Notes for IB Commentary and Literary Analysis

Thesis equals your opinion

Shakespeare exists – Hamlet does not exist

Argue the idea. Argue an idea. Characters are examples in the body of the thesis

The author is the starting point.

Keep on the question – argue the question

Paragraphing grows out of the logic of the ideas.

No title page – just get down to it.

Must show how you understand the question and how to respond to it.

Diction, imagery, tone, structure, style, technique, etc. You should understand all of these terms in everything you read.

Need to know the effect on the reader of these features.

Deal with endings. Students often miss this


For your first reading, annotate only what strikes you most forcefully. Note down your first impressions and hunches, as well as anything you find surprising or confusing.

Then reread to annotate the text more fully, particularly those components of the work - character, language, setting, structure, point of view, theme - that suggest the story's meaning to you.

As you read and reread, your annotations will become more and more detailed; eventually, they will lead to your own interpretation of the work.

Basic Fiction Components

The following guide lists the basic components of a work of fiction and directs your attention to some of the aspects of those components that suggest meaning. Though they will not all apply to the story you are analyzing, some will lead to important discoveries. Your annotations may focus on only one or two components.

Any character

The name the writer gives this character

The character's thoughts, actions, and words

The way the writer describes this character - a particular dominant trait or several characteristics

How this character changes

This character's values, motives, goals, beliefs

How this character relates to other characters

How this character compares with other characters

Contradictions among his or her thoughts, words, and actions


Unusual words

Words you need to define

Words that suggest a particular feeling or mood

Words that have multiple meanings

Words that form patterns with other words in that text - repetitions, contradictions, tensions, echoes, connections of any kind at all

Images and patterns of images (simile, metaphor, personification)

Descriptions of visual details (shape, color, texture), sounds, smells

Ironical statements - those that say one thing but may mean something else

Symbols - objects or events having more than one level of meaning

Paradoxical statements


The place and time of the events

Whether the setting changes

The way the writer presents the setting

The mood the setting creates

Whether the setting causes, reflects, or contradicts the characters' actions, values, or moods

How a different setting might alter the story's meaning


The way the story begins

Any foreshadowing of what will happen

The plot

Points of suspense or tension

The conflict and the eventual climax

Patterns in the work - repeated passages of sections, similar or opposite events

The way the story ends - does it repeat anything from the beginning as a framing device? Are conflicts resolved? Do any uncertainties remain?

Point of view

How we learn about the narrator - description, action, dialogue, statements that reveal attitudes and opinions, other characters' statements

Whether the narrator is a character or just a disembodied voice

Whether the narrator knows everything, including characters' thoughts and feelings, or has only limited knowledge

Whether the narrator focuses on one character, restricting information to what that character knows, sees, thinks, and feels

Whether the narrator can be trusted

How the work would be changed with a different narrator


Issues and problems raised in the story - philosophical, spiritual, moral, social, political, psychological, aesthetic

Abstract ideas - nature, death, love, equality, alienation, utopia, science, money, heroism

Conflicting forces - illusion vs. reality, death vs. rebirth, the individual vs. society,

fate vs. free will, servitude vs. freedom, the city vs. the country

Literary motifs - the quest, initiation rites, the double, self-discovery,

the inescapability of death, the fall from innocence

Suggestions for certain literary features to bear in mind as you prepare your literary analysis


How has the plot (not the story) been constructed?

Is there a linear or chronological development or are there flashbacks?

Is the work divided into distinct parts or can it be viewed as a whole?

Is the plot circular?

Are there ever subplots?

How important/effective is the ending?

Has everything been revealed b y the end or are there many unanswered questions

– if so does this matter?

What period of time has been covered –long or short – or is time unimportant?

Point of View and Character

From whose point of view is the story told? Does this change?

How reliable is the narrators voice?

If there are several narrators are they equally reliable or unreliable?

Is there one main protagonist or several main characters?

Are there major and minor characters? Are they round or flat? Does that matter?

How well does the reader get to know the characters and how credible are they?

How are they presented: by description, implication, through their actions or thoughts, or by a mixture of techniques?

How does the writer persuade us to like/sympathize wit some characters and dislike others?


This includes cultural as well as geographical and historical setting.

Be aware if differences in cultural attitudes.

What effect does the setting have on story, character or theme?


E.g. symbolism, foreshadowing, clothes, description, syntax, etc. can all be used to show how a writer ahs conveyed ideas.

What is missing from the above list is theme. This does not mean, of course, that you should not write about themes; but what you should do is write about the way in which the writer treats these themes and presents his or her ideas.