LiteraryAnalysisSome notes on writing aliterary analysis
―We tell each otherstories in order to live.‖—Joan Didion
Key Features: Language of theText Thekey to analyzing a text is looking carefully at the language, which is the foundation of the text’s meaning. Specific words, images, and metaphors are where analysis begins. Contextual information, such as cultural, historical, or biographical facts.
Key Features: Patterns orThemes Literary analyses are usually built on evidence of meaningful patterns or themes within a text or among several texts. Patterns, themes, and issues reveal meaning.
Key Features: Evidence Literaryanalysis demonstrates the plausibility of its thesis by using evidence from the text. Your claims must be tied directly to the text using: Quotes Paraphrases
Generating Ideas & Text Study the text with a critical eye. Go beyond initial reaction. Think about HOW THE TEXT WORKS. What does it say? How does it say it? Does the text lead you to think or feel a certain way? What in the text makes you feel that way? How does the text fit into a particular context (of history, culture, genre, etc.)?
Generating Ideas & Text Choose a method for analysis The text itself: Traces the development and expression of themes, characters and language. Response as a reader: Explore the way the text affects you or develops meanings as you read through it from beginning to end. Notice how one element of the text leads you to expect something, confirming earlier suspicions or surprises. Context: Analyze text as part of a larger context— time, place, history, culture, the author’s biography. Critical Review: How have others interpreted the text? Do their views support yours? Use text and sources to interpret themes, etc.
Generating Ideas & Text Find evidence: Treat a literary analysis like any other argument. Discuss how the text creates an effect or expresses a theme, and then show evidence from the text: Significant plot or structural elements Important characters Patterns of language Imagery Action
Thesis Statement Arguable Thesis A literary analysis is a form of argument. You are arguing that your analysis/interpretation of a literary work is valid. Your thesis, then should be arguable.
Thesis Statement How to make a stronger thesis: Don’t focus on your general opinion of the piece. What can we learn from the piece—about America, about race, about childhood, about coming of age?
Building a Thesis Statement Beginby identifying what about the text you’re going to write: THEME? In “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson reveals the theme.
Building a Thesis Statement OK.But what is the theme you want to explore? Tradition? In “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, the theme is tradition.
Building a Thesis Statement Better!But still vague. You need to state the theme more clearly. What is important or significant about tradition in the story? In “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, one of the major themes is that outmoded traditions can be harmful.
Building a Thesis Statement Wow! This is really getting good. But can we make it clearer? What does outmoded mean? How are the traditions harmful? In “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, one of the major themes is that traditions that have lost their meaning can still move people to act without thinking.
Building a Thesis Statement Somuch better! But can you make this arguable? What is your evaluation of Jackson’s theme? In “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson reveals the tragic theme that traditions that have lost their meaning can still move people to abnormal and thoughtless action.
Building a Thesis Statement Welldone! How else might you organize your thesis? Can you also preview the main points your essay will consider? In “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson effectively uses symbolism and irony to reveal the theme that traditions that have lost their meaning can still move people to abnormal action.
Thesis Statement Weak vs. Strong Weak: Mark Twains Huckleberry Finn is a great American novel. Why is this weak? Remember that in any essay, the thesis statement must answer a specific question about your topic and forecasts the content of your essay. This statement is not specific and forecasts a generalized, summary-style essay
Thesis Statement BetterWorking Thesis In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain develops a contrast between life on the river and life on the shore. This is better; it focuses your analysis on specific aspects of the piece. What is still missing is that specific question: SO WHAT? You need to ask, ―Why is this contrast important? What does it signify?‖
Thesis Statement Strong thesis statement: Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Twains Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave "civilized" society and go back to nature.
Thesis Statement What makes it stronger? Clarifies why the contrast matters Presents an interpretation of a literary work based on an analysis of its content
Thesis Statement Which is the best thesis statement? Moby-Dick is about the problem of evil. Moby-Dick is about a big, white whale. The use of ―whiteness‖ in Moby-Dick illustrates the uncertainty about the meaning of life that Ishmael expresses throughout the novel.
Thesis Statement Which is the better thesis statement? In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne struggles to understand her daughter Pearl’s strange behavior. In The Scarlet Letter, Pearl may appear to be a living embodiment of Hester’s sin, but her ultimate fate suggests that she is an embodiment of true love, and that her flaws are caused only by her father’s refusal to claim her.
Assessing Thesis Statements Let’s Evaluate: Edgar Allen Poe’s work was affected greatly by the current events of his life, covering his family life, his childhood, and his career; these events changed his style and subject of his works. Does it work? What’s missing?
Assessing Thesis Statements Let’s Evaluate: There is a lot of symbolism in The Scarlet Letter. Does it work? What’s missing?
Assessing Thesis Statements Let’s Evaluate: The character of Edward Bloom in Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish is an unforgettable character. Does it work? What’s missing?
Anatomy of Literary Analysis Introduction: As with the introductory paragraph of any essay, the goals are to: Arouse interest in the reader Introduce the topic of the essay Include any background information State the essay’s thesis
Intro: Connecting & Engaging Focus on a character’s universal appeal: How is the character like us? Focus on a theme’s universality: Where do we see a major message in our own world? Quote a striking or significant line from the piece. Ask a question: ―Who would think that …?‖ or ―Why would someone do …?‖
Intro: Providing Background At the very least, introduce the text and its author. If appropriate to your thesis, include context for the text (time period, author bio, etc.) Summarize an important scene in the text as representative of your thesis argument.
Intro: Thesis Statement Last sentence in the intro paragraph A single statement—not a question! Precisely worded Includes author’s name and the name of the text Should be able to stand by itself as your declaration of interpretation.
Body of the Essay The body paragraphs are where we support our thesis. Must contain explanation of ideas and evidence from the text: Summary Paraphrase Specific Details Direct Quotations
Body Paragraphs: Structure Each paragraph has a topic sentence. To tie the details of the paragraph to the thesis. To Tie the details of the paragraph together
Body Paragraph: Structure Explanations Summaries Specific Details Quotes and paraphrases
Body ParagraphPossible Organization: Begin with topic sentence that states your focus for the paragraph and ties to thesis. Make a ―universal‖ connection. Specific details and other evidence that support your topic sentence. Concluding sentence that explains again what all the details mean and why they’re important.
The main affair that takes place in the book isbetween Daisy and Gatsby. Having been separatedfor years, their new time together is truly magical forboth of them. Both Daisy and Tom attend a party atGatsby’s home. Nick watches Gatsby and Daisydance with each other: ―I remembered beingsurprised by his graceful, conservative fox trot – I hadnever seen him dance before. Then they saunteredover to my house and sat on the steps for a half hourwhile at her request I remained watchfully in thegarden…‖ (112). Daisy leaves Tom for a long periodof the evening to be with Gatsby, a man Tomdoesn’t even know really anything about. NeitherGatsby nor Daisy appear to care much about thesuspiciousness and bluntness of their behavior. Thisattitude intensifies later in the book when Gatsby isat Daisy’s, and as Tom leaves the room, ―she got upand went over to Gatsby, and pulled his face down,kissing him on the mouth‖ (122). She is not afraid toshow public affection toward Gatsby, even so closeto her husband. This is because although she hasvowed her commitment to her husband, she reallyseems to love Gatsby, and not Tom.
Conclusion Restate your thesis—IN DIFFERENT WORDS. Don’tjust summarize the big points in your essay, but also suggest why they’re important, what we can learn from them, the text, etc. Draw connections between the text and ―real‖ life or other contexts.