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WRITING ABOUT LITERATURE: Literary Analysis and the Writing Process

WRITING ABOUT LITERATURE: Literary Analysis and the Writing Process

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Published by Rob Melton
This guide shows you how to develop your own argument/opinion supported with evidence from your reading.
This guide shows you how to develop your own argument/opinion supported with evidence from your reading.

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: Rob Melton on Dec 24, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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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, andvague convictions. A genuine opinion strong enough to support the structure of an essaymust meet certain specifications. Note the following definition of 
:OPINION: a belief not based on absolute certainty or positive knowledge but on whatseems 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 validessay topic. It will make clear the difference between opinion and fact; the failure to makethis distinction is perhaps the most common error among student writers. Facts must beconverted to opinions before they can serve as essay topics.WRITING ABOUT LITERATURE THE LITERARY ESSAY PAPER The literary paper is based upon a judgment—an opinion. Your opinion has almost nothing todo with whether or not you “like” the literary work you are writing about. You are not beingasked to express your feelings about what you have read (feelings are not subject todebate). You are being asked to make a reasoned judgment that you can back up withspecific evidence from the literary work you have read.DEVELOPING THE THESIS THE 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 andtheme. The genre 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, youare dealing 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.
Choose an answer 
•The answer you select should be the one that interests you the most, that you believe you
can back up most convincingly with evidence from the literary work itself. This answer isyour thesis.•This process is not easy.•It takes a great deal of close reading and hard thinking.
The work of establishing a thesis has a way of opening your eyes to new ways of looking at literature, thus vastly enriching your ability to understand andinterpret everything you read. And that, of course, is what the study of literatureis all about.
Here are some points to remember: The thesis of a literary paper seldom requires the full pro-and-con treatment. Your purpose is to explore and explain, not to argue.List all the evidence you can find to support your thesis. The word “evidence” is important. You must find evidence in the work itself to back upstatements. Piece by piece, you must build up the case for your thesis. The structure of the literary paper will be like any other essay: introduction, middle section,conclusion.Paragraph structure will follow the usual pattern: topic sentence, explanation andillustration, concluding sentence. Your final paragraph will open with a sentence that echoes but does not repeat your thesisand will move gracefully to your closing statement.WRITING THE INTRODUCTIONSELECTED DEVICES FOR INTRODUCTORY ¶•Provide relevant background information•Tell an interesting brief story or anecdote.•Give a pertinent statistic or statistics.•Ask a provocative question or questions.•Use an appropriate quotation.•Make a useful analogy.•Define a term used throughout the essay.WHAT TO AVOID IN THE INTRODUCTORY ¶•Don’t be too obvious. Avoid bare statements such as “In this paper I will discuss the causesof falling oil prices” or “My assignment asks me to discuss Hamlet’s inability to take action.”•Don’t apologize. Avoid self-critical statements such as “I do not have much background inthis subject,” “Of course, other people are more expert in this subject than I am,” or “I amnot sure if I am right, but here is my opinion.”•Don’t use overworn expressions. Avoid statements such as “Haste makes waste,” “A pennysaved is a penny earned,” or “War is hell.” THE LITERARY ESSAY PAPER—INTRODUCTION ¶WHICH OPENING PARAGRAPH IS BEST? This story, “The Open Boat,” was about four guys who went looking for theHouse of Refuge off the coast of Florida. These four guys, the captain, the oiler, thecook, and the correspondent, went out on a dinghy towards Mosquito Inlet Lighthouseto find this refuse. They battle diverse weather conditions in the open ocean trying tosurvive. But in the end, the oiler dies. This story is about the struggle between manand nature. The ‘P’ that I chose to write about is plot. I red “The Open Boat” by StephenCrane. What happened is the plot and what happened in this story is pretty basic. The five P’s I’m going to talk about is people which means characters. The realdefinition of people from what you gave us is a person or an animal who takes part in
the action of a literary work. It was 3 characters in this story. To me there wasn’t nomain characters because they all played a role in the story to me. THE LITERARY ESSAY PAPER—THESISWHICH THESIS IS BEST? The characters in this story are not really important. Most of them are staticcharacters, but the conflict in this story is man vs. nature and that is what we’ll talkabout in this paper. This often represents something that can’t be tamed. No matter how muchyou try you can’t fight the force of nature. I really feel the people in this story areignorant and don’t have a clue.I believe the dynamic character in the story “The Open Boat” is nature. I seenature as being not just a place, but a character that is able to change. Thischaracter, nature, is a character that would seem to be the protagonist in the story.Not helping the men in the boat. Nature in this story has many faces, and does notseem to unleash its full potential. THE LITERARY ESSAY PAPER—THESISWHICH TOPIC SENTENCE IS BEST?In this story the main character is not a person but the ocean.Another character is the captain.In a way this is not your typical man vs. nature story.Another example of the sailors fighting nature is when the four men on the board were closeto reaching land.When the storm hits she [nature] got really mad and it always seems like she wants to takeit out on the little dinghy. Throughout the story nature does different things to, in a way, reveal its attitude or changein attitude.“Slowly and beautifully the land loomed out of the sea. The wind kept returning. It hadveered from the Northeast to the Southeast.”In the beginning of the story detailed description is dedicated to the sea, more specifically,the waves.Viewing nature as the protagonist is not a difficult thing.Finally, after a while, they spot land, but the waves that are closer to the shore are too roughand too high to get their dinghy to shore without capsizing. The climax, or high point of this story, is when the boat of the four men flipped.When the storm hits she [nature] got really mad and it always seems like she wants to takeit out on the little dinghy. This story is about the struggle. Thus, the struggle versus man and nature was apparent.WRITING THE CONCLUSIONSELECTED DEVICES FOR CONCLUDING ¶•Use the devices for introductory paragraphs but avoid using the same device in theintroduction and conclusion of an essay.•Summarize the main points of the essay.•Call for awareness and/or action.•Point to the future.WHAT TO AVOID IN THE CONCLUSION¶•Don’t go off the track.•Don’t reword your introduction.•Don’t announce what you have done.•Don’t make absolute claims.•Avoid logical fallacies.

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