Topic | Convince me! Highschool literature analysis.

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  • KeriJ

    I have scoured the Charlotte Mason websites and have searched this forum in detail, reading every last thread about this topic.  I’ve also read through SCM’s position on literature analysis. I am familiar with all of the available resources for literature “instruction”–from the over-the-top to the more general and gentle.

    What I want is to be convinced that we can just. read. the. literature. in highschool!

    I would love for Sonya to chime in.  And Erin, I am hoping to hear from you too. 🙂

    I love this quote by Wendell Berry: “NOTICE: Persons attempting to find a “text” in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a “subtext” in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise “understand” it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR”

    and this one by Richard Adams, author of Watership Down: “Interpretation after interpretation has been laid on Watership Down, from allegory to a take on religion. Adams rejects them all. ‘It was meant to be just a story, and it remains that. A story, a jolly good story I must admit, but it remains a story. It’s not meant to be a parable. That’s important, I think. Its power and strength come from being a story told in the car’.”


    A few thoughts, whatever they are worth:

    I dislike literary analysis. In my own school experience, it killed the book every time. It ruined books I liked and made the books I disliked even worse. I personally don’t feel like it is necessary to do any. I completely agree with the authors you quoted.

    However (and this is a big caveat), I have not graduated any kids and my boys are not college-bound. They very likely will end up in trades, doing things like electrical and carpentry, so I don’t feel a lot of pressure to do literary analysis, since it very likely won’t be necessary for their post-secondary experience.

    I often feel as if literary analysis in high school is solely for the purpose of being prepared for college, because most kids going to college will take an English class where they need to do this, as far as I know/have heard.

    What I would be interested in hearing is someone’s experience with a college-bound student who just enjoyed literature in high school without analyzing, and then went on to college classes. I would suspect that any child used to reading high quality literature and having good writing skills would do fine in those classes, even without previous analyzing experience, but that is just my hunch.

    Another thing: Some books lend themselves well to a little analysis and discussion and some do not. Allegorical books always require a bit of digging for me to really “get” them. When my oldest read Animal Farm, we dug up a list of the characters and who they represented so that we got the most we could out of the story. The Pilgrim’s Progress would be similar in order to understand what each place represents to Christian. However, I’m not sure that actually counts as analysis. Maybe it’s just further research.

    I will add that I do think some literary terms are important, like knowing what foreshadowing is, or allusion, or simile, etc. Those terms are often used in real life, or in regards to movies, so a general knowledge there is good, and I do teach those. Beyond that, we just enjoy the books, we have literature discussions once per week (which are sometimes very unproductive) and write 3-4 essays per year related to literature (but not necessarily formal lit. analysis essays).

    I guess I will see in a few years how that decision pans out. 🙂


    Here’s a great discussion we had on this topic several years ago.

    RobinP has a son who went to school to be an engineer. She shares how he did wonderfully in his college English classes even though she never taught formal literary analysis.

    My son did very little lit analysis but he went straight into the trades.

    My daughter has ended up doing a bit more, but only by her choice.


    Deconstructing Penguins is a light way to introduce literary terms and analysis. We use it in highschool, but skim through it.

    We do Christian Light Education Literature after that, but lightly.


    Thank you all.

    Melanie, hee hee…I started that thread.  Evidently this is a topic that I struggle with. 🙂



    lol I didn’t even notice!😂


    When our students have a such a generous and liberal education as they have with a CM education, I think we Wil (and do) find that they naturally draw parallels see allusions, understand metaphors etc etc. After either oral or written narration we then have the opportunity for the Grand Conversation where in an informal way some of these things can be drawn out.

    I do wonder if the need for lit analysis comes from the fact that many students aren’t exposed to enough background information to seamlessly make these connections and so they need a contrived lesson to ‘teach’ them to look for these elements.


    Aving said that, it’s interesting to note some of the types of questions Charlotte asked of her older students naturally incorporate thinking on a deeper level.

    Sonya Shafer

    Such great counsel in these replies! I don’t have much to add, KeriJ.

    We want to avoid draining the lifeblood out of the wonderful literary works that our children are forming relations with. Overanalyzing (or analyzing everything) will do that.

    However, we do want to make sure our children have a grasp of the basic terminology and concepts that are connected with literature; for example, plot, characters, protagonist, setting. And we want them to realize how an author’s experiences and historical climate can play into the style and context of what he/she wrote. But that can all be done through informal discussion.

    If you simply make use of the 5 W questions, your child should be familiar with the aspects to consider when writing a literary essay:

    • Who is the author? Does his background have an impact on what he wrote?
    • What is happening in the book? Which events are significant?
    • Where does the story take place? Is that important?
    • When is the story set? How does historical setting play a part in the context?
    • Then ask for your child’s opinion of the book and ask her to tell you Why she would evaluate it that way.  Encourage her to support her opinion with supporting passages from the book.

    The other piece of the puzzle is learning the various literary devices; such as, foreshadowing, hyperbole, idiom, metaphor, simile, irony, pun, sarcasm, symbolism, personification. Those will require some direct teaching but can be pulled from literature passages as they fit. For example, I’ve been tucking them into the ULW lessons a few per book.

    Yes, these concepts will help a student with college level work, but they will also help that child read books more intelligently throughout life and gain a richer understanding of them while still retaining the personal relationship and joy of a great living story.


    Again, thank you all so much.

    And Sonya, thank you for taking the time to answer.  I love the idea of the 5 W questions.  Also as we have been going through ULW 3, I have loved the sprinkling in of literary devices.  I feel like it has been the perfect amount for us.  Still praying book 4 will come out before mine graduate. 🙂  I won’t hold my breath for book 5 to be done by then. 🙂

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