Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

by Jerome K. Jerome

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How do you write in reference to context?

Often, a reference to context involves an explanation of a quote. Examples of providing context include discussing what leads to the quote, what the quote itself means, what it reveals about the story, and what it could mean for the rest of the story, as well. 

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Writing in reference to context is a concept related to an essay exam type that may be less popular in the United States (thus less well known) than elsewhere. For example, Kurukshetra University of India employs this literary exam type, and Sangeeta Sethi, Director of the University's Distance Education Program, provides a useful online introduction to the requirements for "writing in reference to context."
Using quotations from Jerome K. Jerome's beloved humorous novel, Three Men in a Boat, writing in reference to context requires a prescribed format having two divisions. The format begins with an assigned quotation written in this style, "They ...................... laziness" (Sethi), or in this expanded style, "I must been ......... want any cheese" (Shahbaz Asghar, KI Preparatory School, Pakistan). The two parts of the format follow after the assigned quotation and include (1) referencing the quotation in relation to its context in the work and (2) explaining the meaning of the quotation and of any literary or poetic devices (this second part is itself sub-divided into meaning, devices and effect).Part 1: Referencing the Quotation in Relation to its Context in the WorkWhen 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."
Breakdown of the Example of Reference to Context
In this example of a Reference to Context section, the contextual specifics of parts 1, 2 and 3 are found in this sentence: "The quotation occurs...." Part 4, locating the quotation, is in this sentence: "It occurs...

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at the beginning...." Part 5, context of thework as a whole, is in this sentence: "The novel satirically explores society...." Part 6, context of the quotation, is in this sentence: "In the lines referenced, the narrator...."
Part 2: Writing the Explanation
The explanation progresses through three steps. The first step of the one-paragraph explanation is to provide a brief one-sentence statement (occasionally two brief sentences) of the meaning of the quotation. To do so, consider literary or poetic devices (depending on the work quoted) employed in the quotation to discover the hidden, deep figurative meaning of the literal words. The second step is to elaborate on the meaning of the devices, for example, the meaning of symbolic or metaphorical or satirical devices in the quotation; to put it differently, "bring out the meaning" of the devices (Sethi). The third step (and this will usually occupy the majority of the Explanation paragraph) is to tell about (or relate) the "relevance and beauty" (Sethi) of the identified devices and to comment on, by providing your logically developed opinion based on clear evidence, the effect the devices have in the work. To reiterate: give a one-sentence explanation of the meaning of the quotation with consideration given to underlying deep meaning provided by literary devices; give one or two brief sentences to bring out the meaning of the devices; give one or more sentences in which you tell about (relate) the relevance and aesthetic of the devices with comment (logical opinion based on evidence) on the effect of the devices in the work. Let's look at an explanation of our example quotation (same as above) related to Three Men in a Boat: "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."
  • Explanation
  • 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.
Breakdown of the Example of Explanation
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.
One last note: There is a difference between writing with reference to "text" and writing with "reference to context." Writing with reference to text means you will provide evidence, in the form of quotations from the text being discussed, that supports your analysis, arguments and assertions. Writing with reference to text is proving that your statements are logically founded in the text as written, proving that you are not misinterpreting or misunderstanding the text you've read and analyzed. Contrastingly, writing with reference to context means to locatea quotation in relation to a given work (do you recognize the work a given quotation is extracted from, and can you say what kind of work it is, who wrote it and where the quotation is found?). Writing with reference to context requires that you briefly relate the meaning of the work as a whole and then relate the meaning of the quotation, and it requires that your comment on meaning be built upon the figurative devices that underlie the deep meaning of the quotation. It is clear, then, that referencing text and referencing context are not the same technique, nor do they fulfill the same functions.
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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.

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