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I'm taking Junior AP Eng Lit, and my assignment is to write some detailed questions about the beginning chapters of Catcher in the Rye and answer them. These questions are supposed to be in depth and sophisticated, and so are our answers. I've never done this before in my classes, and literary analysis is not my strongest point, so I'm in a complete panic right now. I'm not sure how to go about doing this. Do you guys have any advice on how to do this type of assignment?

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Ahh, AP English. Good times.

I won't pretend I'm the best English student. I hated analyzing literature in high school. But I'll try to help you with your assignment in a way that hopefully you'll feel comfortable with.

It's been a long time since I've read Catcher in the Rye, so I don't remember specifics. You can fill in those blanks yourself.

Literature always has certain aspects. Characters, setting, events, language. I'd start with those.

  • What characters have been introduced? What can you tell about their personalities so far? Why would the author have picked those characters?

  • Where is the story taking place? Why would it take place there? How does that impact the characters or events?

  • When is the story taking place? What else is happening in the characters' world? How is that affecting the characters/story? It's also good to think about the culture the characters are living in and how that influences them, affects the story, etc.

  • What's happened in the story so far? How did the characters handle/react to those events? What does that tell you about the characters?

  • Language is often the hardest part to analyze, but it's really fun when you start to get to the deep levels. (Don't overdo it though. If you're new to literary analysis it's easy to stretch the metaphors and references a little too far.) In Catcher in the Rye, if I remember correctly, the main character (narrator?) uses very informal language with quite a lot of swearing. Why would the author write it this way? What point is the author trying to make?

It's easy to get overwhelmed by trying to sound smart and understand the story quickly. That definitely contributed to a lot of crying sessions when I was in 11th grade. Just remember that you're a student and you're supposed to not know things. As long as you put effort into learning and improving you'll be a great success in life.

Best of luck on your assignment.


Extra advice:

My 11th grade English teacher taught us to start our essays with this sentence:

"In ____ by ____, the author argues that..."

and then discuss three points in three paragraphs each with examples from the text. It's an effective formula for passing essay exams.

For the AP exam, it's not how well you write literary analysis, it's how fast you can put down the points in a way that AP graders can easily read and see that you've correctly analyzed the text. Worry about good analysis outside of the exam.

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