Analyzing Literature

High school and college English classes will require you to perform a close reading of an essay, short story, an excerpt from a biography, and so forth.  They may even ask you to account in your essay for the persuasive strategies used by the author, rhetorical tools like ethics (ethos), emotional appeals (pathos), and reasoned or argumentative appeals (logos).  For a review of each one, see this page.  Some assignments will look like this: 

First, describe at three rhetorical strategies of the essay–tone, appeals, word choice/description (gawd, that is vague).

Second, in light of these strategies, address how Mairs approaches her audience.

Third, identify the goal she sets for herself (i.e., her purpose) and evaluate how successful she is in achieving it in relation to her strategies.

The purpose of this assignment is to practice a close rhetorical reading. Rather than focus on what the essay says (on interpreting its content or meaning), concentrate on how it gets the point across and how effective are its strategies. Watch out that you do not wind up exploring your sentiments vis-a-vis the disabled.  

Do not take a stand regarding either disability issues or politically correct attitudes. Finally, do not simply summarize the essay. Focus on providing examples from the text that show the reader how Mairs is getting her points across and why they work or don’t for you. Lastly, remember that your work must be original. Please do not rely on the internet to complete the assignment for you.

The above assignment asks the reader/student to perform a close reading on Nancy Mairs’ 1986 essay “On Being a Cripple.”

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