Many people struggle with critical appreciation of texts, because they are unsure of the format and uncomfortable with the vagueness of the procedure. This guide is a suggestion of a possible method to follow.
This applies to general critical appreciations (without a specific question) but can be adapted to suit most purposes.
Critical appreciation: first be critical (by picking out a feature), then be appreciative (by commenting on its effect).
Look through the passage in question, and identify a linguistic feature, from the list below.
- Juxtaposition – putting two words next to each other for effect.
- Emphasis of an important word by putting it at the beginning or end of a line.
- Separation of two words that ought to be together.
- Enclosure of words/phrases by other words.
- Repetition of words or phrases.
- Tenses and their relationship to one another.
- Use of a singular noun to stand for a plural noun, or vice versa.
- Present tense (usually worth noting).
- Unusual or interesting constructions.
- Alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds).
- Assonance (repetition of vowel sounds).
- Onomatopoeia (a word that sounds like its meaning, ie. hiss, burp).
- Simile (a comparison stating that one thing is like another).
- Metaphor (a comparison stating that one thing is another).
- Metonymy (a word that stands for something, ie. using Mars to mean war).
- Visual description of any kind.
- Personification (speaking of an idea, like Hope or Faith, as a person).
- Antithesis (a contrast of opposites).
- Hyperbole (exaggeration for effect).
- Bathos (an often ludicrous anticlimax).
- Apostrophe (a direct appeal to a person or a god).
These are just a selection – please use more if you can think of them. But let me assure you that you do not need the technical terms! As long as you can describe a feature, you don’t need to know its name.
Comment on the effect and effectiveness of the feature you identified in Step One. This is crucial – you should never mention a feature without going on to discuss its effect. Points to mention here include:
- Pace: How does your feature affect the speed and flow of the narrative? Does it create a pause? Does it generate a sense of rapidity, or of simultaneous events?
- Tone: Does it give the passage an elevated/grand tone, or a ludicrous/banal one?
- Drama: Does it create a feeling of intensity/urgency/tension?
- Expression: Does its sound express or contradict its meaning? Is it a pleasing sound, or a harsh/discordant one?
- Engagement with the reader: Does it draw the reader in? Does it help the reader to imagine the situation, by comparing it to something familiar? Does it attract the reader’s attention? Does it startle?
Don’t forget that every text has a writer and a readership. Think, if appropriate, about who the intended audience might have been, and how they might have been affected.
Repeat Steps One and Two as many times as you can.
Tying it all together.
- Look at the main themes of the passage, and state how the features you’ve mentioned contribute to the expression of these themes, ie. if the passage is about war, you could explain how the features build up a sense of the danger and violence of war (through sound effects, imagery etc.).
- Conclude with some remarks on the overall effectiveness of the passage. It’s difficult to make a convincing case for stating that any writer studied on a course is rubbish, so a positive verdict is generally advisable!