“Literature is the art of writing
something that will be read twice;
journalism what will be grasped at
Reading literature involves looking beyond the surface—the
basic plot—to the ideas lying underneath. The main ideas in
literature, unlike journalism, are hidden—or, at least, less
• WRITE in your book! Take notes, underline,
highlight, fold over the edges! Use post-it notes
and sticky tabs!
Literary tropes: motifs, similes, metaphors, symbols,
foreshadowing, alliteration, etc.
The ideas or themes that are
implied by a work of
literature, rather than plainly
stated in the text.
• While it is important to understand what the writer IS
saying, it is also important to see what the writer
implies, or leaves unsaid: the subtext.
• Seeing the subtext can be like solving a mystery; the
reader, like a detective, must search for clues.
• Just as a detective must carefully search a crime scene
for clues, looking for even the smallest details—
fingerprints, a strand of hair, an object missing or out
of place—a reader must read carefully and notice the
• Unlike a textbook that might be skimmed for
information, you must read literature word-by-word,
carefully looking at all the details.
• Read out loud!
• Listen to a reader while reading along
• Pause, take notes, re-read.
• Look up unfamiliar words or concepts.
• Read the footnotes.
• Use the glossary.
• Look for ideas or things that are emphasized or repeated.
• Repeated elements are called motifs.
• A motif can be a specific word, an object, an action, a color, or
any other significant element that is repeated in the text.
• Motifs are more often tangible things than abstract ideas. For
example, in Beowulf the monsters are a primary motif:
Beowulf battles a monster in each section of the poem.
• Specific words and phrases can also be motifs. For example,
variations of the phrase “put money in your purse” recur in
the play Othello.
• Many things in Paradise Lost are described as either light or
dark; darkness and light are motifs in Paradise Lost.
• Themes are the main ideas of a text; an important aspect of a
• While motifs are more often tangible things or words, themes
are generally abstract ideas.
• Motifs can often be a clue to the themes; for example, the
battles with monsters in Beowulf point to a basic theme:
• Monsters and battles are tangible, concrete things.
• Heroism is an abstract idea.
• The end of a line is not necessarily the end of a sentence.
• So times were pleasant for the people there
until finally one, a fiend out of hell,
began to work his evil in the world. (Beowulf )
• ………………………………..That song tonight
Will not go from my mind; I have much to do
But to go hang my head all at one side
And sing it like poor Barbary. (Othello)
Note that a capital letter does not necessarily indicate the
beginning of a new sentence.
• …………………….. Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.
Pay attention to the punctuation.
A period (.) ends a sentence.
A semicolon (;) works like a period except that it connects one
complete sentence (independent clause) to another.
A colon (:) often shows that the ideas after the colon are an illustration
or example of the ideas before the colon.
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