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What Is Close Reading?

Close reading involves a careful examination of the text.
Close reading is a critical method often used to evaluate a small part of a larger literary work.
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  • Written By: Pablo Garcia
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Close reading describes a method for evaluating and writing a critical analysis of fiction and poetry. It is generally employed in interpreting a shorter part of a larger work or a particular passage of a longer poem. The analysis is written in essay form and addresses the construction of the work, including such matters as its content, theme, texture and use of literary devices.

When doing a close reading, it is important for the essayist to carefully examine the text and look for certain features, noting or annotating what she finds. The first consideration is describing the content of the work and what it is really about. This involves a brief explanation of the characters and setting of the work. The passage reviewed should be set in the context of the larger story.

Every writer will have a distinctive voice and style, her own approach to words and their arrangement. Many literary devices such as alliteration, symbolism, and metaphor are used in both poetry and prose. It is important for someone doing a close reading to identify the writing style and how it conforms to what the writer is trying to convey. The voice and style of the writing affect its tone, and the way it makes the reader feel about it.

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Assessing and identifying the theme of the work is a critical aspect of a close reading. The theme can be related to almost any subject. It could about love, isolation, the meaning of courage or honor. Discovering whether the theme in the passage is consistent with the work as whole or is one that appears in other works of the writer can add a sense of context to the essay. It may be possible to demonstrate how a particular theme habitually appears in the writer’s work.

Determining the real meaning of a word or phrase can sometimes be a part of a close reading. This is particularly true of poetry, which uses compression of language and imaginative word choices and sentence structures to achieve its effects. Metaphors and symbols may have greater meaning than they first appear to have. This is true of prose as well. An object or a place, even a certain book on table may have great symbolic significance for the story.

A close reading may also help relate the work to other works. A passage from a book or a work of poetry can be also be explained by its relation to other works. Where a book “belongs” helps identity its message as well as the type of literature it is. It may be that a passage is reflective of a long line of work dealing with the theme of redemption for instance. The passage under scrutiny may also approach the topic from a new perspective that adds to the body of existing literature.

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