Handbook for Literary Analysis

Just the preface to this book will straighten out your thinking if you've ever seriously questioned why we should take the time to analyze the literature we read. Or why we should read literature at all, for that matter. The author, James Stobaugh, starts by defining the terms. Literary analysis is literary criticism, which is talking and writing about literature - any literature, at any age. We tend to think of "criticism" as negative comments - but that's not necessarily so. Literary criticism is intentional, however, and it is evaluative. The author believes that "at the heart of literary analysis is rhetoric (speaking and writing skills). At the heart of rhetoric is apologetics. If we teach literary analysis we are going a long way toward teaching apologetics." In order to talk about literature, we must know and be able to use a special language: protagonist, foil, internal conflict, character development, and setting, to name only a few terms. This book is a handbook about that language, the language that gives readers a way to evaluate and discuss a literary work. By the way, this book is a gold mine.

Divided into chapters, each covering a particular aspect of literary criticism, Book 1 covers allegory, characterization, narration, and plot while Book 2 covers theme, tone, and poetry. The chapters are extensive, some running more than 200 pgs, and follow a pattern. First background information is covered, and then terms are defined followed by a list of suggested literary works. The real heart of each chapter, though, is the examples that are given, commented on, and analyzed. These examples are from a wide-range of classic literature and are often accompanied by classic illustrations, many in full color. For instance, in Chapter 1 (allegory) examples are from the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Allegory of the Cave" in Plato's Republic, and I Corinthians 13 (Bible). In some of the more involved chapters (such as plot) element after element (such as rising action, climax, etc.) is drawn out, explained, and "exampled." Chapters conclude with student essays that not only illustrate the focal literary terms but also give a young student models for their own literary criticism writing. There are a number of helpful appendices: a glossary of literary terms, book list (categorized into younger/older), subject index, index of excerpted and suggested works, and biblical selections. I can think of a number of excellent uses for these two books including my reading through them as an enjoyable refresher course. Obviously, they could be used as a handbook complement to any high school literature course. They would be even more valuable, though, as a "setting the stage" introduction to literature for middle school or early high school. There is an extensive collection of excerpted literature included which would provide a nice foundation for students needing allusion material as well as an excellent complement to the author's Skills for Rhetoric course. Part 1 - 323 pgs, pb; Part 2 - 365 pgs. Pb. ~ Janice

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