What Is Close Reading?


Quick Answer

Close reading is a method of literary analysis that focuses on the particular elements of a passage to tease out meaning. Instead of looking at the general meaning of a text, the close reader analyzes each word and its relationships with the other words.

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Full Answer

When doing a close reading, scholars look at diction, analyzing the meanings of the words as they existed when the author wrote the text. They also interpret each punctuation mark, determining why an author chose every comma, semicolon and period. Paying such close attention gets the reader beneath the superficial meaning of a text to find profundities and paradoxes beneath the surface.

When subjected to close reading, even brief texts yield huge amounts of analysis and explanation. An extreme case of this is Jacques Derrida's essay "Ulysses Gramophone," in which he spends 80 pages discussing James Joyce's use of one word, "yes," in his novel "Ulysses."

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