I need to explicate a passage from Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. In other words, describe exactly what is happening in the passage, analyze its context and narrative elements, and explain its relationship to the novel as a whole. How can I approach this assignment? 

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I think the hardest part of engaging with an assignment like this is choosing an appropriate passage. With an entire novel in front of you, how do you choose the right one? First, let's clarify what a "passage" is: normally it is not longer than a page in length, maybe...

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I think the hardest part of engaging with an assignment like this is choosing an appropriate passage. With an entire novel in front of you, how do you choose the right one? First, let's clarify what a "passage" is: normally it is not longer than a page in length, maybe a paragraph or two. Since some novels may have many short paragraphs, a "passage" could easily be made up of several paragraphs. A passage will be recognizable by its format, too: extra space will usually appear, even if there is not a whole new chapter.

So, given that, the best way to choose a passage from this novel for your assignment is to find one that speaks to your own interests, and what it is about the novel that interests you. Then you will need to address each of the specific components of the assignment for this analysis: describe the content of the passage in terms of its relationship to the plot, discuss its context (this could relate to a point of view, a treatment of time, an attitude or perspective, etc.), its narrative elements (which might include the function of the passage as a flashback or memory, a moment when a character has an epiphany, a conversation meant to move the action forward, etc.), and finally, how the passage serves the novel as a whole.

This is a fairly complex assignment! Choosing the appropriate passage will be very important. Many readers and critics find the character of Sylvie to be of special interest in this novel; perhaps you could choose a passage where she is first seen by the girls, or a passage that describes their first realization that their aunt may have psychological issues, or a passage showing Sylvie's unusual personal habits and why the girls are fascinated by them. You might also consider choosing a passage that illuminates certain themes of the novel, such as the idea of home, family, or identity. Good luck!

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