The Literary CommentaryA commentary (or explication de texte) is an exercise in the close reading ofa text, in the analysis and appreciation of its significance and form(structure and style). Students often find such commentaries difficult, orcontent themselves with paraphrase. The following suggestions mighttherefore be helpful.Questions to ask of a prose passage1.What TYPE OF PASSAGE is it in general (narrative, oratorical, dramatic,lyrical, descriptive, or other)?2.What is the fil conducteurof the text, its MAIN IDEA or purpose? Doesthe text have any special qualities that are immediately striking?3.What is the STRUCTURE of the passage? Is it organised in a certainway? Can its various parts be clearly delineated? Is there a pattern ofsubordination of one feature or group of features to another? Or,conversely, are there a number of conjunctions? How long are thesentences? Are individual sentences carefully organised? Do they tend tobe independent of one another? Are there ellipses or inversions?4. Does the text progress through such STYLISTIC FEATURES asenumeration, interrogation, apostrophy, exclamation, or other? Do younotice any peculiarities of word order? Of punctuation? Are thererepetitions of words? If so, for what effect? What are the results obtainedby such DEVICES as simile, metaphor, periphrasis, understatement,hyperbole, and symbolism?5.How may the VOCABULARY be characterised? Is it abstract? Concrete?Are there allusions, proper names, archaisms, words used in special oretymological senses, incorrections, technical terms, words of localcolour?6.What are the EXPRESSIVE WORDS of the passage, as opposed to the'tool words' common to every text? Are nouns, verbs or other parts ofspeech used in any special way? Does the presence of certain stylistictraits seem to reveal something about the author's turn of mind orspecial interests? For example, does the choice of nouns reveal theauthor's attitude toward the external world? Is the author's individualityrevealed by his/her choice of adjectives, adverbs, or verbs?7.Does the author favour a particular kind of IMAGERY?
8.Is the RHYTHM of the passage of interest? What expressive purposedoes it serve? Is there intentional rhythmic monotony? Do the sentencesproduce an effect of rhythmic harmony and balance, or the contrary?