Please review the blogging guidelines for more information about how I grade blog posts and about blogging for this course in general.


The first five blog posts you write in this class are meant to introduce you to the kind of thinking and analysis you will be asked to do in this course. In other words, these first five posts are meant to teach you what I mean when I use the words “close reading.” The skills you will practice and build over the next five posts will be especially important for the Unessay assignment, and you should think of these posts as working toward that assignment. We will discuss your posts in class, so come to class ready to discuss what you wrote.

This prompt is unusually long because I devote a lot of space below to explaining why we are doing what we are doing and what close reading is. Please read through the entire prompt carefully.

About Close Reading

The term “close reading” has a special meaning in literary studies: it refers to a specific method of textual analysis. According to Wikipedia, a close reading is “the careful, sustained interpretation of a brief passage of text. Such a reading places great emphasis on the single particular over the general, paying close attention to individual words, syntax, and the order in which sentences and ideas unfold as they are read.” Close reading is all about making your own, individual interpretation of a particular text or a portion of a text. You then have to communicate this interpretation in the form of a written argument, where you provide specific evidence from the text that proves your interpretation is valid.

Note that the word “interpretation” features prominently in the previous paragraph. That’s because a close reading is different from a statement of “the facts” about a literary text. Now, “the facts” about a text and “an interpretation” of the text can be difficult to tell apart when you first start doing this; that’s why we’re going to practice. But in general, you should think of a close reading as “going beyond” observations or facts about a text to tell your readers why those observations matter to the meaning of the text. For example, one observation about The War of the Worlds, which we will start reading next week, is that the curate_ _is depicted as an especially feminized character (in fact, we will discuss this observation in class). If you wanted to write a close reading about that, you would think about how you can use that observation – which is a “fact” about the text because it’s something you’ve observed to exist “in” the text – to lead you toward some interpretation of the novel. Ok, so the curate is feminized: but what does this mean? Why is it important? What does it tell us about the meaning – or, more accurately, one possible meaning – of the text? These are the kinds of questions you will ask when you close read.

Note, too, that there is more than one “valid” answer to these kinds of questions. There are good ideas and bad ideas, more interesting interpretations and less interesting interpretations, well-executed readings and poorly-executed readings – but I am not looking for you to come up with the “right answer” in your close readings. This is because, simply put, there is more than one “right” answer. Instead, I am looking for you to come up with your own unique interpretation of the text, supported using specific evidence from the text. Your close reading should not be a regurgitation of something we’ve discussed in class; instead, you should use our class discussions to help you discover and fine-tune your own ideas.

Finally, just as there are no “right answers,” there is no magic formula you can follow to produce a close reading. There is no “correct” number of observations to make, or bits of evidence to include. Just keep in mind that your close reading should be centered on interpretation rather than observation/statement of the facts.

The Prompt

For your first blog post, you are going to write a mini close reading of Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” This story is a bit different, and you may find it difficult to write a close reading of it. That’s ok. You need to try anyway. Remember, get specific! Go back to the top of this post and read that definition of close reading from Wikipedia. It tells you that you should focus on individual words, syntax, imagery, metaphors, etc. in the text and look for patterns. What might these patterns mean? Close reading is all about paying attention to teeny tiny textual details, details you might not even notice if this assignment didn’t ask you to, and examining these details to see if you can detect any patterns. Close reading requires deep concentration and focus. It demands that you pay attention to a text in a way with which you may not be comfortable or familiar; again, this is why we’re practicing.

There is not exactly a set length requirement for this post, but shoot for the neighborhood of 400-600 words. That may seem like plenty of words, but it’s actually quite short for a close reading – if you’re doing it correctly – so you will need to think about how best to communicate your interpretation in the allotted space. You may decide that you only want to close read one or two paragraphs of the story, which is a great strategy. Doing this may increase the conceptual difficulty of the assignment because you will have less material to work with, but it may also help you to better hone in on one specific idea. However you decide to do it, center your mini close reading on proving just one idea or interpretation about the text. Just one. You don’t have space for more. Make sure to back your interpretation up with specific evidence from the story.

Note: If you are feeling especially ambitious and want to read an example of a close reading, here’s one that analyzes just one short passage from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: