Writing a Literary Analysis Essay

 

 

Core 155 

 

 

 

Analyzing texts:

 

Why?

 

The ultimate end of analysis is, first and foremost, a deeper understanding and a fuller appreciation of the literature -- you learn to see more, to uncover or create richer, denser, more interesting meanings.

 

Second, as literature uses language, images, the essential processes of meaning-making, analysis can lead to a more astute and powerful use of the tools of meaning on the reader's part.

 

Third, analysis should also teach us to be aware of the cultural delineations of a work, its ideological aspects. Art is not eternal and timeless but is situated historically, socially, intellectually, written and read at particular times, with particular intents, under particular historical conditions, with particular cultural, personal, gender, racial, class and other perspectives. Through art we can see ideology in operation. This can be of particular use in understanding our own culture and time, but has historical applications as well. See my brief page on ideology for an expansion of this.

 

A fourth function of analysis is to help us, through close reading and through reflection, understand the way ideas and feelings are talked about in our culture or in other times and cultures -- to have a sense both of communities of meaning, and of the different kinds of understanding there can be about matters of importance to human life. Art can give us access to the symbolic worlds of communities: not only to the kinds of ideas they have about life, but also to the way they feel about them, to the ways they imagine them, to the ways they relate them to other aspects of their lives.  – from Critical Reading: A Guide http://www.brocku.ca/english/jlye/criticalreading.html 

 

Subtext vs. text:  a text can have multiple layers of meaning.

 


Strata of analyzing:  Basics

 

Plot: Literally, the events that occur within the text; the “story."   Plots can vary from the very simple (example) to the very complicated (example).  Freytag’s triangle (exposition, incidents, rising and falling action, crisis, climax, resolution, and denouement) is a helpful tool in identifying the main occurrences in some texts (most notably Shakespearean plays) but does not hold universally true.  Some plots are “missing” major parts of the triangle and some texts have no real action whatsoever. 

                       

Plot terms:

                        Exposition:  Explains the background or motivation for the story being told.  Does not need to come at the beginning.  
      

                        In medias res:  Starting the text in the middle of the action
 

                        Denouement:  Wrapping up of loose ends.  Much more common in drama than in novels or short stories.

              

Character:  In the literary realm the term Character refers to any individual, object, animal, or force created by the author as a basis for his/her particular piece of work. Character is not only the person it is also the behavior and distinctive quality which places the character into a group Character terms:Protagonist: The one necessary for the plot to moveforward.

Antagonist:  The obstacle
 

                        Dynamic Character:  A character that changes in the        course of a text
                          Static Character:  A character that stays the same in a text.
  Setting:  Basically where and when a tale occurs. 

 

Genre: A class or category of literature having a particular form, content or technique, i.e. epic poetry, comedy, an fiction   Mood: The emotional ambience established by a literary work. This effect is fabricated through descriptions of feelings or objects which establish in kind feelings of fear, patriotism, sanctity, hope, et. al., in the mind and emotional perception of the reader.   Point of view:  First, Second, Third, Limited, Omniscient, Unreliable   Literal: what the words “say” they “mean”.  This is the level of “sign”.

 

Contextual:  Cultural/Societal references that give phrases real meaning.  Is there any salt on the table? Different context if said at dinner table compared to if said by someone setting the table.

 

Symbolism: A device in literature where an object represents an idea.

 

Simile – a figure of speech which makes a comparison between two unlike things using words "like" or "as".

            He is like a fish out of water.

           

Metaphor - A literary device by which one term is compared to another without the use of a combining word such as like or as

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks. It is the east and Juliet is the sun." [Romeo and Juliet]
"Oh, beware my lords,of jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on. [Othello]

 

 

 

Allegory – ties an image or event to a specific interpretation, a doctrine or idea. A narrative using symbolic names or characters that carries underlying meaning other than the one most apparent.   Medieval Moral Plays.  Narnia series (Christian Allegory).  Allegory can vary from the very obvious (a character named Charity in a Moral Play) to the more subtle (Allanon).  Allegories, however, are never extremely subtle.

 

Historical/Cultural context – “Art is not eternal and timeless but is situated historically, socially, intellectually, written and read at particular times, with particular intents, under particular historical conditions, with particular cultural, personal, gender, racial, class and other perspectives. ”  When talking about symbolic language, it is important to always be aware of the historical or social context that the author is writing in and in which we exist.  Example:  Medusa’s hair made of snakes.  In modern Christian symbolism, snake can represent original sin or the devil himself.  In Ancient Greek civilization, the snake represents earth (chthonic) and fertility.  Historical/Social context also helps us avoid “finger wagging”.  Our societal views are not the summa of human achievement, be wary of judging texts based on our standards. 


 

Organizing your paper

 

After reading your text for the first time, stop and think about what has gone on, about things that struck your interest or confused you.  You should have a list of confusing/interesting passages or events from the text.  Try and see if you can find a cohesive idea based on your notes.  You might now want to come up with some kind of thesis (Give example of thesis, from Utopia (that More did not mean this island to be a perfect society, but rather as a criticism of what people believed could be a perfect society)).  You have to remember that the key word here is analysis.  Noting one to one correlations, summarizing the plot, or pointing out the symbolism is not sufficient.  What you need to do is analyze (there’s that word again) what these symbols or correlations are doing in the text.  For example, in Beowulf you can note the description of the three queens (or the numerous swords) in the text, but analysis only happens when you consider why they exist or what they are doing in the text. 

            Example:  In Beowulf, we find the description of three queens.  Through this description, we can see how the queens represent a belief in a tripartite goddess (insert proof from text here).  The existence of this pagan allegory only serves to further undermine the Christian aspects, once again reminding us that Beowulf, in the end, is more of a celebration of pagan rituals and beliefs than a Christian text. 

            Not an example:  Beowulf has three queens.  They are all pretty.

 

Ok, so now you have a thesis.  You will want to re-read the text closely, keeping your thesis in mind and writing down or taking notes on every occurrence in the text that either supports or refutes our claims (often, you find too heavy of refutation in the text, this is a sign that the text does not support your thesis, so you need to get a new one).  Don’t be surprised if your thesis changes during this second reading.  It almost invariably does.  What is most important about this step is that you find that your thesis is consistent with the evidence of the text.  Be careful about stretching the text to fit your thesis, sometimes it can come across as daring and innovative, but usually it just sounds misguided. 

 

At the end of this second reading, you should have a thesis and supporting quotes/evidence from the text.  Now you are ready to start writing.  It is generally a good idea to do an outline at this point.  What you want to do with an outline is state your thesis, organize the points that help support your thesis.  Look at the example above, where is the thesis?  How can you tell?  What is the supporting argument?

 

 

Here is a VERY rough outline:

 

I.                    Introductory Paragraph

A.     Hook

B.     Thesis

C.     Method

II.                 Paragraph one

A.     Topic Sentence

1.      Statement one

a.       evidence

b.      proof

2.       Statement two

a.       evidence

b.      proof

3.      Statement three

a.       evidence

b.      proof

B.  Conclusion/Transition

III.  Paragraph Two

A.     Topic Sentence

1.      Statement one

a.       evidence

b.       proof

2.      Statement two

a.       evidence

b.      proof

3.      Statement three

a.       evidence

b.      proof

B.  Conclusion/Transition

IV.  Paragraph Three

A.     Topic Sentence

1.      Statement one

a.       evidence

b.      proof

2.      Statement two

a.       evidence

b.      proof

3.      Statement three

a.       evidence

b.      proof

B.     Conclusion/Transition

V.  Concluding Paragraph

 

 

 

Outline Key Terms:

 

Hook:  There are generally four kinds of hooks (ie, a way to get the audience interested in reading your paper)

·        Quotation – lends a sense of authority and should be followed by GRADUAL development into the thesis.

·        Statistics – most importantly, they have to be meaningful to your topic.

·        Anecdote – short, sweet, and topical

·        Joke – not dirty and germane.

 

Thesis - Already discussed above

 

Methodology – how you are going to “prove” your thesis.  “In this paper I will do the following to prove my point”.  In the introductory paragraph, this should be followed by an outline of your topic sentences.

 

Evidence – textual citations that support your argument.  Should have at least two for every statement.  These should be real text events.  “The section where Beowulf kills his father…” is not an acceptable reference.  Be aware of proper citation.  There are different styles, but if you are going to quote directly from a book or anything that is not your work, you must cite it.  Most teachers accept MLA style (I know Kerry will) which means when you quote something in the text, you must either use quotation marks to denote the quote or what is called a block quote, after the quote, you must include author or work (some way of identifying which work this comes from) and page number.  Do not do a full citation in the paper.  That is for the bibliography.  If you have questions about this, get yourself a writer’s reference book (I would suggest the MLA Handbook but anyone would do) or find an online resource on how to cite. 

 

Proof – Ah yes, the meat and potatoes of your essay, its raison d’ętre.  This is where your analysis comes in.  Basic question:  How does the citation support my statement?

 

Conclusion - This should wrap up your paper.  Reasserting your thesis, methodology and topic sentences is a good idea, simply restating them in the exact same words is usually not.

 

No matter how you do it, the importance of the outline is to organize your thoughts and place your support with the correct assertion or analysis. 

 

The outline above gives some general ideas on how to organize your paper and paragraphs.  You should be able to remove the topic sentence from each paragraph, combine them, and they should read like a “Reader’s Digest Condensed” version of your paper.

 

Writing:

Now all you really need to do is fill out the outline.  Take your basic ideas and put them into coherent, proper, and readable prose (poetry is never a good venue for analytical papers). 

 
 

An Ideal Body Paragraph

 

Remember, you can vary from this.  Use the model as a comfort zone to make sure that all is well.  Then, sculpt the paragraph to smooth out the rough edges that generate from using the model.

 

Sentence 1: topic sentence (it also has a subject/predicate like the thesis statement, but it is a smaller topic which directly relates to the thesis).  Make sure that this sentences also is a transition from the subject matter of the last paragraph.

 

Sentence 2: Present the first statement proving the position/predicate you take in the topic sentence.

 

Sentence 3: Textual evidence, either exact quote or summary, which demonstrates your point.

 

Sentence 4: Explain how the evidence proves the point you made in sentence 2.

 

Sentence 5: Present the second statement proving the position/predicate you took in your topic sentence.

 

Sentence 6: Textual evidence, either exact quote or summary, which demonstrates your point.

 

Sentence 7: Explain how the evidence proves the point you made in sentence 5.

 

Sentence 8: Present the third statement proving the position/predicate you took in your topic sentence.

 

Sentence 9: Textual evidence, either exact quote or summary, which demonstrates your point.

 

Sentence 10: Explain how the evidence proves the point you made in Sentence 8.

 

Sentence 11: Make a transition into the next paragraph by linking the subject matter of this paragraph to that of the next by creating a logical link.
 

 

Once you have the paper written, PROOF READ!!!!!  Look for spelling mistakes (yes, use spell check, but beware, it will not tell you that you said an instead of and or hate instead of hat), grammatical errors (do NOT trust grammar check to find these for you), and basic readability.  Does it flow?  Do your sentences make sense?  Is the paper cohesive and centered around your thesis?   Most importantly, does the paper “prove” your thesis?  If you need help on any of the proof reading matters, please, use the Writing Center.   Make an appointment with a tutor, they are trained to help you with the proofreading.  They, however, WILL NOT write your essay for you, nor will they help you develop your thesis.  Go to the Writing Center with what you consider your FINAL DRAFT.

 

Writing Center Hours: Monday-Thursday 9.30-5.00 and 7.00-9.00

                                                Friday   9.30-4.00

                                                Saturday  Closed

                                                Sunday  7.00-9.00pm

 

Make an appointment by calling 885-6644 or by dropping in during our open hours.

 

http://www.its.uidaho.edu/english/WritingCenter/

 

Things you need to include on your paper (as a general rule):  your name (this is required), what class, teacher’s name (this is not always required, but warning, DO NOT use Mrs. unless your teacher has introduced you to her husband and you attended the wedding, Ms. is always preferable, but neither are necessary.  Most teachers do not require you to refer to them by a title, but if you feel the urge to do so, use Prof.), date, and assignment.  As a general rule for short essays, do not have a title page, do number your pages, and include a bibliography if one is required.