Literary Analysis and Close Reading
Figurative language vs. Literal
Literal language – When artists use plain (or fancy) words to convey what they mean in concrete terms. For example: I am upset. I am in love. The dog died.
Figurative language – When artists use figures of speech to be more effective, persuasive, or impactful. For example: I see red. My love is like a red, red rose. The dog walked over rainbow bridge.
In our first reading of the semester, Martin Espada tells a story of 9/11 in his poem “Alabanza.” As a poet, Espada has done his job by crafting this poem, but it is up to the reader (us) to decide what it ultimately means. And, unlike the math textbooks of my younger days, there is no answer on page 527 at the back of the book to let us check to see if we got “the” answer right.
Before you continue, please enjoy a musical interlude.
I do not want to give you the impression that interpreting a text is without challenge because part of interpreting a text is convincing your readers to accept your interpretation. And this can be tricky. Think of the case of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” Some have interpreted this song and have argued that not only does it fall into the Country genre, it should have been considered for the Country Music Charts. Others vehemently disagree. To make their case, each side might analyze not only structural elements such as beat, rhythm, and tempo but also content or lyrics.
In other words, their analysis and ensuing argument is highly organized. Much like these Lil Nax X fans, when we analyze literature, we are also trying to get at what something might mean, and we do so using some pretty specific methods.
To arrive at a particular meaning, we keep moving back and forth between understanding small points and the ways in which the small points build (even when they contradict) to create an overall point.
Author vs. Narrator vs. Characters vs. Literary Analyst
Author: The author is the creator/writer of the text (poem, short story, play, novel, painting, song, and so on).
Narrator: This is the person or people who are telling the story. As noted above, there are different types of narration – and some of those narrators are untrustworthy.
Characters: The people who exist in the text.
Literary Analyst: This is the person who analyzes a text and who makes a particular argument. The literary analyst will look at words and/or images and listen to sounds and then make the argument that something is a metaphor .. or a symbol ..or contributes to a theme.