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How to analyze a text

In one of my previous posts geared towards reading comprehension students, I shared the importance of using textual evidence. Now that you know which elements to be on the lookout for and how to support your findings with evidence from the text, it's time to discuss how to properly analyze a text! I'm going to use two quotes from the book The Giver while analyzing the protagonist, setting, and conflict, just for the sake of continuity.

Let's say you're given the following paragraph from Chapter 3 in The Giver and asked to analyze it:

"It was the first thing Jonas noticed as he looked at the newchild peering up curiously from the basket. The pale eyes. Almost every citizen in the community had dark eyes. His parents did, and Lily did, and so did all of his group members and friends. But there were a few exceptions: Jonas himself, and a female Five who he had noticed had the different, lighter eyes. No one mentioned such things; it was not a rule, but was considered rude to call attention to things that were unsettling or different about individuals" (p.20).

If we're asked to analyze a text, we're being asked what we can learn from the text. So what can we learn from this paragraph, keeping in mind the three elements I mentioned earlier?

For starters, we learn that Jonas is set apart from the other people in his community based on the color of his eyes. He is visually different from others, and while this could be a good thing, it has the potential to lead to conflict because differences often do just that. The scene does immediately give us the impression that Jonas is special, though, even if it's just because of his eye color. It's also interesting to see this community strives to be inclusive by encouraging its citizens to understand that pointing out differences is frowned upon. This tells us more about the setting - certain principles have been established in this community that are meant to dissuade the people in it from harping on their differences. Seems like an attempt at a utopia, if you ask me! From that, we're invited to wonder what else this community does and what makes it different from the world we live in right now.

Let's take a look at another quote:

"Mirrors were rare in the community; they weren't forbidden, but there was no real need of them, and Jonas had simply never bothered to look at himself very often even when he found himself in a location where a mirror existed. Now, seeing the newchild and its expression, he was reminded that the light eyes were not only a rarity but gave the one who had them a certain look - what was it? Depth, he decided; as if one were looking into the clear water of the river, down to the bottom, where things might lurk which hadn't been discovered yet. He felt self-conscious, realizing that he, too, had that look" (p.21).

This paragraph comes just a few paragraphs after the first one. This time, we learn that Jonas seems to be a humble protagonist. He doesn't look in mirrors, which means he's not focused on his looks, and he feels self-conscious when he realizes that he gives off a certain look, one that shows there's depth to him. While some might be proud to have this type of look, Jonas reacts very differently. This feeling of self-consciousness suggests Jonas is also experiencing a minor internal conflict as he learns this new information about himself. It sounds almost as though he doesn't want to be different because of the way he reacts to that realization, but there's clearly nothing he can do about it, and he will have to cope with that fact. This paragraph also tells us something small about the community - if mirrors are rare, that means those who established the community didn't want people looking in them. Why do people look in mirrors? To check on themselves. To see if they look good. For some, it could even be to make sure they still look good. Jonas's community has removed the temptation to become vain. This information, coupled with what we learned from the previous quote, implies the community is doing its best to instill certain qualities into its people by teaching them to be respectful of others despite any differences that exist and to be focused more on others and less on themselves.

We can learn a lot from just a paragraph or two if we know what we're looking for! I hope this post helped you understand a bit more about how to analyze a text. Definitely check out The Giver by Lois Lowry if you haven't read it yet! And contact me today if you would like me to further help you or your child with this type of literary analysis!


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