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Essay Instructions: Literary Analysis

Instructions for the Literary Analysis Essay  (English 1302 Online)

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Literary Analysis

In this essay you should combine your practice responding and analyzing short stories with support derived from research. So far, in the discussion boards, we have practiced primarily formal analysis.  Now I want you to practice “joining the conversation.”  In this essay you will write a literary analysis that incorporates the ideas of others.  The trick is to accurately present ideas and interpretations gathered from your research while adding to the conversation by presenting your own ideas and analysis.    

You will be evaluated, in part, on how well you use external sources.  I want to see that you can quote, paraphrase and summarize without plagiarizing.  Remember, any unique idea must be credited, even if you put it in your own words.

Choose one of the approaches explained in the “Approaches to Literary Analysis” located at the bottom of this document. Each approach will require research, and that research should provide the context in which you present your own ideas and support your thesis.  Be sure to properly document your research.  Review the links in the “Writing about Literature” tab as these will help guide you.

While I am asking you to conduct outside research, do not lose sight of the primary text to which you are responding—the story!  Your research should support your interpretations of the story. Be sure that your thesis is relevant to the story and that you quote generously from the story.

Purpose:  critical analysis, writing from sources

Length: 5 pages, approx 1500 words

Documentation:  Minimum of 5 sources required.  Documented in MLA format. (Note: review the material in “finding and evaluating sources” to help you choose relevant and trustworthy sources.)

Choose from the following short stories, all located in the folder located in this unit.

A Perfect Day for a Bananafish

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

The Wall

The Swimmer

The Lesson

At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers

The Bound Man

The Birthmark

For Esme… with Love and Squalor

Below are some examples.  I do not require you to choose one of these topics.  They are just here to give you an idea of the type of approaches that will work for this essay.

1.   Philosophical analysis: How do the stories by Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus reflect the philosophy of existentialism?  

2.   Socio/cultural analysis:  What opinion about marriage and gender roles does Hemingway advance in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”? 

3.  Historical analysis: What social dilemmas faced by African Americans in the 1960s might have inspired Toni Cade Bambara to write “The Lesson”?

4.  Biographical analysis:  What events in Salman Rushdie’s life might have influenced the events in “At the Auction of the Ruby Slippers”?

5. Psychological analysis:  How is John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” a metaphor for the psychology of addiction?

Approaches to Literary analysis

Formal analysis – This type of analysis focuses on the formal elements of the work (language, symbolism, plot, character, setting) in an effort to explain how the story functions. It is concerned with the parts of the text and how those parts fit together to create meaning.  Outside information such as the author’s background and historical events are generally not referenced in formalist criticism. A formal analysis conceives of the literary work as a self-contained experience.

If you choose this approach you will need to research scholarly interpretations of your selected story and include those as part of the conversation.

Historical analysis– This type of analysis uses historical context to understand the work. Many 20 th century stories can be best understood within the framework of major events: Industrialization, The Holocaust, WWII, The Great Depression, The Civil Rights Movement, feminism, etc.  A historical analysis will “base interpretations on the interplay between the text and historical contexts.”

” a piece of literature is shaped by the time period in which it was written and thus must be examined and interpreted in the context of that time period. This theory attempts to tie the characters, events and language in a piece of literature to events from the time period in which it was written. “

If you choose this approach for your literary analysis, you should be well aware of the major events of the time period.

Biographical analysis – This type of analysis uses the author’s life as a starting point for interpreting the story. The belief is that it is necessary to know about the author and the political, economical, and sociological context of his times in order to truly understand his works.  How do the themes present in the story reflect the concerns and experiences of the author?  In this approach there may be considerable overlap with historical analysis.  That’s ok-they are not mutually exclusive.

Sociological analysis (cultural criticism) –  This type of analysis interprets the story in term of social structures:  class, race, gender, culture, nationality or economics. Feminist criticism, postcolonial criticism, Marxist criticism, etc. all fall into this category. It can also overlap with historical analysis.  For example, a Marxist criticism of Catcher in the Rye might claim that Holden’s depression is derived from material wealth and social inequality.

Philosophical  analysis:   This approach uses a philosophical framework from which to approach the work.  The belief is that the larger purpose of literature is to teach morality and to probe philosophical issues. Existentialism is a common philosophy that find roots in literature, particularly in that of Sartre and Camus.  Here are some questions to ask if you are interested in this approach.

  What religious or ethical beliefs does the text deal with directly?  Are any  religions or philosophies mentioned specifically in the text?

•   What religious or ethical beliefs or philosophies does the author seem to favor?  How can you tell?

•   What religious or ethical beliefs or philosophies does the author seem to disfavor? 

•   What behaviors do the characters display that the author wants us to think are “right”? 

Psychological Analysis:   This approach uses theories of human behavior as a means of analyzing the story. Psychological critics view works through the lens of psychology. They look either at the psychological motivations of the characters or of the authors themselves, although the former is generally considered a more respectable approach. Most frequently, psychological critics apply Freudian psychology to works, but other approaches (such as a Jungian approach) also exist.

  Are there any specific psychologists or psychological theories mentioned in the text?  In what ways?

  What theories of human behavior does the writer seem to believe?  How can you tell?

  What theories of human behavior does the writer seem to reject?  How can you tell?

  How do people’> s minds work in the text?  How do people think?  How are their thoughts shown?

  In what ways do the structure and organization of the text indicate the writer’� s beliefs about the workings of the mind?


Peer Review for Literary Analysis

Follow the same procedures as with the previous Peer Reviews.  Please answer all of the review questions below.

Peer Review for Literary Analysis

  1. Does the essay appear to meet the minimum requirements for the assignment?  (5 pages, 5 sources, etc.)
  2. Identify the thesis of the essay.  Does it make a clear and focused claim about the story? 
  3. Is the essay well organized?  Does each paragraph have a single main idea that relates to the thesis?  Are there transitions within and between paragraphs?
  4. Does the essay integrate both quotations from the story and quotations from secondary sources?  Do the quotations seem relevant and credible to you?
  5. Sometimes students get caught up in researching the author’s background or historical events and they forget the primary purpose: to analyze a short story. As you read the essay, does the author clearly tie all of the research back to an analysis of the story?
  6. Check the citations.  Can the source for each quotation or paraphrase be easily found on the works cited page?  Are the citations in correct MLA format?
  7. Do you notice any recurring grammatical errors, formatting errors or other problems with the essay?

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