Function in literature
When we’re talking about function of a text what we’re really asking is ‘why was this written?’
Are we asking? Are we telling? Are we giving an order? The purpose of the text gives us the context to understand what exactly we’re reading. To put it simply, we are asking what is this text trying to say?
There are a limitless amount of functions so memorizing them is pointless.¹
The point is to know what a function is and how you can spot it. The easiest way to learn to learn functions is to remember the ones that are both simple and common such as:
- expressing likes,
- describing people, places and things,
- asking yes, no and maybe information questions,
- comparing people, places and things,
- ordering food,
- expressing abilities.
Each of the following excerpts contain one of these functions.
- In the centre of the room was a crystal throne. Blossom, the Queen of the Fairies, sat facing us.²
The purpose: describing a place 🏡
- ‘Why do you think the protagonist felt a little better when he realized that his sister was running toward their grandmother?’³
The purpose: asking a question ❓
- It was Raffa who had been unfair — by refusing to consider what Garith might have wanted.⁴
The purpose: explaining Raffas’ regret 😞
- The slash of the silver blade could not be heard over the roar of the oncoming crowd, or the sounds of the clashing giants, or of the stampeding centaurs, and yet it seemed to draw every eye. With a single stroke, Neville sliced off the great snake’s head, which spun high into the air, gleaming in the light flooding from the Entrance Hall, and Voldemort’s mouth was open in a scream of fury that nobody could hear, and the snake’s body thudded to the ground at his feet-⁵
The purpose: describing the moment the final Horcrux was destroyed 😤
Identifying function with context
So when trying to identify functions understand that almost any answer you give will likely be correct. You should also consider the context behind why that part your identifying was written.
For example, “I loved this shopping trip!”.
In one scenario the shopper found something they wanted cost 90% more. Which would indicate that the function is expressing anger or annoyance 😡
In another scenario the shopper found out there was a 90% sale off their groceries. Which would indicate that the function is expressing happiness 😀
So depending on the context, the function change.
¹ ”Functional Language”, EnglishClub, englishclub.com/vocabulary/functional-language.htm, Accessed 3 March 2022.
² Dami, Elisabetta. The Quest for Paradise: The Return to the Kingdom of Fantasy, Scholastic, 1 October 2010.
³ McNulty, Anne and Eriko Sato. Japanese Stories for Language Learners: Bilingual Stories in Japanese and English, Turtle Publishing, 21 August 2018.
⁴ Sue Park, Linda. Wing & Claw #2: Cavern of Secrets, Illustrations by Jim Madsen, HarperCollins, 7 March 2017.
⁵ Rowling, J.K.. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Arthur A. Levine Books, 21 July 2007