Close Reading

Hallie Garropy, Harmony Johnson, and Mike Flynn

Close reading

Close Reading

Close reading is specifically used in Literary Criticism, close criticism, close reading, etc. An example of close reading would be a critical and detailed analysis of a text. Close reading is also applied to the analysis of other works of art. The process of close reading begins by reading the text thoroughly, sometimes multiple times, and making observations about what is being read. Noticing anything that strikes you as surprising or significant, or that raises questions. Through this process, the reader should be looking for interesting literary devices and rhetorical features, structural elements, cultural or historical references, and/or tensions/oppositions. At this point, in the close reading process, the reader would begin looking for patterns that can lead to interpretations or conclusions based on the observations. Ultimately, close reading is the process of making observations that can lead to seeing the text or image in a new way. This process of close reading is relatively new to the literary world. It originally came from the concept of new criticism.

The revolutionary term, new criticism, emerged in the 1930s and 1940s. There are multiple methods of reviewing a work that makes up this concept of new criticism. Some of these methods include close reading, looking for evidence from the text, paying attention to the text itself, paying attention to the words on the page, and unpacking the words. This is when the term close reading began to come up and become a prominent method for reviewing a work or text.

Before the new critics, the method of interpretation focused on history, impressionism, moralizing, and reading aloud. New criticism was the method that sought to interpret a work through the literature itself, instead of through focus on everything that led to the work and everything the work makes people feel. Robert Dale Parker explains this saying, “To the new critics, criticism was not about vague impressions or feelings. It was about methodical interpretation” (Parker, p.14). This is when the shift in interpretation went from ‘how a work makes the reader feel’ to ‘what a work makes a reader think’. New critics argued that the best way to view a text is to interpret that text. They also believed that the best way to achieve these interpretations was through the process of close reading, paying careful, detailed attention to evidence from the text itself.

Close reading can help us read certain literary texts in a more nuanced and complex way by forcing the reader to look at details that don’t seem important on the first read through but once you start noticing these details, you can begin seeing patterns and understanding different meanings to the text. Through close reading, the reader can oftentimes catch humor and sarcasm, where they may have taken something at face value the first time through. Allows the reader to slow down, interpret the text, and uncover bigger ideas, issues, and problems that are not readily apparent in the text. It allows the reader to understand the text and not to just allow the text to wash over them and make no lasting impression. Ultimately, close reading is a method of viewing a text in a way that allows the reader to understand and think rather than simply feeling.


Close Reading Analysis:

The book entitled Mean, by Myriam Gurba, is about the author herself. She was sexually assaulted by a man and writes about the experience, along with many other experiences that occur throughout her life. These incidents are all weaved together throughout the book, allowing readers to understand the effect that the assault had on Gurba. The key to obtaining this understanding is the knowledge and use of close reading. After Gurba’s assault, it is clear she is feeling the desire to seek revenge. She writes, “It seemed like a good idea to have sex with someone and ruin his family. I wanted to see whether or not my pussy had the mettle for this. Males had co-opted my genitalia to prove their destructive powers, and I felt it was time to reclaim their destructive powers for my own use” (146). Gurba specifically mentions males ‘co-opting’ her genitalia to prove their ‘destructive powers’. She evidently feels violated and mentions further of her yearn to ‘reclaim’ their destructive powers. It is clear that Gurba is seeking out revenge, on a man, because of the violation that occurred to her. Even further, the result of the attack she faced was the experience itself never leaving her mind, fully. Another significant quote reads, “I really like the phrase ‘chaos of memories’. My spirit latches onto it and wraps its arms around its queer, hairy legs. The phrase expresses what kind of happens to your brain during and after trauma. Chaos roots itself in the memory. My chaos came when a man sexually assaulted me on a sidewalk in the afternoon sun” (154). Gurba is expressing the fear that has been placed inside of her memory. She even says that her chaos came the day that she was sexually assaulted her. From then on, the attack was embedded in her mind and memory.

Close reading is a great strategy to better your understanding of a text. It helps you analyze and really see beneath the words. A text that is a good example of this is A Raisin in The Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. A Raisin in The Sun is a very interesting text about a family that is just trying to get out of their poor lifestyle. They receive an insurance check for a large amount of money because their husband/father passed away. Their family was in a feud for a while on how the money should be spent and it caused a lot of turmoil. The mother spent most of the money purchasing an apartment in a white neighborhood and this was just the start of racism. This text specifically shows many examples of hidden racism that you would not be able to notice without using the strategy of close reading. One example of this is: “Today everybody knows what it means to be on the outside of something. And of course, there is always somebody who is out to take advantage of people who don’t always understand. (Hansberry 117). When using the strategy of close reading and taking a step back and really taking a look at who is talking, you will realize there is a deeper meaning to this statement. Racism plays a huge role in this play and this is just one of the few examples. Reading this quote alone, you wouldn’t know the context unless contributing close reading. A closer read into the text around this quote will show you that it is just the start of plenty of racism to come towards the youngers. Another example shows a clearer expression of racism by the man trying to get the Youngers to move out of their dominantly white neighborhood. “But you’ve got to admit that a man, right or wrong, has the right to want to have the neighborhood he lives in a certain kind of way.” (Hansberry 117). This is a similar context to the first quote. A deeper look into the reading and you can see that he is basically telling them that he doesn’t want them to live in the neighborhood but he is trying to get them to understand. He is attempting to make it sound like a rationale statement without it sounding racist. In this time period, there were still plenty of racists in the world the Youngers lived in. These people were willing to do illegal acts just to get the black family out of their nice white neighborhood. By just reading the quote you would not know any of this, closer reading allows you to get a background idea of the setting and situation so you can really understand what is going on in this specific scene.


Works Cited

“Close Reading as Genre.” ARCADE,

Parker, Robert Dale. How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. Oxford University Press, 2015.

Photo Credit: stockfour via Pixabay

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