2. Time - 3. Character - 4. Relationship - 5. Theme
2. TIME OR CHRONOLOGY
This includes any type of real or theoretical time frame: a momentary encounter, an hour, a day, a year, or any amount of time in the past or the future — from the Big Bang (or Creation) till the end of the universe (or Day of Judgment). This includes manipulations of linear time.
Why does a writer set up a particular time frame, and how does it work? Remember not to simply give a summary, but rather to explore such things as how time affects mood or development of ideas or character.
For instance, imagine a film starting with a Wall Street executive about to put a bullet through her head. The director then takes the viewer back to a beautiful summer day when the character was younger, happier, and lying on the university lawn with her boyfriend. By manipulating linear time in this way the director’s urging the viewer to examine the intervening time-frame with a clear purpose: to detect the causes which lead her to suicide. She was once so happy. What made her want to kill herself? The director’s use of time thus pushes the viewer to examine her character (3), her relations with others (4), her struggle with a particular problem or issue (5).
Other uses of time include flash-backs, historical references, moments where time seems to expand or contract, biography charting the course of a person’s life, jumping back and forth from the present to the past to set up a parallel between the two, comparing aspects of the present to a future time which is perfect (a utopia) or imperfect (a dystopia).
Terms: Historical Ages and Periods
Age is often used synonymously with Period, yet not always. In the broadest terms, there are four historical Ages: 1. Ancient 3000 BC – 1000 BC, 2. Classical 1000 BC – 500 AD, 3. Medieval 500 AD – 1500 AD, 4. Modern 500 AD - present.
In terms of English history and literature, Classical and Medieval often come up, and the Modern Age is often differentiated from The Modern Period. Here are some time categories relevant to Europe and England:
Renaissance: c. 15th - 16th C. — characterized as breaking from the religious and feudal systems of the Middle Ages; rise of humanism, science, and global European empires.
Enlightenment or Age of Reason: roughly the mid 17th C. to the late 18th C. — characterized by the exploration of science and rational thinking.
Romantic: late 18th and early 19th C. — characterized by a re-integration of emotion into the rational frameworks explored in the Age of Reason.
The two images below suggest the 18th C. spirit of rationalism and the emotional spirit of Romanticism which followed:
Victorian: 1832 (passage of the Great Reform Act) to 1901 (death of Queen Victoria) — characterized by democratic reform (abolition of slavery, voting rights), scientific advances and discoveries (especially of evolution, but also electricity, photography, telegraphy, decipherment of hieroglyphs and cuneiform, etc.).
Modern Period: 1900-1950 or 1900 to the present.
Post-modern Period: 1950 to the present.
3. CHARACTER OR PSYCHOLOGY
Try to determine if a character is
flat (one dimensional, one-sided, like a caricature) or
deep (three dimensional, with different sides or aspects, like a usual person);
static (the same throughout the story) or
dynamic (changes as a result of various forces — that you should then analyze).
Character is a crucial category because as human beings we need to see whatever the author is exploring from a human and personal point of view. How does the author make a fictional character, narrator, or persona come alive to us? What do we find intriguing in the character? What is the character’s problem, and how does the character confront it?
The close study of character is strongly linked to the modern novel and short story, which emphasize reality-based psychological depiction. In analyzing character, feel free to bring to your arguments any psychological approach or any insights you have about what makes people tick. Think for example about yourself and your identity, how it is affected by romance, gender, sexuality, peers, family, money, class, religion, ethnicity, etc.
Note that this category includes internal conflict, that is, any tension within a character — between desire and loyalty, greed and morality, logic and emotion, etc.
4. RELATIONSHIP: CONFLICT, BOND, ETC.
While conflict is crucial to literature, the forces that bond people also play a central role. Texts are often written around the dynamic between betrayal and trust, or between hatred and love. Note that # 4 is usually defined exclusively in terms of conflict. That term, however, only gets at part of the relationship dynamic. For example, the attraction or bond between Romeo and Juliet is perhaps more important than the forces which pull them apart. There are basically two types of conflict or bond:
— between two characters: often this takes the form of a friendship, a romance, or a struggle between a protagonist and an antagonist.
— between an individual and a group or between a group and another group: this can range from family or friend groups to regional or ethnic groups, and often includes the powerful forces of culture, language and religion. One common dynamic is when the bond between two characters is disturbed by a third person, resulting in jealousies, love triangles, etc.
Example: Dorothy Parker
General Review of the Sex Situation
Woman wants monogamy;
Man delights in novelty.
Love is woman's moon and sun;
Man has other forms of fun.
Woman lives but in her lord;
Count to ten, and man is bored.
With this the gist and sum of it,
What earthly good can come of it?
(Dorothy Parker, 1937)
Culture is an amalgam of codes and practices instilled at a very young age. In general, it’s difficult for us to react in a way that goes against the paradigms of our own upbringing. Hence, when people of different cultures clash the result can be irresolvable. Language and religion also operate on very basic, deep levels, although it's generally easier to learn a new language than to adopt a new culture or religion. In places like Canada and India we can see language as both a unifying and dividing force.
There are of course many other types of groups that can conflict: much of the 20th century was influenced by the split between working and privileged classes (hence the term class struggle); age or generation groups can create gaps between parents and their own children or between older and younger people in general; etc.
Note that when a conflict of ideas, ideology, emotions, etc. occurs chiefly in an individual, that is, when it is chiefly an internal conflict, it pertains to character or psychology (3); when it is treated in larger, speculative, or philosophical terms, it usually pertains to theme (5). Again, ask yourself what you are trying to focus on — the effect of conflict in and on the individual (3), the conflict as it is seen or dramatized in the interaction between characters (4), or the larger meaning of the conflict (5). Once you have your focus, don’t worry too much about the overlap in categories.
The following two-line poem by Bhartrhari celebrates (4) physical attraction yet also playfully suggests a philosophic or religious aspect:
The clear light of man's discernment dies
When a woman clouds it with her lamp-black eyes.
The tension between attraction and danger (4) can be seen in terms of the space and time (1 and 2) of Hindu India in the 5th Century, the psychology (3) of a the persona who's heterosexual and aware of a potential danger in his attraction, the theme (5) of a spirit/body dichotomy (in which "discernment" is connected to sattva — the light of purity and intelligence — while 'clouding' is connected to the passion of rajas and the lust of tamas), and the style (6) of two contrasting metaphors involving light and dark.
Your job isn’t to make an argument that the theme of a text is such and such, but that the writer develops the theme in this or that way. Try to start with a statement that doesn’t simply state the general subject of the text — love in Romeo and Juliet — but rather examines an interesting aspect of the subject — star-crossed love in Romeo and Juliet. “Star-crossed” brings up the possibility of personal anguish in a character (3), struggle between greater forces in society (4), or the theme of free will and determinism (5). By making your statement specific you can see your focus more clearly.
Another way to do this is to ask what point the author is making. In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare isn’t just observing that love exists, but rather that a certain type of love exists. This love has certain causes and effects, is expressed in certain metaphors and tropes, which you of course can make arguments about.