This Quote is out of Context

For each one sock you buy, a corresponding match is always in the package. No one ever buys just one sock. In other contexts, people may opt to buy the blouse of a pant set and not buy the pants. However, in buying socks, people buy socks with an “s.”

The example above represents common sense. It’s universal.  What if we say that this same idea applies to incorporating quotes within your paper and/or elaborating on a quote by using an example? It does.

When you incorporate a quote or add to what you have written (discussed) already, the quote must match your ideas within the paper, especially within the paragraph you are using to convey your points.

Think of your quote and topic sentence or your quote and example as two socks that match. If you are discussing one thing but the quote you want to use is an example of something totally different, don’t use the quote. Your professor will always grade on your ability to synthesize information, how you bring together corresponding points and examples and how you incorporate them within your paper appropriately, making sure that the quote and example you use actually serve their proper functions.

In the following sample excerpt, ideas within the student’s evaluation statements don’t match the ideas within the quote from the literary work. Let’s read the excerpt.

Sample Excerpt

Where Frieda adores her “. . . blue-and-white Shirley Temple cup” (Morrison 12), Claudia dislikes this perception of beauty.  Both Frieda and Pecola give in to the blue-eyed white doll that they so desire to be like. They even refer to Claudia’s distates as “. . . incomprehensible” (Morrison 12). This concept of beauty to Frieda and Pecola is “ugliness” to Claudia.

The . . . dolls, which were supposed to bring me great pleasure, succeeded in doing quite the opposite. When I took it to bed, its hard unyielding limbs resisted my flesh—the tapered fingertips on those dimpled hands scratched. If, in sleep, I turned, the bone-cold head collided with my own. It was a most uncomfortable, patently aggressive sleeping companion. . . . I had only one desire: to dismember it. To see of what it was made, to discover the dearness, to find the beauty, the desirability that had escaped me, but apparently only me. . . . I destroyed white baby dolls. But the dismembering of dolls was not the true horror. The truly horrifying thing was the transference of the same impulses to little white girls. The indifference with which I could have axed them was shaken only by my desire to do so. (Morrison 13-15)

The idioms supposed, unyielding, resisted, collided, uncomfortable, dismember, and indifference within the quote are all somewhat complementary. Claudia is “supposed” to agree to this standard of beauty so accepted by her sister and her mother, for her mother is the one who gives Claudia a white baby doll every Christmas. So, this standard is pushed upon her. “We didn’t initiate talk with grown-ups . . .” Claudia states (Morrison 16). Not only is the doll “unyielding,” so is her mother.  Claudia should be grateful according to her mother.

Figure 57: Essay Excerpt on Claudia, The Bluest Eye


The student presents details about one idea or action, but doesn’t present the corresponding information.


1) How do both Frieda and Pecola give in to the blue-eyed white doll?

2) What do they both do to yield to the doll, to the image she evokes and portrays?

3) Why is Claudia’s distaste incomprehensible?

4) What is different about Claudia’s view from both Frieda’s and Pecola’s?

5) Why is the doll “a most uncomfortable” companion?

6) Who tells Claudia she is supposed to agree to this standard of beauty? Who has set the standard? What is the standard? There isn’t anything in the paragraph, in the set off quote, and the preceding paragraph that relates to children not being able to initiate talking with grown-ups.

7) Therefore, how does the bolded quote above relate to what you have discussed before it? What is the connection?

8) In other words, how does this quote tie into the expectation of Claudia, by her mother and sister, to like white baby dolls?

For an extended explanation, see also “Don’t Quote Without Context” and “Introduce the Quote.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.


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