these cores and the features of the structure (division in conceptual parts).
The structure is the way in which the components are disposed and ordered, due to a process of conscious construction. The structure is easy to determine, the simplest case is when we adopt the classical scheme or chronological order: introduction- development and dénouement but sometimes the structure is not as easy as this: we can break this order and use the technique in medias res, that is, beginning the story in the middle to attract the reader´ s attention or in extremis res, beginning with the end of the story.
We have 3 structural models:
1. analytic structure: we have a statement and then some others that develop it
2. synthetic structure: several ideas come to a last conclusion
3. paralel structure: the ideas are not subordinated one with another, they are in the same level of importance, they have a relationship of yuxtaposition.
- Theme and central idea:
The theme is the central idea which synthesizes the author´ s intention and his way of seeing the world (cosmic vision). The events that take place have a sense and an intention. Then we can see the tone: traditional, innovator, touching, ironic, sarcastic, humoristic, pessimistic, optimistic, sensitive, happy, sad, moral, amoral etc.
- Characters and setting:
We have to analyse characters, their physical and psychological features and the place where the action takes place.
- FORM ANALYSIS:
The formal analysis deals with the linguistic aspects that with their appearance or repetition characterize the text we are analysing. We have 3 levels: phonological, morphosyntactic and semantic one.
So far we have been concerned about what the text says and now we will deal with how it says the things are said. We have now to precise how this content is formulated, the content always refers to its ways of expression. We don´ t only have to explain the stylistic features and their expressive value but also their disposition, structure and relationship. The stylistic devices have a reason in the text and some effects. The most remarkable ones are: hyperbole, alliteration, simile, hyperbaton, repetition, personification, ellipsis, paradox, euphemism, metaphore, antithesis, parallelism.
- Phonological level:
We have to discover the expressivity and meaning of the phonological devices. We have to study the peculiarities with reference to orthography, phonetics, phonology, stylistic devices referred to sound (alliteration, onomatopeia, paranomasia and similicadence), the accent, the intonation (rising or falling) the rhythm (marked or not) and if it is verse the metrical analysis (assonace or consonance).
The alliteration is the repetition of the same or similar sounds, it produces cacophony.
The onomatopeia consists of imitating real sounds, noises, actions or movements
The paranomasia is the phonetic similarity of words or groups of words
The similicadence is the use of 2 or more words in the same grammatical accidence (tense, person, number, gender)
- Morphosyntactic level:
We have to explain the expressive possibilities the text offers at a morphosyntactic level: affixes (suffixes, prefixes) compounding.
The noun phrase: its components are noun, adjective, articles and pronouns. In description there is a predominance of nouns and even more of adjectives as they name objects in reality
The verb phrase: its components are verb, adverb and conjunctions. In narration there is a predominance of verbs and we have to see which tenses predominate. We have to see the predominant grammatical categories, if sentences are simple or complex, if there is direct or indirect style, if there is inversion or cleft-sentences to emphasize information, if there is more coordination, subordination or yuxtaposition.
- Semantic level:
It is the study of vocabulary (semantic fields, polysemy, homonymy, antonymy and synonymy). The selection of words is sometimes due to expressivity.
- THE TEXT AS A COMMUNICATIVE VEHICLE:
The literary work or text is a message which is conveyed by an addressor (writer) to an addressee (reader). In the literary text, the predominant function is the poetic one, so the emphasis is on the form, but there are also other functions, so we will precise the dominant function and the other ones that appear in the text: referential or representative, expressive or emotive, appelative or conative, fatic, metalinguistic and poetic or aesthetic.
We have to precise the position of the author in front of the reader as the addressee of his message (he can address his reader, attack him verbally, outdistance him etc.) We have to see the reaction the text provokes on the reader, whether he likes or dislikes it. We have to discover the cosmic vision we have in the text we are analysing, if it is addressed to a majority or to a minority, the effect it can have on society.
- PERSONAL CONCLUSION:
At the end of the commentary we have to draw a conclusion or a personal critic in which we express our opinion about the text which must be based on the results obtained in each of the steps of the commentary.
Questions for a Literary Analysis:
PLOT: the relationships and patterns of events (Even a poem has a plot, for instance a change in mood from bitterness to resignation)
– What actions happen?
– What conflicts occur?
– How do the events connect to each other and to the whole?
CHARACTERS: the people the author creates (including the narrator of a story or the speaker of a poem)
– Who are the principle people in the work?
– How do they interact?
– What do their actions, words, and thoughts reveal about their personalities and the personalities of others?
– Do the characters stay the same, or do they change? Why?
POINT OF VIEW: the perspective or attitude of the speaker in a poem or the voice who tells a story. The point of view may be first person (a participant using I) or third person (an outsider, using he, she, it, or they.) A first-person narrator may be a major or a minor character in the narrative, and may be reliable or unreliable (unable to report events accurately). A third-person narrator may be omniscient (knows what goes on in all characters’ minds), limited (knows what goes on in the mind of only one character), or objective (knows what is external to the characters).
– Who is the narrator (or speaker of a poem)?
– How does the narrator’s point of view affect the narrative?
TONE: the narrator’s or speaker’s attitude, perceived through the words (for instance, joyful, bitter, confident)
– What tone (or tones) do you hear?
– If there is a change, how do you account for it?
– Is there an ironic contrast between the narrator’s tone (for instance, confidence) and what you take to be the author’s attitude (for instance, pity for human overconfidence)?
IMAGERY: word pictures or visual details involving the senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste)
– What images does the writer use?
– What senses do they draw on?
– What patterns are evident in the images (for instance, religious or commercial images)?
– What is the significance of the imagery?
SYMBOLS: concrete things standing for larger and more abstract ideas (for instance, the American flag may symbolize freedom, a tweeting bird may symbolize happiness, or a dead flower may symbolize mortality)
– What symbols does the author use?
– What do they seem to signify?
– How does the symbolism relate to the other elements of the work, such as character or theme?
SETTING: the place where the action happens
– What does the locale contribute to the story?
– Are scene shifts significant?
FORM: the shape or structure of the work
– What is the form? (For example, a story might divide in the middle, moving from happiness to sorrow.)
– What parts of the work does the form emphasize, and why?
THEME: the main idea, the gist of what the work adds up to
– How might the theme be stated?
– How do the parts of the work develop the theme?
APPEAL: the degree to which the story pleases you
– What do you especially like or dislike about the work?
– Do you think your responses are unique or common to most readers? Why?
Questions for Analysing Fiction:
– What happens in the story? Summarize the plot (the gist of the happenings). Think about what your summary leaves out.
– Is the story told in chronological order, or are there flashbacks or flashforwards? On rereading, what foreshadowing (hints of what is to come) do you detect?
– What conflicts does the work include?
– How does the writer reveal character–for instance, by explicit comment or by letting us see the character in action? With which character(s) do you sympathize? Are the characters plausible?
– What motivates them? What do minor characters contribute to the work?
– Who tells the story? Is the narrator a character, or does the narrator stand entirely outside the characters’ world?
– What are the setting, the time and place of the action? What does the setting contribute to the work?
– Do certain characters or settings seem to you to stand for something in addition to themselves, that is, what does the work add up to?
– What is the theme–that is, what does the work add up to? Does the theme reinforce values that you hold, or does it challenge them?
– Is the title informative? Did the meaning change for you after you read the work?
Questions for Analysing Poetry:
– What parts interest or puzzle you?
– How would you describe the poem’s speaker (sometimes called the persona or the voice)? (The speaker may be different from the author.) What tone or emotion do you detect, for instance, anger, affection, sarcasm? Does the tone change during the poem?
– What is the structure of the poem? Are there stanzas (groups of lines separated by space)? If so, how is the thought related to the stanzas?
– What is the theme of the poem: what is it about? Is the theme stated or implied?
– What images do you find–evocations of sight, sound, taste, touch, or smell? Is there a surprising pattern of images? What does the poem suggest symbolically as well as literally?
Questions for Analysing Drama:
– Does the plot (the sequence of happenings) seem plausible? If not, is the implausibility a fault? If there is more than one plot, are the plots parallel, or are they related by way of contrast?
– What kinds of conflict are in the play? How are the conflicts resolved? Is the resolution satisfying to you?
– How trustworthy are the characters when they describe themselves or others? Do some characters serve as foils, or contrasts, for other characters, thus helping to define the other characters? Do the characters change as the play proceeds? Are the characters’ motivations convincing?
– What do you make of the setting, or location? Does it help to reveal character or theme?
– Do certain costumes (dark suits, shawls, stiff collars) or properties (books, pictures, candlesticks) strike you as symbolic?
– If a film has been made of the play, what has been added? What has been omitted?