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Writing About Literature

Writing About Literature

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Writing About Literature

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  1. Writing About Literature Embedding Quotations

  2. Always provide a context for your quotations -- explain to the reader why and how the quote is relevant to the topic. When quoting from the story, make sure you include a page number in parentheses with each quote. Notice that the quotation marks come before the parentheses and that the period comes afterwards. Also notice that there isn't a "p." or "pg." with the page number in parentheses.

  3. Ellipses are three dots { . . . } to indicate you have eliminated some words from the quotation. Note that there is a space between each dot. • Do not use ellipses to indicate that you have left out the beginning of a sentence; only missing words from the end or somewhere in the middle of a sentence need to be indicated with ellipses. The same applies to eliminated sentences in between other (parts of) sentences.

  4.  When you're quoting a line as part of your own sentence, you may alter or omit the closing punctuation of that line to make it compatible with your own sentence's punctuation. For instance, you may insert a period where there was none if your sentence should end, or omit a period from the original if your sentence continues. Original: "They look like white elephants," she said.Example: The unspoken subject of their conversation is implied in Jig's line, "They look like white elephants" (653).

  5. Use brackets to indicate any changes you make to quotations in order to integrate them with the style or clarity of your sentences (for reasons of pronouns, verb tense, capitalization, or comprehension). Original: Her knees were tumors on sticks, her elbows chicken bones. Example: The horror and seriousness of the situation is quickly detailed by vivid imagery: "[Stella's] knees were tumors on sticks, her elbows chicken bones” (1137).

  6. Be careful of changing too much within such a short quotation. This tends to make the quotation awkward. In general, if you have to change more than two items in a short quotation, it's better to find another way to write it. Another option is to paraphrase the quote.

  7. Use key words from the quotation and make them a grammatical part of your sentence. Example: As William Kneale suggests, some humans have a "moral deafness” which is never punctured no matter what the moral treatment (Acton 93).

  8. Use your own assertion with quoted material embedded: For Nick, who remarks that Gatsby "turned out all right" (176), the hero deserves respect but perhaps does not inspire great admiration. Satan's motion is many things; he "rides" through the air (63), "rattles" (65), and later explodes, "wanders and hovers" like a fire (293). Even according to Cleopatra, Mark Antony's "duty" is to the Roman state.

  9. Combine a paraphrase with a quotation. Original: Tania Modleski suggests that "if television is considered by some to be a vast wasteland, soap operas are thought to be the least nourishing spot in the desert" (123). Revised: In her critique of soap operas, Tania Modleski argues that some view television as "a vast wasteland" and soap operas as "the least nourishing spot in the desert" (123).

  10. Avoiding Unnecessary Block Quotation • Be selective and judicious when selecting text to cite. Only quote details that are relevant to the development of your argument. If you select a chunk of text that is too large, the reader becomes distracted by details and consequently loses the thread of your argument. For example:

  11. The townspeople make a grotesque discovery after Emily's death, as this passage shows: What was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay; and upon him and upon the pillow beside him lay that even coating of the patient and biding dust. Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron gray hair. (472-73) Earlier it is established that the graying of Emily's hair followed Homer Barron's disappearance; therefore, the hair on the pillow indicates that Emily lay with his corpse.

  12. The quotation is introduced slowly and awkwardly by the clumsy and obtrusive phrase "as this passage shows." Although the passage that follows is lengthy, it still fails to convey a crucial point that must then be introduced at the end. This matter could have been presented much more economically as an embedded extract.

  13. By extracting only necessary details from the source and by embedding them within the text of the paper, the writer can get to the point much more quickly and smoothly: The implications of the final scene are grotesque: the pillow beside Homer Barron's rotted body bore the imprint of a head, and here the townspeople found "a long strand of iron-gray hair" (473). Because Emily's hair became gray only after Homer Barron's disappearance (471), she must have lain with his corpse.

  14. Awkward Formal Introduction It is not enough to extract the necessary details from a source and embed them within the text of a paper. Writers must take care to set up the quotation in such a way that the sentence reads smoothly and naturally. The writer of the following passage was economical in selecting the cited material, but composed carelessly, simply attaching the extract to the end of a sentence.

  15. At the end of "Great Falls" Jackie explains the destruction of his family in these words: "it is just low-life, some coldness in us all, some helplessness that causes us to misunderstand life when it is pure and plain" (636).

  16. The material could have been introduced much more naturally: At the end of "Great Falls" Jackie explains that his family was destroyed by "low-life, some coldness in us all, some helplessness that causes us to misunderstand life when it is pure and plain" (636).

  17. Shift in Person Shifts in grammatical person often develop across the boundary between a writer's text and an embedded quotation: Discussing his RTN-grammar experiment, Hofstadter admits that "my choice of vocabulary was still aimed at producing humorous effects" (623).

  18. The sentence has a third-person subject, but the quotation begins with the first-person possessive pronoun, "my." Correct the problem by skillful omission of incompatible material.

  19. Correcting a Shift in Person • To avoid actually modifying the quotation, omit the original pronoun with which the passage begins (permissible ellipsis) and add an appropriate possessive pronoun before the quotation: In discussing his RTN-grammar experiment, Hofstadter admits that his "choice of vocabulary was still aimed at producing humorous effects" (623).

  20. A second way to correct the shift in person is to present Hofstadter's remark as direct speech: In discussing his RTN-grammar experiment, Hofstadter admits "my choice of vocabulary was still aimed at producing humorous effects" (623).