english literature homework help

english literature homework help

Exploring Themes and Techniques in English Literature: A Comprehensive Guide

1. Introduction to English Literature

As a global culture, we are surrounded by material determined more by commercial possibilities than by ambitious aspirations or goals which could enhance life for anyone who practices or experiences them. Analysis of major themes in literature is particularly enlightening when the range of cultures and time periods from which we have literary examples is not only limited but also limiting. Only consider the very regular usage of the phrase ‘one dead girl’ to describe a specific ominous plot development. The repeated use of the theme evokes an apparently deep connection to something which is often not clearly resolved by its own mere existence. The analysis of meaning is manufactured merely by repetition.

Since common themes arise from commonly shared human experiences and traumas, ‘great’ literature can explore those themes more widely, deeply, and thoroughly than background reading or less ambitious accompanying literature. Classic works invite reevaluation of such themes: they encourage analysis of the situations and causative conditions into which historic transformation of the educational and cultural functionality of literature has increasingly brought them.

It is to the study of certain timeless aspects of literature that attention is directed in this book: to major themes and to a useful cross section of formal devices, characteristic of English literature in the sense of literature produced in the English language.

In recent years, the methods of examining and assessing the literature of our language have diversified and developed. Attention has widened to include popular culture, popular fiction, non-fictional prose. The tools and methods of the literary historian, social historian, and anthropologist have been adapted and adopted by the literary critic. Awareness has grown of the functions and forms of literature in nations and cultures beyond the Anglo-American center. These changes are of course reflected in the changing body of literary scholarship. Such fashions need not concern us here.

Exploring themes and techniques in English literature: A comprehensive guide is intended as an introduction to many of the devices and techniques used in studying English literature, both at high school and college levels. It is hoped that both teachers and students will find the book valuable.

2. Key Themes in English Literature

Science versus religion, the role of women in society, the meaning of art, security in marriage—the same themes come up time and again in works written hundreds of years apart. How and why does literature continually explore some of the same problems, questions, and preoccupations in different times and in such different cultures? This website focuses on how writers use one technique, characterization, to address particular themes in their stories, and it offers a way to make connections between generations and between cultures. The connection between theme and characterization is, of course, just one way to foster meaning that emerges from literature. The project is to guide you through the process of examining and appreciating literature in such a way that meaning can be discovered—rather than just read, in the passive sense of the word.

Themes—common ideas, subjects, and concepts—are often connecting threads in groups of literature. Victorian fiction often deals with the effects of rapid social change and the growing worker class. One of the overriding themes of the early twentieth-century novel could be the effects of dislocation brought on by rapid change, and the responsibility of the individual in an increasingly impersonal society. The theme is important when discussing literature because authors are often influenced by the times and places in which they live, and themes are often reflections of the way people feel about those times and places.

3. Literary Techniques and Devices

Step 1: Examine Style. The style of a particular writer refers to the ways in which literary works are written. It is what separates Joseph Conrad, for example, from Charles Dickens. Try to gain an understanding of the kind of language and diction the writer employs. Determine if the writer uses a formal or informal style and then inquire how he or she selects specific words and phrases; how sentence structures are arranged. All of these carefully chosen variations in the use of language will inevitably influence what themes the particular writer will explore. A closely observed style suggests the writer’s disposition based upon personal experiences, observations, and judgments. As an extension, style helps the reader understand themes on a more intimate level. After observing specific aspects of style, it will be easier to discover the attitudes, beliefs, and values of the author using both explicit and implicit textual clues. By analyzing the writer’s particular style, the manner in which the writer’s world is expressed is revealed. The result is that the reader can operate on more than just one level and can interpret the points of view and beliefs that underlie the writing.

In the study of English literature, techniques have a particular significance. Skills of literary analysis are contracted through the appreciation of the different kinds of images and symbols employed by authors as well as the stylistic effects achieved by their use. This study will enable students to explain on one level how these effects are achieved and on a deeper, symbolic level, to express the meanings and interpretations the imagery suggests.

4. Analysis of Selected Works

We’ve been cheering Henry Lawson for his poetic inspiration, but what about his technique? Setting aside that use of present tense and comparisons with an open grave or a grave slab just taken from above the body buried there, aren’t quite as remarkable. How about this: “The loaded-out American flag is taken from the coffin, carefully; folded in the regulation manner roughly, and handed to the dead man’s son.” Logically, this is preposterous. The second and third dimensions exist only in the three vertical restraints. Because the corpse is not there to, as it were, get in the way, any activity requiring two hands could be carried out with the body immediately behind the coffin, or out of sight at the foot. But, even though we know the situation makes this necessary, the mind cannot stretch to the required superhuman dedication to duty. The picture is not presented in the conscious mind, but in the subconscious, drawing its power from the source of the emotional and mental state the situation so richly creates. We are not reminded to pity the state of emergency replacing emotion with logic. The method works by taking us to the representation directly. Succeed or fail, that is given up to each individual.

The importance of having some familiarity with the main works dealt with in literary techniques lies in the chance it gives us to see how themes and techniques can be described. You’ll find it under themes. You’ll find that many of the themes you will encounter in your reading of whatever comes your way will, in fact, tie in with one or more of those identified here. Even more interestingly, you may find others that do not fall within the categories, and even some that seem to contradict what you’d expect. This does not invalidate our assumptions here: it throws a new light on them. Being able to recognize themes and techniques is important, but not as important as being constantly open to new ones, new approaches to what you read.

5. Conclusion and Further Study

The chapters have been created on a level for enjoyment, with the inclusion of various works of literature in dialect and poetry directly in the text. It is inevitable that some sections of the chapters have been considered by others to be shallow and could be dismissed as being bland or even too simplistic in debates of English literature when aiming to progress creatively onto further stages of studying either English or literature and its accompanying sub-genres and facets amongst, across, inside, and out of its range. These, however, are teething problems found in the literature of English at undergraduate slump and as such are not my priority.

I hope that this online guide has effectively expanded and explained some fundamental themes in English literature, and that it has outlined a number of techniques helpful to better understand English literature. It is not intended as an exhaustive list either of themes or of techniques, but rather as a starting point to help students both of English and students of other disciplines, including Media Studies, Linguistics, Cultural Studies and Politics, to approach texts in a more disciplined way, and to appreciate their richness. Indeed, the very wealth of literature, as is widely recognized, makes it impossible to cover every area in just one book, of any length, scope, or verbose quality. Nevertheless, my intention is that the reader will be able to glean a certain depth of knowledge within the chapters, both for their Mr. Collins-secondary and undergraduate studies in English as well as begun their tentative progression as a postgraduate in, for example, English literature, with a guiding hand in language, culture, and society.

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