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Writing the Literary Analysis Paper
An important component of this course is learning how to write evaluations and interpretations of literary works. Whether you are writing about short stories, poems, or plays, you must offer an opinion (an argument) about the literary work and you must back up that opinion with evidence (facts from the literary text).
Each essay should be approximately 1,000 words in length, double-spaced, and typed with standard font size and margins. The essay will be evaluated based in part upon your use of a good thesis sentence, the support of the thesis through textual evidence, and your ability to offer thoughtful analysis rather than plot summary. As always, your paper should be written in standard academic English, be substantially free of grammatical and mechanical errors, and should conform to the standards set out below.
1. The paper should not have a separate cover pager. Write your name and date of the assignment in the upper left corner. Center the title of the essay, without underlining or using quotation marks.
2. Your first paragraph will engage the reader’s interest as it narrows to a thesis. If, for example, you write on the topic of initiation, you might begin the essay by stating something about the popularity of initiation stories, what initiation means, and then narrow to the point (thesis) of your essay. (Ex.: “In this short story, initiation serves to ____”).
3. The thesis should clearly state the topic of the essay and the point you will develop. Do not make announcements, such as “This paper will be about . . .” Instead, boldly state your point, such as, “Through the use of the speaker’s home as a symbolic prison, Frost indicates that the lost child is not the only one who has been buried.” Or “Browning uses dramatic monologue to reveal the Duke as a murderer” or even “Jig has beaten the American in the end of Hemingway’s story and will keep her child.” These are statements which offer an interpretation of one part of the poem or story, an interpretation which will need evidence from the poem or story to support it.
4. Each paragraph will develop a single point that develops your thesis. Make references to the text, but do not simply re-tell the story/poem/play. Remember, your reader has also read the story/poem/play. If you quote from the literary work, be judicious and make sure that the quote develops the support you are developing for your thesis. At times a paraphrase may also be effective. If you are incorporating lines of poetry into
your paper, write the poetry as a standard sentence with a (/) used at the end of a line or stanza to let the reader understand the structure of the poem. At the end of the quotation, use the line number as indicated in your text. For example, “He had enough of life/to know that he wanted no more” (1-2) indicates the line break of the poem and which lines are quoted. Please refer to the sample essays in your text for further clarification on how to incorporate references from literary works in your own essay.
5. Always write in the present tense unless there is a clear reason to use past tense. Literature is a living text.
6. Do not refer to any writer by his or her first name. Unless you and William Shakespeare are close, personal friends, refer to him as Shakespeare.
7. The conclusion will restate the idea of the essay and may make some general comments or conclusions., If, for example, you were writing a paper about the image of death in two poems, you would remind the reader about the comparison or contrast your found in this image in the two poems, and then you might write something about the value of understanding imagery in order to gain insight into a poem’s meaning.
8. If you are using sources, you must properly document the sources both within the paper as parenthetical citations as well as provide the necessary information about the sources on an accurately formatted works cited page. Use MLA format.
9. Unless they appear in something you are quoting, do not use “I, me, my, mine” or “we, our, us, let’s,” as these are meant to be formal, academic essays. Instead, use only third person, for example: “one, they, them, the critic, the reader,” and so on.
10. All essays must be submitted online in the appropriate assignment folder.
Below are some suggested themes, but you will want to use them to create a more specific focus for your own essay. Some examples of narrowing the topic are included for the first three themes. Alternatively, you may develop your own topic, though you may use only texts we have read in this course. If you do so, make sure that you share the topic with your professor before you begin to write.
1. Define the key elements of a literary movement: Realism, Naturalism, Modernism, etc. and decide whether a poem, story, or play belongs to one or more of those movements (or perhaps doesn’t belong at all). For example: Was Robert Frost a modernist?
2. Provide a detailed character analysis of any two characters in a story or stories we have read for this class. For example: Are Louise Mallard and the unnamed narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” symbolically the same woman?
3. Our lives are often shaped by forces beyond our control. Choose any two works and contrast how this message is conveyed. Are we victims? Do we give up responsibility for control? What kinds of forces are at work? The supernatural? Nature? Society?
4. Compare and contrast how two stories develop a similar theme. (Be very specific here— for example, the theme of imprisonment in Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” and “A Rose for Emily.”
5. Explain the ways in which an author’s background influences the way we ought to read their work. For example, explain the ways in which the South is an important element in Faulkner’s stories. Or discuss how Emily Dickinson’s background with religion influenced ”Some Keep the Sabbath.”
6. Discuss the importance of setting in any two works. Show how two authors write about very different times and places yet convey the same idea about the impact of setting on thoughts and actions. For example, how does the landscape convey meaning in “Hills Like White Elephants” and “Trifles”?
7. Explain how a fictional text or poem actually offers evaluation or criticism of a cultural institution. For example, how is No Child is a commentary on the No Child Left Behind Act? In what way is Wit is a commentary on the medical profession and/or the culture of higher education? State what that commentary is and then support it with evidence from the text.