In our emails and comments, the most common question at the moment is “how do I stop narrating the text in my essays?” Lots of people get told by their teachers that they are simply recounting the story rather than analyzing, and this can really knock your confidence. In reality, everyone has narrated a text at some point in their writing. It certainly doesn’t mean that you don’t have informed and critical understanding.
Analysis is all about digging underneath a word, phrase or structure. Imagine a box labelled “buttons.” Anyone can look at it and know that there are buttons inside. They won’t know what sort of buttons, or what size, or what colour unless they open the lid. Analysing a text is like lifting a lid on it.
Here’s an example:
“The first hapless victims of my unhallowed arts” – Frankenstein, Volume 1
Narrating the text is to tell us something that we can already decipher by having read the book. Eg. Shelley uses the word “victims” as William and Justine die because of Victor’s work. She uses “first” because Clerval and Elizabeth will also die.
Technically, this is correct, but it isn’t telling us about the purpose of Shelley’s writing. To get underneath a quote, you have to remember that the person marking your essay already knows what will happen to the characters. They want to know why you think we should take notice. So:
To exemplify the danger of Victor’s endeavours, Shelley likens Justine and William to “hapless victims”, suggesting they are paragons of innocence that are tainted by his evil. The choice of the word “unhallowed” emphasises the occult associations of his work, warning us that transgressing nature leads to destruction. Knowing that the two are only the “first” victims, the reader is left to speculate about how the story will escalate. Shelley encourages us to invest ourselves in the text by purposefully withholding information.
I hope this helps. As you can tell by my box analogy, explaining things concisely is not my skill. If you have any questions, you can drop an email and I’m happy to talk one-on-one.