Reader Response by Donalyn Miller


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Reader Response by Donalyn Miller

  1. 1. SamuelsonEnglish 1302 andAll Sophomore English Classes Tips for Writing the Critical Analysis Minimal Requirements for the Critical Analysis and Research PapersWhat follows are general points to remember: please follow them rigorously to write a good analysis and avoidmisunderstandings. Check this page frequently for additions or modifications; review the sample student papers Ihave provided. See also my lecture, "Preparation of Critical Analyses," and other lectures on literary techniques,writing, and grammar. Please remember this point: though you may never write literary analyses after college, thetraining in thinking, writing, supporting, and analyzing will enhance your cognitive and interpretive skills in almosteverything else you do, say, write, or discuss. 1. Provide an interesting or provocative title--not something vague, and not just the title of the literary work. Do not underline it or put it in quotations marks--your essay is not published. Do not bold it or type in all caps, though you must capitalize all major words in the title. Do, however, observe the rules for titles of works you include in your own title as well as in the essay. Basically, essay, short story, and short poem titles go in quotations marks; novel and play titles are underlined or italicized. But there are others to know about as well; they are detailed in the MLA. Sample title: Setting as Theme in Jane Eyre (not just Setting or Jane Eyre). 2. Essay Format: No title page is necessary or wanted. Be sure to follow MLA for headings, headers and pagination (see ch. 3 and pp. 292-93 for format; see also my lecture on "Essay Format" and the last page of "Notes on Mechanics"). If you do not know how to do headers, they are in the MSWord Tool Bar, View Menu, then Insert Menu. Type in 12-point font (I prefer Arial which is the easiest to read), double spaced on one side of the page only with one-inch margins (see MLA and the syllabus. Use left justification only; full justification can cause kerning (spacing problems) between words. Set your defaults for font, spacing, and margins at the beginning of the semester. Always make a back-up copy of your paper on diskette and an additional hard copy or photocopy. Do not rely on your hard drive. The short critical analysis paper in 1302 must be a minimum 2-3 full pages; the longer research papers in 1302 and sophomore classes must be a minimum 5-7 full pages of text. See the research project module for further information and requirements. Papers that do not reach the minimum requirements do not receive the minimum grade; the result is an F (50). Be sure you have a virus shield that is updated regularly. 3. Identify the author(s) and title(s) of the work(s) you are studying in the opening paragraph (e.g., Emily Dickinson). Use the authors full name the first time you refer to him/her, then last name only thereafter. Do not use a title (e.g., Miss Dickinson) and never refer to the author by first name (e.g., Emily). Once you have identified the author and title, you do not need to keep repeating full name and title. 4. At the end of your introduction, include the authors name and theme in your thesis statement. See my lecture on the thesis which also includes samples; also read my lecture on theme. Whether youre analyzing imagery, character, conflict, or other technique, if you dont nail the universal truth of the story, poem, play, essay, or novel in your thesis, you wont have the focus you need to direct the critical analysis. In all essays for the course, be sure your thesis is clearly focused on the authors purpose; keep that in front of your reader throughout the essay and especially again in the conclusion. Remember that you are analyzing the work; do not waste time praising the author, but get into the literary work to show how and why the author is setting up that work and his or her theme. 5. Write about literature in the present tense, and do not shift unnecessarily. Remember that literature is not "dead," but comes alive each time we read, discuss, and think about it. If you switch to past tense, do so because youre making a historical or biographical allusion (where you should definitely use past tense) or
  2. 2. because youre bringing in an area you had previously discussed in your paper.6. Do not under any circumstances write a plot summary or a biography of the author that the reader could find in the library for him/herself--the resultant grade is an F. A sure sign of plot summary is switching to and remaining in past tense, using words like "then," "next," etc. Remember that your reader has read the story, poem, play, etc. and knows "what happened"; your goal is to help the reader understand how, why, etc. You see something in the essay, story, play, novel (your research paper will be an extended scholarly critical analysis), or poem that other readers may not have. Narrow your focus to that aspect, stay on it, and give the evidence from the text that best supports your position. Keep the authors theme/universal truth/purpose in front of you and your reader: include it in the thesis, throughout the essay, and in the conclusion. Let the author help you discover his or her purpose for the reader in writing that literary piece. Write a clear, convincing, argumentative thesis; then defend it with logic and energy as well as with examples from the literary work you are studying. You are contributing to the general understanding of a work of literature as well as offering your ideas concerning its inherent value culturally, artistically, socially, spiritually, politically, etc. You are looking for the "universal truth" of the story as you see it and as the author presents it. You are not "tearing it apart"; you are analyzing particular aspects in light of the whole experience of the work and demonstrating, in essence, why the author wrote it, and what his or her audience learns from it. There is a more thorough discussion about avoiding plot summaries in "Preparation of Critical Analyses." Also see sample student essays I will upload for you.7. Remember that you are writing about the work and not about yourself; the essay is not about how the story or other work made you feel; it is an analysis of the literary work and its techniques. You do not need to use "I", though an occasional use is permissible. Do not ever use "you" in academic essays; your reader is not involved in your essay except as reader, and the student writer cannot assume anything about whether the reader agrees with or shares the opinions. Do use third person: write directly about the literary work and to your topic. Express your conviction about the literary work; then give your reasons and examples, illustrations, quotes, etc. from the literary work and from life experiences as you understand the author is presenting them. Under no circumstances should you preach your personal biases or misrepresent the work by straying beyond its boundaries. In this paper you are a scholar and a critic--not a preacher or politician. Also, dont use you in these academic papers, as it can sound preachy or vague or even accusatory, and it may assume what the reader is not willing to grant.8. Do not define any literary terms you may be using and/or exploring in the text. The reader knows the terms; s/he wants to know what you think the author is doing with these techniques.9. In the short Critical Analysis papers, you must quote at least three times from the work you are analyzing; I do not want outside research done as these are your original interpretations. However, if you want to borrow from a quotation or background in the editors text or from any secondary critics because that passage underscores what you are saying, check with me and be sure to quote and document using MLA format. Watch your quotation marks around direct quotations; identify the sources of all paraphrased information. Review my lecture on plagiarism and the glossary definition as well as the plagiarism section in the syllabus and the MLA.The penalty for plagiarism is a zero, F in the course, removal from the class, and possible expulsion from the college, so be very careful. In the research paper, which is an extended critical analysis, you must do outside research, quoting from and documenting all the sources you used which must all be on your Works Cited page, or you have violated the plagiarism warnings with resultant failure in the course. Be sure you read the research paper assignment and MLA Tips.10. Quoting. The literary work should support your observations and impressions. Use appropriate details, examples, quotations, and paraphrases from the text itself--and remember to document as instructed in class, "Notes on Mechanics," "MLA Tips," other lectures, and the MLA. Do not use quotations as thesis statement, topic or closing sentences; they support your essay. Lead into quotations and comment on them. When you lead in, avoid unintentional run-ons or comma splices; use colons for formal introductions to quotations, never semicolons. After quotations, use the authors last name, a space, and the page number (or line number if its poetry) inside parentheses; then follow with the period or other mark of necessary punctuation if youre continuing the sentence with another phrase or clause. Precede the parentheses with the quotation mark, leaving out punctuation except question mark or exclamation point, and a space. However, when the quotation is framed with the authors name (its in the lead-in), or when youve already used the name once in parenthetical documentation, and there is no other author being analyzed, then the subsequent authorial reference in the parentheses can be omitted. Quote accurately and use ellipses (spaced periods [ . . . ]) to
  3. 3. indicate omitted material. Use square brackets ([brackets]) if you must change something for grammar or explain a reference. Do not number quotations or entries in your paper or on the works cited page. Dont "string" quotations or begin or end paragraphs with them. Always incorporate ("frame") quotations unless you are using more than four lines from the original source. Example: Keats notes the importance of art in the consciousness of man: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, -- that is all / ye know on earth, and all ye need to know" (50-51). (See more examples of quoting in MLA Tips and the MLA itself. Then set them off: indent ten spaces, double-space with no quotation marks, and type or write the quotation as it appears in the original. The period goes before the parentheses in a set-off quotation. Critical analyses must include at least three incorporated, documented, and analyzed quotations from the primary source. Research papers must include at least 50% documentation from the sources. Though you must quote to support your argument, do not pad the paper with excessive quotations; this is your analysis, and you must include your interpretations. Quotations must be incorporated into your text--see the MLA and student papers for examples. Only one quotation may be a set-off or indented passage, and it must not be excessive--only a few lines, not whole paragraphs and stanzas. In the research paper only two set-off quotations are allowed, and they, too, must be controlled and analyzed.REMEMBER: All your essays must focus on the course texts. N.B. Students must submit thesis andoutline/brainstorming list for every essay. While there is plenty of room in literary criticism for multiple interpretations,it is possible to be wrong about a work or an authors intent. If you dont let me help you, you could be in for a hugedisappointment. Proofread and edit these papers. Dont sweat blood over your ideas and then submit them withgrievous errors in mechanics that will destroy your hard work. Suggested General Topics and ApproachesTo maintain a viable, organized focus, choose only one or two related topics for these short papers and rememberthat all literary techniques point to the authors theme. This focus on the authors technique and theme needs to beclear in your thesis statement and throughout the essay. But remember at all times you are analyzing the literary workitself and not trying to turn it into a treatise on life. Literature does point to universal truths, but literature is not amanual for behavior and thinking: it is art and as such becomes a reflection of and commentary on life and behavior,but never an obvious sermon, which good writers know might very well lose the reader. Carefully read my lectures onliterary techniques and the sample student essays. 1. Analyze a single character or compare/contrast two characters, including studies of motivation, behavior, attitudes, interaction with other characters, psychology, etc. Who is the protagonist? How is he or she carrying the plot and responding to events? Who or what is the antagonist and how does the author set this opposing force against the protagonist? What is the outcome? Also note any references to ages, names (or lack of names), speech patterns, dress, etc. Dont just tell your reader the character does something -- your audience has read the narrative, play, or poem. Instead, try to determine how and why the character is developed as he or she is. What is the authors point in creating this character; how does the character illustrate the authors theme? 2. Discuss the function of important symbols in a story, play, or poem. What are the specific symbols? Which are the most prevalent and how do they appear (and perhaps disappear) in the literary work you are analyzing? How do these symbols set up a pattern that points toward the theme? 3. Analyze the appeal and effect of imagery in a literary work. What senses do these images appeal to: note especially appeals to sight, smell, touch, and hearing, e.g., colors, smells, textures, shapes, sounds, etc. How do they enhance our pleasure and understanding of the narrative or poem and its theme? 4. Discuss the point of view of a narrative or poem: why did the author choose this angle or central consciousness (the narrator in a story or novel; the speaker in a poem); how does it filter the narrative or poem and control the readers response? How would literary work change if told from a different P.O.V. (dont just simply say that it would); what is the total effect on the story and on the reader? 5. In a narrative, poem, or essay, analyze aspects of the authors tone (attitude) and style: satirical or ironic? angry or sad? elevated or concrete diction? interesting sentence patterns? effective use of repetition? What are the effects of tone and style on ones appreciation of the literary work? How does tone work to convey the
  4. 4. authors purpose?6. Note aspects of setting (both time and place) that contribute to characterization, mood, theme, conflict, etc. Where and when does the narrative, play, or poem take place? How do you know? For example what are the references to historical events, costume, architecture, transportation, technology etc.? How important is the setting? Why did the author choose this setting? What is its overall effect?7. What is the central conflict in the story? Analyze its development and outcome, showing how it underscores character and theme. Be careful not to write a plot summary -- exact replication of the literary work -- your reader knows the piece and does not need summary. Instead, decide what is the conflict in the literary work and show how its resolution -- even if tragic -- illustrates the authors purpose.8. Specifically analyze the theme of the literary work: what is the universal truth about man that the author conveys, and how does he or she express it? What characters, symbols, or other devices lead to this theme? What is the authors purpose in presenting this theme?9. If you have time and a workable focus, compare/contrast themes or characters or symbols or approaches in two works by the same author; or two works by different authors. Be sure if you do this that you run your comparisons point by point. Consult me if you need help.10. If you choose to analyze an essay rather than a narrative, play, or poem, what is the authors specific topic and thesis? How does he or she develop that thesis? What is the tone? What ideas are repeated and what other patterns do you note? How does the author close the essay? What is the purpose of the essay: to provide information? sound a new view of a political, social, or literary concern? call attention to a problem or issue? call to action?