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The following sets of questions are designed as a guiding format for your portfolio. Put the format at the front of the portfolio and refer to it as you develop each section for the work that you read. For each section, label the section with the section title and the title of the work. Use the subheadings from the format as you write or illustrate about each section. You do not have to copy the questions each time. Refer to the questions in each section and develop your written commentary or illustrations etc., based on the questions for each section.
The guiding questions that follow show processes you can use to explore works from different critical or interpretive perspectives. These questions are the critic's toolbox. There is no rule that says you can use questions from only one perspective, and it is usually more productive to try several approaches. In your experiments with these processes, you should keep track of what works best for you. It is more important to read well than it is to produce a good reading of any one work, so pay attention to what you are learning to do as a reader and interpreter. Like any set of tools, some types of questions work in some situations, some in others. Just as you don't use a screwdriver when you need a hammer, so you don't always ask the same question with each section of questions or the work that you just read.
Each guide/section is composed of questions you might think about before, during, and after your reading of a work. You will need outside resources such as reference books or websites or peer help to help you to answer some of the questions.
The Writer's Life and Times
In thinking about the author, consider the following:
1. What sort of person is/was the author - put in a picture, drawing, sketch or photograph and describe him? How does this work that you studied fit into the rest of the body of work produced by this author? This second one is a research question. Use the internet to find the answer. Do not plagiarize or copy, however, but write and/or illustrate the answer in your own words. For illustrations etc., you can use any means at your disposal like timelines, graphic organizers ,audio-visual aids etc. This is a general rule for all the following questions.
2. Where does the author come from? Does the author's race, culture, or gender tell us anything about the work and how? Is the work autobiographical to some extent and if yes, in which parts is it so (use quotes, if possible)? What important events or relationships helped shape the author's life and can be found as influencing the novel?
3. Who was the work written about, to or for? Is it about a particular place/space and time? Was it in response to a certain event or set of events? Can you explain, in some detail?
4. What is/was the author's culture or society like, in the time of the work? What important events were taking place? Was the writer in sympathy with or in opposition to that culture or against the change it was undergoing? Why? You can use illustrations, artifacts etc., for this one.
5. What other works were produced by other writers at that time? How are they similar to and different from this work? This is a research question. Use the internet for your answer. Maybe you can use maps or other such tools like a "spaceline" as a tool to answer this one?
Consider the following questions about yourself as the reader:
6. What are the key/main features of the work that strike you? What 2 or 3 events seem important? What else stands out the most for you? What does the work make you think about? Use illustrations too.
7. How does the work make you feel? What mood does it put you in? Can you say why? Use visuals too.
8. What did you like about the work? Why? What did you not like? Why? Use a graphic organizer too.
9. Does the work remind you of an incident or person in your life? Why? Write about it.
10. Did your views change as you read the work? Did you change your mind about anything? What ideas were challenged or tested by reading this work? Write about it.
11. What is your overall response or reaction to this work? What in you and what in the work connected to make this reaction? Write about it.
The Work Itself
Note that the questions under this head fall roughly into three subsets: questions about the structure of the work, questions about the characters or speaker, and questions about the idea or lessons or philosophy of the work (themes):
12. How could the work be classified as to genre or style? What expectations do you have about such a work? Were your expectations met and if yes, how or if no, why not?
13. What does the title suggest about the people, events, time, places and ideas of the work? What are the things that fall apart? How is the title connected to the poem by W.B.Yeats called "The Second Coming"?
14. What is/are the setting/s or situation/s in the work? From what vantage point of view or points of view is the work narrated?
You can illustrate the first and second questions if you want to make your answer clearer.
15. How is the work organized into chapters or parts? What is the content (briefly) and purpose of each part? What is the progression of thought from beginning to end -you can draw it as a graphic organizer or use illustrations to answer this -?
16. How is figurative language (simile, metaphor and the like) used to make special comparisons, substitutions, exaggerations, ironic meanings, contradictions, and paradoxes?
17. How is imagery used: descriptions, use of detail, key images with value as symbols?
18. How is language used: diction (word choice), connotations, double meanings or puns, key words, repetitions, African proverbs, African words, phrases and sentences to exemplify African turns of thought (for example: African oratory/speech artistry)?
19. Who are the significant characters of the work? What are they like in terms of identity, personality, behavior? What are/were important experiences in their lives? Take at least one character.
20. What motivates each significant character (or the speaker)? What are their goals? What means do they use to try to achieve them? What important decisions do they make? How do they act upon these decisions? Take at least one character.
21. What kinds of conflicts are characters involved in? How, and to what extent, are these conflicts resolved? How do the resolutions affect characters? How do characters change during the work? Take two characters.
22. How do characters influence and affect each other? How are characters' values, attitudes, and actions related to the norms or standards of the society within the work? Take two characters.
23. What characters can be considered good? In what ways? What characters can be considered evil? In what ways? Take 2 characters.
24. What does the work say about people? What people and/or actions seem to be approved of? To be condemned? Who and what is praised or blamed? Explain.
25. Are judgments about people or actions made on the basis of consequences or results, or on the basis of intentions or motives? Explain.
26. What forces seem to shape or control human events? Do people seem to have free will?
Does fate control anything? Are events and outcomes determined by biological or social forces? Explain.
27. In what ways is the work about the concepts of good and evil, right and wrong, justice, morality, or ethics? What, if anything, does the work say about how people should act?
Connections to Other Works, People, and Events
When thinking about connections, consider the following:
28. What did people think of the work when it was first published?
29. How have views of this work changed over time?
30. Has this work had any known impact on other writers or on events? Research it and tell us.
31. In what ways do you agree or disagree with the traditional (or other) views of this work?
32. How does this work fit into the history of literary art?
33. Can you think of another work that this work reminds you of? What is the connection for you? Why do the works seem similar or related?
34. Is there a character (or speaker) in the work who reminds you of another character in a different work?
35. Is there a scene or event or object or situation that seems familiar or connects with a similar element in another work for you?
36. Does any part of the work remind you of a folk tale, a myth, or similar kind of story, or of a person or event or place in history?