I’d love to say the answer is easy, but there are steps involved. Questions to consider:
- How well do I know the story/poem/play I am quoting from?
If you answered not well, its time to get creative. Consider what you are trying to prove, is it
a character trait, an event that may or may not have happened, a character’s
intent on doing something?
The best thing to do in this situation is to skim the book. If you are looking for character traits, skim
the book looking for that character’s name in particular. (for help skimming see my other blog post on
skimming). Figure out: what he/she did, what he/she said, or what he/she
thinks. Try to find broad sentences that
can be manipulated or interpreted to what you want it to mean.
For example, If I am looking for a quote to prove that Adam is scared of little
kids, I want to find something general like this: “I wasn’t incredibly nervous walking
into the nursery school, but with each passing child my nervousness
grew.” I can interpret nervousness
to be a product of fear. So this quote
fits right into what I want to say.
- Can I break the story up into different sections?
If you answered yes to this questions, your life is a whole lot easier. Knowing different events and where they
happen in the story is incredibly important to finding quotes easily. Novels, here might be the toughest to do this
with but with plays (which are already broken up by act) it is loads and loads
- Do I have a thesis and main idea?
Because you are writing a paper, having these two essential items is a must.
Ask yourself these mini-questions
- What am I trying to prove (thesis)?
- Does my main idea (opinion) help prove the thesis?
- What evidence will help prove my main idea actually exists?
Knowing what you are going to say before finding your quote is the only logical way of
going about looking for a quote.
- Does my quote prove my main idea?
It sounds like a simple question but the implications of the answer can have
pretty profound effect on your clarity and grade!
Check out this example from a paper I wrote in college:
“The Great Figure” is Williams’ poem that freezes the moment
of a fire truck moving through the city. The interesting movement of the poem
frames the timeless movement of the fire truck, “moving / tense / unheeded”
Does the quote support the main idea? Well, we don’t have enough information to
prove that it does or it doesn’t; however, what we do have is evidence that
there is movement. The quote obviously needs an explanation on how it relates to my thesis.
“The lines move as fast as the fire truck, with the same, unrestricted, intensity.”
Again, this sentence proves my main idea that “Williams’ poem…freezes the moment of a fire
truck moving through the city.”
- Can you
explain the quote in other words or in relation to your main idea?
At this point, you should be able to do this. Having already created a main idea and found
supporting evidence, this task should be the easiest.
For example, I wrote a college paper on The Crucible by Arthur Miller proving that “Honesty, accusations and judgments ruled the
way Salem society functioned and had yielded disastrous results.”
Here is my main idea supporting my thesis:
“John Proctor speaks with Abigail and sternly protests his involvement with her any further,”
Here is my supporting quote:
“‘Abby, I may think of you softly from time to time. But I will cut off my hand before I ever reach for you again. Wipe it out of mind.
We never touched, Abby’”
And here is my explanation:
“Proctor admits that he does, still, have a soft spot in his heart but having realized his sin, he tells Abigail he wants her total
Ask yourself this, does the explanation explain the quote well? As a writer you are a commenter on the story, not the story teller. Often times students fall in the trap of summarizing the story, when summarizing is unnecessary and verbose (wordy). In fact, the more clear and concise you are in proving your point, the better.