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Text interpretation and analysis

The purpose of Text Interpretation and Analysis is a literary and linguistic commentary in which the reader explains what the text reveals under close examination.

Any literary work is unique. It is created by the author in accordance with his vision and is permeated with his idea of the world. The reader’s interpretation is also highly individual and depends to a great extent on his knowledge and personal experience. That’s why one cannot lay down a fixed “model” for a piece of critical appreciation. Nevertheless, one can give information and suggestions that may prove helpful.


The Elements of Plot

When we refer to the plot of a work of fiction, then, we are referring to the deliberately arranged sequence of interrelated events that constitute the basic narrative structure of a novel or a short story. Events of any kind, of course, inevitably involve people, and for this reason it is virtually impossible to discuss plot in isolation from character. Character and plot are, in fact, intimately and reciprocally related, especially in modern fiction. A major function of plot can be said to be the representation of characters in action, though as we will see the action involved can be internal and psychological as well as external and physical.

In order for a plot to begin, some kind of catalyst is necessary. An existing equilibrium or stasis must be broken that will generate a sequence of events, provide direction to the plot, and focus the attention of the reader. Most plots originate in some significant conflict. The conflict may be either external, when the protagonist (also referred to as the focal character) is pitted against some object outside himself, or internal, in which case the issue to be resolved is one within the protagonist’s psyche or personality. External conflict may reflect a basic opposition between man and nature (such as in Jack London’s famous short story “To Build a Fire” or Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea”) or between man and society (as in Richard Wright’s “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”). It may also take the form of an opposition between man and man (between the protagonist and a human adversary, the antagonist), as, for example, in most detective fiction. Internal conflict, on the other hand, is confined to the protagonist. In this case, the opposition is between two or more elements within the protagonist’s own character, as in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, when Kurtz struggles (and fails) to subdue the savage instincts concealed beneath his civilized English veneer.

Most plots, it should be noted, contain more than one conflict. In some cases, however, these multiple conflicts are presented in a way that makes it extremely difficult to say with absolute certainty which one is the most decisive. It should be noted as well that the conflict of a story may exist prior to the formal initiation of the plot itself, rather than be explicitly dramatized or presented in an early scene or chapter. Some conflicts, in fact, are never made explicit and must be inferred by the reader from what the characters do or say as the plot unfolds (as, for example, in Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”). Conflict, then, is the basic opposition, or tension, that sets the plot in motion; it engages the reader, builds the suspense or mystery of the work, and arouses expectation for the vents that are to follow.

The plot of the traditional short story is often conceived of as moving through five distinct sections or stages, which can be diagrammed roughly as follows:

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