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How to do a close reading of a text: Analyzing John Donne's "The Flea"

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adam webb

on 4 March 2012

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Transcript of How to do a close reading of a text: Analyzing John Donne's "The Flea"

How to do a close reading of a text:
Analyzing John Donne's
"The Flea"
Five steps to follow...
Step 1: First, start with the text
Step 2: Second, read over the text very carefully (perform a "close reading" of the text)
Step 3: Third, highlight, mark down, underline any words that stick out to you from the text (you might be able to explore them in your research or use them as an interpreting point in your writing)
Step 4: Fourth, once you have performed a close reading and have located a few key words/terms, quotes or phrases from the text, then start writing down your ideas
Step 5: Start making connections between ideas, quotes or phrases from the text that you wrote down
Here we go!
Applying the
five steps...
Key terms from the poem:
Denies ... Blood ... Bloods ... Sucks
Married ... Marriage ... Killing ... Kill
Innocence ... Guilty ... Sin
Start writing down your ideas, quotes or phrases from the text that stick out to you:
Donne talks about how a flea has "suck'd" blood from two different people and has "mingled" it within its own body (Donne line 3)

As a metaphysical poet, Donne is using symbols and metaphors to describe something. Is the flea a metaphor? How is Donne using the flea in the poem?

Donne also gives the allusion of the two bloods mixing in the flea is something that is done without their consent
Continue with writing down
your ideas and any important
phrases or quotes from the text:
Donne lets the flea represent a "marriage" of "bloods" between him and the woman he loves or is interested in (Donne line 4 and 13)

Donne mentions how their "parents grudge" the meeting of their union this way within the flea (Donne line 14)
Writing down your ideas and any important phrases, continued:
With the killing of the flea, Donne questions its "guilt" (Donne line 21)

Is the death of the flea the ending of the marriage/ relationship? How?

What is the significance of the the flea's death?
Start connecting ideas, quotes and phrases together...
Connecting Concepts & Asking Questions (a hidden sixth step?):
Larger Concepts:
What are the sexual overtones in Donne's language?
How is emotion portrayed in Donne's poem?
How does the language effect the way you interpret it?

What current social, political, economic, or cultural aspects are significant in this poem?
What literary devices can you use in analyzing the poem?

Even before marriage, the flea mixes their blood together before they have the opportunity to consummate the relationship

Donne describes the "killing" of the flea by his lover, the woman he cares about (Donne line 18). He talks about it like the murdering of "three," such as the "killing" of the marriage or the relationship (Donne line 18)
The importance of doing a close reading entails reading and possibly re-reading a text very carefully, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, and sometimes word by word in order to comprehend the language and the meaning(s) in it
Doing a close reading sometimes means doing a re-reading of the text. So, you must have patience when reading. If you are a speed reader, you might want to slow down a little bit or you might miss important points or passages in the text you are reading. If you are a slow reader, you might want to start reading a little earlier in order to allow yourself enough time to analyze the message(s) or meaning(s) in the text
"The Flea" by John Donne
MARK but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know'st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two;
And this, alas ! is more than we would do.
O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we're met,
And cloister'd in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.
Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou
Find'st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
'Tis true ; then learn how false fears be;
Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me,
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.
The poem we will be doing a close reading of...
Why do we do a close reading? In order to understand the message(s) and meaning(s) that the text is trying to convey to the reader. Sometimes this even means looking up a word or concept that you do not understand, or perhaps even looking up information on the writer or the era in which the text was written
Full transcript