THE ELEMENTS OF A SOLID ESSAY
HOW TO WRITE A LITERARY ANALYSIS ESSAY
The Thesis Statement
Tellsyour reader what toexpectItis arestricted.Sentencethat states the purpose of your essay -- the point you are trying to make.Withoutacarefullyconceived thesis, an essay has no chance of success.A thesisstatement falls at the end of your introductory paragraph.
GwendolynBrooks‟s1960 poem “The Ballad of Rudolph Reed” demonstrates how thepoetuses the conventional poetic form of the ballad to treat the unconventional poeticsubjectof racial intolerance.The fate of the main characters inAntigone byJeanAnouilh illustratesthe danger of excessive pride.The imagery in DylanThomas’spoem “Fern Hill” reveals the ambiguity ofhumans’ relationship with nature.
The introduction to your literary analysis essay should try to capture yourreader’s interest.It should bringimmediate focus to yoursubject.You maywant to use a quotation, aprovocativequestion, a brief anecdote, a startling statement, or a combination of these.You may also want to include background information relevant to your thesis andnecessaryfor the reader to understand the position you are taking.Inaddition, youneedto include the title of the work of literature and name of the author.
Introduction Sample 1
What would one expect to be the personality of a man who has his wifesentaway to a convent (or perhaps has had her murdered) because she took toomuchpleasure in the sunset and in a compliment paid to her by another man? Itisjust such a man—a Renaissance duke—who Robert Browning portrays in hispoem“My Last Duchess.” A character analysis of the Duke reveals that throughhisinternal dialogue, his interpretation of earlier incidents, and his actions, histraits—arrogance, jealousy, and greediness—emerge.
Thefirst paragraph of Alberto AlvaroRios’s shortstory “The Secret Lion”presentsa twelve-year-oldboy’sview of growing up—everything changes. Asthenarrator informs the reader, when the magician pulls a tablecloth out fromundera pile of dishes, children are amazed at the “stay-the-same part,” whileadultsfocus only on the tablecloth itself (42). Adults have the benefit ofexperienceand know the trick will work as long as the technique is correct.Whenpeople “grow up,” they gain this experience and knowledge but lose theirinnocenceand sense of wonder. In other words, the price paid for growing up isapermanent sense of loss. This tradeoff is central to “The Secret Lion.” The keysymbolsin the story reinforce its main theme: change is inevitable and alwaysaccompaniedby a sense of loss.
Thesetting of JohnUpdike’sstory “A & P” is crucial to thereader’s understandingofSammy’sdecision to quit his job. Even though Sammy knowsthathis quitting will make life more difficult for him, he instinctively insists uponrejectingwhat the A & P represents in the story. When he rings up a “No Sale”and“saunter[s]” out of the store, Sammy leaves behind not only a job but therigidstate of mind associated with the A & P. Although Sammy is the centralcharacterin the story, Updike seems to invest as much effort in describing thesettingas he does Sammy. The title, after all, is not “Youthful Rebellion” or“Sammy Quits” but “A & P.” The setting is the antagonist of the story and plays arolethat is as important asSammy’s.
The Body of theEssay/Topic Sentence
Torelate the details of the paragraph to your thesisstatement.Totie the details of the paragraph together.The substance of each of your developmental paragraphs (the body of your essay)willbe the explanations, summaries, paraphrases, specific details, and direct quotationsYouneed to support and develop the more general statement you have made in yourtopicsentence.
Body Format/ Example
TOPICSENTENCEEXPLANATIONS ANDTEXTUAL EVIDENCESammy'sdescriptions of the A & P present asettingthat is ugly, monotonous, and rigidlyregulated. The chain store is a common fixtureinmodern society, so the reader can identifywiththe uniformity Sammy describes. Thefluorescentlight is as blandly cool as the"checkerboard green-and-cream rubber tilefloor" (486). The "usual traffic in the storemovesin one direction (except for the swimsuitedgirls, who move against it), andeverythingis neatly organized and categorizedintidy aisles. The dehumanizing routine of thisenvironmentis suggested by Sammy's offhandreferencesto the typical shoppers as "sheep,""house slaves," and "pigs” (486). These regularcustomersseem to walk through the store in astupor; as Sammy indicates, not even dynamitecouldmove them out of their routine (485).
Yourliterary analysis essay should have a concluding paragraph that gives your essayasense ofcompleteness.Letsyour readers know that they have come to the end ofyour paper.Yourconcluding paragraph might restate the thesis in different words,summarizethemainpoints you have made, or make a relevant comment about theliterarywork you are analyzing, but from a different perspective.Donot introduce anewtopic in your conclusion.
Browning'spoem "My Last Duchess":If the Duke has any redeeming qualities, they fail to appear in the poem.Browning'semphasis on the Duke's traits of arrogance, jealousy, and materialismmakeit apparent that anyone who might have known the Duke personally wouldhavebased his opinion of him on these three personality "flaws." Ultimately, thereader’sopinion of the Duke is not a favorable one, and it is clear that Browningintendedthat the reader feel this way.
Considerthe reader for whom you are writing your essay.Imagineyou are writing fornotonlythe grader butalso the other students in your class who have about asmucheducation as you do.Theyhave read the assigned work just as you have, butperhapsthey have not thought about it in exactly the same way.Inother words, it isnotnecessary to "retell" the work of literature in any way.Rather, it is your role tobethe explainer or interpreter of the work—to tell what certain elements of the workmeanin relation to your central idea (thesis).Whenyou make references to the text oftheshort story, poem, or play, you are doing so to remind your audience of somethingtheyalready know.Theprinciple emphasis of your essay is to drawconclusions anddevelop arguments. Be sure to avoid plot summary.
USING TEXTUAL EVIDENCE
Theskillful use of textual evidence -- summary, paraphrase, specific detail, anddirectquotations -- can illustrate and support the ideas you are developing in youressay.However, textual evidence should be used judiciously and only when it directlyrelatesto yourtopic.Thecorrect and effective use of textual evidence is vital to thesuccessfulliterary analysis essay.
Ifa key event or series of events in the literary work support a point you are trying tomake, you may want to include a brief summary, making sure that you show therelevanceof the event or events by explicitly connecting your summary to your point.EXAMPLE"The Secret Lion" (B):Theboys find the grinding ball, but later attempt to bury it (SUMMARY).Buryingit is their futile attempt to make time stand still and to preserveperfection(RELEVANCE).
Youcan make use of paraphrase when you need the details of the original, but notnecessarilythe words of the original: paraphrase to put someone else's words into yourownwords.Original: "I was twelve and in junior high school and something happenedthatwe didn't have a name for, but it was nonetheless like a lion,androaring, roaring that way the biggest things do."Paraphrase: Early in the story, the narrator tells us that when he turned twelveandstarted junior high school, life changed in a significant way thatheand his friends could not quite name or identify.
Varioustypes of details from the text lend concrete support to the development of thecentralidea of your literary analysis essay.Thesedetails add credibility to the point youaredeveloping.Example:detailswhich could have been used in thedevelopmentalparagraph from the paper on John Updike's short story "A &P“."usual traffic""fluorescent lights""checkerboard green-and-cream rubber-tile floor""electric eye"shoppers like "sheep," "house slaves," and "pigs"neatly stacked fooddynamite
Using Direct Quotations
Quotationscan illuminate and support the ideas you are trying to develop.Ajudicioususeof quoted material will make your points clearer and more convincing.Makesure you explain how the evidenceis relevant—letthe reader know why the quotes you cite are significant to yourargument.
Quote “Prose” Example
Brief quotations (four lines or fewer of prose and three lines or fewer of poetry) should be carefully introduced and integrated into the text of your paper.Put quotation marks around all briefly quoted material.Proseexample:As the "manager" of the A & P,Lengelis both the guardian and enforcer of"policy" (487). When he gives the girls "that sad Sunday-school-superintendentstare," the reader becomes aware ofLengel‟scharacter as the A & P's version ofadreary bureaucrat who "doesn't miss much" (487).
Quote “Poetry” Example
Make sure you give page numbers when necessary. Notice that in this example the page numbers are in parenthesis after the quotation marks but before the period.Fromthe beginning, the Duke in Browning's poem gives the reader a sense ofhowpossessive he really is: "That's my last Duchess on the wall, / Looking as ifshewere alive" (1-2). The reader cannot help but notice how, even though theDukeis talking about her portrait, his main concern is that she belongs to him.Notice that line # 1 is separated from line # 2 by a slash. Make sure yougivethe line numbers when necessary.
Quote “Length” Example
Lengthyquotations should be separated from the text of your paper.Morethanfourlines of prose should be double spaced and indented ten spaces from theleftmargin, with the right margin the same as the rest of your paper.More thanthreelines of poetry should be double spaced and centered on the page.Note: do not use quotation marks to set off these longer passages becausetheindentation itself indicates that the material is quoted.
Ifany words are added to a quotation in order to explain who or what thequotationrefers to, you must use brackets to distinguish your addition from theoriginalsource.Example:The literary critic John Strauss asserts that "he [Young Goodman Brown] isportrayedas self-righteous and disillusioned" (10). Brackets are used herebecausethere is no way of knowing who "he" is unless you addthat information.
Youmust use ellipsis if you omit any words from the original source you arequoting.Ellipsiscan be used at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of thequotation, depending on where the missing words were originally. Ellipsis isformedby either three or four periods with a space between each period.Original:"Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."Example (omission from beginning):This behavior ". . . makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." Ellipsis formedbythree dots after the quotation marks.8Example (omission from middle):This maxim claims that "Early to bed . . . makes a man healthy, wealthy, andwise."Example(omission from end):He said, "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy . . . ." Ellipsis isformedby four dots before the quotation marks -- the fourth dot is really aperiodwhich ends the sentence.