I am new to English literature classes and I am wondering what kind of notes I should take at the end of each chapter. My textbooks are American literature like "The Natural." I have 9 of them to read.
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The type of notes you take depend on what you'll be doing with them after. If you'll be writing essays and know your topic in advance, you can focus your notes around that.
You can get the most help here by listening carefully to your instructor. Pay particular attention to the questions she or he asks you before you start reading (even if they don't seem to be connected at the time). Then mark the spots that seem connected to the questions you were considering before you read. Also, mark every passage that your instructor talks about in class.
My notes are usually an eclectic assortment of comments in the margins (I don't highlight my books, but I do gloss the margins). I also define words that I don't know or words I know but that don't make sense in a particular sentence. I look for obvious literary techniques too--irony, metaphor, symbolism, recurring motifs--they're usually important. When I'm reading lit crit, sometimes I also argue with the authors.
If you are concerned that you won't recall what happened in each chapter, you can do a brief summary of the key events and the pages they're on to help you find them again. I'd put these on the sticky notes; I'd also flag the pages where there is something of obvious importance. Definitely keep track of the page numbers of anything that seems important. It will save you hours of stress later.
If you are new to taking notes on literature, or even if you aren't, I would highly recommend keeping a dialectical, or double-entry journal.
What you need to do to keep one of these journals is divide each page in half lenthwise. On the left-hand side of the paper, keep track of specific passages that you find particularly interesting or intriguing. Use direct quotes and page numbers.
On the right-hand side keep a running dialogue with yourself. Write your commentary about the text you have mentioned on the left. Keep track of the questions that came to mind when you read the text. You can also write your own commentary on this side.
Below is a list of possible comment starters:
- I really don't understand this because. .
- I really like/dislike this idea because. .
- This idea/event seems to be important because. .
- I think the author is trying to say that . .
- This passage reminds me of a time in my life when . .
- If I were (name of character), at this point I would . .
- This part doesn't make sense because . .
- This character reminds me of (name of person) because . .
I am adding a link to a site that has a good sample of a dialectical journal and instructions.
My suggestion is that you focus not so much on plot, the "whats" but explore the "whys" of what has happened in your readings. For example, what motivates a character to do what he or she does? If she steals, what has caused her to act outside of the social norms? If you see a recurrent image, water, for example, why is the author using that metaphor?
Be aware, too, of the use of similies which enrich the language and separate fiction (usually) from non-fiction.
Begin to trace a discernable theme. In the example you have given here, from "The Natural," one of the themes is choices and consequences, so be aware of that. For every choice a character makes, how must he pay for the choice, or how is he rewarded?
If you really have a difficult time keeping characters straight, I suggest you make a little list in the front of your book that you can flip too to remind yourself.
Hope this helps! :)
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