Critical Essay Reading
What is a critical response? • A critical response is an essay where you can show your understanding and appreciation of a text. • A text can be prose, poetry, drama or media. • It is an opportunity for you to show: • Understanding of a text • Your ability to analyse, which means being able to examine the way the writer writes and the techniques he or she uses • Your ability to evaluate, which means judging how well a text is written and having a personal response to what you have read
Remember the basic structure Introduction • Name the work and author • Refer to the question or task and state the purpose of your essay • Give a brief account of plot • Give a brief account of theme Body of the essay • 3-6 lines of argument with PCQEs + references to task Conclusion • Name the work and author • Refer to the task • Sum up points already made. • Give some personal response
Include a title • Your title should give a good indication of what your response is about. • Which title is better? • “Macbeth” • “Ambition and how it destroys Macbeth” • Your title should be focused on the topic • It should tell the marker the purpose of your essay.
Purpose • Your purpose is basically what your essay is about. • It is crucial that you clearly answer the task. • Highlight key words and phrases in a task. If a critical evaluation asks: • “What techniques does Ted Hughes use in his poem The Thought Fox and how effective are they?” • What key words in this task help you to identify your purpose?
Introduction • Every critical evaluation must have an introductory paragraph. • You should include: • The title of the text • The name of the author • Your purpose (a clear indication of what you will be writing about) • Your purpose is where you refer to the task and clearly state how you will answer it. Use the words of the task to help you write the introduction • You can also include a very brief comment about plot or theme.
Example • Task: “Choose a novel or a short story in which you feel great sympathy for, or intense dislike of, one of the characters” “A short story in which I feel great sympathy for one of the characters is ‘The Test’ by Angelica Gibb, in which I sympathise with the main character, Marian. By looking at how Marian encounters racism as a black women I will show how the author creates a character that we feel great sympathy for.”
Write introductions for the following: • “Choose a poem in which a particular mood such as joy, anger or sorrow is created. Show how the poet uses poetic techniques to create this mood.” • “Choose a prose work of fiction that deals with an important human issue: for example injustice. Identify and explain what the issue is and go on to describe the ways in which the writer has made the prose work thought provoking. Refer to features such as theme, plot and character in your answer.”
Body of the essay • The body of the essay is made up of 3-6 PCQEs. • Another way to remember this pattern is • P: Point • E: Evidence (Quote in Context) • E: Explanation
Points (topic sentences) • Your points are (usually) the first sentences of each new paragraph. • They tie in with the topic of the essay (they refer to the task) • They let the reader understand the topic of the paragraph you’re on. Try task 2 on the sheet.
Points (topic sentences) • Each point you make are arguments that help to answer the task. • Each point or argument should build on the last one. • They should follow a logical order. For example you may deal with incidents/techniques in the order that they appear in the novel, play or poem. • Use linking words to show that your argument is developing. (See task sheet)
A developing argument • From the beginning of the poem the author conveys a deep sense of sadness the title “Mid-Term Break” makes us think of happy memories and having a good time. However we soon find out that this is a very sad time for the boy. This contrast straight away conveys a sense of sadness. • The poet again uses contrast between the family’s reactions to emphasise this sense of sadness. • To further convey the sense of sadness the poet uses effective word choice. • In the last two stanzas the poet effectively uses metaphor, alliteration and repetition to reinforce the boy’s feelings loss and sadness.
Evidence • For each point you need to provide evidence. In other words, a quotation. • If you are quoting anything longer than just a single word or phrase then take a new line and indent it. • Use quotation marks.
Explanation/Analysis • The explanation is where you show how the evidence backs up your point. • This is also where you analyse how the writer achieves his purpose by looking at techniques. • Techniques could be simile, metaphor, characterisation, contrast… basically any feature of writing that the writer uses to have an effect on the reader
Explanation/Analysis • The first stage of analysis is identifying the technique that the writer uses. • Then explain what this technique or feature of the text is doing. The following words are useful in helping to show this: • Has connotations of; suggests; shows; creates; mirrors; establishes; underlines; reinforces; emphasises; highlights; foreshadows; exemplifies; explains; demonstrates; echoes; reveals; hints; reinforces.
Explanation/Evaluation • The following words and phrases describe how the reader feels, or how the text affects us. Some of them imply judgment. These are all elements of evaluation: • Thought-provoking; inspiring; horrifying; hard-hitting; stimulating; pivotal moment; key idea(s); fast-paced; effective; gripping; skillful(ly); perceptive; moving; profound; striking; important; intelligent; thoughtful
Explanation • Lastly, it is important to link your explanation to the task. • This makes sure that you don’t stray from the purpose of your essay. • Look at the example PCQE • Highlight the Point. • Highlight the Context. • Put a Q next to the quote. • In the explanation, highlight an example of analysis. • In the explanation highlight an example of evaluation. • By looking at the point and the explanation – what do you think the task was for this essay? • Evaluate this PCQE? Is it any good?
Conclusion • Your conclusion should: • sum up the main points of your essay and show that you have answered the task • give some personal response.
Conclusion – summing up • Example: • Seamus Heaney in “Mid-term Break” uses a number of poetic techniques to effectively create a mood of sadness including contrast, word choice and imagery.
Conclusion – personal response • Don’t write: • “I liked this poem”, “This isn’t really my type of poem, I prefer poems that rhyme”, “I think it should’ve had a few more verses.”, “It was ok”. • You have to be more sophisticated. For example: • “I thought the image of the snowdrops and candles ‘soothing’ the room as the boy looked at his brother was the most poignant image of the poem. I could really empathise with the feelings of sorrow that the boy was feeling at this point.”