How to Analyse Prose Fiction: A Practical GuideJune 05, 2019

Literature students would analyse literary works, and they must know the difference between poetry and prose fiction. Poetry makes full use of the resources of English language while prose is often a part of the larger whole. In this regard, students must be able to figure out the author's purpose (in writing such prose), and if this purpose is achieved at all.

There's no formula in the critical analysis of poetry, where students would be given a short list of terms that should serve as a guide (while they analyse it). It's a different case with prose fiction, where there are four different ways of studying it. It doesn't suggest four different kinds of prose (fiction), as all four could be used while writing an essay on an assigned text. You must pay attention to the point of view especially the third person. Critics would refer to this character as the unreliable narrator, which should be their cue in agreeing (or disagreeing) with it. This is an exercise in literary criticism, which means that you can agree to disagree. You should be able to provide substantial information to back up your argument, though. At this point, you may wonder what divisions (or kinds) that you must keep a mental note. Get ready for your notepad and pen. And one of your tabs must include a Google search box.

Concepts and Terminology to Guide You

How do you explain the nature of things? If you're confused about this one, then you can start with a simple exercise. Let's cite "Godzilla: King of the Monsters", which is released recently. This Hollywood blockbuster may not warrant serious attention, but you might be surprised at the details. It's not hard to see the cause-and-effect of tampering with Mother Nature. This is one way of explaining the nature of things. If you want to test your abilities further, "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy would be the one for you. A good essay must consists of a few thousand words. It's also another case of cause and effect, but there are other kinds. Think of definition, division (into parts), and illustration and example. Modern literature could be examined using these terms.

What are the themes (or things) that an author wants to convince (or persuade) his (or her) readers? The answer to this question may seem simple on the surface, but it would require hours of research. Students must take notice of the tone, diction, rhythm, repetition or figurative language. Perceptive students may cite Ernest Hemingway's works as an exception, but there's a high chance that it won't be used here. Virginia Woolf should be a good start. If you fancy Fantasy, then Ursula K. Le Guin would make a fine case. In other words, not everything (about prose fiction) could be put under this kind of examination.

Can you see those (special) things? Perception plays a part, so it's all about creating an atmosphere that would elicit emotions. Gothic fiction would delight university students, and fans of that genre could finish their assignment in a few hours or less. Some would wonder about science fiction, which relies on symbolism. It's possible if students would look at other genres overlapping it. (Dystopian literature would be frequently cited here.) As implied earlier, this requires good guessing on the part of the students. It would be better not to try too hard to decipher the themes of the text, as there's a high probability that they would guess it after reading the first few chapters. It may not be the case with a long novel (like "War and Peace"), but they can always make a guess. And their professors would like it.

What do you make of the narration? Students would like the answer to this question, as there are many elements that they could write about. (Word count won't be a problem.) The answer includes time order, also characterisation. It can also be the dialogue, where they may (or may not) be an element of uncertainty. They should expect a surprise, which could change their initial impression of the book. Children's literature would make a great fit, as it's no secret that authors didn't write it for younger readers. Students must deconstruct the so-called stream of consciousness, if not guess it. This is the fun part of studying prose.

More Concepts and Terms to Remember

There’s the other list of terms that you must look through. These items might not be as very important as the four that are previously discussed, yet you need to know it. This is the only way to understand prose fiction in its entirety.

You must have guessed ambivalence, development, and diction. You might not have paid close attention to the figures of speech, which is not surprising at all. There are too many types, but look out for metaphor, alliteration, and antithesis. Some might wonder about simile. It’s a bit obvious, which won’t take a minute to figure out. Try parallelism instead.

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