Literary analysis and the writing process
BY ROB MELTONWHAT IS AN OPINION AND HOW TO DO YOU REACH IT?
Most people tend to claim as opinions all sorts of prejudices, sentiments, platitudes, and vagueconvictions. A genuine opinion strong enough to support the structure of an essay must meet certainspecifications. Note the following definition of
OPINION: a belief not based on absolute certainty or positive knowledge but onwhat seems true, valid, or probable to one’s own mind; what one thinks; judgment.
Test any opinion against the definition above and you will know if you have chosen a valid essaytopic. It will make clear the difference between opinion and fact; the failure to make this distinction isperhaps the most common error among student writers. Facts must be converted to opinions before theycan serve as essay topics.
WRITING ABOUT LITERATURETHE LITERARY ESSAY PAPER
The literary paper is based upon a judgment—an opinion. Your opinion has almost nothing to dowith whether or not you “like” the literary work you are writing about. You are not being asked to expressyour feelings about what you have read (feelings are not subject to debate). You are being asked to makea reasoned judgment that you can back up with specific evidence from the literary work you have read.
DEVELOPING THE THESISTHE 4-STEP PROCESS
Read the selection/Take inventory
•What is the author’s purpose? Does the writer succeed? How does the writer succeed?•What happens? To whom? Under what circumstances?•Does anything or anyone change in any significant way in the course of the book? Why? How?•What is the prevailing mood? What is the tone?Answers to questions like these will provide you with clues to the author’s purpose and theme. Thegenre and difficulty of a selection will have a bearing upon the way you read.
Make a list of controversial questions
•The questions you were asking yourself as you took inventory may not in every case becontroversial. Some will be purely factual.•When you begin to question attitudes, intentions, purposes, methods, and meanings, you aredealing with interpretation, that is, with opinions. And therein lies controversy.•Make a list of such questions.
Search for answers
•The literary selection itself should supply the answers.•If at first you don’t find them, search again.•Think about all the parts and how they fit together.