Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • We often hear that studying literature

  • involves finding a deeper meaning to a text.

  • When writing about literary works,

  • we're expected to mentally dive below the surface

  • in order to come back up with big ideas.

  • But you may find yourself looking

  • at the flat page of a book,

  • wondering how deep it can really go?

  • How do we reach those ideas that turn into great essays?

  • Well, there are two crucial thinking steps

  • that can lead us in the right direction:

  • practicing insight

  • and acknowledging complexity.

  • Insight is the ability to arrive

  • at an intuitive understanding of a big idea

  • using only small clues to get there.

  • If you're practicing insight,

  • you'll able to use observations

  • about character behavior to figure out

  • their true emotions and motivations.

  • Pay attention to little things

  • because they add up to what is really meaningful.

  • For example, if you consider a character

  • like Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice,

  • who openly declares his dislike for Miss Lizzy Bennet,

  • you might, at first, assume he's just a mean guy.

  • But, using your powers of insight,

  • you're noticing other smaller things -

  • how Darcy's eyes linger on Lizzy's face

  • and how he seems all flustered when she's around.

  • Add to the mix your knowledge that Mr. Darcy

  • is in a much higher social class than Lizzy,

  • and your sense of insight should be telling you

  • that there's something more here.

  • In this case, it will tell you

  • that Darcy's surface behavior is in conflict

  • with his true feelings of attraction

  • because the difference in wealth between himself and Lizzy

  • makes him feel that it'll never work.

  • Thinking about all those small clues

  • gives us insight about some of the big, abstract ideas

  • within the novel that we can approach in an essay:

  • appearances versus reality,

  • the power of wealth and social stratification,

  • and the unpredictable nature of love and attraction.

  • Look at that! Deeper meaning.

  • The second step to a sophisticated analysis

  • is acknowledging complexity.

  • Let's face it. In both life and literature,

  • situations are complicated

  • due to social forces like relationships,

  • moral codes,

  • personal desires,

  • and power structures.

  • This means that there are, at any given time,

  • multiple factors that shape what is true.

  • In order to acknowledge complexity in your writing,

  • refrain from making broad generalizations about a text

  • or establishing quick, simple judgements about a character.

  • Explore each facet of your subject carefully

  • and make sure to consider multiple influences on events.

  • Explain the tension of multiple forces

  • that create the story.

  • For example, a basic analysis of Toni Morrison's Beloved,

  • where the protagonist has killed her own child

  • rather than allow her to grow up in slavery,

  • might sound like this,

  • "Sethe murdered her own daughter.

  • This act was wrong,

  • and causes the ghost of the child

  • to haunt her throughout the novel."

  • These observations are simplistic.

  • They don't acknowledge all the different forces

  • that contribute to what the character has done.

  • Try something like this instead,

  • "A culture of slavery disturbs the ability

  • to determine what is morally right.

  • Sethe's past experiences with violence

  • reinforce the fear she has for her child's fate,

  • and transform the murder into a protective act.

  • As the novel progresses,

  • Sethe is haunted both by the angry spirit of her daughter

  • and by the memories of everything else

  • slavery took from her."

  • Here, we see those influential forces at work,

  • and we've shown off our ability to understand

  • the complicated nature of the human experience,

  • which, again, allows us to access

  • those big ideas that reveal the deeper meaning of a story,

  • ideas, in this case, like the parameters of maternal instinct,

  • the consequences of injustice,

  • and the question of whether or not

  • ethics can even exist in a corrupted moral system.

  • It's impossible to sit down

  • and write an amazing essay about literature

  • without first thinking about it.

  • Before you hit the keys,

  • go back to the text

  • and fish out the small moments,

  • the complicated moments in the story.

  • Line them up in your mind,

  • practice insight,

  • acknowledge complexity,

  • arrive at some big ideas.

  • Before you know it,

  • the deeper meaning will be close at hand.

We often hear that studying literature

Subtitles and keywords

B1 INT insight darcy lizzy complexity slavery deeper

【TED-Ed】Mining literature for deeper meanings - Amy E. Harter

  • 13473 501
    陳劭杰   posted on 2013/10/06
Video vocabulary

Go back to previous version