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A New Life: Textual Investigations
Welcome to the textual analysis chapter of the Bernard Malamud Project! This chapter will be useful for readers interested in viewing visualizations of character relationships or in examining the structural differences between the second edition manuscript of Malamud's A New Life and the version published in 1961.
This project is composed of two parts:
A key methodology for this project is that close reading and distant reading can be used in tandem rather than in opposition to one another. Distant reading can give us quantified larger trends that close reading can only approximate at best, while close reading can also inform our interpretations of "the bigger picture." More importantly, these relationships are fluid and work both ways rather than existing as one-way streets. Take this anecdote as an example:
Reading through Malamud's A New Life led us to realize that Levin's laughter is described as "broken" in the novel during situations where he feels defeated or awkward. So, out of curiosity, we decided to use quantitative analysis to get at potentially deeper insights. Searching for "brokenly" through Voyant led to the following visualization:
Interestingly, the word "brokenly" appears three times in the text, and it's used as a description for laughter in each instance. ("Brokenly was used rather than "broken" since "broken" was associated with too many situations other than laughter in the novel to produce relevant data.) But diving back into the text revealed an interesting behavior: the first two instances of laughing "brokenly" refer to Levin's laughter, but the final instance refers to Gilley's laughter. While arguably minor, this nuance is something that gives more insight into the shifts in power dynamics between Levin and Gilley throughout A New Life, and it's a nuanced that would have gone unnoticed without the benefit of both close and distant reading.
While this project operates under the general assumption that information correlates to power in A New Life, it does not intend to force the reader into specific conclusions related to the specifics of those power dynamics. Instead it hopes to more readily enable the reader to make their own conclusions and interpretations through both close and distant reading.