Die Heuning Pot Literature Guide
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Literature Glossary

Don’t be an oxymoron. Know your literary terms.

Over 200 literary terms, Shmooped to perfection.

Close Reading

Definition:

Close reading is a form of literary analysis, championed by folks like the New Critics. We say "close reading" instead of just "reading" because this style of analysis emphasizes super close attention to the text itself—the words on the page. When we're "close reading" we're not just paying attention to what the text says (content), but how the text says what it does (form).

Allow Shmoop to demonstrate (on with the elbow-padded tweed sports coat!):

May the Force be with you.

Ahem. Note, dear Shmoopers, the use of the subjunctive mood, herein implying that the Force is not necessarily with the object of the speech, but could possibly be with him or her, given the right circumstances or proper attitude, the absence of which would make the recipient of this speech readily susceptible to wooing by the Force's opposite. Note also, the capitalization of the verb's subject, the Force. Such capitalization suggests that the Force, however abstract or inscrutable, is of supreme importance and value in the speaker's mind. Thus, in conjunction with the fact that the speaker wishes this force to be with the person to whom he is speaking (for whom he presumably wishes well), we can conclude that the Force is, in fact, good indeed. Or it is, perhaps, a metaphor for that which compels the possessor to do good, given what we know about the Force's foil, the Dark Side.

Okay, okay, so you don't have to be all snobby about it like we just were. Really, close reading can be a lot of fun, and it's a great way to dive into the wide world of textual analysis. Over here at Shmoop, we close read all day long, just for kicks. Take a peek at any one of our poetry learning guides for more examples of close reading in action.

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