Chapter 20: Considering Your Subjectivity

Part 4: Chapter 20

The analytical writing process is often challenging for students because there is not a single, correct answer. Analysis does not always lead to a definitive answer; instead, your goal is to consider your own ideas and develop your impressions of a topic. The textbook A Guide to Perspective Analysis suggests spending time thinking about your point of view on a topic, whether you’re writing about a text or image, is a critical step because your perception is influenced by connections you have already developed to the topic, your values, and your experiences. Here is a sample that will help you focus on the analytical writing process.


Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1974), 110.

This often quoted parable reveals how history functions as an on-going conversation, a conversation that we’re invited to participate in during the time we have on earth.

Likewise, when we write an analysis of a subject, we should see ourselves as participating in a discussion, one that will continue long after we’ve handed in our essays. Just as it’s unlikely that what we have to say will be the last word, we should not allow others to have the final say either. Of course, there isn’t just one conversation that goes on in our lives; instead, we are involved every day in several discussions, and they all influence each other. Because we do not begin any analysis as a blank slate, we first need to understand why we see a subject in a certain way, by considering how past discussions and experiences inform our reactions.

None of us are raised in a vacuum: our friends, our teachers, and our families influence our beliefs, tastes, and judgments. Though sometimes we may disagree with their perspectives (especially those of our parents), we can never completely escape from them. Likewise, our broader culture exerts a heavy influence. For instance, although you might enjoy shows like South Park or Family Guy that satirize the American family, you might not have liked them if you were alive (and able to see them) in the 1950s when Americans were more celebratory and less critical of themselves. In addition, personal experiences strongly inform our reactions. At some time, we have all heard a sappy song about a heartbroken person and wanted to scream at the singer to get over it, only to hear the same song again after being freshly dumped and feeling as though it now penetrates our soul.

This subjectivity holds true not only for works of art and fiction but also for writing that reveals the author’s intentions more directly, such as editorials, documentaries, and essays. For one, we may disagree as to whether the author’s stated purpose is the only reason behind the piece.

If, for instance, I were to write an editorial arguing that the government should spend more money on education to make it more accessible to the poor and bring about greater cultural literacy, I know what my friends and family would say: “Yeah, right; you just want a raise.” And even if everyone were to agree that the author has sincerely stated the purpose of the piece, the effect of that purpose will vary from person to person due to the different experiences, morals, and beliefs that shape each individual’s unique perspective. For instance, a Michael Moore documentary that is critical of American business practices may leave one person (who just received a promotion) seething at him for trying to tear down established institutions, while another viewer (who just got downsized) may applaud Moore for bravely calling our attention to an injustice that needs to be rectified.

We can all agree that it is impossible to wipe our minds of all potential bias. Objectivity is an ideal that is largely unattainable, for we all see the world through our own subjective lenses. This example of an individual reader response is why we need to first acknowledge, understand, and evaluate our subjectivity, especially as it relates to the subject of our analysis.

To consider why you react to something as you do, consider recording your thoughts in a reading/observation journal when reading a text, viewing a show, listening to a song, or recalling an experience. Taking the time to pause periodically and record your thoughts will help you identify and understand your own perceptions and biases.

Quill on top of parchment
Photo by Joel Montes de Oca, CC BY-SA 2.0

Your responses will vary in length and type, but should essentially consist of two parts: first summarize what you encounter (if it’s a written or visual text, mark the page number or DVD chapter so you can find it again), and then write your reaction to it. The advantage to keeping a reading/observation journal is that it allows you to reflect on your subject as you examine it. Though you might think pausing to write in a journal will take away from experiencing or enjoying your subject, it may actually help you to encounter it more fully.

When a piece inspires a particular thought, your mind may wander through its implications even as you continue reading or viewing, causing you to overlook important details. The journal allows you to pause and record your considerations and then return to your focus with greater attention. Below are a few examples of reading observation journal entries for an analysis of a book, a business report, and a travel essay.

Response to Virginia Woolf’s Essay “A Room of One’s Own”


p. 5 Woolf claims that she had to “kill the Angel of the House” before she felt the freedom to engage in her own writing. She clearly associates this phrase with the expectations laid out for women in this period.

This seems a bit dated to me. Most of the couples I know split the household chores. I also know that if my girlfriend asked me to do the dishes while she wrote poetry, I would support her.

p. 7 Woolf also points out that to write anything worthwhile we need to have a “room of one’s own,” free from distractions or expectations.

I would love to have a room of my own, but unfortunately as a student living in Southern California, I can’t afford one. And there are plenty of distractions: My roommate’s TV, the passing traffic, the cat that keeps jumping up on my lap. She’s so aware of the problems with gender, she isn’t thinking about social…

Business Report on Buddies, a Family Restaurant Chain


Quarterly Profits were up by 10% on the Lincoln and Elm location, but down over 5% at the Broadway and Fourth location.

Of course several factors could allow for this. The management team at L&E is more competent, but they are also located in a family neighborhood. Customers want something more upscale.

A suggestion was made at board meeting on 12/7 to increase advertising for B&F location and possibly bring in new management.

I doubt either plan will have much success, other family restaurants tried the same strategy but failed in that area. Best scenario is to shut down and move to a more family friendly neighborhood, and then consider…

Travel Journal for a Week in Paris


June 23, 8 p.m. Sitting across the coffee shop from me are two Americans asking for soy milk. The waiter clearly looks confused, so they repeat their request more loudly. The waiter simply walks away, leaving the Americans to comment, “It’s true what they say about the French being rude.”

Why don’t more Americans understand not everybody should speak English and that raising your voice does not help? I made an effort to order in French and the waiter was very nice to me. Another example of how we create and believe our stereotypes.

June 24, 3 p.m. Amazing view from top of Eiffel Tower, the city stretches on as far as you can see in every direction.

On further reflection, however, I preferred the quieter places in the city. I loved the hidden restaurants, the small art galleries, the…

As you can see from these examples, what you write at this point will probably not appear in your finished draft, at least not verbatim. In this chapter and the next two, try to write in a more exploratory fashion, using your pen or keyboard to discover and develop your perspectives before you present them more formally. Your initial responses should take the form of freewriting, writing that comes out as a stream of thoughts unencumbered by grammar, spelling, or a fear of where it is heading. In addition to freewriting, we will look at several other exercises and heuristics, which are discovery procedures, that will help you begin the process—but always remember that if you do not take the time to explore your ideas, then your final draft will most likely seem obvious and under-developed, no matter how much you polish the structure or style.

Adapted from “Chapter 2” of A Guide to Perspective Analysis, 2012, used according to creative commons CC BY-SA 3.0 US

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