1. Analyze the plot, the meaning of the sequence of events in the story. Make sure that in writing this essay you go out on a limb—in other words, don’t stick to facts but go to the mysterious aspects of the text, the why for example, so that you are forced to form an opinion that needs to be supported in your essay. Your thesis could state what happens and what the story suggests causes these events—for example—because the question of cause is often a debatable one. In this case your thesis would be a claim, a statement of opinion, about what happens and why. Remember to support your claims (thesis and sub claims) with evidence, explanation and reasoning. Or you could write about how the events change the main character or protagonist of the story or what the events reveal about this character or what they are trying to do to the reader.
2. Analyze an important symbol or motif (series of interlinked symbols), in the story. State what you think it symbolically represents and support this claim (thesis) with evidence, explanation and reasoning. It needs to be clearly stated, almost as though it were an equation. Make sure that you use the descriptions of the object from the story, concept or image you are analyzing to support your claim about its meaning. Remember that the way we read certain objects, colors, figures, images as a culture is important, but even more important when you interpret literature is how the text itself creates associations surrounding the symbol. Sometimes an object is just an object, serving a function in the text, but not a symbolic one.
3. Analyze important characters in the story. What do the characters’ actions suggest about this character’s motives? How do the events or the character’s past contribute to the character’s behavior. What is the basic point conveyed through or about the character in the short story you chose? Sometimes the story attempts to reveal something about the reader (you) even more than it attempts to convey something about the characters. Is the story this type of story? If so, how is the description of the character attempting to reveal to you something about yourself?
2. Make sure you use the word “narrator” or “speaker” to denote the person telling the story. The voice in which the story is told does not necessarily represent the author him or herself.
3. Give your essay an appropriate title. Do not underline or put quotation marks around this title, but do capitalize first letters of all important words: Ironies in an Hour. If you include the title of the fiction in your title you do want to indicate that is a title by putting quotation marks around it: The Real Sabotage in “Saboteur”
4. Don’t say “I believe” or “I think” or “in my opinion” in your essay. Readers should be aware that literary analysis deals with forming opinions that are then supported, so it is redundant to say these are your opinions. (Note: This is my preference and not a hard and fast rule, so I will not grade you down if you choose to say “I believe”)
5. The first time you mention it, formally introduce the author’s whole name and the story title. Put quotation marks around titles of short stories, poems and lyrics, such as “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “I Sell My Dreams” Underline (or italicize) longer works divided into parts or chapters, such as the novella The Metamorphosis. Thereafter, refer to the author by his or her last name. Beginning: In Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis… Later: Kafka reveals Gregor’s state of mind by….
6. State your thesis early (a common place is the end of the introduction, but the introduction can take more than one paragraph to form). Provide an introductory paragraph or more; body paragraphs wherein you make claims and provide evidence (quotes, paraphrases, facts), explanation and reasoning to support the thesis; and a conclusion.
7. Use the present tense to describe events in the story unless you must distinguish the past from the present.
8. Do not ignore the ending of the story, because that’s where the meaning really takes shape. An analysis of what the ending finally does to the meaning of the story as a whole is essential even if you analyze it only briefly.
9. Organization: Avoid summarizing the story. You don’t have to tell readers everything that happens in the story and often the best evidence you have to support your claims will come late in the text, so do your best to hunt evidence and organize around supporting your thesis with that evidence. Start body paragraphs with claims such as “The main character’s behavior shows that she is selfish” or signal phrases that remind us you are about to introduce another piece of evidence. “More evidence that she is selfish can be found in the scene where her husband tries to talk her into moving to a less expensive apartment.” If your body paragraphs begin with summary statements such as “First the couple wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of the faucet dripping” that’s a sign you may be summarizing instead of organizing it as an essay, where you make claims and then back them up with evidence. Look at opening sentences of your body paragraphs to check if you are organizing properly and really writing an essay.
A note about introductions. Your introduction should include your thesis, but sometimes you want to work up to that. A good place for it is often late in the introductory paragraph, perhaps even the last sentence of the introduction, because once you have stated it, the reader wants to start hearing why you interpret the story as you do. So what do you write before the thesis? It makes sense to introduce the author and title somewhere in the introduction. If you are going to use any important terms that need defining, make sure that you do that when needed.
But besides those essentials here are 3 different suggestions of ways to introduce a literary analysis: 1) Explain a way or ways the story has already been analyzed by other critics, to show how your reading is fresh and different. 2) Begin by introducing the author and his or her background (this is especially effective if you will be using biography as part of your argument). 3) Introduce an issue or theme you will focus on in your essay, historical roles of women or men, for example, or the nature of religious faith in general or a quote from another text that is relevant to what occurs in the story. Also, look at the pieces of criticism we read in class or other models in the online library database. See what kinds of introduction you prefer and use that style in your own essay if appropriate.
Also: A very nice technique is to use a pertinent quote as an epigraph to focus the attention of your readers on the relevant theme of your essay. The quote can be from another work entirely or from the story itself. Integrate it with the following format:
“Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;”
It becomes obvious about 1/2 of the way through Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” that the narrator is going mad. But her madness makes quite a bit of sense…
A note about conclusions. Your readers may have different needs depending on how you have proceeded in your paper.
A “Big Picture” or “So What” conclusion is often effective. Don’t make new claims about the text that need supporting, but do analyze why what you’ve revealed in your essay is interesting or important, perhaps to the meaning of the story.
Circling is also very effective. If you come back to something you said much earlier, it will give readers a very clear feeling that you have completed your task. For example: When Emily Dickinson claims “Much madness is divinest sense” she describes perfectly the irony that someone mad, like the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is clearly both hallucinating and acting out her problem…This would be a circling technique if it came as the ending for an essay that began as in the last example listed under A note about introductions), the example with the Dickinson quote.
4. Make sure that the references are cited in Harvard Style.
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