This book is a seminal work in the analysis of literature and provides several succint examples of how works can be analyzed accordingly. It is split into several parts which demonstrate its strengths of analysis but there are also some intriguing reflections on the various aspects of literature and some finely selected poems and pieces of writing.
Schib and Clifford begin by providing a succint analysis of Sharon Olds’ ‘Summer Solstice’, New York City in the chapter called, ‘How to Read Closely’. Here the author espouses on the beauty of the great city in summer also espousing the various values which make New Yorkers a different breed. Schib and Clifford examine the poem at length also showing that certain aspects of the text have hidden meanings and this includes the powerful conclusion.
“I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olsen is one of the classic short stories discussed in the book. Here we have the sheer desperation of a working class woman who is faced by the sheer unuldurated task of monotonus chores with ironing amongst them. Olsen weaves her story quite magnificently and creates a sense of awareness and shock on the working woman’s situation and her unfortunate lot. She is very descriptive about her situation as a mother whose husband left her alone to cope with the child mirroring the women’s movement of the 1960’s.
‘Looking at Literature as an Argument’ discusses WH Auden’s grim poem, ‘The Unknown Citizen which focuses on the anonymity of some person in a big city. Schib and Clifford analyze Auden’s lines and dissect his arguments with remarkable clarity and dexterity providing some interesting points for discussion. The persuasive lines by Auden also receive similar treatment here. Robert Frost’s ‘Mending Lines’is also similarly analyzed and beautifully dissected with the argumentative aspects of the poem succintly shown.
The reader can only benefit from such advanced analysis which increases the strength of the text. I found Auden’s work slightly repulsive in certain points but Schib and Clifford manage to find those fine points which attarct readers to the work in question and help in its analysis.
In ‘The Writing Process’, Schib and Clifford discuss Wordsworth’s, ‘The Solitary Reaper’, one of his grimmest and most beautiful poems.
Here, Wordsworth muses on the solitary nature of reaping as a girl carries on with her task in the anonymity of the Scottish Highlands. She lies there beautiful and untouched with the swishing of the reaper musing along with the time which also seems to be lost. The solitary nature of the reaper is something which continues to appear in later poems and which Schib and Clifford analyses at length. They are also very positive about Wordsworth’s style of writing which creates pastels of colour and is extremely descriptive and utterly beautiful in certain purple passages.
In Anton Chekhov’s ‘Sleepy’ the authors continue to discuss the various fine points needed on how to write a story. Obviously Chekhov’s rather brusque narrative provides interesting subject matter for storytelling but there are certain fine points which are amplified for discussion.
This argument is also tackled in the chapter, ‘How to Write about Poems’ wher several poems are discussed by the authors. Amongst the most interesting and intriguing is Rosanna Warren’s ‘In Creve Cour Missouri’ where she provides some strak descriptions of this wild and beautiful place. Schib and Clifford wax lyrical about this poem although at the same time they appear rather critical of certain passages in it. Mary Oliver’s ‘Singapore’ is also treated at length with several purple passages given some description and tips on how to actually create poetic phrases.
How to write about plays is another important part of the book and the play under discussion is Tenessee William’s famous ‘The Glass Menagerie’. Here we can observe Williams’ subtle plays on the social situations prevalent in New York and how the proleteriat have to face being downtrodden by the capitalists in conditions which are little more better than animals’. The authors dissect William’s brilliant writing with inspired detail and also provide some succint tips on the importance of creating cause for effect in drama which is such an important part of all proceedings.
In How to Write about Essays, the authors dissect June Jordan’s ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ which is another important work in the American canon and which also receives the full critical treatment. It is a hugely powerful work and is full of intricacies and beautiful passages which show that the essay is indeed an interesting format to get the message across.
In How to Write a Research Paper, the authors go to great lengths to outline the importance of a proper plan in this regard. They also discuss several research papers and delve into detail on the various subjects in question obviously referring to some tactical nuances in the actual writing of such papers. This is one of the most interesting parts of the book as it provides extensive analysis on several student research papers which prove to be fine examples for detailed study.
However the section which I found the most interesting and poignant was the one dealing with ‘Reconciling with Fathers’. Lucille Clifton’s ‘Forgiving my Father’ is particularly poignant and beautiful and the authors hand this piece of poetry considerable importance as they empathise greatly with the author’s situation. However there are other poems which are also analyzed in detail and these include; Robert Hayden’s, ‘Those Winter Sundays’ and Sylvia Plass’ simply titled, ‘Daddy’. These works reflect certain intrinsic emotions which are extremely beautiful and they are treated as such by the authors who espouse on the importance of understanding the hidden messages in these works.
Other parts of the book which are very readable include the considerable analysis of Kate Chopin’s stories which focus on love as the main element whilst the treatise on Shakespeare’s memorable ‘Othello’ is also dissected with quite intense substance. I greatly enjoyed the analysis of Chopin’s stories which are full of beautiful descriptions and some magical moments too. The authors take a different perspective to Othello in that they discuss some paintings by Delacroix which add spice and colour to the text and narrative.
There are various other parts of the book which merit close scrutiny such as the William Faulkner essay where the curious ambits of Mississippi come across rather well. All the works analyzed in the book provide for extrenely interesting commentary and this is reflected in the quite stunning variety of everything which is on offer.
Making Literature Matter is thus an important and crucial textbook for any self respecting student of literature. It remains one of the standard reference books for a wide variety of works and continues to be one of the most important books in this genre. The authors are probably some of the best in their particular field and their painstaking and descriptive analysis remains quite seminal in all departments. It is obviously hugely recommended to anyone who has a minor interest in litearture and the various authors in question.
Schilb J, Clifford J (2010); Making Literature Matter with 2009 MLA Update: An Anthology for Readers and Writers; Bedford Books