Which passage in the book Shoeless Joe is good for analyzing literary devices, character, setting, and themes?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

My answer might strike you as a bit radical, but because theme, setting, character, and literary devices absolutely pervade this book, I’d say, pick any passage you enjoyed reading and analyze that one in terms of its significance. Just make sure the passage shows characters talking or thinking about ideas.

For example, perhaps you were captivated by the passage that starts with the description of “moonlight butter[ing] the whole Iowa night.” That passage is a gold mine for analysis.

Again, though, almost any passage will do. After all, if a section of the text doesn’t advance a theme, present a meaningful setting in time or place, show the characters interacting and changing, and/or abound in interesting words and phrases, then why does the passage even belong in the novel? This book is only a few hundred pages long—there’s no time, or space, for pointlessly divergent passages.

What happens if you liked a passage, but it didn't include people talking or thinking about ideas? Well, it might not work. That is, some passages in the text might not be ideal for exploring all of the elements you’re seeking to explore (again: theme, setting, character, and literary devices). Let’s say you find a passage you enjoyed reading, but all it really does is set a scene; no characters enter that scene yet. Or perhaps all the passage does is relate a conversation between two characters—a conversation that, when you think about it, doesn’t bring up any particularly profound ideas. In those cases, perhaps the passage is not ideal for your purpose. No worries: just discard that passage and hunt up another.

And, of course, if you’re aiming to focus specifically on passages with thematic importance, you’d need to zero in on the passages in which the narration brushes on the book’s themes, where the author, Kinsella, has “[sneaked] in something profound or symbolic” (as he has professed to do in his books, according to Beacham’s Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction). For example, you could focus on this passage from the first chapter:

Was it really a voice I heard? Or was it perhaps something inside me making a statement that I did not hear with my ears but with my heart? Why should I want to follow this command? But as I ask, I already know the answer. I count the loves in my life: Annie, Karin, Iowa, Baseball. The great god Baseball.

Above, the passage reveals a great deal about the narrator and how he thinks. It touches on major themes: destiny, purpose, and the power of love.

Let’s look at another example of a passage ideal for analyzing. Here’s one of my favorites from the first chapter:

Building a baseball field is more work than you might imagine. I laid out a whole field, but it was there in spirit only. It was really only left field that concerned me. Home plate was made from pieces of cracked two-by-four embedded in the earth. The pitcher’s rubber rocked like a cradle when I stood on it. The bases were stray blocks of wood, unanchored. There was no backstop or grandstand, only one shaky bleacher beyond the left-field wall. There was a left-field wall, but only about fifty feet of it, twelve feet high, stained dark green and braced from the rear. And the left-field grass. My intuition told me that it was the grass that was important. It took me three seasons to hone that grass to its proper texture, to its proper color. I made trips to Minneapolis and one or two other cities where the stadiums still have natural-grass infields and outfields. I would arrive hours before a game and watch the groundskeepers groom the field like a prize animal, then stay after the game when in the cool of the night the same groundsmen appeared with hoses, hoes, and rakes, and patched the grasses like medics attending to wounded soldiers.

I pretended to be building a Little League ballfield and asked their secrets and sometimes was told. I took interest in the total operation; they wouldn’t understand if I told them I was building only a left field.

Above, you’ll find a rich variety of literary devices, including similes, imagery, repetition, and more—plus, you could argue that the entire process of building the field is symbolic. The passage shows us exactly how the narrator thinks and behaves, even how he phrases his ideas. And it touches on themes—consider the key words “work,” “unanchored,” “intuition,” “pretended,” and “interest.”

(Notice that I’ve pointed very generally toward the devices, characters, and themes on display in the passage above; I’ve not actually told you what to write or how to analyze those elements. That will be up to you, should you decide to pick this exact passage—again, I recommend picking one that appeals to you, personally, so that you’ll be excited to analyze it and write about it.)

To sum up, make your selection because you just really enjoyed the passage, because it touched your heart or mind in some way—and just make sure it shows one or more characters talking or thinking as well as one or more ideas being discussed.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial