book picture Analyzing and Interpreting Stories


When you analyze a story, you try to find a meaning for the story.  You make a claim about the story's meaning, and provide evidence from the story itself to support your analysis.  You look for a reasonable way of understanding the story. 


Here are some questions to ask yourself about a story when you are trying to understand it. 


1.    On a literal level, what happens in the story?  What is the plot of the story? How do the events in each stage of the story relate to each other? Can you write a clear synopsis of the story?


2.    Does the setting create a mood?  Does it affect the characters' lives?  Does it affect the feelings and final insight? Does the setting represent an idea or how a character thinks or feels?


3.    Are there any images or words which the writer repeats in the story?  Could those images or words have a special significance?  Do those images or words affect your response to the story?  Did you get a certain feeling or impression about the characters or setting from these images or words? 


4.    Does the main character have a conflict in the beginning of the story?  Is the conflict resolved?  Is there anything significant about the conflict or its resolution?


5.    Does analyzing one or more characters closely help you understand the story?  Compare what the characters say to what they really think or feel.  Why do the characters do what they do in the story?


6.    Are there things in the story which might be symbols? A symbol is something that represents something else. For instance, a flower bud might represent innocence; or autumn could represent the last years of a person's life.



7.    The point of view is the angle from which the story is told.  Who is the narrator?  Is the story told by a first-person narrator, a third-person narrator who is a major participant, or a third-person narrator who is just an observor?  Is the point of view first-person, limited omniscient, omniscient, or objective? 


       When the story is told from a first person point of view, the narrator is a character which the author has created.  The author and the narrator are not necessarily the same person. How does the narrator reveal his/her values and beliefs? Are the author's beliefs and values the same as the narrator's?  The narrator is usually an important character in the story when the story is told from the first person point of view.


8.    Is there any irony in the story?  Is there a difference between what the characters think and what is really going on in the story? Whenever appearance and reality don't quite match in a story, there is irony.


9.    Does the story illuminate any of the following subjects?


*    a conflict between appearance and reality

*     growing up (a coming of age or a loss of innocence?)

*     identity

*     triumph over adversity

*     the individual vs. society

*     struggle against oppression or injustice in society

*     conflict between cultures

*     a journey or quest

*     love or marriage

*     family relationships

*     human relationship to nature

*     dealing with death or one's own mortality

*     the ephemeral nature of human existence


10.  The theme is the author's main insight about life, society, or human nature.  The theme is different from the subject of the story because the theme is a statement.  To state a theme, first find an important subject in the story and ask yourself, "What does the author say about this subject?"


11.  When you write an analysis, you have to decide what element of the story you are going to analyze.  The two main questions to answer for any short story are:


a.  How does the story element I want to analyze contribute to the meaning or effect of the story?


b.    Why do I have the response I have to the story--what did the author do to make me feel the way I did about the characters or the ending?


You can analyze any element of a short story.  For instance, you might decide you just want to analyze a single character and how that character contributes to the meaning of the story to you.  It is possible to have multiple interpretations as long as you can find evidence for your interpretation in the text of the story.  You support your analysis with specific examples and descriptions from the story.


12.  When you write an analysis, you are not writing about whether the story is good or not; you are explaining your interpretation about what the story shows you or how the author gives you some insight about a subject such as growing up, human nature, relationships, and other experiences through the characters in the story.