Commentary Skills – Thesis, Introduction, Conclusion
How do I come up with a line of interpretation - a ‘thesis’?
There is no easy answer to this but try to think of a thesis as the washing line on which the rest of your points are going to hang. Hopefully, the following might provide you with some starting points:
• Identify the most important feature of content and ask yourself what is being suggested about that feature of content.
• Alternatively, what is the most important aspect of style? In two of the statements in the previous activity, imagery and structure are highlighted as features of literary craft that arguably contribute a great deal to the way a particular theme is presented.
• Look for contrasts. More often than not, short extracts will make use of significant oppositions - whether between ideas, sections of the text or perhaps such things as strands of imagery.
• Development: is there an underlying sense of transition in the poem or extract - whether in terms of its ideas, the content, or its language and style?
• Conflict: our interest in prose, poetry and drama very frequently comes from the establishment of some kind of central tension, whose resolution (or lack of it) is often responsible for maintaining our interest.
• Why, in essence, do you think this is a good piece of writing?
By now, you will have come to understand the interactive nature of the reading process. The text presents itself in the form of black shapes on the page, and you find meaning in those black shapes by responding to the denotations of the words, their connotative implications and the various literary features through which everything is crafted. What you bring to the text is every bit as important as the way the text works on its own. Indeed, it is perhaps true to say that the text wouldn't ‘mean’ anything without you there to make sense of it - just as the tree in the forest can't make any noise unless there is someone there to hear it.
• Visual appearance on the page
• The title (if included)
• First impressions
• Identify the most important aspects
• Develop a unifying argument
How should I approach the introduction and conclusion to my commentary?
Students often find writing introductions and conclusions quite a challenge and, although it is important not to treat them as all the same, you could consider a number of things that might help.
Samples will be in reference to the following poem:
What matters more than practice
is the fact that you, my audience,
are pulling for me, want me to pull
it off – this next sleight. Now
you see it. Something more than
whether I succeed’s at stake.
This talk is called patter. This
is misdirection – how my left
hand shows you nothing’s in it.
Nothing is. I count on your mistake
of caring. In my right hand your
undoing blooms like cancer.
But I’ve shown you that already –
empty. Most tricks are done
before you think they’ve started – you
who value space more than time.
The balls, the cards, the coins – they go
into the past, not into my pocket.
If I give you anything, be sure
it’s not important. What I keep
keeps me alive – a truth on which
your interest hinges. We are like
lovers, if you will. Sometimes even
if you don’t will. Now you don’t.
Getting introductions right can be one of the hardest but most significant things in your commentary. Partly because it is the first this that is heard/read, but also because it is the place in which your essay is provided with a clear sense of direction.
Your introduction might want to include:
• A statement of the subject of the passage and some brief comment about on the way the passage develops the subject
• A reference to one or two key features of language and style
• A “signpost” that indicates the direction, the line of argument and/or interpretation the commentary is going to follow
|Introduction 1 |Introduction 2 |Introduction 3 |
|'Magician', by Gary Miranda, is a poem in which the|The poem 'Magician' is as clever and deft as the |This poem, 'Magician', by Gary Miranda, focuses on |
|mental processes of a magician are being explored |tricks it describes. Through the use of concealed |the relationship between a magician and his |
|immediately before, during and after he has |metaphor, combined with terse and logical language,|audience. He compares this relationship to that of |
|performed a magic trick for an audience. While this|Miranda exposes the human desire to hide from the |'lovers' and in doing so explores the tension |
|task would seem to be quite innocent, Miranda is |harsh realities of life and conveys to the reader |between truth and deception. The first-person |
|able to make the task appear quite sinister by |that people cannot turn to 'magic' for answers - we|narrative is important to the poem as we gain a |
|setting a tone that evokes both fear and |must discover them for ourselves. |glimpse into both the public identity of this |
|uncertainty in the reader. This is done primarily | |entertainer, as well as the somewhat disturbing |
|through the controlling of pace with caesurae and | |exploration of his private thoughts and feelings. |
|enjambment, and also by Miranda's choice of | | |
|menacing vocabulary. | | |
Although the three introductions are fairly different in nature, the second being quite ‘personal’ in its reading, the first and third a little more objective, perhaps, they seem nevertheless to include similar things.
It would be wrong to suggest that you should always adopt the above formula in your approach to writing introductions to commentaries, but at least you now have a sense of the kinds of things which might be considered appropriate.
In the past, you may have been told to treat your conclusion as a summary of your main ideas. While there is an element of truth in this, just to repeat the things you have already said seems rather pointless and repetitive. Try to think of your conclusion as a means to address some of the following:
• In summary, what is the most important thing your commentary has attempted to say? For instance, take us back to your basic line of argument: what have you tried to argue in this commentary?
• What has the poem or prose extract in essence suggested about its central subject?
• What do you feel is the most significant strength of the poem or prose extract? Is there a key component from which it gains its main effect?
• Does the poem or prose extract have any kind of 'message'? What does it fundamentally say about human experience or the human condition?
• What's the main effect of the poem or prose extract in terms of the reader?
Read through the following three concluding paragraphs of a commentary written in response to the poem 'Magician'. What do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of each conclusion?
|Conclusion 1 |Conclusion 2 |Conclusion 3 |
|The poem, 'Magician', by Gary Miranda, is one of |Ultimately, it is the absence of poetry in |To conclude, 'Magician' ends up being a poem |
|rising and falling tension as the sinister |'Magician' that makes its message so effective, and |concerned with the nature of human flaws - the |
|inner-thoughts of a performing magician are |shows the reader that God does not exist. Miranda's |willingness of people without power to be |
|explored. The very clever way in which Miranda |deft and adroit language both exposes human weakness|manipulated and controlled, and the weakness of |
|associates fear with the magician is highlighted by |and points to where the real answers can be found. |those in power who depend on commendations given to |
|his use of structuring to affect tone. The | |them for their sense of security. The apparent |
|excitement created throughout the initial stanza | |simplicity of the language and form of the poem |
|enthralls the reader into a poem that at first sight| |reinforces its basic theme: it is in fact quite a |
|seems shallow. The depth of the poem is however | |complex work, and so the reader - like the audience |
|made clear by the final message presented in the | |has also been deceived. |
|last lines. This message being of the importance of | | |
|understanding that which is happening around us, not| | |
|just in the physical world that we can see but also | | |
|in regard to those important things we cannot always| | |
|see. | | |
Source: Tyson, Hannah and Mark Beverley. IB Course Companion: English A Literature. Oxford University Press: 2011. Print.