Develop an analysis of Roselily. Do not simply describe what she does in the short story. You must make assertions about Roselily and support your assertions with information from the text.

Analytical Questions

  • Be mindful to use the analytical techniques addressed on the Analyzing Literature Handout.
  • Use the proper heading on your work. Refer to the Syllabus.

“Roselily” by Alice Walker

  1. Develop an analysis of Roselily.  Do not simply describe what she does in the short story. You must make assertions about Roselily and support your assertions with information from the text.
  •  The setting of “Roselily” is the South.  What role does the South play in the action that occurs in the text?
  •  Address two themes in the short story.  Be mindful to support your assertions with information from the text.
  • Walker uses an array of symbolism and imagery.  Explain how she uses symbolism and imagery to inform readers about the characters.

“Sweetness” by Toni Morrison

  1. Develop an analysis of both Sweetness and Lula Ann.  Use references from the text to support your assertions.

2.  Identify three themes in the short story.  Explain how each theme plays out in the text.

Intro to African American Literature

Professor Theus

Analyzing Literature Techniques

There are several components used to critically analyze a short story, novel, poem, movie, or play.  The interpretive techniques enhance our understanding of literature and encourage different perspectives of a reading.  Analysis of the characters, setting, plot, point of view, themes, imagery, and symbolism are essential to establishing a foundation for understanding a literary piece.

I.  Characters  (analyze from three perspectives: psychologically, ethically, and from a social perspective)


  • consider motivations, doubts, inner conflicts
  • consider whether the character changes or learns anything
  • consider how the character relates to others in the story: commitment, intimacy, responsibility
  • evaluate the mental state of the character:  emotions, attitude
  • consider whether another character represents the alter ego or flip side of the character

Ethically or Morally

  • determine the virtues and/or vices
  • consider what influences your judgment of the character

(involves incidents in the story, comments by the narrator, and your own personal/religious beliefs)

  1. identify how the character’s ethics differ from other characters

Social Perspective

  • determine how the character is defined by society in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, age, family, socio-economic status, class, sexual orientation, religious background, education, political affiliation, culture, nationality      
  • determine whether the character has power (How is power defined?)

II.  Setting


  • consider how the setting signals what is happening and whether it comments on the action 
  • consider how the setting affects the mood 
  • look for cause and effect connections between the setting and what characters are thinking, doing, or feeling

                  Historically or culturally

  • consider how the historical period or cultural context affect the story or occurrences in the story 
  • Examine the influence of:
    • Gender roles
    • Sexual roles
    • Racial climate
    • Racial Stereotypes
    • Religious climate
    • Religious stereotypes/expectations
    • Cultural Stereotypes
    • Cultural Expectations
    • Historical Realities
    • Reality versus Stereotype/Cultural Perceptions
    • Social Stratifications
    • Economic Stratifications
    • imagine how the story might change if the period were different or the cultural background were different

                  Metaphorically or symbolically

  1. assume that the setting is a projection of the thoughts and feelings of the narrator; determine what the setting reveals about the narrator’s state of mind. 
  2. consider if the setting symbolizes the social relations among characters in the story; determine what the setting implies about the relationships
  3. assume the setting stands for something outside of the character’s control (God, nature, society)
  4. determine what the setting reveals about the pressures and rules under

which the characters function

III.  Plot/Dramatic Action

Interpret the plot as realistic:

  • think of the work as a sequence or stages

Interpret the plot as surrealistic

  • think of the work as having a symbolic rather than literal meaning
  • think of the work as a series of images

IV.  Point of View

Interpret the point of view in terms of what the narrator can see:

  • consider whether the narrator is a character in the work–what is his/her role, identify important insights
  • consider how the ethnicity, gender, and age of the narrator influences the interpretation and what the narrator sees as important

Interpret the point of view in terms of how the narrator represents what he or she sees:

  • characterize the narrator’s tone at various points in the work
  • infer what determines the narrator’s tone
  • consider whether the narrator has a hidden agenda
  • consider how the work would be different if the narrator were


V.  Literary Motifs/Themes (not an exhaustive listing)

  • Mythic Discourses
  • Cult of True Womanhood
  • Passing
  • Paternalism
  • Intertextuality
  • Psychological domination and manipulation
  • Masking
  • Dialect as a Subversive Technique
  • The Trickster Character
  • Emasculation of the African American Male
  • Hyper sexuality of African American Females
  • Lynching
  • African American Humanity
  • Constraints of Jim Crow
  • Black Authenticity
  • Agency, Mobility, Acceptance
  • Miscegenation
  • Identity
  • American Dream

VI.       Imagery:

words, sometimes phrases that appeal to the senses and create pictures in the mind

            Visual:              images of sight     (the approaching darkness of separation)

            Auditory:          images of sound   (the roar of the crowd after a win)

            Gustatory:         images of taste      (the sour taste of a failing grade)

            Kinetic:             images of motion  (love is often an emotional roller coaster)

            Thermal:           images of temperature  (the broiling heat of a sunny day)

            Tactile:             images of feeling   (the numbing effect of death)

VII.     Symbolism: 

image that establishes a significant meaning

Archetypal Symbols carry universal meaning.

Circle (unity, wholeness, eternity)

Black (death, evil, darkness)

White (purity, wholeness, cleanliness)

Rain (washing away, destruction, newness, cleansing)

Phallic and Yonic Symbols: 
both are associated with human sexuality

A phallic symbol refers to the potency or power of the male:

(towers, spurs, snakes, banana, hammer, cars)

A yonic symbol refers to the sexuality or allure of sex that a woman possesses:

(caves, pots, roses, particular fruit, round or concave objects)

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