Textual Analysis Worksheet
For scholars of fiction, these terms are crucial tools because they help us understand how the text was constructed to produce the effects we experience as we read. The scholar, having read the text for its pleasures ("the dream of the text"), then studies the text and usually sketches the following information on a separate sheet of paper.
Major Characters (who are they and what do they do?): Robin ("a shrewd youth"--def. "shrewd"??); [the Major--the man who wasn't there until...]; man w/"periwig" (def. "periwig"?) and cane; French Protestant immigrant innkeeper (why Fr. Prot?); woman of the scarlet petticoats (NE C17 attitude toward prostitutes? Hawthorne's circle's attitude? research for paper?); ugly "two-faced" man--Indian disguise plus "red/black" symbolism--signif?; the "gentleman" (1218)--who is he? Also, the Narrator--is he the "gentleman"?
Minor Characters (who are they and what do they do?): ferryman; barbershop patrons; inn patrons--split into city men and country men (structural opposition? Robin vs. town); town dandies on parade; watchman (allusion to Shakespeare's "rude mechanicals" in Midsummer Night's Dream--city vs. country?); Robin's family in dream sequence (father, mother, elder brother--conflict re: inheritance; younger sister)--why are they introduced there and not in the intro ("Robin set out from his family farm, saying goodbye to them one-by-one...")?
Plot (what are the physical settings of the action and and what are its major scenes or episodes?): NE Seaport c. 1731 (so the Major is not Hutchinson, the historian--Boston mob attacks 1771-4--paper?); serial question-answer episodes: after main gathering places (barber shop, inn) Robin wanders the neighborhoods, rich houses, poor houses (LSP!), winds up at empty church, then mob comes by w/Major and Robin laughs, asked to stay. (Will he? What would that mean? paper?)
Point of View (who is our narrator?; is the narrator entirely reliable?): Not Robin, but tells us only what Robin sees and hears, or what he thinks he sees and hears (and we sometimes guess better than R does); wiser than Robin but does not reveal to us all that he knows--unreliable? Or just discrete, deceptive, ironic? Choice of term might determine whether the story is comedy, satire, or tragedy.
Ambiguity and Irony (is the text devious or comic at times?): tons--what's with "the Man in the Moon"??; Shakespeare ref. and sexy woman seems to "dominate" R's will; is R strong or weak; laughter in this text--what are they laughing at? (serial answers--R's and ours start to differ pretty quickly as we become sure R is getting it wrong.
Allusion (does the text refer obliquely to events or persons or literary texts outside itself?): [Thomas] Hutchinson History of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay (3 vols, 1764, 1767, 1828--NH writes MKMM in '32). Shakespeare, MSND. Aristotle, Poetics, mixture of "pity and terror" in sight of Major--tragic "catharsis" definition--genre--is this a tragedy? Is growing up tragic?
Images and Symbols (are sensory details given special attention/repetition?; do any become associated with ideas or ideologies?): light (natural vs. artificial, revealing or idealizing or magical vs. blinding); "scarlet" (prostitution--how to support that interpretation? just say "might suspect"?); red vs. black (Indian, African-American slaves? NE cities are slave trading importation points esp. Providence); dreams vs. reality--can we trust what Robin "sees"?; dreams vs. drunkenness--fatigue, unfamiliar stimuli--NH seems to deliberately drive Robin nuts!
Structural Oppositions (are places or characters or actions set up to be in opposition to each other? are any oppositions "binary oppositions" [mutually exclusive, like "on/off"): light/dark; moon/torches; natural time / clock time; country/town, etc.
Dramatic Structure (does the plot have a distinct arc of increasing and/or decreasing tension?): it's a "quest narrative," typical "young man seeks his fortune": arrival, serial testing, bafflement at church (why there!?--reread closely); revelation, resolution of R's quest--"resolution" seems weird--does he join that disgusting mob???
Sense of an Ending (does the plot have a distinct point of "closure" where its issues seem to be resolved? are there "loose ends" caused by unresolved issues?): Will he join the people who tarred and feathered his elder kinsman? Will he lead the next mob? What kind of "quest" is it that gets this kind of reward? Folk tales sometimes have odd results--check Grimm?
Link to blank worksheet.