Enhancing literary analysis – asking “why?”

This method is intended for use in VCE English (text response, comparative, and could also help when it comes to language analysis) and VCE Literature essays – but isn’t limited to that! Learning to analyse texts is a vastly important life-skill. 

A struggle many students share is actually analysing their text. Here I provide some suggestions to help you focus, broaden your thinking and allow you to go deeper in your exploration of what the text is saying. Don’t worry if it’s difficult at first; analysis always becomes easier with practice. 

First step: pick out an area of interest from the text.

This could be a scene, a character, a “theme” (although we won’t be using this word in an essay!), a narrative or literary device. Basically, anything that you think has some deeper meaning worth exploring, even if you aren’t quite sure what it is yet.

Second step: elaboration on chosen area.

Brainstorm anything and everything to do with the element you pick. This could be ideas you associate with it, quotes, examples from the text; anything of relevance. Leave self-criticism aside – aim to set down as much as you possibly can!

Third step: use a focused question to draw out your own thoughts.

This question can be varied, but must contain a “why”, “what” or “how”.

For example: “Why is this character important?”; “What is the character’s significance?”; “Why does this scene stand out?”; “How is this theme shown?”; “What does this narrative device accomplish?” 

Instead of simply describing your text, questions such as these allow you to engage more deeply with the core ideas. Write out a few sentences answering questions, perhaps making use of some textual examples.

Exploration of All About Eve as an example

Area of interest: symbolism of Eve’s dress

Elaboration:  mindmap


Focused questions: What does the dress represent? How is the dress reflective of the main themes in All About Eve?

As we see Eve entering her apartment in the final scene, the sleeve of her dress is slipping, referencing the powerful symbolism of the “dress” – representative of all that is femininity in the theatre world. Thus, Eve’s disguise of perfection is falling away from her, reinforcing the heavy cost of stardom for women. In fact, we are shown that women are always tainted by association with power, as the dress transcends the woman, or the ideal of femininity outlasts she who aspires to it.

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