Interpretation of a text passage

The interpretation of a text passage belongs to the classics in German lessons. But many students have a hard time with text interpretation. This variant of the essay is not so difficult – if the principle behind it was once understood and internalized.

The structure of an interpretation

The interpretation of a text passage is an essay. And like almost every essay, the interpretation of a text passage is divided into three parts, namely the introduction, the main part and the concluding part. The main part is of course the longest and most detailed part of the essay. It is therefore once again divided into individual sections in itself. Schematically, the structure of a text passage interpretation looks like this:

Interpretation of a text passage (1)

The sections of an interpretation in detail

As an essay, a passage interpretation is divided into three parts.

1. The introduction

The introduction makes the beginning. It provides the most important information about the passage in a short and concise form. It indicates who is the author of the passage, where the passage comes from and when the passage was published. In addition, the introduction summarizes the main event or the core message of the text passage. The task of the introduction is therefore to provide the reader with the essential facts and lead them to the topic of interpretation. As far as length is concerned, the introduction should be one to two sentences, three at the most.

Sometimes it is required to make an interpretation hypothesis. It then forms the basis of the interpretation. In the hypothesis the author can describe how he understood the text passage and how it affected him. Or the author can briefly explain what the author probably wanted to express with this passage and what his intentions were. With his hypothesis, the writer also outlines the direction his interpretation will take and its goal. The teacher usually says whether an interpretive hypothesis is required or not. If no hypothesis is required, the author can omit it.

2. The main part

The main part deals with the content, the formal, the biographical and the historical aspects of the passage. In doing so, the writer describes, explains and interprets the various features.

The beginning of the main part is the content description. Here the author briefly summarizes the content of the passage. It is best to proceed chronologically, i.e., to follow the storyline, answering the five W-questions: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. When describing the content, it is important that the author restricts himself to the essentials. Thus, he should describe the plot, the main events, the main characters and their relationships to each other. He can also mention distinctive terms that decisively shape the text passage. Details, however, do not belong in the table of contents. The summary is always written in the present tense. And the author should not quote, but describe the content in his own words.

The content summary is followed by the actual interpretation. It is composed of the analysis and the interpretation.

  • In the analysis, the focus is on the external form. Thus, analysis deals with the formal aspects. This includes everything that makes up the form and structure of the passage. The sections of meaning, structure, sentence structure, narrative perspective, tenses, descriptions of characters, metaphors used, prominent keywords, and similar features are examined in the course of formal analysis.
  • In interpretation, the focus is on the inner form. In principle, the author tries to read between the lines. For this purpose, the author takes up a statement or a feature and explains the meaning, the effect and the reason for this effect. It is important, however, that the author does not simply describe. It is crucial that he actually interprets, i.e. interprets and interprets.

Formal text analysis and textual interpretation need not and should not be strictly separated from each other. Often they are interrelated and flow smoothly into one another. In general, it is important to create good transitions. The interpretation should not be a series of individual aspects, but a self-contained essay.

To round off the interpretation, the author can also make a biographical and a historical classification. With a view to the biographical aspects, he can create a connection to the life story of the author or compare this passage with other texts of the author or other authors. The author can work up the historical aspects by placing the action and the place of the passage as well as the time when the passage was written in a historical context.

When writing the main part, two things are very important:

1. The writer should always proceed from the big to the small. Thus, he should start with an obvious, general aspect and only then move on to the details.

2. Each feature that the author analyzes and interprets must be supported by an appropriate text passage. To give evidence means to quote the passage and to indicate where this passage can be found in the text.

And: If the author has made a hypothesis at the beginning, his interpretation must refer to it.

3. The concluding part

In the concluding part, the author evaluates the passage once again in summary and draws a conclusion. The conclusion can answer the following questions, for example:

  • – What is the most important result of the interpretation?
  • – What is the insight with the greatest significance??
  • – Has the passage answered all the questions raised??
  • – Did the interpretation confirm or refute the initial hypothesis (if stated)?

A nice conclusion is also when the author gives his or her own opinion about the text. A short statement about how he or she liked the passage, what surprised him or her, what he or she did not like so much, or what he or she learned from it is sufficient. However, the writer should check with the teacher beforehand whether personal opinions may be mentioned.

The basic scheme for interpreting

When interpreting, there is one very important basic principle. It consists of three steps and goes like this:

1. Pick out a striking passage and cite it in the text with a reference (e.g., "The text is not a text").B. Page 3, line 5).

2. Analyze the text formally, i.e. name the stylistic device.

3. Interpret the passage, i.e., describe its meaning and effect.

If the writer has internalized this basic principle and applies it throughout, not much can go wrong with the interpretation.

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