Don’t Quote Without Context

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Quotes)

Authors create their works not to be aesthetically pleasing or to arouse the senses in any way, but do so from memory, from experiences, from lessons learned. No author creates a work of art without first struggling with an issue, enduring an issue, and overcoming an issue. Most of what you read, the author’s labor, comes from a place within an author that is sensitive. What the author writes represents his or her vulnerability, thoughts, emotions, feelings, attitudes, and perspectives as he or she sees the world. Most of what an author writes is predicated on the surrounding environment in which he or she lives (and has lived).

Therefore, when you approach an author’s work you are not just approaching a name on the page, or just a title. You are approaching a title that has suffered through many revisions. You are approaching a work that is the result of tireless effort, labor, doubt, many nights of crying, sickness, pain, family obligations; the influence of social standing, social classifications, race, being a man, being a woman; and going back and forth mentally about “who” will be the main character, “what” will be the main character’s problem, to “whom” will the character relate to in the story, “why” will the character do this and not this, “how” will the character do this and not this,” and “in what way” and “for what reason” the character will do this and not this.

All of these elements represent the beginning of your task to understand an author’s work.  On your list of things to do, you still need to figure out the year of composition, what time period the work falls under; who the author has befriended in his days of writing; if the author has any other works; what connection those works have to the one you are currently analyzing; and what motivated the author to sit down, discipline himself, and endure the task of writing.

All of what you have just read is “context.” When you quote, be careful to know the context behind the quote you want to use. Apply these contexts within your paper, preferably near (before or after) the quote you plan to incorporate.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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