Responding to Quotes from Literature

Whenever we are reading a book, a collection of stories, or any other literature, the quotes will be taken from the book. Sometimes they will come from a part that we've already read, sometimes they will come from what we're about to read. Either way, you need to respond to the quote in much the same way you normally would, except you need to consider the context of the reading, and the specific passage where it occurs. Here's an example, from Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

"All right, then, I'll GO to hell." - p. 207

As always, the following responses are not acceptable:

I have no idea what this quote means.
I don't know what to write.
This quote makes no sense to me.
I don't understand this quote.

and you don't want to start with:

What this quote means is…
What I think he is trying to say is that...

Whether the quote comes from a passage we've already read, or if we haven't read it yet, you need to respond to it based on what you know about the book, the characters, the story, the setting, etc. You can also respond to the quote in a more general way, if it really makes you think about something outside of the text. Here's an example of how one might respond to the above quote from
Huckleberry Finn:

Huck's conscience comes to a revelation here as he decides, firmly and finally, to help free Jim from slavery. Although he doesn't consciously think that slavery is wrong, he realizes that his friendship with Jim is more important than any trouble he might get into for freeing a slave, even the ultimate punishment of going to hell. In a way, he is saying, "If freeing Jim is wrong, then I don't want to be right." This is really the turning point of the novel, as Huck comes to grips with the moral dilemma he has been wrestling with throughout the story. I probably would have done the same thing...

This very strong response establishes a context for the quote, specifies where it occurs in the story, who says it, what it means, and most importantly, what it means to the reader.

These quotes will often provide a starting point for our discussion, or a general idea that we can explore in relation to the book, or just "food for thought."

For more information, see Responding to General Quotes.

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