How to Determine the Cause and Effect of an Event in a Passage

Video Lesson on Author Purpose: Definition and Examples

Recognize and understand how cause and effect relates to literature. Learn how to determine and find cause and effect in a reading passage, along with a strategy to assist you.

What Is Cause and Effect?

Take the time to reflect on your life and think about situations you faced growing up. Each year, we are placed in situations in which we need to make choices. As we grow older, the choices get harder. Due to our choices, we may face a good or bad consequence. One thing to think about is: what has caused us to make these choices? For example, we may want to lose weight because we no longer fit in old clothes, so that causes us to eat healthier foods that lead to weight loss. On the other hand, we may have a craving for unhealthy foods that leads to weight gain.

This idea of making choices and experiencing the effects of these choices is known as cause and effect. Cause and effect is a concept widely used in reading. Authors often use cause and effect to create relationships between characters in a story and the reader; this also serves as a way for readers to analyze a story by using this process to make sense of the plot or themes by understanding the actions of the characters.

The Cause

Through experience, we learn that the choices we make are based on situations we face. This same idea can be applied to literature. Most stories have events that eventually lead to why characters act a certain way or make a choice that may or may not affect the future events in a story. Any time you analyze or explain the cause, you focus on the elements that led to a character making a certain choice. For example in the book, The Hunger Games, the story's protagonist, Katniss, volunteers as tribute to participate in a yearly game in which other teens from different districts fight to the death. What caused her to make this decision was the fact that her younger sister was first chosen. Katniss recognizes that she is the head of the household and should take the place of her little sister because that is the right thing to do. As with every choice, there is always an effect.

The Effect

For any choice that we make there is always a consequence. This can either be good or bad depending on the situation. When this idea applies to literature, the author uses the actions of character choice to create the effect. Any time you analyze or explain the effect, you focus on the consequences of the actions or choices characters make throughout the story. As mentioned in the previous example, Katniss chose to volunteer in place of her sister for the annual Hunger Games. The effect of her choice led her to being taken from her family to fight to the death against other competitors as a means of survival and being glorified by her district as a winner of the annual Hunger Games.


Finding the cause and effect can be difficult for some people. One strategy that will assist you in this process is using a T-chart. A T-chart is a graphic representation that helps you visually see and keep track of the causes for character actions and the effects of these choices throughout the story. You create this by drawing a line anywhere on your paper and a flat line at the top creating a T. Label the left side the cause and the right the effects. Let's apply what we learned earlier about the Hunger Games. On the left side of the T-chart, you'd write about what caused Katniss to enter the Hunger Games. We learned that she did it to defend her younger sister because Katniss served as the head of the household. On the right side, you'd write the effects of Katniss' choice. Katniss was forced to participate in place of her sister in the annual Hunger Games, in which she must fight to the death against other teens.

Lesson Summary

We learned that there are always causes and effects to the choices we make. This same idea can be applied to literature. In almost any story you read, there will be characters forced to make choices based on conflicts. Then, those characters will experience the effects of their choices in future events of the story. When looking for the causes of the actions of characters in a story, you focus strictly on the event or events that caused the character to make a choice. For every choice, there is a consequence, good or bad, that will affect the events in the story; this is known as the effect. Many people use a T-chart as a way to create a graphic organizer as a means of separating the cause and effects for every story you read.

Learning Outcomes

After you've completed this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe the structure and purpose of causes and effects in stories
  • Explain how to make a T-chart to analyze cause and effect in literature

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