Literary Genres, Elements, 1 and Techniques

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Reading a Poem During

the Exam

If one of the works that you are asked to read for the test is a poem, begin by reading the poem through quickly a couple of times, Then examine the poem, following the steps outlined on the chart on the next page.




108 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment

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S~:eps To Understanding a yri( Poem

~ First, paraphrase the poem. That is, restate it to yourself, sentence by sentence, in your own words.

~ Second, look for clues in the poem that tell you what the

speaker is speaking about—his or her subject.

~ Third, based on clues in the

poem, identify what the poem reveals about the speaker’s

interests, ideas, and feelings.
~ Fourth, identify the main idea, or theme, that the speaker of the poem is expressing.
~ Fifth, note any special literary techniques used in the poem, such as vivid imagery or


~ Sixth, think about how these

techniques reinforce the poem’s theme.

If it is permitted, use the margins of your test booklet to take notes on any of the information gleaned by following the steps described above. See the example to the right.


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I on the floor— (at! return!


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Lesson 4.2—Reading a Lyric Poem 109

Your Turn

A Choose one poem from the next page and do the following on your own paper:
1 First, paraphrase the poem. That is, restate it, sentence by sentence, in your own words.
2 Second, look for clues in the poem that tell you what the speaker is speaking about—his or her subject. List that subject.
3 Third, based on clues in the poem, make a list telling what the poem reveals about the speaker’s interests, ideas, and feelings.
4 Fourth, state the main idea, or theme, that the speaker of the poem is expressing.
5 Fifth, make a list of the literary techniques used in the poem.

6 Sixth, make a few notes to yourself about how these techniques

reinforce the poem’s theme.

B Write a paragraph explaining the theme, or main idea, of the poem that you chose for Exercise A. Begin your paragraph with a topic sentence that states the title, author, and theme of the poem, like this:
The theme of James Worley’s poem “Have You Forgotten” is that by observing the playful curiosity of cats, we can remember the wonder that we felt about the world when we were very young.
After your topic sentence, write at least five or six additional sentences that present evidence from the poem to support your topic sentence. Use transitions, such as first, second, third, then, next, finally, in conclusion, and so on, to connect your ideas.






110 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment

Poems for Practice

by Ralph Waldo Emerson
If the red slayer thinks he slays, Or if the slain think he is slain,

They know not well the subtle ways I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Far or forgot to me is near;

Shadow and sunlight are the same; The vanished gods to me appear;

And one to me are shame and fame.
They reckon ill who leave me out; When me they fly, I am the wings;

I am the doubter and the doubt, And I the hymn the Brahmin2 sings.

The strong gods pine for my abode, And pine in vain the sacred Seven;3

But thou, meek lover of the good! Find me, and turn thy back4 on heaven.

by Edgar Allan Poe
From childhood’s hour I have not been

As others were—I have not seen

As others saw—I could not bring

My passions from a common spring— From the same source I have not taken

My sorrow—I could not awaken

My heart to joy at the same tone— And all I lov’d— I lov’d alone— Then—in my childhood—in the dawn

Of a most stormy life—was drawn

From ev’ry depth of good and ill

The mystery which binds me still— From the torrent, or the fountain— From the red cliff of the mountain— From the sun that round me roll’d

In its autumn tint of gold— From the lightning in the sky

As it pass’d me flying by— From the thunder, and the storm— And the cloud that took the form

(When the rest of Heaven was blue)

Of a demon in my view—



Ralph Waldo Emerson

Edgar Allan Poe


0 U

1 Brahma. Supreme god of the Hindu religion.

Emerson, a Unitarian minister and one of the greatest

of the nineteenth-century American poets, was strongty

influenced by Hindu sacred texts and philosophy.

2 Brahmin. Member of the highest caste of Hindu society, the priestly caste ~ the Sacred Seven. Lesser gods. Hindus are polytheistic, believing in many gods, but all, according to Hindu belief, are subordinate to and part of the one supreme god. 4turn thy back. According to Hindu philosophy, all things, good and bad, are part of Brahma, and people should therefore embrace life in all its complexity. Emerson’s line suggests turning away from simplistic ideas and embracing a more inclusive spirituality.

Lesson 4.2—Reading a Lyric Poem I I I

L ~ i ~ 1~J Reading Narratives

lements of a Narrative
1. Setting. The setting is the time and place in which the action occurs.

2. Mood. The mood is the overall emotional quality evoked by the work or part of the work (melancholy, hopeful, nostalgic, etc.).

3. Tone. The tone is the attitude adopted by the author or narrator toward the subject or toward the reader (angry, satirical, playful, etc.).

4. Narrator. The narrator is the voice telling the story. In stories told from the first-person point of view, the narrator uses words such as I and we and may participate in the action of the story. In stories told from the third-person point of view, the narrator uses words such as he, she, and they and does not take part in the action of the story.

5. Character. The characters are the figures who take part in the action of the narrative. These include main characters, such as the protagonist and antagonist, and minor characters, who play smaller roles. A character who changes is known as a dynamic character. A character who does not change is known as a static character. A flat, stock, or stereotypical character is one that is one-dimensional and not fully developed.

6. Protagonist. The protagonist is the main character in the selection. Usually, the main character experiences some conflict, or struggle, and goes through some important change.

7. Antagonist. Some stories have an antagonist, a person or force that struggles with the protagonist.



ost likely, at least one of the

selections that you will encounter

on a standardized reading test will be a short narrative. A narrative is any literary work that tells a story. Types of narrative that you are likely to find on the test include very brief short stories or passages taken from short stories, novels, autobiographies, or memoirs. Although

these kinds of narrative differ in important respects, you can follow the same steps when reading them and answering questions about them for the test. That’s because all narratives have at least some elements in common. The chart below and on the next page describes some of the elements that are common to narratives.




112 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment

8. Conflict. The central conflict is the major struggle experienced by the protagonist. This conflict may be external (between the character and an outside force) or internal (within the character).

9. Plot. The plot is the series of events in the narrative. The exposition provides background information. The inciting incident introduces the central conflict. The inciting incident is followed by the rising action, in which the central conflict is developed. The climax is the high point of interest or suspense in the story. The crisis, or turning point, is a point in the story at which something decisive happens to determine the future course of events in the narrative and the working out of the conflict. The events that occur after the turning point are called the falling action. The falling action ends with the resolution, the point in the story at which the central conflict is resolved. The denouement, literally the untying, tells the final outcome of loose ends in the plot. (See Freytag’s Pyramid below for a representation of plot.)

10. Motive. A motive is something that moves a character to act in a certain way. For instance, a character might be motivated by a desire for wealth or affection.

Bear in mind that a given narrative might not contain all of these parts. Consider, for example, the passage from “The Death of Ivan Illych,” which is one of the readings for the Pretest (pages 24—25). Since this is just a passage from the middle of a short story, it does not contain some of the elements of short stories, such as the inciting incident, a climax, and a resolution of the central conflict.

The key thing to remember about narratives is that almost all of them revolve around a central conflict, or struggle. Usually, by facing this central conflict, the main character grows and changes in some way. The character learns something, and what the character learns becomes the theme, the main idea or central point of the narrative.

Freytag’s Pyramid: Note that the climax can occur before or after the crisis or can be the same event as the crisis.

crisis, or turning point






inciting incident resolution

Lesson 4.3—Reading Narratives I 13

On the test, read the questions and the writing prompts carefully. As you look back at the passage, look for elements in the narrative that relate to the subject of the question or prompt. Suppose that you were responding to the following writing prompt:

Explain the theme of the selection from “The Death of Ivan Illych,”

pointing out literary techniques used

in the selection to present this theme.

Your topic sentence would state the theme of the selection. The rest of the paragraph would give details from the selection showing how specific literary elements were used to present the theme. Here is an example:

Notice the following characteristics of Chantal’s paragraph:

1. She has used literary terms, such as protagonist, central conflict, irony, personification, metaphor, and theme.

2. She has paid particular attention to aspects of the selection that deal with the subject in the writing prompt (death).

3. Chantal includes quotations from the selection as examples to back up the points made in her answer.

4. The paragraph contains a one-sentence summary of what the passage reveals about the subject of the writing prompt (the attitude of the character toward death).





therefore used to logical arguments in court and who remernI~ers an argument al7out death from a logic textl7ook, can’t accept the logical truth that he too must die.

One Student’s Response

Chantal wrote the following para­graph in response to this prompt:

In “The l~eath of

lv~ri Illych,” the theme of the story is the c~lifficulty of facing one’s own c~eath. The central conflict in this passage is that the protagonist, lv~n, cannot accept that. he is dying. The author uses personification and metaphor to show lv~n’s attitude toward death. lv~n thinks of death as an “unwelcome guest” who is “unacceptal7le in the parlor of his consciousness.” He also calls death “a highwayman,” “a thief,” “a I7ill collector,” and “a murderer.” It is ironic that lv~n, who is a puHic prosecutor and

I 14 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment

Y.~ur Turn

Reread “The Story of an Hour” on pages 12 through 14 of the Pretest. Then fill in the following story map:

Story Map

Title of Story: T~ Story of au HourAuthor of Story:



Other Characters:

Plot of the Story:

Inciting Incident:

Central Conflict:

Rising Action:

Turning Point:


Central Conflict

O Internal 0 External

How does the protagonist change in the course of the story?


Details that reveal time and place:

Influence of the setting on the main character: _______________________________

Theme: What does the story tell us about feelings of repression experienced by married women in the nineteenth century?





Literary Techniques:

Meaning of Symbols:

the window: ________ spring:

Lesson 4.3—Reading Narratives I 15

L ~ S fl Two lypes of Criticism:

4.4 Analysis and Evaluation


n everyday speech, when people use the word criticism, they usually mean some sort of negative commentary. In literary studies, however, criticism is not necessarily negative. Criticism is simply any careful, reasoned response to a literary work. When you write about works of literature, you will be practicing, in a rudimentary way, the art of criticism.

There are many, many different approaches to criticism. Each approach represents particular views about the relationship between the reader and a text and about which elements of a literary work are important to consider. Some common approaches to criticism are described in the chart on the following page. However, a full treatment of these is beyond the scope of this text, and knowledge of them is not essential for success on reading tests.

What is essential is that you understand that whatever approach a critic takes, he or she usually does analysis, evaluation, or both. When you encounter an open-response question about a literary work, think about whether the question is asking you to analyze or to evaluate and respond accordingly.

Analyzing a Literary Text

Analysis is the process of dividing something into its parts and then studying how the parts are related to one another and to the whole. When you analyze a literary text, you look at its elements and techniques and see how these are related.

Here is an example of a question that asks you to do an analysis:
What is the central conflict in this story, how is it introduced, and how is it


To answer this question, you need to analyze the central conflict, or struggle, faced by the protagonist by dividing it into its parts: the inciting incident that introduces the conflict and the resolution in which the conflict is brought to a conclusion.

Here is another example of an analysis question:

Who is the main character in this story, and what sets her apart from the other characters?
To answer this question, you need to identify the main character and then think about the qualities of that character—the characteristics that set her apart from other characters in the story. These qualities might include the character’s appearance, her background, the nature of her relationships with other characters, her motivations, or any of a wide number of other characteristics.

Here is yet another example of an analysis question:

What is the mood of this selection, and

how is that mood created?

To answer this question, you need to identify the elements of the selection that create its mood, or overall emotional effect.






116 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment


iterary Criticism

Some Common Approaches
Biographical criticism relates elements of a literary work to events in the life of the author.
Didactic criticism deals with the moral, ethical, or political messages in literary works.
Feminist criticism looks at a text from the point of view of what it reveals about gender roles and/or the relative status of men and women.
Formal criticism explains a literary work in terms of its genre or type.
Freudian criticism relates a literary work to the psychoanalytic theories advanced by Sigmund Freud and his followers, with particular emphasis on unconscious motivations; wish fulfillments; and suppressed, unresolved conflicts from childhood.
Historical criticism relates a literary work to the time and place in which it was produced.
New Criticism, a critical movement whose heyday was the mid-twentieth century, emphasizes close analysis of texts and criticism based only on the elements and techniques used in the text, not on matters outside the work itself such as politics, historical context, or authors’ biographies.
Reader-response criticism holds that the meaning of a literary text lies not in the text itself but in the subjective experience that the reader has when reading. A radical but related approach, deconstructionist criticism, holds that a text itself has no independent meaning or reality but is constructed by the reader in the process of reading.
Structuralist criticism views a literary work from the point of view of essential “binary opposites” involved in or implied by the work, such as good/evil, sacred/profane, real/illusory, natural/artificial, literary/nonliterary, and so on. The idea behind structuralist criticism is that people, including authors, inherit

languages that predispose them to view the world in terms of certain opposing categories, ideas, or forces and that these predispositions determine, to a great extent, the content and structure of a work.

Lesson 4.4—Two Types of Criticism: Analysis and Evaluation Hi

These might include elements of the setting (an old house with creaky doors and floorboards, a thunderstorm, night, darkness, fog, etc.); specific imagery used in the selection (“the ghastly reflections of yellowed candlelight in the broken windowpanes,” “cobwebs,” “the scurrying of mice”); a suspenseful twist in the plot; the tone assumed by the narrator; and the diction that the narrator uses.

In each of the examples just given, the question requires that you look back over the selection to find particular elements. Identifying elements and thinking about how they relate to a particular concern or question is what analysis is all about.

Evaluation is the process of arriving at a judgment, or opinion, of someone or something. Suppose that you are walking out of a movie, and a friend asks, “What did you think of it?” Your friend is asking you for an evaluation—in this case, for an overall evaluation of the film. To answer your friend, you might simply say, “It was great” or “I hated it,” but when you answer evaluation questions on a standardized test, you will have to be much more specific, identifying particular aspects of the selection that support your evaluation. Here is an example of an evaluation question:

Should Mr. McKuen have refused his

neighbor’s offer? Why, or why not?

This question asks you to make a judgment about the actions of a character, Mr. McKuen. You have to form an opinion about whether Mr. McKuen should have acted as he did and then support your opinion with evidence from the selection.

Distinguishing Between

Analysis and Evaluation

As you have learned in this lesson, two functions of criticism, and two different tasks that you will need to carry out when answering written questions, are analysis and evaluation. To summarize the differ­ences between the two:

Analysis involves gathering related facts from the selection and then generalizing, or drawing an inference, based upon those facts. A written answer to an analysis question might begin with the generalization, or inference, and then present facts to support it. The result of the analysis—the conclusion drawn based upon consideration of various elements of the selection—is an interpretation.

Evaluation involves making a judgment, or statement of opinion, about some aspect of the work or about the work as a whole and then supporting that judgment with facts. A written answer to an evaluation question might begin with the judgment and then present facts to support it.

Analysis = related facts and

generalization about them

Evaluation = judgment supported by facts

Your Turn

A Read the selection from Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” a tale about a headless horseman. Then

follow the directions given after it.

- Evaluating a Literary Text



[T]his sequestered glen has long been known by the name of SLEEPY HOLLOW, and its rustic lads are called

118 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment

the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout all the neighboring country. A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a high German doctor during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still . . . holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvelous beliefs; have trances and visions, and see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight super­stitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the night-mare, with her whole nine fold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.

Write a paragraph in response to the following analysis question about this passage from Irving’s story:
How does Washington Irving create

suspense in his opening description of

the valley known as Sleepy Hollow?
Follow these steps:
1 First, review the passage and make a list, on your own paper, of elements in Irving’s description of the setting that contribute to creating suspense.

2 Next, write a sentence that states, generally, the idea that the author creates suspense at the beginning of his story in his description of the valley. In this first sentence for your paragraph, make sure to use both the author’s name and the full title of the story. Place the title in quotation marks.

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