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Dialectical Journal AP Lang

Page history last edited by Jayson Yeagley 12 years, 2 months ago


The term “Dialectic” means “the art or practice of arriving at the truth by using conversation involving question and answer.” Think of your dialectical journal as a series of conversations with the texts we read during this course. The process is meant to help you develop a better understanding of the texts we read. Use your journal to incorporate your personal responses to the texts. You will find that it is a useful way to process what you are reading, prepare yourself for group discussion, and gather textual evidence for your Literary Analysis assignments.




  •  As you read, Look for quotes that seem significant, powerful, thought provoking or puzzling.   choose passages that stand out to you and record them in the left-hand column of a T-chart (ALWAYS include page numbers)
  • In the right column, write your response to the text (ideas/insights, questions, reflections, and comments on each passage)
  •  From the list below, 1) complete one journal entries for each of the four List A topics and the four from List B  (8 for the nine weeks)


topic list A

  • Effective &/or creative use of stylistic or literary devices (e.g. diction, syntax, figurative language)
  • Passages that remind you of your own life, something you’ve seen before, something you’ve read elsewhere (archetypal connections)
  • Examples of patterns: recurring images, ideas, colors, symbols or motifs
  • Passages that illustrate a particular character or setting


topic list B

  • Structural shifts or turns in the plot or narrative (Shift in general will work);
  • A passage that makes you realize something you hadn’t seen before
  • Passages with confusing language or unfamiliar vocabulary
  • Events you find surprising or confusing



You can respond to the text in a variety of ways. The most important thing to remember is that

your observations should be specific and detailed. As an “APer”, your journal should be made

up of 25% Basic Responses and 75% Higher Level Responses. 


Basic Responses

  • Raise questions about the beliefs and values implied in the text
  • Give your personal reactions to the passage
  •  Discuss the words, ideas, or actions of the author or character(s)
  •  Tell what it reminds you of from your own experiences
  •  Write about what it makes you think or feel
  •  Agree or disagree with a character or the author



Higher Level Responses

  •  Analyze the text for use of literary devices (tone, structure, style, imagery)
  •  Make connections between different characters or events in the text
  •  Make connections to a different text (or film, song, etc…)
  •  Discuss the words, ideas, or actions of the author or character(s)
  •  Consider an event or description from the perspective of a different character
  •  Analyze a passage and its relationship to the story as a whole


Sample Dialectical Journal entry: Life of Pi Author: Yann Martel

The following examples demonstrate the Higher Level Responses of the journal.



Attitude toward self, narrator

“I am a person who believes in form, in the harmony of

order…we must give things a meaningful shape…that’s one

thing I hate about my nickname, the way that number runs

on forever. It’s important in life to conclude things properly”

(Martel 285).









Attitude toward life, existence

“I have nothing to say of my working life, only that a tie is

a noose, and inverted though it is, it will hang a man

nonetheless if he’s not careful” (Martel 6).



Imagery to create Tone

“A foul and pungent smell, an earthy mix of rust and

excrement hung in the air. There was blood everywhere,

coagulating to a deep red crust. A single fly buzzed about,

sounding like an alarm bell of insanity” (Martel 127).






Diction, word choice to create tone

“The ship sank. It made a sound like a monstrous metallic

burp. Things bubbled at the surface and then vanished.

Everything was screaming: the sea, the wind, my heart.”

(Martel 97).





“I wept heartily over this poor little deceased soul. It was

the first sentient being I had ever killed. I was now a killer.

I was now as guilty as Cain…I had blood on my hands. It’s

a terrible burden to carry” (Martel 183). 

Pi’s obsession with “form” and “the harmony of order”

explains why religion appeals so strongly to him. He finds

great importance in concluding things “properly”. Pi is

essentially asking what kind of life would we be leading if,

when it was over, we simply died and remained dead to rot

for eternity? Pi hopes and believes that there is more. He

believes what he is told about afterlives and moral

judgment because he is afraid of his life ending in a

pointless and almost anticlimactic manner. Pi’s obsession

with closure can also be found in the founders of almost

any religion to have ever been preached throughout




Pi respects the importance of work, however finds much

more value in the beauty of life itself. Pi believes that to

ignore the offerings of life and to focus too much on work is

detrimental to one’s health.



Martel paints a disturbing picture in his description of the

lifeboat following the slow painful death of the zebra. He

describes the air as smelling like “an earthy mix of rust and

excrement”, the boat as having “blood everywhere”, and his

only companion as “a single fly…sounding like an alarm bell

of insanity”. Through this shockingly filthy and revolting

portrayal of the lifeboat, Martel establishes a tone of

absolute disgust.



When describing the sinking of the Tsimtsum, Martel utilizes

a variety of strong and violent words to establish a tone of

disorder and fear. Martel describes the sound of the ship

sinking as a “monstrous metallic burp” simultaneously

noting its enormity and its violent, industrial nature. He also

says that “everything was screaming” suggesting disorder

and confusion.


Another theme found in Life of Pi is the loss of innocence.

Prior to his being stranded at sea, Pi is a god loving

vegetarian who would never even consider eating the flesh

of an animal. Once forced to end the life of another

creature in the interest of prolonging his own, Pi is

overcome by guilt. At this point, he has entered a phase of

existence that, until his problem of being stranded is

resolved, he is forced to endure, therefore making a

transition from an innocent vegetarian to a hunter with

“blood on my [Pi’s] hands”. 







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