I need help with an esssay in which im required to analyse a biography. what literary elements and devices do biographers use, and what kind of points could such devices support? (im in year 12)
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Is the assignment to analyze a biography to see what literary elements and devices are in use? Or are you to approach the bio with an understanding of these literary elements, and then analyze that bio, making use of this understanding?
In a biography, the writer has to accomplish the same things she would with a piece of fiction: breathe life into the characters, keep you engaged, find an arc to the lives of the main characters, use that arc to help organize and underpin the plot, draw connections throughout the story, give individual events meaning within the story, impart meaning overall to the whole, and so on. The language may be very literary as well, using symbolism and metaphor and all the rest. But the writer of a bio has another problem: there are facts to be stuck to. And the writer can go into the mind of characters only so far, because these are not creations of the writer, to do with as she will, but actual persons, whether still living or not.
Of course, "facts" is already a loaded concept. Few facts are value-free, devoid of interpretation. *Why* people do things, what their motivations were, what they were thinking -- some of this may well be only conjecture. Even in the case of a bio of someone living, the writer is taking what other people tell her, even if if it's that person himself, and weighing it against the evidence, against other interviews. The writer can never help intruding some aspect of herself into the story, and that goes for biography writing as well. A biography, no matter how faithful to the facts, still carries something of that writer in it. And something of "story" in it. As soon as we cast something in narrative form, we make decisions that provide a framework and influence interpretation. Where do you begin the story? That has implications for how the story will unfold, what the reader will make of it, and how it will end. The ending is even more important. Where you end a story says a lot about how the reader will interpret the events leading up to that end.
What would really be interesting is to compare two different biographies of the same person, and look at the different angles each writer develops.
Does this make sense? I know it's very general. Or are these points on which you're already very clear and you were looking for more detail? Which biography will you be reading, and how are you thinking of approaching it?
yh it does
I'm doing "Tolstoy: a Russian Life" by Rosamund Bartlett, so a biography on Leo Tolstoy. You're answer is what I was after, but maybe some more details one the variety of literary elements I can find.
Examples such as nexus point, reflective tone and the like.
Potential Thesis statements that I have come up with are as following:-
1. “Tolstoy could be likened in almost the same breath to both a tsar and a peasant” (p.2). In what ways does Bartlett interpret the self-initiated descent of Tolstoy from aristocracy to peasantry?
2. “…he left giant footprints in every area of his life” (p.1). How does the author convey the ongoing impact of Tolstoy’s actions to Russian society and culture?
3. What methods does Bartlett utilize to convey the influence of Tolstoy’s relationships upon himself?
The structure for the essay will be in three primary parts. What I mean by this is that the second question (for example) will have three parts, which could be his literary impact in Russia, his societal impact in Russia and his impact on religion in Russia. The purpose is to find literary elements that would back up the theory that Leo Tolstoy made impacts (that continue to this day) in Russian society, or society in general. So I was just wondering what some specific techniques could back such theories up.
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When you say "potential thesis statements," you are referring to what you might want to argue is the thesis statement guiding Bartlett's interpretation of the events of Tolstoy's life? For an entire book, you will probably not find the thesis statement in one short sentence, or portion of a sentence. But perhaps I have misunderstood you?
The questions you ask, however, in your three points all look to be very good ones, certainly questions that you could hope to tackle in an essay of your own. And the sample structure that you lay out for question 2 seems sound. (I say this knowing little about Tolstoy's life, but I wouldn't doubt that those three areas are ones in which his impact could be felt still today.)
But in terms of specific techniques backing up any of these theories . . . that's going to be a trickier one. Literary techniques don't really serve specific ideas in this way. They would help an author to make a point or to create a certain atmosphere or to persuade you that the author's interpretation is the correct one -- that sort of thing. There's not a list that anyone could draw up to map technique to interpretation where "interpretation" is so specifically bound to a particular idea. When you read through key portions of the book again, as you will need to do, with the three parts of your essay in mind, you will need to look for how the author persuades you of these three points, or how she persuades you of the overall truth of the overarching idea you are looking at -- that there is "self-initiated descent of Tolstoy from aristocracy to peasantry" for example, or that Tolstoy's actions left a mark so deep that we feel it yet today, and so on. What facts does the author present and how does she present them? How does she tell the story? How position herself as an authority? How does she present what Tolstoy himself might have been thinking at any point in his life? (Is she using letters, diary entries, or . . . ?) Then, does she give you his thoughts beyond that, directly or indirectly? There are so very many techniques employed in literature. But where the story begins and where it ends, these are essential to the trajectory of the story, to the story the author wants to tell. Does the action rise? Fall? Is this a story of tragedy or of triumph? And what sort of language does she use in her descriptions? The words she chooses will have an effect on readers. What responses, what emotions do her words elicit? Who do you feel sympathy for, who antipathy?
It's such a large topic, the use of literary device in nonfiction for effect. You really would have to look to the text itself to find what you author is doing and then analyze why. It sounds as though you are very much on the right track for doing this.