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Handy guide to the skills of critical reading

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Presentation on theme: "Handy guide to the skills of critical reading"— Presentation transcript:

1 Handy guide to the skills of critical reading
Based on a presentation by Alison Robertson (Wilderness School) at the SAETA Year 12 English Studies Exam Preparation Evening, 2009

2 Handy Guide to Critical Reading Techniques

3 Thumb = Form Author Point of View Context
What kind of text is it? That will affect the types of techniques you will notice… Author Max Allen is given special attention in this wine column from The Australian because of the nature of such an article: a piece of journalism that expresses the personalised opinions of its author rather than hiding behind the more usual tone of objective anonymity typical of news reports, special features and editorials. How does the text use the author’s name? Point of View Is there one or many ‘points of view’? Whose voice is used? Is it written in 1st, 2nd or 3rd person? Context Max Allen is given special attention in this wine column from The Australian because of the nature of such an article: a piece of journalism that expresses the personalised opinions of its author rather than hiding behind the more usual tone of objective anonymity typical of news reports, special features and editorials How have the circumstances of the text’s publication affected its form and content? E.g.: an article about war published in Australia near April 25th (ANZAC Day); a British writer addressing a local audience may reference the Blitz, English football teams, the Queen, etc.; a special interest magazine (Film, Sport, Economics, Computers) will assume more about its audience's knowledge of that interest or area.

4 Pointer = Structure Title Whole Paragraphs Sentences
Miss Brill By Katherine Mansfield Although it was so brilliantly fine – the blue sky powdered with gold and great spots of light like white wine splashed over the Jardins Publiques – Miss Brill was glad that she had decided on her fur. The air was motionless, but when you opened your mouth there was just a faint chill, like a chill from a glass of iced water before you sip, and now and again a leaf came drifting – from nowhere, from the sky. Miss Brill put up her hand and touched her fur. Pointer = Structure What sort of structure does the text have? Most text genres – narrative, persuasive, review, etc. – have structural conventions, but within those can be a great variety designed to serve a text’s particular purpose … Title Katherine Mansfield’s title choice not only declares her short story ‘Miss Brill’ to be a character study, but it’s prim monosyllabic lightness also begins the characterisation of a naïve spinster hiding her loneliness behind a self deluding façade of empty artificial thrills. The whole narrative structure follows a Sunday outing beginning and ending with her contemplation of the fox fur she wears; but the tone has darkened by the end with her realisation of her narrow empty life. The opening and closing paragraphs and sentences contrast in length and complexity, reflecting a change from elaborate self-deception to a stark realisation of loneliness. The climax is expressed not through the story’s dominant mode of focalised descriptive paragraphs, bordering on stream-of-consciousness, but short overheard dialogue that brings external reality crashing into the protagonist’s consciousness. How does the text use it’s title? What expectations does it set up for the reader and how are they met within the body of the text? What sort of structure does the author employ at the whole text level? If a narrative one, are orientation, complication, climax, resolution and coda used in conventional or unconventional ways? What particular purpose, idea or theme does that overall structure serve? Whole Paragraphs Are paragraphs long or short; even or uneven? How do their specific form suit their place in the whole text’s structure? Sentences What sort of syntax is used? Is it simple or complex; varied or consistent? How does the structure of sentences effect tone, point of view and the reader’s emotions or response to ideas?

5 Middle finger = Means of Persuasion
I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realised; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. Middle finger = Means of Persuasion Purposes In his first speech as Prime Minister (May 13th 1940), Winston Churchill’s purpose was to galvanise the British people to fight on after the fall of France. He uses repetition often in threes to lend his words emphasis and strength; rhetorical questions in 2nd person to involve his audience; elevated diction and hyperbole (exaggeration) to appeal to emotions of moral indignation (‘monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime’) and patriotism (‘survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, … the urge and impulse of the ages’). The grandeur of his language, assisted by poetic imagery (‘blood, toil, tears’) and alliteration (‘wage war … with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us’) also carries an emotional appeal to the dignity of sacrifice, which supports his reasoned invitation for his listeners to share the sacrifice with him, rather than simply demanding it. Appeals to... emotions, reason, patriotism, etc. Evidence Involves Reader by... rhetorical questions, pronouns

6 Ring finger = Imagery Vocabulary Figurative Language Contrasts
I sit in a bathtub, searching my scrubbed palms. Like a surgeon about to make an opening incision, I study the heat-wrinkled flesh. Overwhelmed by this consciousness of my palms, struck by how attached to them I have grown, I am searching for a different perspective on life. … Despite an eye that checks out checkout counter beefcake I know that a man’s body doesn’t belong to him alone. God made the worship of the body out of bounds not because of jealousy but because of how inadequate the body was as a symbol of worship.…What choice does one have but to accept the limitations not only of one’s own body but of all bodies? Some clichés bear repeating: the elephant is bigger, the gorilla is stronger, the lion is swifter, the insect is more durable. Nor is it merely to the bodies of animals that the bodies of humans are inferior. Why focus on hands if I want to praise my bodily parts? Wouldn’t it be better to sing of Beethoven’s deaf ears? Of Einstein’s pickled brain? But hands are where obsession has pitched its tent. And we do not choose the obsessions that torment us as much as they choose us. Where else search for vanity if not in these hands that have served me so well? Joints thickening, bones turning brittle, fingernails jagged and untrimmed—does it matter as long as these hands are still recognizably mine? As if parsing Finnegan's Wake I probe each line in the quiescent flesh of palms in the water. An aged man is but a paltry thing, said Yeats. Paltry or not, I take pride in what I am dependent on, just as I did when I was a crutch-walking adolescent in the Bronx. I never cared about the mysteries of the flesh. What I wanted was to rejoice in the idea that life was sometimes no more than flesh against flesh, body against body, hand against hand. An extract from ‘Hands: A Story of Obsession’ by Leonard Kriegel Ring finger = Imagery Vocabulary In a memoir reflecting on themes of masculinity and loss, US author and essayist Leonard Kriegel uses a broad range of imagery to explore his hands as motifs for resilience in coming to terms with a body blighted by childhood polio. His vocabulary mixes the philosophical (‘consciousness’; ‘limitations’; ‘obsession’), colloquial (‘bathtub’; ‘checks out checkout counter beefcake’; ‘Wouldn’t it be’) and biblical (‘God made the worship of the body’). He contrasts animal imagery with the bodies of humans; uses biblical metaphors (‘hands are where obsession has pitched its tent’) as well as surgical (‘incision’) and literary (‘parsing’) similes; makes cultural and literary allusions (Beethoven, Einstein, James Joyce) and quotes from W. B. Yeats. Figurative Language metaphors, similes, paradox, etc. Contrasts Allusions Biblical, Historical or Literary

7 Dialogue or Quotations
They used a hard vocabulary to contain the terrible softness. Greased, they'd say. Offed, lit up, zapped while zipping. It wasn't cruelty, just stage presence. They were actors and the war came at them in 3-D. When someone died, it wasn't quite dying, because in a curious way it seemed scripted, and because they had their lines mostly memorized, irony mixed with tragedy, and because they called it by other names, as if to encyst and destroy the reality of death itself. They kicked corpses. They cut off thumbs. They talked grunt lingo. They told stories about Ted Lavender's supply of tranquilizers, how the poor guy didn't feel a thing, how incredibly tranquil he was. There's a moral here, said Mitchell Sanders. They were waiting for Lavender's chopper, smoking the dead man's dope. The moral's pretty obvious, Sanders said, and winked. Stay away from drugs. No joke, they'll ruin your day every time. Cute, said Henry Dobbins. Mind-blower, get it? Talk about wiggy. Nothing left, just blood and brains. They made themselves laugh. There it is, they'd say, over and over, as if the repetition itself were an act of poise, a balance between crazy and almost crazy, knowing without going. There it is, which meant be cool, let it ride, because oh yeah, man, you can't change what can't be changed, there it is, there it absolutely and positively and fucking well is. An extract from ‘The Things They Carried’ by Tim O’Brien Pinky = Sound Devices The first chapter of an eponymous Vietnam War novel, ‘The Things They Carried’ uses repetition as both structural feature, following the title’s implication by listing those very things soldiers had to carry in battle, as well as theme, relating to the nature of war trauma that repeats itself through a veteran’s life. O’Brien ‘carries’ this repetition over (‘as if the repetition itself were an act of poise, a balance between crazy and almost crazy’) into the very rhythm of his prose, alliterating (‘destroy the reality of death itself. They kicked corpses. They cut off thumbs’) and assonating (‘knowing without going’) almost to the point of rhyme (‘lines mostly memorized, irony mixed with tragedy’), with onomatopoeia even lending itself to black humoured puns (‘zapped while zipping’). Dialogue is unpunctuated to emphasise the effect of it flowing with the rhythm of the narration and lend itself to the overall effect of a surreal mood that the soldiers create in harmony with war’s madness as a coping mechanism. Repetition Alliteration, Assonance & Onomatopoeia Dialogue or Quotations Effect of punctuation on Tone / Mood

8 Palm = How each effect grabs you!
Always relate it back to the text’s larger purpose(s): Max Allen’s wine column uses its form, context and point of view to engage readers in taking the often pretentious language of wine critics more seriously The structure of Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Miss Brill’, from sentences and paragraphs up to the whole narrative, engages readers in the stream-of-consciousness realisation of a lonely woman’s pitiable self-deception Winston Churchill’s rhetorical means of persuasion are employed to arouse the patriotic courage of a nation at war Leonard Kreigel’s imagery is designed to grab both his reader’s empathy and intellect in his memoir about overcoming illness and disability The sound effects of Tim O’Brien’s prose reinforce his ideas about the traumas of combat that ordinary soldiers carried with them throughout, and beyond, the Vietnam War.


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