Types of Texts
Your school sets the types of texts you will study which will include
any of the following:
non-fiction (autobiography; biography)
Know the Main Features of Text Types
ideology - views and values
narrative point of view
style - narrative techniques
music, sound and lighting effects
camera shots, angles and movements
mise en scéne
structure (sonnet, stanza, verse)
rhythm and rhyme
figurative language (metaphors. Similes, alliteration, assonance,
Be able to use the appropriate metalanguage (or terminology) particular to the type of text you are studying.
If poetry and short stories have been set, you need to be aware
that you will be exploring and making connections between common
ideas and themes across the poetry or short story anthology you
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As a student you should:
Read / view texts before you begin classes
Circle or write down words that need clarification
Underline any key incidents or quotes
Make notes in the margins of the text
Write down any images, symbols, themes (etc.) that are repeated
Write a brief summary of each chapter / scene and the overall
story in your own words
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Types of Questions:
When you study texts, your
aim is to learn:
how the text constructs meaning, conveys ideas and values,
and is open to a range of interpretations;
to develop and justify a detailed interpretation of a text.
Questions set for assessment tasks and exams
focus on questions that cover:
interpretation of characters, relationships, ideas, values,
the importance of how key features such as the text's structure,
settings, narrative viewpoint, language features and conventions
contributes to the text's meaning
themes, ideas and values in texts
responding to a point of view or an interpretation of a text
to present your own point of view
1. how a text constructs meaning - the ideas, characters and themes
constructed by the author and presented in the text
2. how a text conveys ideas and values - the ways the author expresses
or implies a point of view and values
3. how a text is open to a range of interpretations - the way readers'
interpretations of a text differ and why
"Inheritance shows a community characterized
by intolerance and resistance to change." Do you agree?
Louisa says: "I have grown up, battling every inch of
my way". To what extent is life a battle for the characters
in Hard Times?
"Richard III could not have gained power without support."
"Metaphors and symbols in The Kite Runner tell
us a great deal about Amir and his world." Discuss.
"Coketown, the setting of Hard Times, is as important
as any of its characters." Discuss.
"Dickens' caricatures, settings and symbols leave readers
in little doubt as to his beliefs regarding Victorian education
and the Industrial Revolution." Discuss
"In Hard Times, Dickens warns his reader against
a society that ignores a human need for relaxation and entertainment."
"Gradgrind admires the education system portrayed in
Hard Times - how do we know that Dickens did not"?
"How does Romulus, My Father explore the idea
that children are affected by adults' behaviour, but never fully
"In Richard III we learn more about Richard from
what he does and what others say of him, than what he tells us about
"In Hard Times families are neither happy nor
supportive." Do you agree?
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- Ask you to explore the ways that protagonists and minor characters
interact, and in so doing, present the main concerns of the author.
- It is through the ways the characters behave, interact with
others, react to events, are motivated, develop relationships
and change and grow, that readers gain a better understanding
of what the messages are that the author wants to convey.
- This means that these topics generally centre around one or
two characters, and ask for a discussion of one or all of these
- Require you to focus on the way the text is constructed, its
narrative, its point of view, its language and style, the characters
within it, and the special features that form the specific text
type (e.g. film, play, poetry).
- These questions will ask you to explore the way that a key feature
of the text contributes to its overall meaning.
- You need to be aware of, for example, how the structure of the
text (such as non-linear narrative plot or flashback) or the imagery
and symbols enhances the effect that the author aims to create
for the reader.
Essentially, "construction topics" ask you to analyse
key textual features such as characterisation, structure, imagery,
symbolism, etc. and examines the importance of such textual features
in conveying key themes and shaping the development of character.
- Require you to focus on the themes within the text, the wider
world of it and an understanding of the way these factors shape
the meaning that the author wishes to create.
- You need to be able to comment upon the way that the society
and setting of the text influences the actions of the characters
and the author's views and values.
- Themes and values topics require an analytical interpretation
that 'pulls together' the different elements of the text to present
an explanation of what the text means. It analyses features such
as characters, setting, structure and imagery, etc. and shows
how they help to convey the overall meaning of the text.
- Simply, this means that you are required to present a detailed
and justified response to any given topic that shows your awareness
of a range of possible interpretations of the text, and that your
own interpretation has been developed as a result of careful analysis
and close reading.
- The best place to start is with your own reading of the text.
Your ideas and interpretations of the characters, themes, values,
(etc.) will be complemented by listening to similar or differing
opinions and insights into the text from class discussion; your
interpretations will be further challenged and enhanced by reading
a range of critical essays that have been written about the text.
- It is important to remember that it is possible to either agree
or disagree wholly with the premise of the topic or partly. It
is important that whatever position you adopt, that you are able
to develop and justify your interpretation fully and support it
by the appropriate evidence from the text.
When you begin to deconstruct the
topic you are given, it is important that you keep in mind all of
the aspects of the text that need to be considered.
If you remember the differences between the styles of questions,
then this will help you to cover all of the material in your answer.
How a Text is Constructed
- chronological: events arranged according to how they occur in
- retrospective: starting at the end and looking back
- flashbacks: events providing background information as necessary
- flash forwards: presenting a future event first
- traditional linear: beginning, middle and end
- non-linear: where you may enter and leave the narrative of one
plot line at any time to read about another set of characters
- double endings: often used when something unexpected occurs
and starts the chain of events all over again
- sub-plots: complete separate stories contained in the text,
often involving minor characters, and further illustrating the
issues and themes
Narrative point of view
Authors make conscious decisions about whose perspective the story
will be told from. This is called the 'narrative point of view'.
- First person: the narrator is a character in the story and uses:
I, my, me, we, our and us to tell the story.
- Third person omniscient: The narrator is outside of the story
and is not a character, but can see into the minds of all characters
to tell readers the characters' thoughts and feelings. The narrator
knows all and sees all (god-like).
- Third person limited: The narrator is outside of the story and
sees into the mind of only one character. The narrator still sees
other characters, but only knows the thoughts and feelings of
Language and Style
means the language chosen
by the author to tell the story. It is what makes a piece of writing
is the way language is used;
it may be formal, colloquial, ornate, poetic, fast-paced, direct,
You need to carefully study your texts to consider how aspects
- help to create the tone and style of the writing
- produce an image with special meaning for a setting, character,
idea or theme
- have a symbolic meaning
is the mood or 'sound' of the
writing and conveys an attitude to the subject matter. The tone
can be serious or comic, sarcastic or sincere, angry or affectionate
(among many other possibilities)
Be alert to how and are closely related to the and other aspects of the narrative. For example:
- the style and tone
of the narrative will reflect the personality, background and
social context of the narrator.
- the tone of the
narrative voice is usually more formal than the language used
by the characters. This encourages us to see the narrator's viewpoint
as reliable and truthful.The tone and style of a character's speech
reflects their social class and educational background. The use
of language allows the author to represent aspects of the society
and culture to which the characters belong.
- The use of conveys the cultural context of characters and highlights cultural
refers to language that writers use to help their readers understand
and mentally see the subject they are writing about.
- The most common types of imagery include metaphors, similes,
personification, symbols, analogies.
are images that stand for
a larger idea or concept (e.g. the crown symbolises royalty; scales
- Be on the look-out for recurring imagery in your texts for these
have a special significance for the meaning of the text as a whole.
The repetition of an image indicates that the author is doing
more than simply describing a setting or character.
- The characters in all texts are the people around whom the plot
is centred. They are fictional constructions of the author, and
they drive the action of the story forward.
- Characters often embark on personal journeys or quests which
often lead to a personal, emotional or spiritual awakening.
- Often the protagonists are very changed by the end of the text
and the main message of the author is embedded in the way the
character is viewed in the end. Often this will depend upon the
experiences, relationships and reactions that the character has
to the events that shape them.
- The way a character is presented at the end of a story, whether
they are triumphant or defeated, will depend upon what the author
wants the reader to take away with them at the end of their experience
of the narrative.
Themes and Ideas
- Themes are the messages central to the purpose of any text and
relate to the values of the author and their point of view. A
text may (and often does) have several themes and explore ideas
about particular subject matters (e.g. war, relationships, oppression,
- A theme about war for example, will not be about soldiers just
fighting in World War I but may also explore ideas and issues
that deal with relationships, conscience, reconstruction (aftermath
of war), and so on.
- It is important to remember that a character is constructed
by an author to represent particular ideas, themes and values
in the text.
Views and Values
- The views and values presented in a text are the attitudes,
beliefs and ideas of the people and societies depicted. They refer
both to the views and values of particular characters and to the
views and values endorsed or critiqued by the text as a whole.
The author's own views and values are also expressed through their
work, just as readers bring underlying attitudes and beliefs to
their interpretations of texts.
- In other words, authors may portray positively or negatively
a particular set of behaviours, a social convention, a political
philosophy. For example, a text such as Charles Dickens' Hard
Times may be said to present a damning picture of the ills of
Cultural, historical, social settings and contexts
Every decision that an author makes about a story is done for a
reason and this is especially important when considering the setting
and context of a text.
- The context is which the text is set is very important.
- The specific time period and historical setting of the story
will shape the way you understand the concerns of the author.
- Often you will be introduced to a text via a mini-history lesson
in order to give you the background required to gain a broader
understanding of the issues at hand.
- Context refers to the surrounding circumstances in which a text
is created. It refers to the influences on the author that shaped
their views and values about themes and issues. These include
social, political, religious, cultural, family, educational and
economic influences, as well as people and life experiences. This,
in turn, influences the text created.
- Knowing the context of a text provides you with an insight into
an author's views and values. It shows you how they see the world
and the factors that influenced the construction of the text.
- The context of a text provides you with a greater understanding
of why characters are depicted in a certain way, why a particular
setting was chosen and the specific themes an author wants to
- For example, in Hard Times Charles Dickens offers us an interpretation
of the social structures and industrialisation of 19th Century
England. He clearly attacks the merchant class who exploited the
weak and vulnerable; he condemns the divorce laws of the time
and the education system, he endorses the feminine ideal and punishes
women who do not conform to the ideal.
Develop the Metalanguage with which to Discuss
- authorial voice
- first, second,
third person, omniscient narrator
- protagonist, antagonist,
- exposition, turning
points, climax, dénouement, resolution, flashback, stanza,
- narrative, metaphor, simile,
motif, imagery, symbolism, tone, mood, soliloquy, monologue, rhyming
couplets, mise en scene, dissolve, close-up shot, low-angle shot
Ensure you develop the appropriate terminology relevant to the
type of text you are studying (e.g. novels, short stories, plays,
films, poetry, autobiography, biography) and actively use them where
appropriate, in your written responses. The best way to learn how
to use them is through listening to class discussion, reading critical
articles on the texts and recording appropriate words and phrases,
and through writing practice.
- words to describe a may
include: morally corrupt, self-centred, arrogant
- words to describe a may
include: oppressive, dystopian, bleak
- The author's irony is used to depict ...
- The author's imagery of ... illustrates
- The author uses ... to symbolise
- The author's narrative structure helps to position the way we
perceive the values of ...
- A device favoured by author to express his view is ...
- "The text validates its protagonist's violent rebellion
through its depiction of a bloody and oppressive regime . . ."
- "The author affirms the need for a balance between reason
and emotion by showing the unhappy consequences of . . ."
- "It is through the author's affectionate portraits of eccentric
individuals that the novel undermines social pressure to . . ."
- "The narrative critiques the notion that the society offers
equal opportunity for all by showing how jobs and justice are
far more readily obtained by the rich . . ."
- Use verbs to identify what the text / author, playwright, poet,
fim director, is doing (e.g. explores, challenges, illustrates,
- Text X explores the consequences when . . . through the patterns
of imagery that . . .
- The author evokes . . . our sympathy for character A by having
him unjustly accused of . . .
- The juxtaposition of images . . . suggest the impermanence of
. . .
- The conflict between character A and character B reflects the
fundamental dichotomy between . . .
- In this passage our first impressions of character C are challenged
because C's private reflections on the issue illustrate . . .
- The binary opposition between light and dark through the novel's
patterns of imagery are moral concerns that are examined in .
- Author shows how the conflict between culture and vulgarity
provides is made clear from the opening of the play . . .
- Author depicts the prostration of the cultured elite before
the forces of darkness . . .
- Author illustrates this process through a careful manipulation
of the setting . . .
- The link between . . . is crystallised in the image of . . .
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Different Meanings from Different Readings
Different readers and viewers can focus on specific readings of
the text according to the ideas and values they perceive it presents.
Many readers respond to texts from a "dominant reading"
and while this is quite acceptable, others view texts from "alternative"
and "resistant" readings. These include: Feminist, Marxist,
Psychoanalytic, Post-colonial, Political, amongst others.
of texts that are produced by a majority of readers in a particular
culture at a particular time. They represent the assumptions and
beliefs that are most dominant and powerful in the culture at the
time. For example, Hard Times is about the evils caused by industrialisation.
interpretations of texts which may be different, but are nevertheless
acceptable in cultural terms. For example, readers could interpret
Hard Times from a Marxist perspective.
of texts which challenge the accepted views within society, or oppose
the dominant cultural beliefs.
For example, the play The Importance of Being Earnest is
"dominantly" read as a satire on Victorian society and
morality and the appropriate ways for men and women to behave, a
"Resistant Reading" would argue that the play is a satiric
subversion of the rigidity of conventional Victorian attitudes to
gender and sexuality. Or, the homoerotic sub-text in the novel, A Passage to India.
Readers and viewers can focus on specific readings of the text
according to the ideas and values they perceive it presents. Here
are just some examples of different readings:
A reading focuses on
what the text says about class differences and issues to do with
social justice. Some key characteristics are:
- adopts a conflict model of society, headed by the ruling class,
which the literature usually supports;
- class is the dominant structure;
- class is the feature that denies or supports the achievement
of potential, desires, wealth, love, etc.;
- privileges history as an essential element.
focuses on the portrait of men and women contained in the text,
identifies stereotypes and highlights examples of inequality. Some
key characteristics are:
- examines ideas of masculinity and femininity in texts, as well
as what those concepts may mean at any given time and how they
may influence and even direct how texts are both constructed and
Most often seen in feminist readings:
- texts viewed from a female point of view and an awareness that
females are often ascribed different roles, responsibilities and
ways of acting from men;
- focus on position of women in society and challenging the common
- concerned with oppression of women and power relationships that
contribute to it.
on the psychological aspects of a text, such as characters' motivations
or the author's intentions. Some key characteristics are:
- broad reading that deals with the underlying psychology of the
creator and/or the unconscious motivations of characters;
- examines the ideas that underpin and support the social fabric
and cultural and, or, social identity on which is built a personal
- includes the narrower psychoanalytic readings that, while based
on the same material, use and interpret writers, characters and
texts in terms of specific symbols (e.g. Freudian, Jungian).
A reading might
focus on issues to do with the effects of colonisation, the exploitation
of indigenous cultures by colonial powers and the movement towards
independence and self-determination. Some key characteristics are:
- deals with or arises from the process of colonisation in previous
centuries and national independence in (largely) the twentieth
- relates to the literature that arose from colonisation, both
supporting and challenging the effects of that process;
- very often relates to issues of identity, suppressed or supplanted
by colonial rule.