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LITERARY ANALYSIS ESSAY ASSIGNMENT 750 Words
You will choose a text from the first unit of this class and write an analytical essay of 750 words (including no more than 10% direct quotations from the text itself and no outside sources), taking into consideration things like ambiguity, reliability of narrative, and literary movement characteristics. You will make an original claim and prove it using evidence from the text in the ways we have explored in the classroom.
You will be graded according to the “Rubrics” file found in the “Portfolio” module.
The purpose of a literary analysis essay is to carefully examine and sometimes evaluate a work of literature or an aspect of a work of literature. As with any analysis, this requires you to break the subject down into its component parts. Examining the different elements of a piece of literature is not an end in itself but rather a process to help you better appreciate and understand the work of literature as a whole.
An analysis of a poem might deal with the different types of images in a poem or with the relationship between the form and content of the work.
If you were to analyze (discuss and explain) a play, you might analyze the relationship between a subplot and the main plot, or you might analyze the character flaw of the tragic hero by tracing how it is revealed through the acts of the play.
Analyzing a short story might include identifying a particular theme (like the difficulty of making the transition from adolescence to adulthood) and showing how the writer suggests that theme through the point of view from which the story is told; or you might also explain how the main character’s attitude toward women is revealed through his dialogue and/or actions.
Writing ultimately boils down to the development of an idea. Your objective in writing a literary analysis essay is to convince the person reading your essay that you have supported the idea you are developing. Unlike ordinary conversation and classroom discussion, writing must stick with great determination to the specific point of development. This kind of writing demands tight organization and control. This paper is very short and should contain no “rambling” or “fluff.” Therefore, your essay must have a central idea (thesis), it must have several paragraphs that grow systematically out of the central idea, and everything in it must be directly related to the central idea and must contribute to the reader’s understanding of that central idea.
The skillful use of textual evidence — summary, paraphrase, specific detail, and direct quotations — can illustrate and support the ideas you are developing in your essay. However, textual evidence should be used judiciously and only when it directly relates to your topic. The correct and effective use of textual evidence is vital to the successful literary analysis essay.
Remember to review the assignment we completed concerning direct quotations and punctuation.
A Guide to Writing the Literary Analysis Essay
INTRODUCTION: the first paragraph in your essay.
It begins creatively in order to catch your reader’s interest, provides essential background about the literary work, and prepares the reader for your major thesis. The introduction must include the author and title of the work as well as an explanation of the theme to be discussed. Other essential background may include setting, an introduction of main characters, etc. The major thesis goes in this paragraph usually at the end. Because the major thesis sometimes sounds tacked on, make special attempts to link it to the sentence that precedes it by building on a key word or idea.
A) Creative Opening: the beginning sentences of the introduction that catch the reader’s interest. Ways of beginning creatively include the following:
1) A startling fact or bit of information
Example: Nearly two hundred citizens were arrested as witches during the Salem witch scare of 1692. Eventually nineteen were hanged, and another was pressed to death (Marks 65).
2) A bit of dialogue between two characters
Example: With these words, “If I ever get it I will tell you,” the priest in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms sends the hero, Frederic, in search of the ambiguous “it” in his life (72).
3) A meaningful quotation (from the book you are analyzing or another source)
Example: The familiar statement, “To be, or not to be, that is the question” expresses the young prince’s moral dilemma in William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (Hamlet 3.1.57).
4) A universal idea (but not so overly general that it loses meaning: “In the world today,” “Since the beginning of time/humanity/history,” “Everyone knows,” or “Every/All” anything)
Example: The terrifying scenes a soldier experiences on the front probably follow him throughout his life—if he manages to survive the war.
5) A rich, vivid description of the setting
Example: In sleepy Maycomb, like other Southern towns which suffered considerably during the Great Depression, poverty reaches from the privileged families, like the Finches, to the Negroes and “white trash” Ewells, who live on the outskirts of town; Harper Lee paints a vivid picture of life in this humid Alabama town where tempers and bigotry explode into conflict.
B) Thesis: a statement that provides the subject and overall opinion of your essay. For a literary analysis your major thesis must (1) relate to the theme of the work and (2) suggest how this theme is revealed by the author. A good thesis may also suggest the organization of the paper. We will discuss this item at length in class.
Example: Through Paul’s experience behind the lines, at a Russian prisoner of war camp, and especially under bombardment in the trenches, Erich Maria Remarque realistically shows how war dehumanizes a man.
Sometimes a thesis becomes too cumbersome to fit into one sentence. In such cases, you may express the major thesis as two sentences.
Example: In a Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens shows the process by which a wasted life can be redeemed. Sidney Carton, through his love for Lucie Manette, is transformed from a hopeless, bitter man into a hero whose life and death have meaning.
We will explore this more in class.
A) Body: the support paragraphs of your essay. These paragraphs contain supporting information (concrete detail) and analysis/explanation (commentary) for your topic sentences.
Each paragraph in the body includes (1) a topic sentence, (2) textual evidence (a.k.a. quotes from your reading) and commentary (a.k.a. explanation), and (3) a concluding sentence – not necessarily in that order.
In its simplest form, each body paragraph is organized as follows:
1. topic sentence
2, lead-in to textual evidence
3. textual evidence
4. commentary/concluding sentence
Topic Sentence: the first sentence of a body or support paragraph. It identifies one aspect of the major thesis and states a primary reason why the major thesis is true.
Example: When he first appears in the novel, Sidney Carton is a loveless outcast who sees little worth in himself or in others.
Textual Evidence: a specific example from the work used to provide evidence for your topic sentence. Textual evidence can be a combination of paraphrase and direct quotation from the work.
Example: When Carlton and Darnay first meet at the tavern, Carlton tells him, “I care for no man on this earth, and no man cares for me” (Dickens 105).
Commentary: your explanation and interpretation of the textual evidence. Commentary tells the reader what the author of the text means or how the textual evidence proves the topic sentence. Commentary may include interpretation, analysis, argument, insight, and/or reflection.
(Helpful hint: In your body paragraph, you should have twice as much commentary as textual evidence. In other words, for every sentence of textual evidence, you should have at least two sentences of commentary.)
Example: Carton makes this statement as if he were excusing his rude behavior to Darnay. Carton, however, is only pretending to be polite, perhaps to amuse himself. With this seemingly off-the-cuff remark, Carton reveals a deeper cynicism and his emotional isolation.
Transitions: words or phrases that connect one idea to the next, both between and within paragraphs. Transition devices include using connecting words as well as repeating key words or using synonyms.
Examples: Finally, in the climax… Another example: … Later in the story… In contrast to this behavior… Not only… but also … Furthermore…
Lead-In: phrase or sentence that prepares the reader for textual evidence by introducing the speaker, setting, and/or situation.
Example: Later, however, when the confident Sidney Carton returns alone to his home, his alienation and unhappiness become apparent: “Climbing into a high chamber in a well of houses, he threw himself down in his clothes on a neglected bed, and its pillow was wet with wasted tears” (Dickens 211).
Concluding Sentence: last sentence of the body paragraph. It concludes the paragraph by tying the textual evidence and commentary back to the thesis.
Example: Thus, before Carton experiences love, he is able to convince himself that the world has no meaning.
CONCLUSION: last paragraph in your essay. This paragraph should begin by echoing your major thesis without repeating it. Then, the conclusion should broaden from the thesis statements to answer the “so what?” question your reader may have after reading your essay. The conclusion should do one or more of the following:
1) Reflect on how your essay topic relates to the book as a whole
2) Evaluate how successful the author is in achieving his or her goal or message
3) Give a personal statement about the topic
4) Make predictions
5) Connect back to your creative opening
6) Give your opinion of the novel’s value or significance