We don't study literature because it's fun or to brag about the books we've read. We study literature to experience the world from different perspectives, and to understand ourselves and everyone else more deeply.
Literary analysis is an acquired skill. It isn't simply reading a book to relate the plot and names of the characters, though you need to be able to do that. Literary analysis involves looking beyond a story's obvious elements to the underlying meaning. This may require background information about the author, the time period in which the story takes place, the era in which it was written, etc. As a result, most literary analysis courses and aids deal with specific literary works, so methods of studying the text itself as well as the background information can be clearly demonstrated. Students are expected to learn how to apply basic methods to any work they encounter.
Another important aspect of literary analysis is the study ofa text's style and construction. An author's style reveals a lot about his ideas. Understanding what to look for results in more productive study and greater appreciation of literature. A lot of people shy away from "great books" because they haven't been trained to engage the often unfamiliar language; discussing technique and style is an effective way to remove this barrier.
There's a dearth of literary analysis materials for homeschoolers. There are plenty of reading guides and unit studies, but they don't normally focus specifically on analysis, instead trying to cover a variety of disciplines and topics. Others are more or less glorified reading programs, designed to get kids interested in good literature. If they have no way to analyze and process what they're reading, however, simply getting kids to read isn't very profitable.
A lot of literary analysis courses are set in the context of worldview—students identify the author's worldview as well as their own, thus turning the study of literature into a primarily practical pursuit. The really good programs teach students how to interpret literature and interact with texts, not simply to identify a given text as "good" or "bad," "Christian" or "non-Christian".
The materials we offer aren't all curricula; many are simply books designed as study aids for the work of specific authors or types of literature. Some are fairly elaborate programs designed for use by high schoolers, and involve lots of reading and written work. Many people feel it's not necessary to study literature at such a level, but the truth is everyone can benefit from advanced literary study. Not only will it help you to think more clearly and analytically, it will open you to ways of thinking you have never experienced. Most of all, seriously pursuing literary study will bring you closer to the real goal of education—not merely knowledge, but the altogether more relevant goal of understanding.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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