Close Reading of a Short Story


10% of Final Grade
3-4 Revised Pages


Select a short story that we have read and discussed in class. Write three to four pages that analyze and interpret the story, paying attention to

relevant components, such as characterization, images, metaphors, descriptive phrases, etc. Your ideas should be organized and reflected in a thesis

statement, and supported with evidence throughout your essay.

Make no use of outside research, and refer to Charters’ The Story and Its Writer, “Reading Short Stories” and “Writing About Short Stories” for

additional guidance.

Below, you will find step-by-step guidance that should mirror our in-class discussion process and out-of-class reading.

To do a close reading, you choose a specific passage, or series of passages, or recurring elements, and analyze it/them in fine detail, as if with a

magnifying glass. You then comment on points of style and on your reactions as a reader. Close reading is important because it is the building block for

larger analysis. Your thoughts evolve not from someone else’s truth about the reading, but from your own observations. The more closely you can observe,

the more original and exact your ideas will be. To begin your close reading, ask yourself several specific questions about the passage. The following

questions are not a formula, but a starting point for your own thoughts. When you arrive at some answers, you are ready to organize and write.

First Impressions:
What is the first thing you notice about the passage?
What is the second thing?
Do the two things you noticed complement each other? Or contradict each other?
What mood does the passage create in you? Why?

Vocabulary and Diction:
Which words do you notice first? Why? What is noteworthy about this diction?
How do the important words relate to one another?
Do any words seem oddly used to you? Why?
Do any words have double meanings? Do they have extra connotations?
Look up any unfamiliar words.

Discerning Patterns:
Does an image here remind you of an image elsewhere? Where? What’s the connection?
How might this image fit into the pattern of the piece as a whole?
Could a passage serve as a microcosm—a little picture—of what’s taking place in the whole work?
What is the sentence rhythm like? Short and choppy? Long and flowing? Does it build on itself or stay at an even pace?
Look at the punctuation. Is there anything unusual about it?
Is there any repetition within the passage? What is the effect of that repetition?
How many types of writing are in the passage? (For example, narration, description, argument, dialogue, rhymed or

alliterative poetry, etc.)
Can you identify paradoxes [a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true] in the author’s

thought or subject?
What is left out or kept silent? What would you expect the author to talk about that the author avoided?
Point of View and Characterization:
How does the passage make us react or think about any characters or events within the narrative?
Are there colors, sounds, physical descriptions that appeal to the senses? Does this imagery form a pattern? Why might the

author have chosen that color, sound or physical description?
Who speaks in the passage? To whom does he or she speak? Does the narrator have a limited or partial point of view? Or

does the narrator appear to be omniscient, and he knows things the characters couldn’t possibly know (for

example, future historical events, events taking place “off stage,” the thoughts and feelings of multiple characters,

and so on).
Are there metaphors? What kinds?
Is there one controlling metaphor? If not, how many different metaphors are there, and in what order do they occur? How

might that be significant?
How might objects represent something else?
Do any of the objects, colors, animals, or plants appearing in the passage have traditional connotations or meaning?

What about religious significance?