When you analyse a text, remember to invite the ‘responders’

Mathew Teakle on 18 July, 2020

“He felt pity come and then go like looking into a house window from a moving train on a darkened night.”

The ‘pity’ is described in terms of ephemerality, it ‘comes’ and then ‘goes’ so quickly, but the simile suggests that a passing association with this experience invites more inspection. The reader is thus drawn into an association with familiar emotions of a voyeur. The experience of seeing a lighted window on a house from a moving train creates emotions of intense speculation and intrigue. You want to see inside, you think about the house, its dimensions, its inhabitants and its story. It’s a passing narrative, too brief to engage with properly and it leaves a resonant emotion of wanting more, but then it is just as quickly gone. The effect of this simile is to make pity into something that passes in this way and this primes the reader for greater emotional impact when the character finally takes the enemy soldier’s life.

Notice how this analysis includes talk of the impact on the reader? Invite the reader into your analysis, make the analysis about them. After all, the reader is the reason the text exists and certainly the reason the techniques exist. Composers aim for the head (logos) and the heart (pathos); the techniques are about experiencing emotions and thoughts that ultimately shape perspective. So don’t just identify a technique and move on. Bring the effect into play by talking about the emotional and intellectual experience of the reader because of the technique(s). Use the word audience for a play; viewer for a film or show and (duh) reader for a book or poem. Some teachers approve of ‘responder’ as a means to capture all of these in one neat ‘n’ handy word. Make sure you ask your teacher if ‘responder’ is okay for use in your internal assessment tasks.