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How do you compare and contrast two books?

Do you have two stories and don’t understand how they work together?

Welcome to this Mometrix lesson on comparing two stories!

To compare two stories, we need to consider their similarities and differences pertaining to main ideas, themes, tone, characters, greater contributions, inspirations, opinions, etc. This is an important skill to have when reading because it stretches your thinking and your brain’s ability to remember key points of one story and assess how those points may be similar in a different context. Practicing this skill is actually really fun and helps to bring reading to life. It allows for your readings, or interpretations, of different texts to go beyond just one, uncovering multiple levels hidden in each text.

If you’ve watched our video on how to compare and contrast, then you know that a great way to compare two things is to create a list. The first side of the list should consist of key things you noticed in the first story, and the second side of the list should consist of how the second story lines up with what you noticed in the first.

Comparison #1

Let’s look at an off-the-wall but simple example first. Let’s compare Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with Harry Potter. For the first side of our list, we’ll look at Alice in Wonderland:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

  • The story centers around a young child
  • It deals with magical elements
  • There are darker themes at play in the novel
  • Heavy themes of loss of innocence and coming of age
  • Many fantastical features and animated creatures
  • The child is not being led by an adult, rather by her imagination and by trial and error
  • Focus on an alternate reality

For the second side of our list, we’ll look at Harry Potter:

Harry Potter

  • The story also centers around a young child, really, young children
  • There is a heavy influence of sorcery throughout the novels
  • It also deals with darker themes, loss of innocence, and coming of age
  • Many fantastical creatures
  • Kids are being led
  • Focus on an alternate reality


Comparison #2

A more complex example might be if you wanted to compare Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass with Emily Dickinson’s poem “#1400 – What Mystery Pervades a Well!”

To do this comparison you might note what Whitman uses:

Leaves of Grass

  • Nature
  • Grass
  • Man’s curiosity
  • Man’s divine connection with nature

On the other side of your list, you might note about Dickinson’s poem:

“#1400 – What Mystery Pervades a Well!”

  • She also uses nature
  • Personification of grass and of a well
  • Themes concerning the divinity of man and nature
  • You might also note her inclination towards man’s disconnect with nature

Again, this is a little more complex of an example, but even without knowing the references, you can still see that there are clear similarities between the two texts. With this list of information, you could easily write multiple pages for an essay comparing these two texts.

With either of the examples presented, you could write a well-informed essay, if you needed to, comparing and contrasting two stories. Even if not for writing an essay, comparing two stories, no matter how seemingly unrelated like in our first example, is great practice for stretching your mind to see similarities that might otherwise be overlooked.

Thanks for joining us, today. Until next time!

Compare-contrast essays require students to analyze texts and draw conclusions based on similarities and differences between elements within the texts. This type of analysis is challenging, because it requires multiple levels of thinking. However, by comparing literary works, students will uncover universal themes in surprising places.


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Choose Your Books and Develop Your Purpose

For a compare and contrast essay, you will need to find elements within the books that have some type of similarity, such as the characters or themes. For example, you could compare Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde or Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey. All these “monsters” in some way represent the conflict of good and evil within man. A close analysis of the similarities and differences of the “monsters” will suggest causes of this conflict. The ideas you uncover will help you form your thesis. Does man have inherent good and evil tendencies? Do we misbehave because of conflicting societal messages? How much are we influenced by external forces? Does each author seem to lean one way or another?


Gather Facts. Use Graphic Organizers

Once you have chosen your books and your elements for analysis, you will need to closely study the texts, particularly the elements you will be comparing. Use graphic organizers to organize your thoughts, listing things the elements have in common and things that are different. A Venn diagram works well for this as it offers a quick visual display of similarities and differences. As you begin to separate the similarities and differences in the work, you will begin to see patterns forming on which you can draw conclusions. For instance, Dorian Gray and Victor Frankenstein both have secrets. What is similar about their secrecy? What is different? What are they hiding and why? The answers to these questions will help support your thesis.


Choose a Structure: Point by Point

A compare-contrast essay can be organized in two ways: You can compare subjects point by point or subject by subject. In the point-by-point method, discuss the different points as they are presented by each character. For instance, on the issue of secrecy, discuss Gray’s hidden portrait and Frankenstein’s hidden monster. You could then discuss the transformation of character in both stories. Both Frankenstein and Dorian Gray transform from innocence to culpability. How and why? You could discuss the idea of grotesque appearance in both stories. What does it symbolize in each work?


Choose a Structure: Subject by Subject

If you were to structure your essay to compare elements subject by subject, you would list all the relevant details of one subject first. For instance, in the Frankenstein-Mr. Hyde comparison, make all the points you wish to about Frankenstein and then make all the points you wish to about Mr. Hyde. If you choose a subject-by-subject approach, include a paragraph that ties the ideas together. The compare-contrast paper is analytical, and should not simply sound like a list of points.

How do you compare and contrast two books?

How to Compare and Contrast Two Books

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