English Textual Analysis Guide

An essay is about putting forth an argument – and what’s an argument without evidence? In English essays, textual analysis is the supporting evidence for your argument. Without it, your argument stands weak and unsupported.

What is textual analysis?

An essay is about putting forth an argument – and what’s an argument without evidence? In English essays, textual analysis is the supporting evidence for your argument. Without it, your argument stands weak and unsupported.

We also need to analyse this evidence to prove our point. To analyse, in this case, means to find out how your composer is communicating with you – how they are getting you to think a certain way, to feel something, to sympathise or to empathise with certain characters.

Often, when we engage with texts, we skim over the ‘how’ and simply absorb the composer’s message. English is about understanding how composers of all kinds choose to represent issues, people, ideas, and situations. And this ‘how’ refers to the techniques they use. We need to name these techniques and examine their effect in order to formulate an argument about the ideas presented text.

Common Module: Human Experiences

  • The Human Experiences rubric will require you to use textual analysis in both of the two sections: first, in the comprehension section which requires you to analyse unseen texts; and second, in your own essay on your prescribed text.
  • In both, you will be looking at how language has been used to represent individual and collective experiences.
  • In the second section of your exam, your essay on your prescribed text, you will also be elaborating on the role of language and texts in representing human experiences and in making us reflect personally.
  • 'Language' is also related to the form, structure, and stylistic / grammatical features of your text.
    • As we will see throughout this guide, difference in form will shape your textual analysis.

How do I analyse a quote?

  • The simplest, and most effective, acronym to follow for textual analysis is T.E.E: technique, example, effect. This is like a mini-checklist for all your writing that will help you methodically analyse your examples. The T.E.E. method should also help you avoid merely reciting the scene or events in your text and, in turn, analyse their significance.
    • T: identify the technique.
    • E: provide an example from your text, either in the form of a quote or a scene.
    • E: analyse the impact, force, and effect of that quote and technique. Here, you might consider:
      • why has the composer used this device here?
      • what does this device contribute to the creation of meaning?
      • what is this device designed to make me think?
      • what is this device designed to make me feel?
  • Ideally, we should be aiming to repeat the 'T.E.E.' method 3-4 times per paragraph to maximise marks and the depth of your engagement with the text.

You might already be familiar with the 'P.E.E.L' paragraph method - point, example, explanation, link, T.E.E. will fit into your broader paragraph structure in the following way:

Now, we will see the T.E.E. method in practice.

T.E.E. in practice

  • In this section, we will go through some examples of more effective, and less effective, examples of textual analysis.
  • These examples will be based on three popular texts on the Human Experiences list, in both Standard and Advanced.
  • These examples have each been chosen to demonstrate to you how you might analyse different text types. At one point, you will be studying at least two of these text-types, and understanding how textual analysis shifts depending on the text-type and form of your prescribed text is crucial in accessing higher marks and strengthening your responses.

1. George Orwell's 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four [English Advanced]

Band 3

“It was like swimming against a current that swept you backwards however hard you struggled, and then suddenly deciding to turn round and go with the current instead of opposing it.” Winston's resistance in the state of Oceania is described through the simile of "swimming against a current," which conveys how the powerful force of totalitarianism overwhelms an individual, in the same way that it is difficult for an individual to resist a strong current. In the face of such a powerful state, it is easier for individuals like Orwell's protagonist Winston to relinquish control, embrace conformity, and serve the state's ideology instead. This reflects the nature of totalitarianism that threatens people who resist the state's power and so encourage conformity. Orwell shows us this again when Winston writes a series of ironic statements that have become the state's slogans: "freedom is slavery" and "two plus two makes five." Orwell uses irony here in the Party’s slogans to show us how the state has manipulated logic and reality. Those who accept this knowledge have conformed and accepted the state's control of their minds.

What was good about this response?

well-chosen example

✓ correctly identifies the technique in the given quote

✓ fulfils both the 'T' and the first 'E' in the T.E.E process

What could be improved?

✗ explains the meaning of the quote, but struggles to analyse the effect of the quote

✗ lack of synthesis with the whole text and thus other examples

✗ quote is not integrated, and is merely plopped into the paragraph

✗ a more vague discussion of key ideas like totalitarianism and experiences like conformity and rebellion

✗ fails to examine why this moment is significant in the broader context of the text and Winston's character development


2. Arthur Miller's 1953 tragic drama The Crucible [English Advanced]

Band 3

Danforth tells Francis: “But you must understand, sir, that a person is either with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between. This is a sharp time, now, a precise time – we live no longer in the dusky afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world. Now, by God’s grace, the shining sun is up, and them that fear not light will surely praise it.” Here, Danforth describes the polarising moment in Salem society where either one supported the Court's power and participated in the hysteria of the witch hunt, or they were considered to be acting on behalf of the Devil. He describes the witch hunts as a moment where God has finally revealed who among them in Salem is evil and who is good. In this same scene, Proctor exclaims: “A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face! And it is my face, and yours, Danforth! For them that quail to bring men out of ignorance, as I have quailed, and as you quail now when you know in all your black hearts that this will be fraud—God damns our kind especially, and we will burn, we will burn together!” The use of fire imagery here conveys the idea that Salem has been taken over by the corruption and hysteria that Danforth and his Court support. Proctor also draws on Biblical imagery as Salem was a highly religious society. Proctor says that it is they, himself and Danforth, who embody the evil of Lucifer, not those who are being exposed in the witch hunts. The use of exclamation marks conveys Proctor's unravelling and his frenzy as he also draws a parallel between his own sins, his adultery, and Danforth's.

What was good about this response?

well-chosen examples

What could be improved?

✗ the meaning of the quote is explained, not analysed

✗ integration of the quote - at present, it is included as a large chunk

✗ quote is not contextualised

✗ could have linked lighting to broader devices - i.e. the way that light is used consistently throughout the play

3. Stephen Daldry's 2000 film Billy Elliot [English Standard]

Band 3

When Mrs Wilkinson takes Billy for a drive and they stop at a lake, she recounts the story of Swan Lake. Billy is shocked that the woman in the story dies when the Price does not rescue her, and he exclaims: “she killed herself because the Prince didn’t love her?” Billy’s indignant reaction shows his resistance to the gender norms enforced in his society and embodied by his father and brother. The motif of the swan comes to symbolise Billy himself, and how he breaks free from the norms of his society through the power of ballet. Once he has embraced and achieved his own dreams he is finally free from the restrictive gender norms of his community. The lake scene thus foreshadows the final and powerful scene of the movie, when Billy is in a stage performance of Swan Lake. Daldry uses a mid-range shot to show us Billy's father and brother in the audience, and later shows us his father reduced to tears. Here, Daldry conveys the character growth of Billy’s family as they have learned to transcend their own understanding of gender norms to embrace and appreciate Billy and his talent. Daldry also depicts Billy’s graceful performance in the leading role in the ballet, and the dark lighting emphasises Billy as the focus of the shot as he leaps in mid-air, thereby symbolising his final liberation, reinforced by the intensifying diegetic music .

What was good about this response?

well-chosen example

✓ correctly identifies the technique in the given quote

✓ fulfils both the 'T' and the 'E' in the T.E.E process

What could be improved?

relies on a quote in the analysis of the first scene as opposed to visual devices

✗ struggles to analyse and articulate the effect of the quote

✗ often explains rather than analyses the effect of certain techniques and scenes

✗ more simplistic understanding of themes like class and the context of the film

✗ lack of synthesis

How do I organise my quotes?

Filling in your quote bank as you work through your text is the most effective way to approach it. This way, when you come to writing practice essays, your quotes will be easily identifiable and organised.

Below, one example has been given for each of the chosen texts and the rest are left for you to follow suit.

1984 quote bank

Theme Argument / idea Evidence Analysis - TEE
love, relationships, and sexuality In 1984, Winston's relationship with Julia is an act of rebellion in a state that polices both sexual and emotional relationships. While they are initially drawn to each other precisely because of this rebellion, the trajectory of Winston's and Julia's relationship reflects and parallels Winston's own descent into anti-hero. "But you could not have pure love or pure lust nowadays. No emotion was pure, because everything was mixed up with fear and hatred." Orwell's personification of emotion conveys the extent to which the purest and most quintessential human experiences - love, sex, and relationships - have been infiltrated and corrupted by the state. 1984's ending will confirm this idea that no purity of emotion can exist under a state so pervasive in the fate that befalls Winston's and Julia's relationship.
technology
history and information
technology
physical control
psychological control
resistance and dissent

The Crucible quote bank

Theme Argument / idea Evidence Analysis - TEE
reputation In a society marked by hysteria and fear, one's reputation can be quickly and fatally destroyed. It thus becomes crucial that characters in The Crucible protect their reputations and avoid association with the people deemed 'tainted' and 'evil' in fear that they be counted against the Court and so against God himself. "Proctor [with a cry of his soul]: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!" Miller's stage direction here conveys Proctor's distraught state. Despite Hale's and Danforth's advice that he confess to witchcraft and thus save himself, Proctor resists succumbing to the hysteria that has engulfed Salem and refuses to allow innocent people to die while he escapes their fate. We also see Proctor as the play's tragic hero here, as he laments his previous sins and retains the honour of his name.
power
justice
hysteria
dissent
religion

Billy Elliot quote bank

Theme Argument / idea Evidence Analysis - TEE
gender and sexuality In Billy's town, Everington, gender norms are strictly enforced, as Billy is expected partake in the same expressions of traditional masculinity as his father and his brother, best exemplified by the boxing and mining traditions. Art then becomes the road to Billy's liberation. Early in the film, Daldry includes a scene of Billy in his boxing boots joining the ballet class. Daldry uses a close-up panning shot of the pointed toes of the girls in Mrs Wilkinson's ballet class, then juxtaposed against Billy's feet, still in his blue boxing shoes. This juxtaposition is underpinned by the clearly gendered tensions and connotations of boxing and ballet, as typical of masculinity and femininity, respectively. Daldry then pauses as Billy takes off his boxing shoes, using a mid-range shot to depict his feet without his upper body. He pauses on this shot as Mrs Wilkinson throws ballet flats to Billy, which land next to his boots. "Go on, I dare ya," she says. The diegetic and whimsical ballet music that continues to play in the background and the gentle, bright, and natural lighting in the scene juxtaposes against the earlier scene of Billy's intense boxing class, thereby heightening the division between what is typically considered to be a 'girl's' sport and a 'boy's' sport.
resistance against authority
class
the power of art
structure vs. agency
identity

Final Step: Adapting Textual Analysis

When preparing for an exam, it can be difficult to ensure that you're able to answer a broad range of questions with the quotes, scenes, and examples that you've studied. The best way to prepare for this is to carefully revisit the rubric and formulate study tables that are organised based on the rubric dot points. The rubric will be the basis of how all your questions are formulated, and so ensuring that their analysis is versatile and practicing how they might ensure that it is malleable is a useful skill. The best thing that you can do with this table is then to start writing up essay plans.

Example Human Experiences rubric bank

Rubric concern Argument / idea Evidence Analysis
How does your composer use language to represent human experiences?
What are the individual and collective human experiences represented in your text?
How does the context, purpose, structure, stylistic and grammatical features shape the meaning of your text? How does the form of your prescribed text shape its meaning?
What human qualities and emotions are associated with, or arise from, these experiences?
How does your text give us an insight into the anomalies, paradoxes, and inconsistencies in human behaviour and motivations?
What is the role of storytelling? How does it change throughout time to express and reflect particular lives and cultures?
How does your text invite you to see the world differently?
How does your text invite you to challenge your assumptions?
How does your text ignite new ideas?
How does your text invite you to reflect personally?

Summary

FAQs

  1. How many quotes do I need?

    If you’re aiming for a Band 6 in either Standard or Advanced, you should be including three to four quotes per paragraph with the T.E.E. method repeated for each. For films, this roughly translates to the same number of detailed examples, which don’t necessarily have to be separate scenes.

  2. How do I pick effective quotes and scenes?

    When you're first reading your text, you should have a pencil and post-it notes to help you identify key moments as you go. This will be especially effective if you have already read and understood the rubric and the unit's key themes - this will help you pick the most relevant moments in your text. These will usually be the crucial moments in the text that you will respond to instinctively. You might also pick quotes and examples that you find most interesting. While you will definitely be focusing on key moments, scenes, and characters, you should be picking examples from a range of moments or scenes throughout the text - you will want to demonstrate a wholistic understanding of the text by picking a range of examples.

  3. How long do my quotes need to be?

    There is no specific required length for a quote. However, you do have to memorise them and take time in the exam to recite them. You don't necessarily access higher grades for longer quotes - in fact, they can be counterproductive if you can't analyse them in full. Smaller quotes can be very effective, especially if you are trying to track a pattern of language, or quote images. In the rare case that there is a consecutive chunk that you feel is essential to your point, you should break it up into smaller quotes and treat them separately to ensure that you can do the whole extract justice.

  4. What are my markers looking for?

    Above all, your markers are looking for a strong, centralised argument that is supported by textual examples and analysis. Remember that textual analysis is guided by the T.E.E acronym, but that your examples and analysis must be supporting a central argument in response to your given question. Your textual analysis is your evidence, so you must make sure that they are serving some broader purpose: creating an argument in response to a question.

  5. How do I make sure that my quotes are versatile and malleable?

    The best way to ensure that your quotes and examples are versatile and malleable to a range of questions is to study the rubric and to practice responses. Planning responses and arguments to the ideas presented in the rubric will help ensure that your understanding of the text, and thus the examples you have chosen, are wholistic and can be used to create a range of arguments and responses. Under time constraints as you approach your exam blocks, it's not always possible to write a different practice essay for each of these points. This is why I'd recommend using essay plans. Essay plans help you ensure that you can use your textual analysis to support a range of arguments and to respond to a number of questions. It is a time-effective way of practicing a range of questions, and highlighting the areas of the rubric and your text that trouble you the most. If you do this with some time to spare before your exam, you will be able to revise your arguments and examples, as well as prepare for the 'worst-case' scenario questions.

Textual Analysis: Checklist

After you've completed your own body paragraphs, you can read over your own work and use this checklist to reflect on your textual analysis.

  • [  ] 3-4 examples from your prescribed text
  • [  ] clearly articulated technique for each example
  • [  ] clearly articulated effect for each example
  • [  ] clearly articulated link between the effect of this device and your argument

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