Reading the reiterative: concordance mapping and the American novel

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Jaeckle, Jeffrey Allan

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Concordance mapping is a student-oriented reading method that promotes the search for and analysis of reiterative word patterns. Students are required to read carefully to identify reiterative patterns that construct literary texts; they are encouraged to use concordance data to verify these observed patterns; when writing about literature, students are taught do so through extensively analyzing and citing observed reiterative patterns. Concordance mapping is therefore an evidence-generating tool that encourages students to focus their reading, research, and writing energies on reiterative word patterns. Each chapter serves as an example of how concordance mapping can yield detailed readings of American novels; these novels include Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), and Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994). This combination of canonical and popular novels is designed to appeal to a wide audience in order to promote greater interest in concordance mapping. The chapters are similarly strategic: each analyzes a well-known American novel to demonstrate how concordance mapping can extend existing readings by providing concrete evidence drawn from detailed analyses of observed reiterative word patterns. Chapter 1 examines patterns of perfection and imperfection in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, including Nick’s complicated use of superlatives and qualifications such as “absolute,” “all,” “but,” “everything,” and “small.” Chapter 2 examines the role of stretchers in Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; these stretchers find expression in a series of reiterative word patterns such as “ransom,” “orgies,” and “again.” Chapter 3 examines Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye by tracing the ambivalences that construct Holden Caulfield’s narrative voice, evident in word patterns such as “truth” and “phony” and the phrases “and all” and “all of a sudden.” Chapter 4 analyzes the language of confrontation in Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory, which manifests in reiterative word patterns such as “confrontation,” “face,” and “name.” These chapters collectively demonstrate that concordance mapping is a type of self-sharpening exercise: one that provides specific improvements in a student’s knowledge of how a text works and general knowledge in the skills of critical reading.