Your teen needs to be able to analyze the books, plays or short stories she’s assigned in class in order to write good essays. And this means picking out the juicy, often trickier stuff.
Analytical essay prompts ask her to make connections between texts, discuss the deeper meaning of character actions, analyze use of literary devices and more. So when she reads a text, she should be looking to note (or annotate) things that help do that. Some things to annotate:
- Events that signal a big change in the text. Big conflict, an event that impacts characters deeply, climax of the action, etc. Example is when white attorney Atticus Finch decides to defend African-American field hand Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird’s 1930s Alabama. The decision ends up sending powerful ripples through the lives of his family and the lives of the people of Maycomb.
- Key conflicts the protagonist experiences and things that reveal something about his personality or inner thoughts and desires. Example is how the trick O’Brien plays on Jorgensen reveals O’Brien’s deep feelings of terror and displacement from being involved in the Vietnam War.
- Passages or dialogue that reveal a significant change in a character, point to some bigger idea or question that the author is pointing to. Example is when Jim scolds Huck for tricking and scaring him in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This speech shows a shocking shift in Jim and the pair’s dynamic. It also points to Twain’s discussion of the moral and social dilemma that slavery brings.
- Quotes or events that reveal something about what theme or message the author is trying to convey. Example is “Four legs good, two legs bad” in Animal Farm. This quote is abused in various ways as one of Orwell’s example of how language can be used to manipulate and control people.
- Evidence of predictions of events as well as patterns in words, phrases, events, etc. Example is the foreshadowing that pops up in Macbeth – the witches’ prophesies, the battle in Act I and Duncan’s murder. Another is the use of weather – storms, thunder and lightning – as a motif to herald something evil or tragic.
- Instances of literary devices like symbolism, allusion, metaphors, tone, etc. Examples are the sardonic tone struck in The Importance of Being Earnest to help take shots at aristocratic hypocrisy and the stockings in Death of a Salesman that represent Willy’s inability to be truthful.
- If something a character says or thinks seems to be unrelated to the actual events happening right then, this might mean it is something that offers some juicy insight on a bigger idea. She could examine it closer or put a question mark next to it to discuss further. Example is when Sammy quits his job in Updike’s short story “A&P.” On the surface, this decision seems confusing given the events before it, but upon closer examination one understands he has done it to gain recognition and a sense of independence.
- Themes of the book (her teacher should be doing this as she reads the book). She should be keeping her eye out for the things that are evidence for the existence of those themes (side note: the back cover and reviews can sometimes help identify themes). Examples are the whole series of radical choices both Romeo and Juliet make to be together, despite the consequences, which serve as as evidence for the theme of the transformative power of love in the play.