Two Sample Précis by Tien-wen Lin

CL390  31105       (a graduate course in comparative literature)

Twentieth-Century (Western) Theory: An Introduction

Professor Katherine Arens


(Note from Margaret Wieding: This is a précis [a very specific kind of summary which cannot be used in place of a regular summary] of a critical essay published in the required reader for the course, about one way to evaluate poetry. Normally you would insert the author of "Irony as a Principle of Structure," and the date first published, just below the title and above the "Focus." You would also give page numbers in each section, especially after quotations that are set off with quotation marks as in the "Focus." The only reason I am not giving that information is that I want to get this sample posted as soon as possible, and I don't have time to ask Tien-wen for it right now. For your own work, you will need that information.)


Precis of the Essay "Irony as a Principle of Structure"


Author and date of essay: (            )


Focus:     Evaluating poetry with regard to the use of irony in a text’s structure


Thesis:    Irony is the tension of the parts of the text and the pressure from the context. A successful text should have “the stability of a context in which the internal pressures balance and mutually support each other” (   ).


Logic: The author explains the idea of irony and the importance of context first and then elaborates on the idea, using examples of poetry to illustrate how irony works in a text to make it complex and rich.




The idea of irony


* ”the obvious warping of a statement by the context we characterize as ironical" (     )



*Context, which is different from the “universe of discourse,” plays an important role in the making of poetry (     ).


*The structure of irony is everywhere, even in the simple lyric.



*A successful poem should be recognized by the complexity of its structure, which should be dramatized with accuracy and honesty (clarity and passion, in other words).

Gray’s Elegy, Hardy’s poems, or Housman’s poems, 1042


Housman’s poem, 1043




Shakespeare’s song of Sylvia ; Wordsworth’s lyric, 1044-45


Randall Jarrell’s English Air Force and the comparison between this and his other works, 1047-1048


Implications: When the use of irony becomes the standard of evaluating poetry, the author highlights the structure of the poems and therefore is able to set up a new standard of good (or at least “better”) poetry. Therefore, simple lyrics are looked down on when compared to ironical modern poetry. The author also criticizes the “corruption” of language brought by the circulation of popular culture. (     )


© copyright Tien-wen Lin, September 2004


Tien-wen Lin

CL390  31105

Twentieth-Century (Western) Theory: An Introduction

Professor Katherine Arens


(Note from Margaret Wieding: This is a precis of a critical essay about The Dead.)


Précis of The Dead


Author and date of novel:  James Joyce, 1914


Focus: The Dead, a modern novel that was published as a story in Joyce's collection Dubliners


Thesis: The story's structure is based on the principle of irony. It is therefore full of tension in the multilayered relation of its parts and context, by which Joyce sketched a vivid picture of Ireland at that time.


Logic: Joyce makes a story full of irony by the contrasts of life and dead, Britain and Ireland, illusion and disillusion, etc., to express his observation of Ireland and the struggles of its people.






The setting of the story begins with a gathering at Christmas, which is supposed to be filled with joyful atmosphere.

As the title has suggested, the whole subject of the story is “the dead.”





Gabriel is drawn to the British and European culture and would therefore like to travel in Europe or to recite Browning’s poetry during his speech.

Gabriel’s closeness to Britain has already won him the notorious reputation of the “West Briton” from Miss Ivors.



Gabriel is the living husband of Gretta, but he cannot arouse Gretta’s passion even though he craves the tender caress of his wife.

Michael is the dead lover of Gretta, who is still vividly remembered. Gretta cries for his death even now. Her passion at the moment is saved for the dead.


Implications: The Dead is a work that accurately depicts the embarrassing situation of a mentally-English Irishman, Gabriel. The work effectively dramatizes the personal and national struggles of these Irish people within different dimensions.


© copyright Tien-wen Lin, September 2004