Writing about literature Paraphrase, Summary, Description “I love to learn” -Tom Nixon
Paraphrase • To paraphrase a statement it to restate it in your own words. • It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. – Jane Austin (Pride and Prejudice) • Everyone agrees that a propertied bachelor needs to wants to find a woman to marry. • …Making order out of Emily’s life is a complicated matter, since the narrator recalls the details through a nonlinear filter. –George Dillon (Styles of Reading) • It’s difficult to figure out the order in which the events in Emily’s life occurred because the narrator doesn’t relate them chronologically.
Reasons for Paraphrase • First, paraphrase resembles translation. • The two examples translate formal prose into a more colloquial* twentieth century American prose. • *Language used in informal conversation • Second, it tests that you truly understand what you’ve read. • It can point out specific significant details that might have otherwise been overlooked. • Lastly, paraphrase can help you begin generating the kind of interpretive questions that can drive an essay.
Summary • A summary is a fairly succinct restatement or overview of the content of an entire text or source. • Generally called a plot summary when discussing text because of its focus on plot or action. • Like paraphrases, summaries should always be in your own words. • Although a summary should be significantly shorter than the original, it can be any length you need it to be.
Hamlet summaries! A young man seeking to avenge his uncle’s murder of his father kills his uncle, while also brining about his own and man others’ death. A young Danish prince avenges the murder of his father, the king, by his uncle who has usurped his throne, but the prince himself is killed, as are others, and a well-led foreign army has no trouble successfully invading the decayed and troubled state.
Description Whereas both summary and paraphrase focus on content, a description of a literary text focuses on its overall form or structure or some particular aspect thereof. You could similarly describe many other formal elements of a poem – images and symbols, for example. You can describe a play in comparable terms – acts, scenes, settings, time lapses. Or a novel in terms of chapters, books, summary narration, dramatized scenes.