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					                     Using Direct Quotations in Responding to Literature

As you become older and your writing becomes more sophisticated, you must learn to use
and document direct quotations to support your claims and ideas in your writing about
literature. Using direct quotations is a multi-step process that consists of four things:

1. finding the right quote
2. providing context for the quote in your essay
3. placing, punctuating and documenting the quote correctly
4. explaining the significance of the quote to the main idea of your paragraph

Below is a step by step process for being successful in using a direct quote successfully.

1. Finding a quote

Finding a quote can be a very difficult endeavor considering all the text that must be sifted
through in a story or piece of non-fiction to find a good quote. Any old quote won‟t do.
To find a good quote, the reader must pay attention to important messages being
communicated by the author in a story. These often relate directly to theme,
characterization, tone, symbolism, or some other device the author is using to enhance the
writing. Direct quotations should not be used to highlight plot alone since you can do this
yourself.

2. Providing context for your direct quotation

Just plopping a quote into an essay without a proper setup breaks the organization and flow
of your essay. A direct quotation needs to be part of a sentence you write, and never
standing alone. Providing context consists mainly of explaining who is speaking, to whom,
and very briefly describing the situation. Take a look at the sentences below.


WEAK: Act III of Romeo and Juliet begins with a sense of foreboding. “The day is hot,
the Capels are abroad,/And, if we meet, we shall not „scape a brawl” (3.1.2-3).

Notice here, that the direct quote this writer chooses sits alone in space, unconnected to
the author‟s writing. This is not acceptable because though the writer may know who is
speaking and to whom and the situation, the reader is confused.

SUFFICIENT: Act III of Romeo and Juliet begins with a sense of foreboding. Benvolio
says to Mercutio, “The day is hot, the Capels are abroad,/And, if we meet, we shall not
„scape a brawl” (3.1.2-3).

Notice here that this is somewhat improved because we now have a context, a speaker and
a recipient of the dialogue. It‟s not great because it is choppy between the idea expressed
in the sentence before and the sentence containing the quote itself.
STRONG: Act III of Romeo and Juliet begins with a sense of foreboding when Benvolio
says to Mercutio, “The day is hot, the Capels are abroad,/And, if we meet, we shall not
„scape a brawl” (3.1.2-3).

This is the strongest of all three because it meets all the requirements of a direct quotation
(provides context, gives the speaker and to whom he/she is speaking) but in addition, it
connects the ideas all together. This is why we study sentence structure. Look at the
analysis of this below:

Act III of Romeo and Juliet begins with a sense of foreboding when Benvolio says to
Mercutio, “The day is hot, the Capels are abroad,/And, if we meet, we shall not „scape a
brawl” (3.1.2-3).

If we analyze this altogether, the underlined portion is the independent clause that states
the main idea of the sentence and the dependent clause, which is bolded, serves as the
connector between your main idea and the quote itself. This is the most classic way to
provide context to a direct quotation. The formula looks like this:

IND. CLAUSE (states main idea) + DEP. CLAUSE (transitions to quote)+ comma + DIRECT QUOTE.

It‟s a simple formula that works every time.

But beware…accidentally leaving out either clause creates a disaster. Read this out loud to
yourself:

When Benvolio says to Mercutio, “The day is hot, the Capels are abroad,/And, if we meet,
we shall not „scape a brawl” (3.1.2-3).
Analysis: DEP. CLAUSE (transitions to quote)+ comma + DIRECT QUOTE

This is a sentence fragment, even with a complete quote from the play, because the writer
has no main idea present.

Try it this way. Total disaster here, too:

Act III of Romeo and Juliet begins with a sense of foreboding, “The day is hot, the Capels
are abroad,/And, if we meet, we shall not „scape a brawl” (3.1.2-3).

IND. CLAUSE (states main idea) + comma + DIRECT QUOTE.

This may not look bad to the unwary student. But the direct quote here is its own sentence
and can stand alone. So like in math class, let‟s substitute.

DIRECT QUOTE = OWN SENTENCE = INDEPENDENT CLAUSE. So…

IND. CLAUSE (states your main idea) + comma + IND. CLAUSE (states author‟s main idea).
What do you get when you combine two independent clauses with nothing more than a
comma? Yep, a comma-splice. You‟ve created a run-on. That can‟t happen either.
There is an easier way to grammatically use direct quotes, however…

3. Placing, punctuating and documenting the quote

Let‟s take a look at this direct quote again, blown up to see the correct punctuation.

Act III of Romeo and Juliet begins with a sense of foreboding when Benvolio
says to Mercutio, “The day is hot, the Capels are abroad,/And, if we meet, we
shall not „scape a brawl” (3.1.2-3).
Notice that when introducing a quote, we separate our words and the quotation with a
comma, but we do NOT place any commas or periods at the closing of the quotation
mark. We only place the quotations and end them. In the parentheses, we place the page
number (short story, novel, book) or follow this formula for a play: (act.scene.lines). The
period always comes after the page number in parentheses. The two common exceptions
to this case are the exclamation point and the question mark:

“The day is hot, the Capels are abroad,/And, if we meet, we shall not „scape a
brawl!” (3.1.2-3).

“Is there a way to take a chainsaw to the soul?” (179).

In these cases, we place the exclamation point and the question mark inside the direct
quotation but also add a period at the end to show that the page number or play lines
belong to this sentence and not the next one.

4. Explaining the significance of the quote to your main idea

Once a quote is introduced, placed and documented correctly, the reader must end by
making an inference and explaining the significance of the quote to the main idea of the
paper. If the writer does this correctly, this explanation will support the topic sentence of
the paragraph. This will vary, of course, depending on what you are writing. Let‟s return
to our original direct quotation from Romeo and Juliet. Say that for this paragraph, I‟m
arguing how foreshadowing enhances or contributes to the suspense of the tragedy:

Act III of Romeo and Juliet begins with a sense of foreboding when Benvolio says to
Mercutio, “The day is hot, the Capels are abroad,/And, if we meet, we shall not „scape a
brawl” (3.1.2-3). Because Shakespeare is drawing a parallel between the hot weather and
the hot tempers between the feuding families, he creates an example of foreshadowing that
intensifies the suspense and prepares the audience for the ensuing brawl.

Notice in its full form that a direct quote looks much like a hamburger would. The top
bun is the context, the quote is the meat, and the bottom bun is analysis of the quote,
supporting the topic sentence. Without the meat, the burger is not a burger at all.
Without either bun, you have an utter mess on your hands—literally.

Using Colons in Writing Direct Quotations

Colons are important for writers to use for a couple of reasons. First of all, writers who use
them correctly improve their style—and therefore voice—because sentences that use colons
correctly are unique and somewhat difficult to master. It is yet one more demonstration of
showing one’s writing talents. The best practical use for a colon in writing about literature,
however, is in using direct quotations. To this point, you have been taught to use commas
and introductory clauses for direct quotations. Let’s return to our original well-written
sentence with the dependent clause “when Benvolio says”:


Act III of Romeo and Juliet begins with a sense of foreboding when Benvolio says to
Mercutio, “The day is hot, the Capels are abroad,/And, if we meet, we shall not „scape a
brawl” (3.1.2-3). Because Shakespeare is drawing a parallel between the hot weather and
the hot tempers between the feuding families, he creates an example of foreshadowing that
intensifies the suspense and prepares the audience for the ensuing brawl.

As you learned before, if you take out the dependent clause and leave the comma, you
create a run-on because a comma is not strong enough punctuation to separate two
independent clauses. However, a colon is. Check it out:

Benvolio begins Act III of Romeo and Juliet with a sense of foreboding: “The day is hot,
the Capels are abroad,/And, if we meet, we shall not „scape a brawl” (3.1.2-3). Because
Shakespeare is drawing a parallel between the hot weather and the hot tempers between
the feuding families, he creates an example of foreshadowing that intensifies the suspense
and prepares the audience for the ensuing brawl.

Voila! See how simple? Take out the clause, and move the speaker to the beginning of the
independent clause, and you have a sentence that works with a colon.

Take a look at this grammatically correct introduction (in italics), quote, and explanation (in
bold).

Near the beginning of the novella, Hesse writes, “And if Siddhartha ever became a god…then
Govinda would follow him—as his friend, as his companion, as his servant, his spear bearer,
his shadow” (4). This, coupled with the repetition of the word “shadow” in the
opening line of the novella, allows Hesse to clearly establishes the motif of light and
darkness in the novel.

Now, let’s take a look at this quote rewritten with a colon. Note how the placement of the
explanation changes.

Hesse clearly establishes the motif of light and darkness in the novella when he not
only repeats the word “shadow” three times in the opening sentence of the novella,
but also compares Govinda to one: “And if Siddhartha ever became a god…then
Govinda would follow him—as his friend, as his companion, as his servant, his spear bearer,
his shadow” (4).

With the use of a colon, the explanation actually comes before the quote. The writer sets up
the reader or announces the quote with the explanation prior to it. Also note that the
second version is tighter and cleaner because when a writer uses a colon to introduce a
quote, virtually no introduction to the quote is needed! The explanation/analysis is the
introduction! Moreover, while commas can be sometimes argued as being optional in
certain places, a colon is always necessary in these types of cases. There is no guesswork for
the writer.

Embedding the Author’s Words Into Your Own

Sometimes, the most effective, artistic, and most natural way to use direct quotations is to
blend your clauses and the writer’s in a way that makes it seem as though you and the author
are one in your main idea. This sometimes involves a sharing of subjects and verbs, for
example or shorter phrases that still fit within the context of your analysis. Check these
various ones out and see if you can mimic or imitate them. Note that they still provide
effective analysis to a topic sentence:

In this chapter, “there isn’t much room for pacing” in Melinda’s closet because she has
grown too much and is discovering who she is on the inside. This is a groundbreaking idea
because it is the first time Melinda realizes her growth and thinks of her closet in a negative
way (151).

Metaphorically, Melinda “wants a shower” to clean off the dirt and grime that covers her
conscience through this novel (151). This cleansing of yet another façade points to a return
to her innocence and her desire to grow.

Rather than return to her fantasy world, she finds in the apple a seed that “has split its shell
and reaches a white hand upward” (66). Symbolically, this could easily represent a rebirth
for Melinda herself, a new beginning of growth toward healing.

All of these methods (dep. clause, colon, blending) are effective and grammatically correct
ways to use direct quotations in your study of literature. Experimenting with them until you
find the method that you enjoy most and works best for you is important. Good luck!

				
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