Literary Analysis in the Upper School
Engaging in complex literary analysis might be thought of as something akin to embarking on a treasure hunt. It requires digging deeply into a text to unearth previously undiscovered nuggets of truth or beauty. Our mission at Covenant is to provide students with the tools necessary to participate in this challenging and rewarding work.
“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
One hallmark of good literary analysis is the ability to see beyond the words of the text to the undergirding themes. Thoughtfully-crafted questions challenge students to carefully examine character, plot, and setting, leading them to a more full understanding of how the author weaves these elements together to convey a deeper message. For example, in Oliver Twist, how does Dickens use physical darkness and even clothing to reveal the moral fiber of his characters? In The Bronze Bow, how does the hard, craggy face of the mountain reflect the bitterness and resentment brewing in Daniel’s heart? In considering the use of setting to convey theme in The Bronze Bow, one student observed, “Spring is a time of change. The text says that ‘the curtain of rain drew back.’ This helps us to know that Daniel is going to change and his ‘curtain of hate’ will be drawn back.” These kinds of insights are a typical result of round-table discussions that challenge students to think critically and engage the text in new ways.
One of the most important themes the students encounter is that of redemption. They seek it fervently, desiring that the characters in the books they read might find restoration to the shalom that God intended for creation. They long for Nancy to accept the offer of redemption in Oliver Twist. They eagerly await Mary’s transformation in The Secret Garden. And when these moments of redemption finally arrive, they rejoice, because the redemption of the characters mirrors the redemption of their own souls by Jesus Christ.
Because we are encouraging students to search for what is truly good and beautiful, it is essential that we provide them with rich ground from which to mine. Classic works by authors such as Tolkien, Dickens, and Twain serve as the backbone of our literature curriculum. These books have stood the test of time and are filled with hidden gems. As one student remarked, “I’ve read The Hobbit five times before, but I never got out of it the things I did while reading it in this class.” Truly great literature is like that. It allows us to gain new insight each and every time we read it, revealing more clearly the attributes of God and reflecting His love story for creation.
Yet more important than any of the classic stories our students read is the ultimate story of love and redemption hidden in Christ. In discovering that, we find true riches, more precious than silver and gold. May we never cease in our desire to know God more intimately each day, in order that we might share the treasure we’ve found with those still searching.