Doyle Online Writing Lab

Close Readings of Passages

Edgar Roberts provides the following useful questions for close readings of passages based on their location in a narrative. You might want to pick one passage and apply this strategy:

  • For an Early Passage: Does the passages occur early in the work? If it does, you may reasonably expect that the author is using the passage to set things in motion. Thus you should try to determine how ideas, themes, characterizations, and arguments that you find in the passage are related to these matters as they appear later in the work. You may assume that everything in the passage is there for a purpose. Try to find that purpose.
  • For a Later, Midpoint Passage: Does the passage come later in the work, at a time that you might characterize as a "pivot" or "turning point"? In such a passage a character's fortunes take either an expected or unexpected turn. If the change is expected, you should explain how the passage focuses the various themes or ideas and then propels them toward the climax. If the change is unexpected, however, it is necessary to show how the contrast is made in the passage. It may be that the work is one that features surprises, and that the passage thus is read one way at first but on second reading may be seen to have a double meaning. Or it may be that the speaker has had one set of assumptions while the readers have had others, and that the passage marks a point of increasing self-awareness on the part of the speaker. Many of the part of works are not what they seem at first reading, and it is your task here to determine how the passage is affected by events at or near the end of the work.
  • For a Concluding Passage:If the passage occurs at or near the end of the work, you may assume that it is designed to solve problems or to be a focal point or climax for all the situations and ideas that have been building up in the work. You may need to show how the passage brings together all themes, ideas, and details. What is happening? Is any action described in the passage a major action, or a step leading to the major action? Has everything in the passage been prepared for earlier in the work?


Edgar Roberts. Writing Themes About Literature, 5th ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1983: 187-88.