Textual Analysis - The Short Story

Setting (where?):
In which country/town/area does the text take place?
What are the main characteristics of the location?
Is the setting important, or could the story take place anywhere?

Time (when?):
Are there any indications in the text of the exact or approximate time (hour/day/month /year /decade etc.) at which it takes place?
When was it written?

Characters (who?):
Make a list of the most important persons of the story (e.g. protagonist + antagonist) including a factual description of them (no interpretation or judgement!)

Plot (what?):
Give/write a summary of the plot.  Avoid unnecessary details but make sure your summary is coherent and includes the ending of the story.

Form (how?):
Divide the story into chapters.
Is the beginning of the story a traditional introduction (a description of the setting)?
Or does it begin in an unusual way?
Is there a climax in the story? Is there more than one climax?
Is the ending a natural solution or a surprise?
Is it an open ending?
Is it a happy ending?

From whose point of view is the story told?
(first person; limited third person; omniscient third person?)
Are the persons seen from the outside or the inside? Or both?
(Give examples from the text.)

Is the story written in a realistic way?
Or does it contain supernatural/absurd elements?

Language (how?):
Is it a narrative text or a dialogue? Or a mixture of both?

The narrative:
Is the narrative used for (detailed) descriptions of persons/action/milieu/atmosphere?
Or is it more like Hemingway's "iceberg" technique (leaving the seven eighths of the contents below the surface)?
Is the language neutral, or does it reveal the author's attitude to his persons/subject? (irony/ humour/sympathy/criticism)

The dialogue:
Is the dialogue written in a neutral/impersonal language? Or does it aim at rendering the individual language of the persons (slang/accent/dialect/children's language etc.)?

General style:
Is the language in general simple? Or is it rich in imagery? Symbols?

Theme (why?):
What is the core (= the main theme) of the text? (The title may give you a clue to this).
How do the characters relate to the main theme? Why does the individual person act the way he/she does?

Examples of typical conflicts in the human character:

Is he/she the master of his/her own life or does he/she let things drift?
Does he/she fight against opposition or does he/she give up?
Is he/she a pessimist or an optimist?
Is he/she a winner or a loser?
Is he/she good or evil?
Does he/she take full responsibility for his/her situation in life, or does he/she feel victimized?
Does he/she face reality or does he/she take refuge in escapism (fantasy world etc.)?
Is he/she living in a "macrocosmic" or a "microcosmic" sphere?
Does he/she act from motives of egotism or unselfishness?
Is he/she able to foresee the consequences of his/her actions, or does he/she meet with unexpected obstacles/reactions?
Is he/she able to embrace life fully, or is he/she inhibited by inner and/or outer forces?


Often one or several subthemes may be derived from the main theme, e.g.

              main theme = a mother's love for and expectations to her son
              subtheme 1 = the sacrifices she makes for his sake
              subtheme 2 = the son's ingratitude
              subtheme 3 = the mother's disappointment
              subtheme 4 = her subsequent suicide

The subthemes are in general consequences of the main theme, not parallel actions.

The author:

What do you know about him/her?
Does your knowledge of facts connected with the author and his/her life help to understand his/her work better?
In what way (if any) do we feel his/her presence in the text?
(style/choice of subject/focus/the moral)

Merete Høgsbro & Erik Møldrup