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Narrative vs analysis

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When discussing a literary text, it is easy to get sidetracked into describing what happens in the text rather than analysing the text. That is, you might give an accurate summary of the characters and what happens in the text, instead of providing, for example, an explanation of the theme and how the various elements in the story contribute to making the theme more evident.

If you simply tell the reader of your essay what happens in the text, you have not helped them to understand the text better because the reader can easily have read the text him or herself. Analysis, on the other hand, provides the reader with some insight into the events of the text:

  • What are the ideas that lie at the centre of the text?
  • How are these ideas presented in the text (e.g. through metaphor and symbolism, through dialogue, through supernatural events, etc.)?

1. Read the following extract from a student' s essay on the novel, Jane Eyre:

[1] "I must be provided for by a wealthy marriage" (p. 343). [2] These were the circumstances surrounding a young Edward Rochester's marriage to Bertha Mason. Rochester's father had given all of his money to his older son Rowland, leaving Edward penniless, so he had to marry wealth. [3] The Masons were acquaintances of the family, so where better to find a match than with a wealthy family in the West Indies who were willing to give Edward 30,000 pounds for marrying their daughter Bertha. [4] Rochester knew nothing of the money "My father told me nothing about her money; but he told me Miss Mason was the boast of Spanish Town for her beauty; and this was no lie. I found her a fine woman. . . tall, dark and majestic" (p. 343). [5] When they married, Rochester and Bertha had barely spoken, they had simply appearances to go by and for Edward this was all he needed. [6] The Rochester narrative in the novel paints him as a naive young man doing what his father told him was best. [7] It could almost be said that he was tricked into the marriage.

Which sentences provide a description of the text and which make an evaluation or analysis of the characters and events of the text? Select them from the list below below.

Description:

Evaluation/Analysis:

Check your answers

1. Feedback

Sentences 1-5 provide a description of the central points Rochester makes in his narrative of how he came to marry Bertha. In sentences 6- 7 the student makes a preliminary evaluation of how Rochester presents himself in his explanation.

The student could cut down on the descriptive part - to one or two lines perhaps - and then begin his analysis with sentences 6 - 7, taking his argument further. For example, what does the fact that Rochester paints himself as naive tell us about him? What does his account of events tell us about his attitude to marriage, to family, to money, and so on? What elements in other parts of the novel support his representation that what he did was for the best?


2. Now read the following passage from another student's essay on the novels, Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea

Rochester is the dominant masculine subject in both Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre. In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette and Rochester's loveless wedlock is representative of many marriages during the mid 19 th century. Rochester's motives seem suspiciously mercenary, as his marriage to Antoinette (a prosperous Creole heiress) inevitably makes him incredibly rich according to customary English law. Christophine realizes Rochester's underlying ambitions: "Everyone knows that you marry her for her money and you take it all" (p. 98). Their wedding, as described in Rochester's narrative during Part Two, seems superficial: as Rochester remembers, "It meant nothing to me. Nor did she, the girl I was to marry" (p. 46). Rochester vividly remembers the touch of his bride's hand: "cold as ice in the hot sun" (p. 47). Although Antoinette is "afraid of what may happen" (p. 48), she nevertheless marries him, as the necessity of securing a husband overwhelms her. On the other hand, the autonomous Jane is able to reject a prospective husband, St. John, by audaciously telling him, "I scorn your idea of love" (p. 408). Jane is able to marry for love, not out of necessity. Antoinette's thoughts on marriage represent the norm for many women living in 19 th century society. Unlike Jane's experiences in Jane Eyre, the security of marriage was the ultimate gain in a woman's life during that patriarchal era.

Can you identify phrases that indicate an analysis of the events in the novel? Select them from the list below below:

"...dominant masculine subject..."

"...loveless marriage is representative..."

"...motives seem suspiciously mercenary..."

"...inevitably makes him incredibly rich..."

"Their wedding... seems superficial..."

"...necessity of securing a husband overwhelms..."

"...able to reject a prospective husband..."

"...thoughts on marriage represent the norm..."

"...security of marriage was the ultimate gain..."

Check your answers

Feedback

The phrases that indicate an analysis of the events in the novel are highlighted below. Compare them with your response.

[1] Rochester is the dominant masculine subject in both Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre. [2] In Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette and Rochester's loveless wedlock is representative of many marriages during the mid 19 th century. [3] Rochester's motives seem suspiciously mercenary, as his marriage to Antoinette (a prosperous Creole heiress) inevitably makes him incredibly rich according to customary English law. [4] Christophine realizes Rochester's underlying ambitions: "Everyone knows that you marry her for her money and you take it all" (p. 98). [5] Their wedding, as described in Rochester's narrative during Part Two, seems superficial: as Rochester remembers, "It meant nothing to me. Nor did she, the girl I was to marry" (p. 46). [6] Rochester vividly remembers the touch of his bride's hand: "cold as ice in the hot sun" (p. 47). [7] Although Antoinette is "afraid of what may happen" (p. 48), she nevertheless marries him, as the necessity of securing a husband overwhelms her. [8] On the other hand, the autonomous Jane is able to reject a prospective husband, St. John, by audaciously telling him, "I scorn your idea of love" (p. 408). [9] Jane is able to marry for love, not out of necessity. Antoinette's thoughts on marriage represent the norm for many women living in 19 th century society. [10] Unlike Jane's experiences in Jane Eyre , the security of marriage was the ultimate gain in a woman's life during that patriarchal era.

Notice that this passage does not provide a full account of the story; description of the text is limited to specific incidents and dialogue from the text that support the evaluation made.

For example, the evaluation in sentence 3 is supported by elements from the text:

evaluation Rochester's motives seem suspiciously mercenary (Sentence 3)
support as his marriage to Antoinette (a prosperous Creole heiress) inevitably makes him incredibly rich according to customary English law. a fact of the plot

(Sentence 3).
Christophine realizes Rochester's underlying ambitions: "Everyone knows that you marry her for her money and you take it all" (p. 98). quote from a character

(Sentence 4).

Similarly, the evaluation in Sentence 5 is supported by the following elements from the text:

evaluation Their wedding ... seems superficial (Sentence 5)
support as Rochester remembers, "It meant nothing to me. Nor did she, the girl I was to marry" (p. 46). quote from Rochester

(Sentence 5).
Rochester vividly remembers the touch of his bride's hand: "cold as ice in the hot sun" (p. 47) quote from Rochester, using metaphor

(Sentence 6).
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