Part 1: Referencing the Quotation in Relation to its Context in the Work
When discussing a quotation in reference to its context, you will provide information about certain specifics of the quotation: (1) the work the quotation is taken from; (2) the author of the work; (3) the type and form of the work (e.g., lyric poem, novel); (4) the location of the quotation in the work (beginning, middle, last stanza, etc); (5) and the situation, or the context, of the general work; (6) the context/situation of the quotation itself. To reiterate, identify the work the quotation is found in and its author; identify the type or form of the work; identify the location of the quotation within the work; identify the situation/context described by the work; identify the context/situation of the quotation. Let's look at these points in an example related to Three Men in a Boat by using this random quotation: "They did not know, then, that it was my liver. Medical science was in a far less advanced state than now, and they used to put it down to laziness."
- They ...................... laziness.
- Reference to Context
- The quotation occurs in the humorous travelogue novel Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) written by Jerome K. Jerome. It occurs at the beginning of the novel in Chapter I. The novel satirically explores society in Victorian England through a boating journey three hypochondriacal young men, and a dog, take down the River Thames. In the lines referenced, the narrator is discussing an earlier view of his lifelong illness, which was, he suggests, chronically misdiagnosed as "laziness."
- In these sentences the narrator mentions how the past and present medical opinions of his disease differ from each other, exposing his Victorian ennui, a boredom resulting in hypochondriacal maladies assuaged by citing a more or less advanced medical science. In an ironical and understated laugh at himself, J. matter-of-factly states that in his youth medical experts didn't diagnose his disease as being caused by his "liver," rather, because "[m]edical science" was "far less advanced" in his childhood than at the time of J.'s narration, he ironically states with mock sincerity that his disease was "then" explained as "laziness." The writer (personified in the unnamed narrator designated only by "J.") exposes society's tendency toward hypochondria (or neurosis) by pretending to expose a weakness in medical science. Victorian society is humorously exposed as inadequate and artificial through satire criticizing the individual whose city life engenders boredom, complacency and hypochondriacal thoughts. The writer foreshadows a satirically amusing look at society during which the rigors of life and the contrariness of nature will be examined through the experience of unreliable characters who fail to assess their own pretensions while being fondly aware of everyone else's.
In the above example of an Explanation section, the first, one-sentence, part is this sentence: "In these sentences...." The second part, mentioning devices, begins here: "In an ironical and understated...." The third part, relating and commenting on, begins here: "The writer...." The devices mentioned in the second part are irony, understatement, mockery (part of satire). In the third part, the devices of satire and foreshadowing are also mentioned. The effect of the quotation on the work, which is commented on in the third part, is to engage and invite Jerome's Victorian readers to embark upon a "satirically amusing look at society" focused through nature's contrariness and people's pretensions, such as were uncovered by the German students' prank: "Herr Slossenn Boschen got up. ... It appeared that the song was not a comic song at all."
In summary, to "write with reference to context," use a format of two sections, those being Reference to Context and Explanation. In section one (Reference to Context), using simple, brief sentences, locate the quotation in relation to its author and position in the whole work, and identify the type/form of the work (e.g., ballad, satire). Provide a brief description of the context/situation of the work, then of the quotation. In section two (Explanation), provide a one-sentence explanation of the meaning of the quotation by considering literary/poetic devices to uncover the deep meaning of the quotation. Then elaborate upon the devices in order to bring out their specific meanings. Follow this by relating (telling) the relevance and aesthetic function of the devices and by commenting on (giving logical opinion with evidence) the effect the devices in the quotation have on the work, poem or section.
Sometimes the quotations that appear in this type of question are suggestive of the theme of the work or sometimes they point to character development or to conflict. After reading a quotation in the question, and identifying it in its literary context (author, title etc), ask yourself what the meaning of this particular passage is and why its literary (or poetic) devices are significant. What is the quotation's connection to the work overall? Does the quotation suggest anything about a theme or a particular character or the conflict in the work? These questions about context might help you understand the meaning of the quotation better. Sometimes a quotation will have literary/poetic devices, like diction and key words, that are very strong in deep connotative meaning and that will help you relate the quotation to meaning through theme, character, or conflict.
There is basic information you must provide to effectively answer a reference to the context question. I would like to add a crucial stylistic tip that will elevate your work to an above average level and leave a distinct impression on your reader.
Instead of simply providing the context material of title, author, type of literature, speaker of quotation, location of quotation, as a standalone list in your essay, integrate the information fluidly into your sentences. This creates a sense of cohesion with the context and explanation parts of your answer; it also complements the natural flow and style and your writing, which makes it easier for your reader to understand you and reduces the choppiness of your answer.
For example, try seamlessly incorporating your insights and commentary along with the relevant information into a paragraph in this way:
- In the travel novel, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), the narrator "J." remarks that people metaphorically "pile poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends" (Ch 1; 26-7). J.'s critical remarks about the upper class demonstrate personal search for wisdom of the sort George espouses as they plan for their boating trip.
The overall effect of integrating quotes into your context (or explanation) paragraph produces several things:
1. It makes your work more readable and fluid, preserving the narrative flow of your piece.
2. It demonstrates a command of the text and allows you to closely link quotations, context and your own authoritative insight within the same sentence.
3. Your essay, if done this way, will read more like an elegant logical commentary.
When answering a with-reference-to-context question, you should include the following about the given quotation in your answer: the name of the book, the author, the type of work, the chapter etc where it's found, the character who spoke the quotation, and to whom this character was speaking. This will be your introductory sentence. It is true that there is another formula for answering with-reference-to-context questions, so your instructor will make clear which formula they're looking for.
For example, the following sentence is taken from the book Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), Chapter 1, written by Jerome K. Jerome, and the statement was made by the narrator, "J."
How they pile the poor little craft mast-high .......... swoon the aching head that wears it!
After the introductory sentence providing the contextual information about the quotation, you should go on to briefly describe what happens in the story to cause the character to make this statement and what the character is trying to say by expressing the statement. You want to describe the context of the story, the context of the quotation, and the meaning of the quotation, and you want to find the deep meaning through understanding the literary devices that are used in the quotation.
For example, this statement made by J. criticizes the materialism of the upper-class in society by comparing its acquisitions to heavy lumber. J.'s criticism of the upper-class comes from his understanding of the wisdom of living as just expressed by George, who said to think of things "we can’t do without." Depending on the marks of the question, you can elaborate on meaning and effect further.
Reference to the context is normally used for school examinations and tests. This is to asses the exact comprehension of a student and evaluate their grasp of a literature, language, history or other lesson. If you look through question papers extending over a long time, this is the one type that has stood the test of time and remains common from the level of middle school to any higher level.
While addressing such questions, the student is supposed to bring out in brief his understanding of the quoted statement and the occasion or situation in which it occurred. Another way of addressing this type of question is to tell who said the quote and to whom it was said and why it was said. It should be understood that answering this type of question in brief is something like telling a friend about one event or situation out of a sequence of events that you have witnessed. Your response to the exam question should be in brief and simple language so that your friend understands the situation or event with reference to the whole sequence of events.
Your answer should be neither too long, like an essay, nor too short, like a one- or two- sentence answer. You practice writing a response to this type of question after a thorough study of a lesson, and you get strong enough in appropriately using the technique to get good marks.