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Analyzing a Text Through Close Reading

Analyzing a text by “close reading” requires a three-part process of observing the text’s features, identifying patterns in those observations, and explaining the significance of the patterns you describe. Below is a brief passage of close reading from G. J. Israel’s essay “Are These Actual Dead?”, an analysis of James Joyce’s short story “The Dead”:

Gabriel’s party is informed and infused by death, an unspoken yet explicit ‘guest of honor.’ The dinner guests discuss the passing of the ‘dead and gone great ones,’ referring not only to the specific family members (Pat, Gabriel’s mother) whose presences still remain at the Morkan household, but the dying-out age of ‘old Ireland’ to which Gabriel clings (Joyce 160). The act of repeating the family members’ names—of calling them to mind—indicates of course that they are not in every sense dead. Indeed, in some ways, these dead have achieved a more impressive life, a continuing and continuous presence whose desires are fulfilled in reverberations long after the desirer has been buried.

Before Israel could draft this passage, he had to complete the first step of observing. In other words, he needed to notice moments of Joyce’s story that seemed curious, surprising or emphasized. He isolated the following passages, each of which refer to the “dead and gone great ones”:

For years and years [the Christmas party] had gone off in splendid style, as long as anyone could remember; ever since Kate and Julia, after the death of their brother Pat, had left the house in Stoney Batter and taken Mary Jane, their only niece, to live with them in the dark, gaunt house on Usher’s Island, the upper part of which they had rented from Mr. Fulham, the corn-factor on the ground floor. (160)

‘Those days might, without exaggeration, be called spacious days: and if they are gone beyond recall let us hope, at least, that in gatherings such as this we shall still speak of them with pride and affection, still cherish in our hearts the memory of those dead and gone great ones whose fame the world will not willingly let die.’ (160)

It was [Gabriel’s mother] who had chosen the name of her sons for she was very sensible of the dignity of family life. Thanks to her, Constantine was now senior curate in Balbrigan and, thanks to her, Gabriel himself had taken his degree in the Royal University.”

‘The late lamented Patrick Morkan, our grandfather, that is,’ explained Gabriel, ‘commonly known in his later years as the old gentleman, was a glue-boiler. (160)

Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. (160)

Noticing these many references to the “dead and gone great ones,” Israel moved to the second step of analysis—identifying a pattern of “repeating the family members’ names.” Finally, he developed an explanation of the significance of this pattern: that “calling them to mind” indicates that “they are not in every sense dead.”

When he presents his analytical findings to the reader, however, he doesn’t simply narrate each of the three steps in the sequence he performed them. Much of Joyce’s language has been discarded, for starters. Secondly, Israel’s passage actually begins with an assertion of significance, subsequently supported by specific instances of the textual pattern. Writers often present a close reading this way, first asserting significance in a claim or topic sentence, then elaborating by providing patterns. In Israel’s case, assertion and pattern identification are followed by further explanation of significance, ensuring his analysis is rigorous and clear:

  • “Gabriel’s party is informed and infused by death, an unspoken yet explicit ‘guest of honor.’assertion of significance The dinner guests discuss the passing of the ‘dead and gone great ones,’ referring not only to the specific family members (Pat, Gabriel’s mother) whose presences still remain at the Morkan household, but the dying-out age of ‘old Ireland’ to which Gabriel clings (Joyce 160).pattern identification The act of repeating the family members’ names—of calling them to mind—indicates of course that they are not in every sense dead. Indeed, in some ways, these dead have achieved a more impressive life, a continuing and continuous presence whose desires are fulfilled in reverberations long after the desirer has been buried.”explanation of significance

Works Cited

Israel, G. J. “Are These Actual Dead?i Magazine. 24 Feb. 2010. <http://blsciblogs.baruch.cuny.edu/imagazine/2010/02/16/are-these-actual-dead—by-gj-israel/>.

Joyce, James. Dubliners. New York: Prestwick House, Inc., 2006.

Topic: Fall 2009, Resources for Students Tags: None

One Response to “Analyzing a Text Through Close Reading”

  1. Are These Actual Dead? – By GJ Israel | i Magazine Says:

    [...] To read about how GJ Israel analyzes one of his main texts through close reading, click here. [...]

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