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Close Reading Analysis of a Passage from Jack London’s Unparalleled Invasion

1 page, double-spaced, 12-point font (Times New Roman)

This assignment asks you to do a close reading of one of the two passages provided below: the first from Walt Whitman’s “Passage to India,” the second from Jack London’s “The Unparalleled Invasion.” Close reading is a fundamental skill of literary analysis that asks you to pay careful attention to the form, language, style, and meaning of a particular passage in a literary work.

Begin by carefully and attentively reading the passage. Ask yourself: what do I notice when I read this passage? This may include identifying words or phrases that strike you as especially important or interesting; writing down questions, comments, or observations as you read; and developing a sense of the overall meaning of the passage.

Once you have read the passage and taken some notes, begin to develop your reading of the passage. In literary criticism, there are a number of terms we use to describe the elements of a passage for the purposes of close reading. Using these terms can help make your observations about the passage more precise. (For more on these terms and on close reading in general, consult the Writing Center’s “Short Guide to Close Reading for Literary Analysis”: to an external site.)

Subject: What is the passage about? What does it describe? What are its major topics?

Form: How is the passage put together? Is it poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction? If it’s a poem, how is it divided up? Is it written in first or third person?

Speaker/narrator: Who is speaking in the passage and what can we tell about this person? In poetry and fiction, we do not assume the person speaking in the passage is the author; instead, we call the person who is speaking the speaker (in a poem) or the narrator (in a work of prose). In non-fiction prose, the person speaking may be the author, but be careful before making this assumption; it is safest to call the person speaking the narrator.

Tone: What is the attitude of the speaker/narrator toward the material or toward what is being described?

Diction/word choice: Why has the author chosen the particular words that they have, as opposed to other words they might have chosen?

Imagery: What metaphors, similes, or figures of speech does the author use? What kinds of descriptions or comparisons are present?

You should now have plenty of material to write your analysis. Since this is a 1-page exercise, it does not require a formal thesis or the structure of a full-length essay, but should develop some kind of claim or argument about the passage. You don’t need to try to discuss all of the terms described above; choosing a few should give you enough to write about.

Option 2: from Jack London, “The Unparalleled Invasion”

Outraged France was in arms. She hurled fleet after fleet against the coast of China, and nearly bankrupted herself by the effort. China had no navy. She withdrew like a turtle into her shell. For a year the French fleets blockaded the coast and bombarded exposed towns and villages. China did not mind. She did not depend upon the rest of the world for anything. She calmly kept out of range of the French guns and went on working. France wept and wailed, wrung her impotent hands and appealed to the dumfounded nations. Then she landed a punitive expedition to march to Peking. It was two hundred and fifty thousand strong, and it was the flower of France. It landed without opposition and marched into the interior. And that was the last ever seen of it. The line of communication was snapped on the second day. Not a survivor came back to tell what had happened. It had been swallowed up in China’s cavernous maw, that was all.



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