Prose Review for AP English Literature (page 2)
What is Prose?
As you know, prose is the written equivalent of the spoken language. It is written in words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. It utilizes punctuation, grammar, and vocabulary to develop its message. Prose is made up of fiction and nonfiction. For the AP Lit exam, you are required to be well read in the areas of:
- Fiction, which includes:
- Short stories
- Nonfiction, which includes:
- Autobiographies and biographies
Note: A brief word about drama. Since this section is a review of prose designed to prepare you for the AP Lit exam, it is not feasible to address every literary distinction and definition. Therefore, we wish to stress the following:
- Specific terminology can be found in the glossary at the back of this book.
- All the techniques examined for prose can be used to analyze drama as well.
- The overlapping nature of the analytical skills makes them suitable for prose, poetry, and drama.
Consider your name. Did your folks have a specific reason for choosing it? Does it have a family significance or a special cultural meaning? What would you choose for your name and why? Remember, names and identity are closely linked.
Authors often choose names that bring another dimension to a character or place. A good reader is sensitive to the implications of names. Here are a few interesting names and observations about each:
- Oedipus—swollen foot, seeker of truth
- Billy Budd—simple, melodic, young growth, ready to bloom
- Jane Eyre—Janus/beginning, air, err, heir, ere, eerie, ire
- Helen Burns—fever, fervor, mythological inspiration
- Mr. Mason—the Masons are a secret fraternity; he holds the secret
- Stella—star, light
- Kurtz—short, curt
- Willy Loman—low man
Create your own listing of literary names and their interpretations and implications. (This could also include place names, etc.)
It's an Open-and-Closed Case
The first thing that catches your attention should be the title. By all means, consider it carefully. David Copperfield lets you know it will be a novel about character. As I Lay Dying involves plot and theme. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest involves you immediately in symbol, character, and theme.
Authors place special emphasis on the first and last impressions they make on a reader. Their opening and closing lines of chapters or scenes are, therefore, usually very significant and should be closely examined. (This is much like an establishing shot in a movie that sets up the audience for future developments.)
- Here's the opening line from Chapter 1 of Jane Eyre:
- There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
Here are some implications of this one line: no independence, locked in, no sense of curiosity, outside force preventing a journey, not ready to leave. Obviously, the character is not ready to experience the outside world or to embark on her journey.
- Contrast that with the last line of Chapter 1:
- Four hands were laid upon me and I was borne upstairs.
This line introduces a spiritual level to the novel. It also implies that a new Jane will emerge, and indeed she does.
- Take a look at one of the last lines of the novel:
- We wended our way into the wood.
This lovely, alliterative line completes the journey. Jane and Edward have come full circle as they stroll their way together.
In a Shakespearean play, often a couplet at the end of a scene or act will neatly summarize or foreshadow events. In Julius Caesar, for example:
- And after this, let Caesar seat him sure
- For we will shake him, or worse days endure ( Julius Caesar)
Levels of Interpretation
Complex works of literature afford many avenues of interpretation. After you read a work, consider the following areas of exploration. We use Ibsen's Hedda Gabler as a model.
- Literal level: A young woman is frustrated in her life and eventually commits suicide.
- Social level: Ibsen explores the role of women in society and presents the despair connected with a male-dominated existence.
- Psychological level: The play traces a descent into madness and the motivations for aberrant human behavior.
- Religious level: The loss of a soul to temptation, the encounter with the devil, and the inspiration of godliness are all in the play.
- Sexual level: Gender issues, the Electra complex, phallic symbols, abortion, and homosexuality are all developed and explored through numerous love triangles.
- Political level: The play could be read as a treatise on socialism. It denigrates capitalism and pays homage to the ideas of Marx's Communist Manifesto.
- Obviously, you need to supply the evidence from the works to develop your interpretations in a concrete manner.
Obviously, you need to supply the evidence from the works to develop your interpretations in a concrete manner.
One of the most rewarding forms of preparation you can do involves developing a sensitivity to the words of a piece of literature.
Get a journal or set aside a section of your notebook for recording lines you respond to for their beauty, appeal, meaning, or relevance. For each work you read:
- Enter the lines.
- Identify the speaker and situation.
- Interpret, connect, comment, or reflect on your choice.
- Free-associate as well as relate the quotation to the original text.
- Make connections to other works you read.
- Project and expand on the lines
For each full-length work, record at least ten references. Write these quotations out and include the page numbers so you can easily find them if you need to. Try to take them from throughout the work. Here is what is going to happen. Soon, you will automatically identify and respond to significant lines and passages. It will become second nature for you to identify lines of import and meaning in a work as you read. You will also begin to remember lines from a work and to connect them to important details, episodes, and themes. You will be able to understand and analyze a character in light of his or her own language. In other words, you will be interpreting literature based on text.
- Every narrative is composed of plot, setting, character, theme, and point of view.
- Motifs develop characters and themes.
- Themes require specifi c illustrations to support them.
- There are many types of characters and heroes.
- There are many forms of narration.
- Novels may exhibit many characteristics.
- Meaning may be revealed via multiple approaches.
- Parables and allegories operate on symbolic levels. Connotations of words reveal the subtext of a work.
- Tone is a description of the attitude found in a piece of literature.
- Transitions aid movement and unity in a written work.
- Titles and names are important areas for analysis.
- First and last lines often carry great meaning in a work and demand careful attention.
- Works may be interpreted literally, socially, psychologically, sexually, politically, and so on.
- Quotations from works are an accurate way of understanding meaning and characterization. They also provide support for your interpretations.
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