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Commentary vs. Plot Summary - bths.enschool.org

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Do’s and Don’ts of Commentary
How to Explain Quotes:Practical Strategies
Do: Provide proof in the form of quotes for your opinions about the story.
Ex. Jack says, “ ‘I want to see the manager. I… I don’t think he understands. My son is not part of this. He…’” It is clear that Jack wants to protect Danny, so he takes a risk by wanting to speak to the manager.
Do NOT: Drop in opinions without evidence!
Ex. The Overlook has the ability to fester in Jack’s mind and urges him to kill his family. His real mind tries to fight this external force, and this leads to instability. It also brings back his temperament that he had when he used to drink. He pictures himself at a bar and being served free drinks by Lloyd who mentions that the manager is interested in Danny.What’s wrong with this commentary?Basically, every single time you express an OPINION about the literature, you MUST PROVE IT with a QUOTE! This is where you see me sometimes write “Proof?” in the margin because you have expressed an opinion without evidence.Opinion = “The Overlook has the ability to fester in Jack’s mind” = needs proof/ quoteOpinion = “His real mind tries to fight this external force” = needs proof/ quoteOpinion = “It also brings back his temperament” = needs proof/ quote
Do: Write at LEAST two sentences for each quote to explain that quote. What does the quote show? How does your quote selection PROVE your thesis?
Ex. Frankenstein describes how “breathless horror and disgust filled [his] heart” for he has not created a superhuman, but a monster. This shows that Frankenstein immediately rejects his creature. The word choice of “breathless” implies the shocking nature of the creature’s ugliness and emphasizes the extremity of this ugliness through Frankenstein’s visceral reaction.
Do NOT: Simply write one sentence of commentary or none at all. This is the MEAT of the essay. If you can’t do this, you have said NOTHING
Ex. Frankenstein describes how “breathless horror and disgust filled [his] heart” for he has not created a superhuman, but a monster. This shows that Frankenstein immediately rejects his creature.What’s wrong with this commentary?It’s just too brief. Who can convince anyone to do anything or believe anything in ONE sentence?
Do: Stay Focused on the quote.
Ex. The concept is introduced by Mr. Halloran when he tells Danny, “‘What you got, son, I call itshininon, the Bible calls it having visions, and there’s scientists call it precognition […] They all mean the seeing the future.’” In this moment, Danny begins to understand that he has a special ability to connect with other people like him through telepathy. He begins to see that there isn’t something wrong with him but that he possesses a special gift.
Do NOT: Stray from the quote.
Ex. The concept is introduced by Mr. Halloran when he tells Danny, “‘What you got, son, I call itshininon, the Bible calls it having visions, and there’s scientists call it precognition […] They all mean the seeing the future.’” Later on in the novel, Jack becomes corrupted by the Overlook Hotel and tries to murder his family.
Do: Stay focused on explaining the quotation you have selected and ONLY the quotation you have selected.
Ex. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator states, “I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder. ‘I’ve got out at last,’ said I, ‘in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the wallpaper, so you can’t put me back.’” This shows that she “creeps” and crawls around the room, peeling off the wallpaper as quickly as she can—trying to free the women inside of it. The figures inside the wallpaper are a reflection of herself; she feels trapped inside the room and wants to escape it.
Do NOT: Explain or summarize other parts of the novel that are NOT shown in your quote. If your quote doesn’t show it, pick a different quote or ADD another quote!!
Ex. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the narrator states, “I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder. ‘I’ve got out at last,’ said I, ‘in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the wallpaper, so you can’t put me back.’” This shows that the protagonist is a woman who is very sick; however, her husband believes she suffers from a temporary nervous depression, so he keeps her locked up in a bedroom with a hideous shade of yellow wallpaper. No matter how many times she asks her husband for permission to walk around the garden, her request is denied because he believes that bed-rest is the best solution.What’s wrong with this commentary?The quote has nothing to do with it.The fact that the husband believes his wife suffers from “nervous depression” is NOT shown in the quote selection and needs its own quote to be proven.The fact that she asks for permission and is denied is also NOT shown by the quote. Select a different quote or change commentary!
Do: Analyze the quote and explain it beyond what is obvious.
Ex. In Poe’s “Oval Portrait,” he writes, “To all appearance it had been temporarily and very lately abandoned.” This shows through the use of the adverbs “temporarily” and “very lately” that the castle has recently been left behind, which implies that something unexpected has transpired and forced them to leave abruptly.
Do NOT: Simply just restate in other words what the quote actually says. You are writing for an educated, intellectual audience after all, and this is insulting, boring, and useless.
Ex. In Poe’s “Oval Portrait,” he writes, “To all appearance it had been temporarily and very lately abandoned.” This shows that thehome thetraveler comes across is abandoned.What’s wrong with this commentary?It’s insulting to my intelligence—and yours!
Do:Analyze the quotation.
Ex. The concept is introduced by Mr. Halloran when he tells Danny, “‘What you got, son, I call itshininon, the Bible calls it having visions, and there’s scientists call it precognition […] They all mean the seeing the future.’” In this moment, Danny begins to understand that he has a special ability to connect with other people like him through telepathy. He begins to see that there isn’t something wrong with him but that he possesses a special gift.
Do NOT: Judge a character’s actions and what that character “should have done.”
Ex. The concept is introduced by Mr. Halloran when he tells Danny, “‘What you got, son, I call itshininon, the Bible calls it having visions, and there’s scientists call it precognition […] They all mean the seeing the future.’”Halloran should have taken Danny away from the hotel to protect him once he sensed danger. This is what a good person would have done; therefore, Halloran is a bad person.
Do: Use commentary that is focused on thequote.
Ex. In Poe’s “Oval Portrait,” he writes, “To all appearance it had been temporarily and very lately abandoned.” This shows through the use of the adverbs “temporarily” and “very lately” that the castle has recently been left behind, which implies that something unexpected has transpired and forced them to leave abruptly.
Do NOT: Use hypothetical “if”/ “then” statements as these CANNOT be proven.
Ex. Emily Grierson never experienced long lasting love. For example, when her father passed away, she was heartbroken and a “short time after, her sweetheart—the one we believed would marry her—had deserted her.” If Emily’s father had survived, she would have never lost her fiancé.What’s wrong with this commentary?Itcannot be proven. You cannot change the story. None of us can figure what would have happened “IF”!
CommentaryGuided Revision Activity
Analysis & Explanation
Plot Summary = Retelling the Story
Beowulf comes toHrothgar’skingdom to kill the evil monsterGrendel. When he arrives, he meets with the king and convincesHrothgarto allow him to fight the monster.Hrothgaragrees, and Beowulf fights the monster, tearing off its arm. After killingGrendel,Grendel’sMother seeks revenge by killingHrothgar’swise friend. As a result,Hrothgarchallenges Beowulf to killGrendel’sMother also. Beowulf agrees and swims down to her lair below the water and kills her with a giant’s sword. Beowulf then cuts offGrendel’shead and brings it back toHrothgar. 50 years later, Beowulf is the king of theGeats. An evil dragon attacks the people after his goblet is stolen, so Beowulf defends his people by attacking the dragon. However, it would be Beowulf’s last battle, and he is killed by the dragon.
Commentary = Analysis = Explanation
Thesis/ Topic Sentence: The storyBeowulfshows that risky behavior can at first lead to great accomplishments but eventually leads to downfall.First Evidence/ Quote: First of all, Beowulf finds victory againstGrendeleven though he tellsHrothgarthat “‘[his] hands/ Alone shall fight for [him].’”Commentary: This shows that in this moment, Beowulf takes a risk by deciding to fightGrendelwithout a weapon-especially since he has never seen nor faced this foe before and does not have any context for understanding his adversary. Instead, Beowulf knows that the greater the risk, the greater the glory, which substantiates his decision to risk his life in this fight against a foe that he has not seen nor researched. Fortunately for Beowulf, he defeats the evil monster, and his risk proves victorious after all.
How do I go beyond the obvious?
Literary Elements & Literary Devices= 3rdLevel in the Three Levels of Thinking
Diction
Diction: What are the key words/ phrases of the quote? How do those words/ phrases/ devices help prove the theme?Quote: “I’ll play the hero.” The word choice of “play” shows that Beowulf recognizes he is playing a part in the story and recognizes that there is evil to be defeated and likewise his duty to defeat it.Try this now. Select a quote from your draft and explain how the word choice helps to support the theme.Start with “The diction shows…”
Tone
Tone: Are there strong tone words/ phrases in the quote? What’s the tone towards what is being described? How does that tone help convey thetheme?Quote: “That shepherd of evil, guardian of crime” Thedark, brooding tone of the descriptions of Grendel convey that he is the embodiment of all that is immoral and malevolent in Anglo-Saxon society. He is the direct opposite of the hero Beowulf, and the contrasting tones used in descriptions of the two characters shows which side the narrator is on.Try it now. Select a quotation from your draft and focus on the tone of the quotationand how the tone helps to convey the theme.
Characterization
Character traits: What traits are revealed through the quote and how do they help prove the theme?Quote: “I’ll play the hero.” This shows Beowulf desires heroism, showing that he is motivated by being famous and not by helping others.Try this now. Select a quotation that involves character in some way and explain how that character trait is shown by the quote and how it relates to theme.Start with: “This shows the character is…”
Conflict
Conflict: What is the primary conflict shown in thequote– man vs. self/ man vs. man/ man vs. nature?How does conflict help convey thetheme?Select a quote and try it out now. Explain how the conflict shown in the quote relates to the theme.
Symbolism
Symbolism:Is there a symbol shown in the quote? What is it? Explain how and why it’s symbolic. How does that symbol help convey thetheme?Try it now. Explain the symbol in terms of theme.
Irony
Irony:Does the quotation point to something ironic? Whattype of irony isit– dramatic, situational, or verbal (sarcasm)?How does the irony help convey thetheme?Check for irony now and explain how the irony helps to convey the theme.
Juxtaposition, Shift, Contrast, Repetition
Does the quote contain a rhetorical relationship? Which one? How does it connect to the theme?Try it now.
Ethos, Pathos, Logos
Does the quote contain a rhetorical appeal? Which one? How does it contribute to the overall message?Try it now.
Common Literary Techniques: Simile, Metaphor, Personification
Does the quote have a simile, metaphor, or personification? How does that device relate to the theme?Quote: “ ‘And pity, like a naked newborn babe,/ Striding the blast […] Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,/ That tears shall drown the wind.” In Macbeth’s “double-trust” soliloquy, he uses a simile to compare the king’s purity in office to the innocence of not just a baby, but one that is more vulnerable in its nakedness and newness. He also uses personification to emphasize through exaggeration that the tears of the public will “drown the wind” once they hear of that their beloved king has been murdered.Try this now.Look for a simile, metaphor, or personification in one of your quotes and explain its effect and how it relates to your theme.
Other Literary Techniques
Allusion, onomatopoeia, paradox, alliteration (assonance, consonance), rhyme scheme, oxymoron, allegory, analogy, caesura, epithet, flashback, foreshadowing, imagery, point of view, pun, setting, etc.Find one of the above devices in one of your quotes and explain it terms of theme.
Revision.
For homework, go back and add at least ONE MORE sentence to your commentary!

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Commentary vs. Plot Summary - bths.enschool.org