How to Start Analysing an Unseen -- English Literature

Many people struggle with the Unseen in Paper 1 in English Literature. The thought of having to analyse a text you have never seen before may seem daunting. However, if you follow some steps then this process can flow smoothly, and feeling prepared before the exam is manageable.

The first thing to do is to think about the introduction. There are three basic things that you should include in your introduction:

  1. Overview of the extract : explicit meaning -- what is the extract about?

  2. Thesis Statement : implicit meaning -- what message is the author/poet/screenplay communicating?

  3. Techniques -- what techniques are in the extract to communicate this message?

Most students feel comfortable with steps 1 and 3 of the introduction, however many people struggle with the concept of a thesis statement. Here are some thoughts that can help you while forming a thesis:

  • It is not necessarily true but has to be able to be debated (needs to be complex enough)

  • You can come down strongly on one side of the argument, but it can also be ambiguous and you can conclude ambiguity if at the end you don't think there’s enough evidence

  • Try to recognize all major parts of the poem, so the thesis can have two parts

  • Try to make it as specific as you can for the extract

Next, you need to form a plan. It can be helpful to look at this checklist before attempting to form a plan, so you make sure to have understood what the text is about.

  • Subject: what is the text about? Need to recognize the literal content of the text. Can add a note about this in the introduction to show comprehension.

  • Action: what happens in the text? Are the events important?

  • Character/relationship: does it focus on a character or relationship? Try to mention all relationships, even ambiguous ones.

  • Setting: does setting play a role? Setting helps set mood + atmosphere.

  • Narrator: who is speaking? First or third person? Mention and analyse narrative voice, why it's there, is it intimate or neutral? Be aware of the unreliable narrator, that hides things to portray their view. Narrative voice is extremely important!

  • Themes and Ideas: what themes/ideas does the text explore, why has it been written?

  • Imagery: how does the text use descriptive and sensory detail?

  • Figurative language: are there metaphors, similes, symbolism..

  • Sound: consider alliteration, onomatopoeia...

  • Diction: comment on vocabulary, is it simple or complex?

  • Structure: how is the text constructed? Be careful, do not apply poetic terms to prose.

  • Tone: what kinds of feelings does the narrator express towards the subject of the text? Helps to pick out strong words that show feeling.

The last thing to do before analysing an unseen is to make sure you have the correct interpretation of the text.

  • Very important to fully understand the text from the beginning

  • Pick up the main events, make sure you include them in your analysis

  • This will give you marks for Criterion A, which are vital!

Hopefully these tips will help you feel more prepared before beginning to write your essay, and analysing the unseen. Remember that, especially for unknown for texts you have not seen before, preparation is very important. Making a good plan is the key to setting yourself up for a good essay.