Continuing with the simplistic text, Charlotte’s Web, let’s now increase the complexity of analysis. First let’s take another look at word choice and the spacial scope of those words. The text goes from “morning” “light” “sky” to “trees” “sparrows” “cows” and eventually to “Wilbur awoke and looked for Charlotte.” That word choice is for focus. Beginning with “light and “sky” then slowly focusing on the subject, “Wilbur.”
“Next morning when the first light came into the sky and the sparrows stirred in the trees, when the cows rattle their chains and the rooster crowed and the early automobiles went whispering along the road, Wilbur awoke and looked for Charlotte.”
-From Charlotte’s Web. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright 1952 by E.B. White; renewed 1980 by E.B. White.
Imagine the opening scene of a film that starts broad and wide then slowly focuses on the main character. Check out the opening scene of the movie “Limitless” on YouTube to help the students further understand the effect.
“Limitless” link: https://youtu.be/26T5qF1lc9M
Also, the structure of the sentence serves to convey the same meaning and effect. The sentence is inverted so that the subject, “Wilbur,” comes at the end of the sentence. This inversion furthers the focus effect bringing Wilbur and Charlotte to the forefront of the busy context. Also, the sentence is long and involved creating that peaceful mood further.
Now compare that to Richard Wright’s Native Son:
“It seemed to Bigger that no sooner had he closed his eyes than he was wide awake again, suddenly and violently, as though someone had grabbed his shoulders and had shaken him. He lay on his back, in bed, hearing and seeing nothing. Then, like an electric switch being clicked on, he was aware that the room was filled with pale daylight. Somewhere deepin him a thought formed: It’s morning. Sunday morning.”
-From Native Son by Richard Wright. Copyright 1940. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005.
The spacial word choice begins with “bigger” and moves out to “morning.” The effect is as if reality is hitting him as opposed to Wilbur who is much more in control of his reality. Also, look at the abruptness in syntax: “It’s morning. Sunday Morning.” The short abrupt incomplete sentence length is opposite Charlotte’s Web and the effect is such. Awakening for Bigger is sudden and abrupt vs slow and peaceful. Again, analyzing the texts side by side will help students understand the effect. It will move them from “sight-seeing” to analysis. Furthering the two effects, compare “whispering” to “violently” and “stirred” to “suddenly.” The word choice creates the opposite effects in the two texts, again the side by side contrast can help the students understand effect.
We should now take a further look at the Native Son and the strategies that stand alone to create the dark mood/tone. Students will be able to identify the metaphor “unable to rise to the land of the living,” but typically they’ll fail to identify the dark irony behind it. Knowing he has just murdered Mary that metaphoric choice serves to highlight the detached reality in Bigger. It is a dreamlike detachment further conveyed to the consistent fantastical connections with his “mind forming no images” and “wand casting a spell” and “foreboding call.” This language furthers the characters detached reality. Reality is hitting him. A sudden realization of what he’s done blindsides him.
After a full analysis and comparison of both texts students are now ready to write about both texts. They can develop their thinking in writing about the effects of the techniques and how that effect helps to create a specific meaning. Next I will discuss the common mistakes students make in the analysis so teachers can address those mistakes accordingly.
By: Tyler Ham (AP English Language and Composition teacher, National Board Certified Teacher, national consultant, and exam Reader from Spokane, WA)