How to Analyze a Quotation Like An English Teacher
Quotation: ³Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infusethem with shades of deeper meaning.´ ±Maya Angelou
Questions to Ask Yourself
Who is the speaker?
Maya Angelou is a well-respected and revered African American female author. Her works aresome of the most influential and important in American literature.
Who is the audience?
he audience is undefined and so anyone can be included in the list of intended recipients.
What is the context of this quotation? Why was it said?
Angelo is commenting on her craft and on how her work only becomes meaningful when it is filtered with the deeper meaning offered by multiple perspectives.
s there any character development?
o, the author is speaking directly about herself and her experiences.
What theme(s) are evident in this quotation?
nnocence and Experience and
he Human Spirit
Are there any literary devices used?
f so, for what effect?
he human voice is personified which adds a unifying sense to this quotation. We are all in thistogether to shade literature and create meaning from it.
see this idea in the world?
ike any art form, literature is a meant to be devoured and appreciated.
t is given depth of color and dynamism through its audience. For example,
o Kill a Mockingbird by Harper
ee isgiven new light when read after reading Sue Monk Kidds
ife of Bees. When viewed together, new ideas become evident.
see this idea in my life?
spend a lot of my work life writing comments on students papers in the hopes of helpingthem to become better writers. My comments are given life and context by the reader.
his hasboth positive and negative effects. Sometimes my comments are misread or misinterpreted and sometimes students really learn and grow from them.
see this idea in the context of the literature being studied?
n our study of Greek culture and Mythology, it is incredibly important that we look beyond theoutlandish stories of amoral immortals and wild monsters and search for the meaning of thesemyths. For example, the myth about Demeter and Persephone is really about explaining theexistence of winter in the world. Greek people would not have necessarily believed that thesegods were real, just like American children know that Goldilocks and the
hree Bears is a fablemeant to teach morals and not a literal portrayal of life in the woods.
For exam and coursework answers, one thing that will consistently be asked of you is to provide in-depth analysis of a quote. However this is often easier said than done, especially if you’re unsure of where to begin, so I’d recommend using a simple step-by-step process:
Step 1- Select your quote carefully
Make sure your quote is relevant: think about who or what it is referring to, where it comes from in the text and how this relates to the question.
Consider the length of the quotation: I suggest opting for a shorter one so that you don’t waste valuable time writing and/or memorising the quote. This allows for more time spent actually analysing the quote and showing off the skills that the examiner actually wants to see (contrary to popular belief, English Literature is a lot more than a memory test!) It is possible to get an A* using just quotes that are made up of three or less words!
Step 2- Identify literary techniques
Although you can analyse a quote in depth just focusing on word choices, examiners LOVE it when you identify and name literary techniques in your essay.
Think about things like:
Line length (in verse)
Stage directions (in plays)
Sounds in words (plosive or sibilant)
Step 3- What effects do these techniques have? What effects does this quote have overall?
By this point, you will have provided some analysis, however you need to go further to show that you have analysed in depth. To do this, think about what effect individual techniques have and how this may alter the impact of the quote as a whole.
Do your best to include alternative interpretations: the sibilance in ‘she is silent’ could create a soothing, peaceful effect, but it could alternatively be interpreted as eerie or sinister. To take your work to the next level, you might want to consider which interpretation you think is most convincing and why you think this is the case.
Step 4- What effect do you think the writer intended this quote to have? To what extent do you think they achieved this intention?
In order to get the top levels for English literature, you really need to add some evaluation, so think about why the writer may have chosen to use the literary techniques and words that they did; if you found the quote could be interpreted in multiple ways, which way do you think the writer wanted it to be interpreted? Do you think any ambiguity in the quote was intended?
Once you have stated what you believe the writer wanted to achieve through their choice of words and literary techniques, you can even go so far as to think about to what extent you believe the writer was successful. Remember that you do not have to like the writing that you are being asked to analyse, as long as you can explain why you do not think it was effective!