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Theme summary of a feature

article (FA)
Language IV 2019

Pearls Before Breakfast


o Hasan says:
... Now, what we regard as literature texts happen to
possess this characteristic of double articulation
overwhelmingly often, and it is for this reason that literature
may be said to function as an extended metaphor. We could
recognise two levels of context in the literature text. The field
in the first level is what we are able to, as it were,
paraphrase (…). The field for the second level of context is
what we are able to, as it were, deduce from the particular
ways in which the first level of field is constituted. I have
suggested that the second level of field interpretation
contributes to 'the deepest meaning' of a literature text ‒its
theme. The art of the artist lies precisely in the skill with
which s/he is able to calibrate the two levels of articulation,
so that the events, episodes, claims of the first level
succeed in articulating the deepest meaning ‒the theme of
the text (1996, p. 51).
The first level of articulation would usually
correspond to what we call Plot summary in
literature texts.

Plot is one of the elements we resort to


when we try to unbury, distil the theme in
literature texts.
o What about a summary of a feature article
(FA)? Would we say FAs possess this
characteristic of double articulation?
To some extent, they do. A FA is a macro genre
and thus it may share some characteristics with
literature texts. “Good feature articles have all
the factual details of hard news stories, and all
the drama, action and dialogue of a good short
story.”

Even though, strictly speaking, there’s no plot in


journalistic texts it could be said that there’s still
a first level of articulation.

o What would the first level of articulation


correspond to?
What we see on the surface is a myriad of genres. We
could say that the first level of articulation would be the
information about the design of the experiment, the
description of the participants, the experiment results and
the attempts to explain them from different perspectives
or areas of knowledge.
To a great extent, the purpose of the experiment
announced and the specialists’ voices give away the
theme (the issue the author is concerned about)

The backbone of the text (the experiment in this case, an


interview, a compilation of stories, a survey, -whatever
holds the text together) could be considered that first
level of articulation that articulates the theme/issue of the
text.
o So, let’s write a tentative summary/synopsis of Pearls Before
Breakfast
Pearls Before Breakfast is about both an experiment
meant to explore modern urban people’s lack of
appreciation for beauty and the discussion of its results.
An experiment arranged by the Washington Post was
carried out to see if beauty would transcend in a banal
setting at an inconvenient time on January 12, 2007.
Joshua Bell, an acclaimed musician, played great pieces
of music on his Strad at L’Enfant Station in Washington
DC as people passed by. Only 7 out of about 1000
people stopped to take in the performance. In an
attempt to explain this staggering result different
apparent factors at play (concept of beauty, importance
of context -lack of frame-, people’s materialistic lifestyle,
age, use of technology, …) are explored and tentatively
discussed.
The supporting sentences above briefly refer to
both the experiment that proves the
phenomenon and the factors at play discussed
in the article.

o How would the topic sentence change to


become the theme statement in a theme
summary?
o What about the supporting sentences?
One possibility (more abstract than the topic
sentence in the synopsis)

Pearls Before Breakfast is about modern urban


people’s lack of appreciation for beauty and the
possible different reasons that would account
for the phenomenon.
Pearls Before Breakfast is about modern urban Topic sentence
people’s lack of appreciation for beauty and the announcing two
possible different reasons that would account aspects
for the phenomenon. An experiment arranged
by the Washington Post was carried out to see Supporting
if beauty would transcend in a banal setting at sentences
an inconvenient time on January 12, 2007. elaborating on
Joshua Bell, an acclaimed musician, played the first aspect
great pieces of music on his Strad at L’Enfant (what, who,
Station in Washington DC as people passed by. where and when)
Only 7 out of about 1000 people stopped to take
in the performance. In an attempt to explain Supporting
this staggering result different apparent factors sentences
at play (concept of beauty, importance of elaborating on
context -lack of frame-, people’s materialistic the possible
lifestyle, age, use of technology, …) are second aspect
explored and tentatively discussed. (the reasons)
o Another version: what’s different about the
following theme summary?
Pearls Before Breakfast is about modern
urban people’s lack of appreciation for beauty and
the possible different reasons that would account
for the phenomenon. In an experiment, many
Washingtonians proved to be indifferent to
beautiful classical musical masterpieces played
by a virtuoso. This result is explored by referring
to reasons ranging from the philosophical to the
psychological ones. The need for an adequate,
conventional frame or context signaling for
validated beauty is advanced to explain why the
absence of this frame could account for the lack
of appreciation. Another reason for this
phenomenon seems to be the hectic and
materialistic lifestyle many Americans lead, which
prevents these people from taking time to enjoy
life. The self-centered use of technological
devices could also contribute to explaining this
lack of appreciation; this use may constrain
exposure to beautiful experiences of different
nature. From a psychological perspective,
growing up in the modern world seems to be a
factor at play. Interestingly enough, the innate
ability young children have to appreciate beauty is
stifled by a system with the wrong priorities. In
fact, the very few who would take time to enjoy
beauty were the very young, the knowledgeable
about music and the particularly appreciative.
o The supporting sentences above mainly refer to the
factors/reasons discussed in the article that would
explain the phenomenon (the why). This is, of course,
not the only way to go about elaborating on a theme
statement. The supporting sentences should
elaborate on what is said about this lack of
appreciation . The why seems to be the author’s
concern in this case; it could be the who, the where,
the how, the when,… We should try to capture the
angle chosen by the author. The actual possible
reasons that would account for the phenomenon (the
why), are focused on in the theme summary above to
mirror the focus in the FA. In fact, another possible
theme statement, even more abstract than the one
above, could be:
Pearls Before Breakfast is about the myriad of
factors at play that would explain a seemingly
unnatural phenomenon: modern urban people’s
lack of appreciation for beauty.

o What has changed in the theme statement


above?
o When writing the topic sentence (or theme statement)
we need nominalisations and abstract nouns to
capture ideas. Nominalisations and abstract nouns
can be premodified (as in ‘modern urban people’s
lack of appreciation for beauty’) and postmodified (as
in ‘modern urban people’s lack of appreciation for
beauty’) to condense a lot of meanings and be more
precise about them.
o Expressing this type of nominalisation involves
shifting from a congruent or expected mode to a
metaphorical mode. This means construing reality
differently: focusing on people doing, saying or
thinking in actual places and times in the congruent
mode, or focusing on abstractions in the metaphorical
mode.
‘people were not able to appreciate beauty
during the experiment conducted at L’Enfant
Station in Washington DC’

‘modern urban people’s lack of appreciation


for beauty’
o Let´s try one more example:
We could say that…

Grady’s Gift is a tribute the author pays to


Grady, his family’s former help at home, for the
lessons he learnt from her in the context of
segregation in the South during the 1950s.

o How can you express this statement as a


more abstract idea?
A tentative theme statement:

“Grady’s Gift” is about the significant, eye-


opening legacy a Black woman, acutely
aware of the injustice her people suffered,
left a White child.
Conclusions so far:
o The second level of articulation seems to be
nearer the first level of articulation in nonfiction
texts; that is to say, it’s easier to unbury the theme.
o Even though there are, in general, no characters or
plot there are usually real-life people and real
stories or accounts. These, along with the
backbone of the text, descriptions, discussion
sections, titles, type of information, … are
elements we can resort to when trying to deduce
the overarching theme.
o Supporting sentences refer to what’s seen on the
surface (first level of articulation) in a synopsis and
to the elaboration on the actual theme in a theme
summary.