Paragraph Analysis

Sample analysis paragraph

from James McBride’s The Color of Water

An important difference between James and his mother is their method of dealing with the pain they experience. While James turns inward, his mother Ruth turns outward, starting a new relationship, moving to a different place, keeping herself busy. Ruth herself describes that, even as a young girl, she had an urge to run, to feel the freedom and the movement of her legs pumping as fast as they can (42). As an adult, Ruth still feels the urge to run. Following her second husband’s death, James points out that, “while she weebled and wobbled and leaned, she did not fall. She responded with speed and motion. She would not stop moving” (163). As she biked, walked, rode the bus all over the city, “she kept moving as if her life depended on it, which in some ways it did. She ran, as she had done most of her life, but this time she was running for her own sanity” (164). Ruth’s motion is a pattern of responding to the tragedy in her life. As a girl, she did not sit and think about her abusive father and her trapped life in the Suffolk store. Instead she just left home, moved on, tried something different. She did not analyze the connections between pain and understanding, between action and response, even though she seems to understand them. As an adult, she continues this pattern, although her running is modified by her responsibilities to her children and home.

The image of running that McBride uses here and elsewhere supports his understanding of his mother as someone who does not stop and consider what is happening in her life yet is able to move ahead. Movement provides the solution, although a temporary one, and preserves her sanity. Discrete moments of action preserve her sense of her own strength and offer her new alternatives for the future. Even McBride’s sentence structure in the paragraph about his mother’s running supports the effectiveness of her spurts of action without reflection. Although varying in length, each of the last seven sentences of the paragraph begins with the subject “She” and an active verb such as “rode,” “walked,” “took,” “grasp” and “ran.” The section is choppy, repetitive and yet clear, as if to reinforce Ruth’s unconscious insistence on movement as a means of coping with the difficulties of her life.

How to analyze a text?

  1. Read or reread the text with specific questions in mind.
  2. Marshal basic ideas, events and names. Depending on the complexity of book, this requires additional review of the text.
  3. Think through your personal reaction to the book: identification, enjoyment, significance, application.
  4. Identify and consider most important ideas (importance will depend on context of class, assignment, study guide).
  5. Return to the text to locate specific evidence and passages related to the major ideas.
  6. Use your knowledge following the principles of analyzing a passage described below: test, essay, research, presentation, discussion, enjoyment.

Principles of analyzing a passage

  1. Offer a thesis or topic sentence indicating a basic observation or assertion about the text or passage.
  2. Offer a context for the passage without offering too much summary.
  3. Cite the passage (using correct format).
  4. Then follow the passage with some combination of the following elements:
    • Discuss what happens in the passage and why it is significant to the work as a whole.
    • Consider what is said, particularly subtleties of the imagery and the ideas expressed.
    • Assess how it is said, considering how the word choice, the ordering of ideas, sentence structure, etc., contribute to the meaning of the passage.
    • Explain what it means, tying your analysis of the passage back to the significance of the text as a whole.
  5. Repeat the process of context, quotation and analysis with additional support for your thesis or topic sentence.