Course Content
Private: BA Arabic
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Unit 2
Analysing Literature

Learning Outcomes

Upon the completion of this unit and doing practices in it, the learner will be able to:

  • to develop an understanding of different genres.
  • to appreciate drama, poetry and prose.
  • to differentiate the rudiments of different genres.
  • to analyse a text.


When we come across a piece of literary text, it is imperative to develop an appreciation for the work. To be able to understand its subtle nuances is to open the door to a whole world of meanings and aesthetics which we would otherwise have missed. To analyse literature is a simple process if we understand the basic blocks that go into the making of most of the works.

Key words

Genre, Critical Analysis, Literary Terms


These are the things to be kept in mind while analyzing literature.

Firstly, one should understand the genre of the piece of text that one is analyzing. Genre is a style or category of art, music or literature. So while analysing a piece of writing, one can identify the genre to which the text belongs. It is easy to analyse first if the text is a piece of poetry, prose or drama.

Suppose the lines analysed are poetry, then look at what kind of poetry it is.
Poetry can be popularly divided into three:

1) narrative poetry,

2) dramatic poetry and 3) lyric poetry.

6.2.1 Narrative poetry

Narrative poetry is a form of poetry that tells a story. It uses both the voice of a narrator and also of characters. There are two major types of narrative poetry: Epics and Ballads. Epics are long narrative poems. Examples of epics are Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Mahabharata and Ramayana are two of the oldest epics of the world. It should be noted that Mahabharata is narrated by Vaisampayana to Janamejaya. The Kurukshetra war is narrated by Sanjaya and is contained within Vaisampayana’s narration.

Ballad: A Ballad is a type of narrative poem that tells the story and is traditionally set to music. A popular narrative ballad was usually passed down orally. Traditional ballads are typically of unknown authorship. Example of a ballad is Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens, a work of unknown authorship.

6.2.2 Dramatic Poetry

Dramatic poetry is of three types – the first is drama written in verse, the second is dramatic monologue and the third is soliloquy.

Dramatic monologue: Robert Browning’s poem ‘My Last Duchess’ is a dramatic monologue. In the poem, a Duke is a speaker and there is a listener. As the poem opens the Duke says: “That’s my last duchess painted on the wall/ Looking as if she were alive.” The readers understand that the Duke is the narrator and they also understand from the lines that there is a listener.

Soliloquy: In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the protagonist Hamlet utters the famous soliloquy, ‘to be or not to be.’ It is written in poetic form and is uttered by Hamlet when he is alone. In a soliloquy a character speaks his thoughts to himself and is not directly addressing anyone.

6.2.3 Lyric poetry

Lyric poems are short poems sung to the accompaniment of a lyre. The word “lyric” comes from that Greek word “lyre”, meaning a stringed musical instrument. There are many types of lyric poems like Ode, Elegy and Sonnet.

An Ode is an address. It is a formal, ceremonious lyric poem that addresses and often celebrates a person, place, thing or idea. Examples of ode are – Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats, Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

An elegy is a poem of mourning. It is a poem written in mourning at the passing away of someone. A poem that has a pensive and melancholic mood and tone can also be called an elegy. An example of an elegy is “Lycidas” by John Milton who wrote it to commemorate the death of Edward King who was his contemporary at the University of Cambridge.

A sonnet is a lyric poem of fourteen lines. There are many types of sonnets like Petrarchan Sonnet, Shakespearean Sonnet and Spenserian Sonnet.

Although there are many other types of poetry, these major classifications will help one appreciate the most common and popular forms of poetry.

Along with this one should know some other aspects of poetry. For instance, one should be able to understand the rhyme scheme of a poem.

6.2.4 Rhyme Scheme

Let us have a look at a Shakespearean Sonnet:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

If we look at the last words of the lines, we see that the words ‘day’ and ‘may’ rhymes. These words we can consider as ‘A.’ Then there are words like ‘temperate,’ and ‘date,’ rhymes and have been marked as ‘B.’ Marking like this, we get the rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean Sonnet as : ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

Similarly if we look at the rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan Sonnet it is: ABBA ABBA CDE CDE OR CDC CDC and a Spenserian Sonnet is ABAB BCBC CDCD EE.

Similarly, the rhyme scheme of any poem can be analyzed.

6.2.5 Figures of Speech

Simile: Similes compare the likeness and often use the word ‘like,’ or ‘as.’ Example: O my Luve is like a red red rose.
Metaphor: A metaphor describes something as another which can be compared with the earlier in its feature. Metaphor is understood that something ‘is’ something else and not that something is ‘like’ something else. Example: Beauty is truth, truth is beauty.
Synecdoche: A part of something is taken as a whole. ‘ A hundred sails’ for describing a hundred ships.
Oxymoron: Oxymoron features two words which appear to contradict each other but makes sense of the situation overall. Example: ‘Pleasing pains,’ ‘I burn and freeze.’
Hyperbole: Hyperbole is an extravagant exaggeration. Example: ‘My grandad is as old as time.’
Idiom: An idiom is a phrase which has resemblance to the situation it describes, but implies the facts or story behind it. Example: “There is a silver lining in every cloud.”
Personification: In personification an inanimate object or an abstract concept is spoken of as though it were endowed with life or human attributes. Milton writes of the sky in Paradise Lost: ‘Sky lowered, and muttering thunder, some sad drops/ Wept at completing of the mortal sin.’
Symbolism: In symbolism, an object is used as a symbol of something. For instance, ‘a red rose’ can symbolize love.
Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of the same sound at the start of a series of words in succession. Look at these lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Ancient Mariner: “The fair breeze blew/The white foam flew/And the furrow followed free/We were the first to ever burst into the silent sea.”
Assonance: Assonance is a literary device in which the repetition of similar vowel sounds takes place in two or more words in proximity to each other. Example: “Rise high in the bright sky.”
Onomatopoeia: Onomatopoeia is the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named. Examples are words like ‘cuckoo’ and ‘sizzle.’
Pun: Pun is a play of words. The pun exploits the different possible meanings of a word. Example: “A horse is a very stable animal.”
Irony: Irony is a situation in which something intended to have a particular result has the opposite result.
In case of prose, one can analyse the character, plot, setting, theme, and style of the text. The character is the who of the text, plot is the what, setting is the where and when, theme is the why, and style is the how of a story. Alone with this one can analyse the point of view of the narrative.
Point of View: Point of view is the way a story is told. Most narratives have a third-person point of view where characters are referred to as ‘he,’ ‘she,’ and ‘they.’ In the first-person point of view, the narrative is uttered from the point of view of an ‘I.’ Second-person point of view is not very common and the narrator addresses someone as ‘you’ in the narrative.
In poetry, prose and drama, one can also analyse if the narrative is comedy, tragedy or satire.
Although there are numerous other elements to keep in mind when analyzing a piece of literature, these aspects will help in doing a fair job for a beginner.


  1. Attempt a critical analysis of the following lines from the poem “A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns
    O my Luve is like a red, red rose
    That’s newly sprung in June; O my Luve is like the melody
    That’s sweetly played in tune. So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
    So deep in luve am I;
    And I will luve thee still, my dear,
    Till a’ the seas gang dry.
    (Hints: Poetry, prose or drama, Rhyme scheme, Theme, Figures of speech)
  2. Attempt a critical analysis of the following speech:
    There was a time when our people covered the land as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor, but that time long since passed away with the greatness of tribes that are now but a mournful memory. I will not dwell on, nor mourn over, our untimely decay, nor reproach my paleface brothers with hastening it, as we too may have been somewhat to blame. Youth is impulsive. When our young men grow angry at some real or imaginary wrong, and disfigure their faces with black paint, it denotes that their hearts are black, and that they are often cruel and relentless, and our old men and old women are unable to restrain them. Thus it has ever been. Thus it was when the white man began to push our forefathers ever westward. But let us hope that the hostilities between us may never return. We would have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Revenge by young men is considered gain, even at the cost of their own lives, but old men who stay at home in times of war, and mothers who have sons to lose, know better.
    (From “Chief Seattle Speech” – The Suquamish Tribe,
    (Hints: Oratorical style, theme, major thrust areas, moral)
  3. Critically analyse the following excerpt from the novel The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
    Sir, Neither you nor I speak English, but there are some things that can be said only in English. My ex-employer the late Mr. Ashok’s ex-wife, Pinky Madam, taught me one of these things; and at 11:32 p.m. today, which was about ten minutes ago, when the lady on All India Radio announced, “Premier Jiabao is coming to Bangalore next week,” I said that thing at once. In fact, each time when great men like you visit our country I say it. Not that I have anything against great men. In my way, sir, I consider myself one of your kind. But whenever I see our prime minister and his distinguished sidekicks drive to the airport in black cars and get out and do namastes before you in front of a TV camera and tell you about how moral and saintly India is, I have to say that thing in English. Now, you are visiting us this week, Your Excellency, aren’t you? All India Radio is usually reliable in these matters. That was a joke, sir. Ha! That’s why I want to ask you directly if you really are coming to Bangalore. Because if you are, I have something important to tell you. See, the lady on the radio said, “Mr. Jiabao is on a mission: he wants to know the truth about Bangalore.” My blood froze. If anyone knows the truth about Bangalore, it’s me. Next, the lady announcer said, “Mr. Jiabao wants to meet some Indian entrepreneurs and hear the story of their success from their own lips.” She explained a little. Apparently, sir, you Chinese are far ahead of us in every respect, except that you don’t have entrepreneurs. And our nation, though it has no drinking water, electricity, sewage system, public transportation, sense of hygiene, discipline, courtesy, or punctuality, does have entrepreneurs. Thousands and thousands of them. Especially in the field of technology. And these entrepreneurs—we entrepreneurs—have set up all these outsourcing companies that virtually run America now.
    (Hints: Epistolary style, Point of view, Comedy)