The Five Principles of Analysis in Literature: Introduction to FEAR+C
This article has been written by Danielle Holden, a VCE Drama & VCE English Literature Tutor at Learnmate. If you’re interested in private tutoring from Danielle then please check out her page here.
Close analysis is at the heart of everything we do in English Literature, from class discussions to short exercises to major essays. However, surprisingly, it is the very thing that most students struggle with. If you have ever had a teacher write a comment on your essay that it is “too general,” “not specific enough” or “reads like an English essay,” then this guide is for you! Even the very best of students can always brush up on their close analysis skills and find ways to improve. After all, close analysis skills are often what separates the top students in the state from your average student. So, without further ado, let’s get into it!
There are five key areas or ‘lenses’ in a close analysis which must all work together to produce an interpretation. Luckily, they can be easily remembered using the simple acronym FEAR+C. The next time you are approaching a SAC or an exam, you might be feeling a little stressed, perhaps even a little fearful…which can help remind you to use FEAR+C to guide your annotations within a set of passages. This memory trick may be a little corny, but it definitely helps ensure you will never forget it!
So, what is FEAR+C?
Features of the Text
If we imagine that the text we are studying is represented by a building, then the features of the text would be represented by a single brick. In other words, it is all the incredibly specific word choices and phrases, which alone may seem insignificant, but without them, there would be no building or text to analyse in the first place. Thus, when we are talking about the features of the text, we are talking about the craft of writing such as language use, style, literary devices, structure and form.
Elements of the Text
To continue with our building metaphor, the elements of the text would be best represented by the steel beams which ultimately hold the building, or text, together as a cohesive unit of meaning. In other words, it is the broader trends within the text such as characterisation, plot, setting, themes, conflict, tension and climax. All of these concepts should be very familiar and presuming you are familiar with the text, it is almost impossible to avoid discussing them.
Author’s Views and Values
If our text is a building, then the author’s views and values are best represented by the figure of an architect. It is important to consider what their vision for the text was, and how it responds to their time, or in our building metaphor, the influence of the surrounding street. Thus, several avenues of interpretation are opened up, as you can consider the views and values of the author, the text, the time in which it was written, and those upheld within the text by various characters.
Much the same as you would not build a building unless it was going to be enjoyed by guests, there is very little reason to write a text unless it will be enjoyed by readers. However, it is your job to analyse how the text positions the reader/audience to experience the text, while also considering how this might differ for readers from different periods in time, cultures and identity groups.
And finally, we come to context, which ultimately shapes all of the lenses mentioned above! After all, whether your text is a Renaissance comedy or a post-war American realist drama, the artistic, political and historical context in which it was written will undoubtedly bleed into almost all aspects of its construction.
For greater detail on each of these lenses and how to use them within the context of a close passage analysis essay, stay tuned for future articles in the Five Principles of Analysis in Literature series!
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