i Magazine

Comparing and contrasting on a sentence level

Have you ever wondered why the assignment to “compare and contrast” is such a staple of college English classes?

Probably because comparing one text – or character – can help us understand both texts better.

This paper by Marlon Altoe is an excellent model of how texts can be juxtaposed – or, or placed side by side – as a means of arriving at insights that wouldn’t have been possible by analyzing them in isolation from each other. For example, our appreciation of the love that develops between Anna and Gurov in Anton Chekhov’s short story “The Lady with the Dog,” which Altoe discusses in the second section of his paper, is enriched by having just read about the self-centered – and loveless – behavior of Olenka, from Chekhov’s story “The Darling.”

Altoe’s paper is also a model of another kind of juxtaposition: often, within a single sentence, Altoe juxtaposes two opposing ideas.

Just as the juxtaposition of two stories aids readers’ understanding of both juxtaposed texts, the juxtaposition of opposing ideas enhances our understanding of both concepts he introduces.

Below you’ll find some examples of Altoe’s sentence-level juxtapositions of opposing ideas and terms.

In the first three examples, you’ll see how Altoe juxtaposes opposing ideas to help analyze and categorize the behavior of Olenka.

Example 1

Is such an insatiable craving for another real love?
By juxtaposing the terms “insatiable craving,” which describes Olenka’s behavior in her relationships with men, and term “real love,” Altoe nudges us to consider the difference – and, perhaps, distance – between the two terms and the states of being they identify.

Example 2

What seems at first extreme devotion is quickly understood by the reader to be infinite neediness.
Rather than merely describe Olenka’s behavior as needy, Altoe first entertains the possibility that it could be viewed as “extreme devotion.” With this juxtaposition, he helps the reader understand that Olenka’s behavior may initially deceive some readers [and also causes us to reflect on whether “neediness” can often be mistaken for love.]

Example 3

The story conjures a disturbing image not of love but of a vampiric need of another’s vital energy.
Here again, Altoe juxtaposes a selfish “need” with true love.

In the next two examples, Altoe juxtaposes opposing terms as a way of illuminating the difference between the initial superficial, merely physical attraction between Ana and Gurov and the more substantial emotions their relationship eventually engenders.

Example 4

One might assume nothing more than lust, and the simple desire to escape their unhappy home-lives as the motivation factors for their arrangement, but Chekhov gives us glimpses of something deeper.
Here, by setting the words “something deeper” in opposition to “lust” Altoe previews for the reader the quality of the feelings that seem poised to develop between Ana and Gurov.

Example 5

He hands us the reins and allows us to decide whether this whisper of affection will build toward a victorious cry of authentic, enduring love.
By contrasting a “whisper of affection” with a “victorious cry of authentic, enduring love,” Altoe remind readers of the gap between the sort of relationship and Ana and Gurov have achieved at the end of the story with the sort of devotion they may yet achieve.

You may have noticed that love – or the ideal version of love Altoe describes and defines in the introduction to his paper – is included in each of the above examples of juxtapositions.

Even as Altoe writes about Olenka’s self-absorbed clinginess and Ana and Gurov’s initial, purely physical attraction, he keeps in view this ideal of love, juxtaposing it again and again with the actual attitudes – from “infinite neediness” to “lust” – of the characters he analyzes.

Next Steps:

Almost any literature paper assignment – but especially a “compare and contrast” paper – allows writers opportunities to juxtapose ideas and/or terms within sentences.

One logical place to begin crafting these juxtapositions in your own writing is in transitions between your analysis of one character and your analysis of another.

The templates below can be used (and modified) in writing transitional sentences that link the analysis of one character with that of another.

While [character 1]’s attitude toward [political issue, life question, etc.] is consistently _________, [character 2]’s attitude, on the other hand, is _________________.

Unlike [character 1], who [how character acts/ behaves], [character 2] [how behaves].

If [character 1] is preoccupied by ____________, [character 2], seems more concerned with ____________.

Topic: Resources for Students, Spring 2010 Tags: None

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