Structural Analysis: Six Categories

6. Style Exercises

Sonnet 130 - Mood & the Raven - Metaphor & Symbol: Pratt and Poe - Metaphor & Space in Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” - Swift on Guns: Text; Analysis: Practice #; Partial Outline & Essay

Sonnet 130

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;*
If hairs be wires,* black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked,* red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare.*

dun = dark or dusky; wires = fine gold or filigree ornament damasked = velvety pink or light red; As ... compare ~ As anybody who lied about her by making a false comparison

How does Shakespeare’s sonnet use simile and comparison? What does line 1 do as opposed to line 2? How does he structure his comparisons from one line to the next? Where does he contrast sound as well as idea — for instance, “roses damasked” versus “no such roses”? How does he shift in the final couplet, and how is this accompanied by a shift in rhyme scheme?

Mood & the Raven

In depicting Poe’s raven, Doré and Manet use different drawing styles to create two very different moods. Doré highlights the raven’s association with cosmic Death and obscure nefarious forces, while Manet highlights the raven’s disruption of an ordered Modern world. Doré supplies a backdrop of dark, nebulous, receding cosmic space. The allegorical and frightening figure of Death dominates the world, which is shrouded in clouds and mists, which seem to drift off into the dark cosmos. This creates a mood that’s sombre and perhaps hopeless. Manet’s sketch on the other hand is more optimistic. The straight edges of the window suggesting order, over which the man seems to be master: he can open or close the window at will. The world outside may be one of grim factories and the bird may ultimately bring despair, but for now the man is in control of the situation. Manet creates a more hopeful mood, or at the least he creates a tension between what the bird represents and how the man may react to it.

Two takes on Poe’s poem, “The Raven” — by Gustave Doré and Manet. Illustration 11 of Edgar Allan Poe's Raven: "Dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before," by Gustave Doré (1832-83); Illustration by Édouard Manet (1875) for a French translation by Stéphane Mallarmé of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." From Wikimedia Commons.

Two takes on Poe’s poem, “The Raven” — by Gustave Doré and Manet. Illustration 11 of Edgar Allan Poe's Raven: "Dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before," by Gustave Doré (1832-83); Illustration by Édouard Manet (1875) for a French translation by Stéphane Mallarmé of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." From Wikimedia Commons.


Metaphor & Symbol: Pratt and Poe

In “Seagulls” by E.J. Pratt, the poet refuses in the first stanza to see the bird in terms of anything that it isn’t, yet in the second stanza he uses the metaphor of a wild orchid to suggest its freedom. By contrast, Poe’s raven is overloaded with meanings and symbolism from the moment it steps into the poet’s room in stanza 7 (the poems has 18 stanzas). In the final stanza the poet says that “his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,” and throughout the poem we’re given all sorts of hints as to its nefarious and uncompromising nature. Pallas is the Greek goddess Pallas Athena, whose bust symbolizes the bird’s brutal wisdom; Plutonian shore refers to Pluto, the god of the Underworld, and hence the death the poet can’t come to terms with. Because the poet is mourning a loved one who he’ll see “Nevermore,” the raven appears to symbolize death in all its inexorable and unforgiving finality


Metaphor & Space in Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”

In 5. Theme: The Mermaid, I point out that some lyrics are so obscure that they invite very different interpretations. I note that in such cases, the approach I favour is to allow the text’s allusions and metaphors to breath in the speculative spaces the lyric creates overall. I see the ambiguities as watery currents that mingle and shift, yet nevertheless take the listener in a certain direction. I also advance the notion that a lyric is many things: it’s what it is, with all possible interpretations held at bay; it’s what the author thinks it is; it’s what someone in a car listening to the radio thinks it is; it’s what one careful reader argues it to be; and it’s what a different careful reader argues it to be. A critical interpretation in this context is an offering of a point of view, as well as a way into a world of discovery and appreciation. The important thing as I see it is to make the point of view start from the text and not contradict what’s in the text. The critic is then free to illuminate the text, and to give readers more than they may already have in mind.

In light of this approach, try to come up with an interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Analyze a specific aspect — such as space (1), the theme of danger (5), allusion (6), metaphor (6), or conceit (6) — or make an argument about how two of these aspects work in tandem. Or, start with a hypothesis, such as space and metaphor suggest Baby Blue’s predicament, and then use these two categories to determine the nature of the predicament.

baby blue in colour.png

Swift on Guns

I suggest below various ways to do a structural analysis of an excerpt from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver Travels (1726). I then provide the beginning of an analysis of Swift’s use of irony, and suggest that you finish it.

Gulliver Travels is a fictional work in which the character Gulliver travels all over the world and discovers fabulous lands where people are gigantic, horses talk, etc. Behind the make-believe, however, are satiric depictions of European life. Gulliver often acts as an unwitting representative of everything Swift sees wrong with 18th Century English society.

In the following excerpt Gulliver is in a land where the people are gigantic (which partly explains why the king likens humans to insects at the end of the passage). Gulliver is trying to impress the king with European technology and ingenuity. He assumes that the king will be as excited as he is by the application of science to warfare. Even at the end of the passage he assumes that the king’s objections to guns and canons come from “a certain narrowness of thinking” and from an “unnecessary scruple.” While the narrator (Gulliver) is telling us one thing, what is the author (Swift) telling us? What does this difference between narrator and author suggest about the rhetorical strategy? Please note that I’ve simplified and modernized the original text.


Great allowances should be given to a king, who lives wholly secluded from the rest of the world, and must therefore be unacquainted with the manners and customs that most prevail in other nations. The want of which knowledge will ever produce many prejudices, and a certain narrowness of thinking, from which England and the politer countries of Europe are wholly exempted. It would be hard, indeed, if so remote a prince's notions of virtue and vice were to be offered as a standard for all mankind.

To confirm what I have now said, and further to show the miserable effects of a confined education, I shall here insert a passage which will be hard to believe. In hopes to gain his majesty's favour, I told him of an invention, discovered between three and four hundred years ago, to make a certain powder, into a heap of which, the smallest spark of fire falling, would kindle the whole in a moment, although it were as big as a mountain, and make it all fly up in the air together, with a noise and agitation greater than thunder. I told him that a proper quantity of this powder rammed into a hollow tube of brass or iron, according to its bigness, would drive a ball of iron or lead, with such violence and speed, as nothing was able to sustain its force. And that the largest balls thus discharged, would not only destroy whole ranks of an army at once, but batter the strongest walls to the ground, sink down ships, with a thousand men in each, to the bottom of the sea. When linked together by a chain, these cannonballs would cut through masts and rigging, divide hundreds of bodies in the middle, and lay all waste before them. We often put this powder into large hollow balls of iron, and discharged them by an engine into some city we were besieging, which would rip up the pavements, tear the houses to pieces, burst and throw splinters on every side, dashing out the brains of all who came near. I told him that I knew the ingredients very well, that they were cheap and common, and that I understood the manner of compounding them. I could direct his workmen how to make those tubes, of a size proportional to all other things in his majesty's kingdom, and the largest need not be above a hundred feet long. Twenty or thirty of these tubes, charged with the proper quantity of powder and balls, would batter down the walls of the strongest town in his dominions in a few hours, or destroy the whole metropolis, if ever it should pretend to dispute his absolute commands. [...]

The king was struck with horror at the description I had given of those terrible engines, and the proposal I had made. He was amazed that I could entertain such inhuman ideas, and in so familiar a manner, as to appear wholly unmoved at all by the scenes of blood and desolation which I had painted as the common effects of those destructive machines. He said, “some evil genius, enemy to mankind, must have been the first contriver.” As for himself, he protested, that although few things delighted him so much as new discoveries in art or in nature, yet he would rather lose half his kingdom, than be privy to such a secret, which he commanded me, as I valued any life, never to mention any more.

A strange effect of narrow principles and views! that a prince— possessed of every quality which procures veneration, love, and esteem, of strong parts, great wisdom, and profound learning, endowed with admirable talents, and almost adored by his subjects—should, from a nice, unnecessary scruple, whereof in Europe we can have no conception, let slip an opportunity put into his hands that would have made him absolute master of the lives, the liberties, and the fortunes of his people!

Analysis: Practice #1

One way to start a structural analysis is to locate separate writing strategies and then figure out how they come together to make a point. Using a colour-code system, highlight the following strategies — in the uncoloured text above.

Satire (or attack) directed against England and Europe — in blue

Logos, Process analysis: the making of explosives — in green

Description: violence of explosives; violence (and evil?) of human nature — in red

Construct an outline of an argument about Swift’s writing strategy, and then use your outline to write an essay.

I suggest doing this exercize first — with the uncoloured text above — and then looking at the colour-coded text below.

swift coloured great allowances.jpeg

Practice # 2

Another way to do a rhetorical analysis is to focus on one strategy and then show how it works in several stages or in its different aspects. This way is often preferable, since you’ll have a unified essay from the start, and you won’t have to struggle so hard to combine the different aspects.

For instance, in the colour-coded text above, you may have noticed that the excerpt starts and finishes with the colour blue, the one that highlights Swift’s satire, his attack on European feelings of superiority. You may also have noticed that this sense of superiority was contradicted in many ways by the violent use to which Europeans put their technology, and by the glee Gulliver displays in describing death and destruction. You could write an essay that focuses on the way Gulliver’s view of things is attacked by Swift. You could focus on the fundamental irony in the text: on the surface, the words of Gulliver say one thing, yet underneath his words Swift is saying something completely different.

Try to analyze the text in terms of irony, that is, in terms of the difference between what Gulliver is saying and what Swift is saying.

Below are the beginnings of a sample outline and a sample essay on Swift’s irony. How could you finish this essay? How could you return to the opening scenario in your conclusion? Try to write your own essay before looking at the samples below.

Partial Outline & Essay

Aren’t Guns Wonderful?

While Gulliver’s uses graphic descriptions and displays great pride in European ingenuity, Swift uses satire to attack everything Gulliver says.

Gulliver’s description of the history of gunpowder is so violent and enthusiastic that the reader cannot help but question Gulliver’s point of view.
discovery of gun powder
— immediate application of discovery to violent ends: blowing things up, killing people; horrific wide-scale applications: ranks, ships, towns, “dashing out brains”
— narrator’s excitement is so at odds with the horror he is describing that the reader concludes Swift is using irony
— leads to questions about what Swift is really saying

The narrator’s excited generalizations about the narrow perspective of the king become the author’s criticism of a narrow, brutal mode of thinking.
in first paragraph we imagine narrator could be right about king, but by last paragraphs — i.e. after the history of guns paragraph (above)—we invert what narrator says — narrator’s condescension turns on narrator
— we start to see him as evil?
— narrator’s excitement and his model of civilization turns into a dire warning - about civilization and - about liking violence

Aren’t Guns Wonderful?

Imagine you are a ninety years old: you’ve lived through World War II and The Cold War, only to reach “The War on Terror.” You ask yourself: are humans destined to keep on killing each other? Where did we get this idea of using technology to put each other in the grave? The Eighteenth Century writer Jonathan Swift asked these same questions, long before fighter planes and laser-guided weapons. Looking back at his writing now, it seems he grasped a basic point about human nature: as soon as we see a way of using technology to control situations aggressively, we don’t hesitate to use that technology. Swift’s writing is not straightforward, however, in that he delivers his criticism ironically, that is, through the mouth of an overly enthusiastic character, Gulliver, who is also the narrator. While Gulliver’s uses graphic descriptions and displays great pride in European ingenuity, Swift uses satire to attack everything Gulliver says.

Gulliver’s description of the history of gunpowder is so violent and enthusiastic that the reader cannot help but question Gulliver’s point of view. In paragraph two Gulliver gives a brief history of the development and initial use of guns, telling us that “between three and four hundred years ago” explosive powder was discovered, and that immediately it was applied to guns. The description is striking, in that it goes from a very detached, scientific observation on the origins of gunpowder to increasingly violent applications of its use. We go from “a certain powder” and “a proper quantity,” to “powder rammed,” “all fly up together,” “destroy whole ranks” and “divide hundreds of bodies in the middle, and lay all [to] waste.” Gulliver’s excitement is suspect, for who would get excited about such killing and maiming? And why is no one asking basic questions, such as, Why is the discovery so immediately applied to warfare? Swift is saying a great deal by not saying anything at all, that is, by letting Gulliver do all the talking.

Gulliver’s excited generalizations about the narrow perspective of the king become Swift’s criticism of a narrow, brutal mode of thinking.


You could stop your essay here, or you may want to add a paragraph about the irony Swift uses to comment on the difference between good government and tyrannical government. While Gulliver sees himself and Europe as superior, his view of a king’s role is opposed to human rights, decency, and good government.


Back to Top

Structural Analysis: Preface - 1: Space2: Time3: Character4: Relationship5: Theme & Theme Take 2 6: Style & Style Exercises

English 1114: Introduction - Contents - Outline

Schedule: Week 1-7 - Week 8-14