ANALYZING LITERATURE: A GUIDE FORSTUDENTS
THINKING ABOUT THE GENRE
Literary analysis is a genre that in many ways resembles an argument: youmake a claim about the work and support your claim with evidence fromthe text as well as reasoning and analysis. The purpose of a response toliterature is to persuade the readers that your analysis and interpretation of the work are valid, reasonable, and logical.When you write about literature, you participate actively in theconstruction of knowledge about the text. That is to say, the text itself creates only part of its message. The writer of the work has done his orher part to convey its meaning by using symbols, language, setting, plot,character, foreshadowing, and the like, to suggest the text’s message.Unlike “hard sciences,” however, literature cannot be empirically tested inthe laboratory; its meaning comes from its readers. In fact, literature begsfor
to read, react to, think about, and interpret the text. Havingengaged in those steps, the process continues with another step:communicating to others the meaning you, as a reader, have constructedfrom the text. Your interpretation and analysis, then, add to the body of meaning about the text.Most likely, you have been asked to write about literature before: perhapsyou’ve read a book and written a report or review of it for your junior highEnglish class; perhaps you’ve studied an author and researched his or herlife and work; perhaps you’ve read a piece of literature and answeredessay questions about it on an essay exam. Because literature is a focus of many English classes, it is likely that you have had some experience withreading and responding to literature in your past academic life; in theuniversity, you will also read and respond to literature—even if you’re notplanning to major in English. Since many colleges and universitiesrequire their students to take a literature or humanities elective, you willprobably continue reading and responding to literature in college.