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Reading and Notating the Prose Passage for AP English Literature

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

Depending on your style and comfort level, choose one of these approaches to your reading:

  1.  
    1. Read quickly to get the gist of the passage.
    2. Reread, using the visual and marginal notes approach.
  2.  
    1. Read slowly, using highlighting and making marginal notes.
    2. Reread to confirm that you understand the full impact of the passage.

Note: In both approaches, you must highlight and make marginal notes. There is no way to avoid this. Ignore what you don't immediately understand. It may become clear to you after you finish reading the passage. Practice. Practice. Concentrate on those parts of the passage that apply to what you highlighted in the prompt.

There are many ways to read and interpret any given passage. You have to choose which one to use and which specifics to include for support. Don't be rattled if there is leftover material.

We've reproduced the passage for you below so that you can practice both the reading and the process of deconstructing the text. Use highlighting, arrows, circles, underlining, notes, numbers, and whatever you need to make the connections clear to you.

Do this now. Spend between 8–10 minutes working the material. Do not skip this step. It is time well spent and is a key to the high-score essay.

The Dead

She was fast asleep.

Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death.

Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper fallen down: the fellow of it lay upon the side. He wondered at his riot of emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt's supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the merry-making when saying good-night in the hall, the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in the same drawing-room dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very soon.

Now, compare your reading notes with what we've done below. Yours may vary from ours, but the results of your note-taking should be similar in scope.

Reading and Notating the Prose Passage

After you have marked the passage, review the prompt. You are asked to look for ways Joyce reveals Gabriel's character. When you consult your notes, certain categories will begin to pop out at you. These can be the basis for the development of the body of your essay. For example, we saw details and images that support the concepts of:

  • Death
  • Time
  • Insecurity
  • Passivity
  • Detachment

In addition, stylistically, we noticed the use of short sentences.

Here's how one category developed using the notations made on the passage. Notice that we have ignored notes that did not apply to the prompt.

Reading and Notating the Prose Passage

Your Turn

Now you choose a concept you are able to explore and defend that reveals Gabriel's character.

Reading and Notating the Prose Passage

In response to the prompt, we have decided that the techniques/devices we will analyze are:

  • Imagery
  • Style
  • Diction
  • Motif

Here's one technique/device and how it is developed in the passage. Again, notice that we use our margin notes to trace this development.

Reading and Notating the Prose Passage

Your Turn

Now you choose the technique/device you are able to explore and defend that reveals Gabriel's character.

Reading and Notating the Prose Passage

If you expand the above techniques/devices and categories into interpretive statements and support those statements with appropriate details that you've already isolated, you will be writing a detailed essay.

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