Paraphrase vs. Close Reading
Assertion vs. Demonstration and Explanation
Contributor: Derek Nystrom

Contributor's note: The below handout is something I came up with when I was TAing for ENGL 382, and was having trouble explaining to my students what counts--and what doesn't count--as close reading. Therefore, I decided to show them what close reading looks like, compared to a paraphrase.  The other main problem I had been having in the papers for the course was that of students making interpretive claims without doing the math--i.e., showing their reader how they reached this interpretive conclusion. Hence, the second example below.  Since the lit is 382-specific, you might want to adapt this to whatever you're teaching. Or, you can just go ahead and us it as is. Good luck.

Paraphrase vs. close reading

All bargains but conditional are made;
The purchase void, the creditor unpaid;
Defrauded servants are from service free;
A wounded slave regains his liberty.
For wives ill used no remedy remains,
To daily racks condemned, and to eternal chains.
(Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, "Epistle from Mrs. Yonge to her Husband" lines 19-24)
 
Paraphrase
In this passage, Montagu complains that wives have no legal recourse in the case of their husband's infidelity. She notes that other "bargains" are "conditional": one's purchase becomes "void[ed]" if one does not pay for it; similarly, servants and slaves no longer have to work for those that defraud or injure them. For women, however, such options are unavailable, leaving them to the "eternal chains" of their marriage.

Close reading
In the beginning of this passage, Montagu subverts more romantic descriptions of marriage by describing it in contractual language: the "conditional" nature of "[a]ll bargains." Furthermore, by implicitly comparing the marriage contract to those of "servants" and "slaves," Montagu underlines the subservient position of wives in this contract. Yet the final irony for Montagu is the fact that even these servants and slaves are afforded some level of legal protection, while wives are left with "no remedy"-a condition which prompts Montagu, in the final line of the passage, to abandon all metaphors of contract, and depict marriage as a form of imprisonment ("eternal chains") and torture ("daily racks").

Assertion vs. demonstration and explanation

All-wise Almighty providence we trace
In trees, and plants, and all the flowery race;
As clear as in the nobler frame of man,
All lovely copies of the Maker's plan.
(Phillis Wheatley, "Thoughts on the Works of Providence" lines 71-4)

Assertion
In this passage, Wheatley makes a claim for equality between blacks and whites.

Demonstration and explanation
The first two lines of this passage note that we can discern God's providence throughout the diversity of creation. Yet this observation is paired ("As clear as") with the claim that we can also perceive this providence through a contemplation of the "nobler frame of man." Wheatley's linking of these statements leads the reader to apply the first method of "trac[ing]" providence-that is, through a recognition of diversity as God's plan-to the subject of the second couplet-that is, humanity. In other words, Wheatley implies that we should see in the diversity of humanity "*All* lovely copies of the Maker's plan" (emphasis mine). Seen in this light, we can better understand Wheatley's curious use of the term "race"--usually used to specify different groups of humans--to describe plant life: this final word in the first couplet hints at that statement's connection to the topic of the second. In this way, Wheatley makes a claim for equality between blacks and whites.