Writing about literature

Literary analysis and the writing process

Most people tend to claim as opinions all sorts of prejudices, sentiments, platitudes, and vague convictions. A genuine opinion strong enough to support the structure of an essay must meet certain specifications. Note the following definition of opinion:
OPINION: a belief not based on absolute certainty or positive knowledge but on what 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 essay topic. It will make clear the difference between opinion and fact; the failure to make this distinction is perhaps the most common error among student writers. Facts must be converted to opinions before they can serve as essay topics.

The literary paper is based upon a judgment—an opinion. Your opinion has almost nothing to do with whether or not you “like” the literary work you are writing about. You are not being asked to express your feelings about what you have read (feelings are not subject to debate). You are being asked to make a reasoned judgment that you can back up with specific evidence from the literary work you have read.

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. 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 be controversial. Some will be purely factual. •When you begin to question attitudes, intentions, purposes, methods, and meanings, you are 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 is your 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 and interpret everything you read. And that, of course, is what the study of literature is 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 up statements. Piece by piece, you must build up the case for your thesis. The overall 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 and illustration, concluding sentence. Your final paragraph will open with a sentence that echoes but does not repeat your thesis and will move gracefully to your closing statement.

•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.

•Don’t be too obvious. Avoid bare statements such as “In this paper I will discuss the causes of 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 in this subject,” “Of course, other people are more expert in this subject than I am,” or “I am not sure if I am right, but here is my opinion.” •Don’t use overworn expressions. Avoid statements such as “Haste makes waste,” “A penny saved is a penny earned,” or “War is hell.”

Which opening paragraph is best? This story, “The Open Boat,” was about four guys who went looking for the House of Refuge off the coast of Florida. These four guys, the captain, the oiler, the cook, and the correspondent, went out on a dinghy towards Mosquito Inlet Lighthouse to find this refuse. They battle diverse weather conditions in the open ocean trying to survive. But in the end, the oiler dies. This story is about the struggle between man and nature. The ‘P’ that I chose to write about is plot. I red “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane. 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 real definition 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 no main characters because they all played a role in the story to me.


Which thesis is best? The characters in this story are not really important. Most of them are static characters, but the conflict in this story is man vs. nature and that is what we’ll talk about in this paper. This often represents something that can’t be tamed. No matter how much you try you can’t fight the force of nature. I really feel the people in this story are ignorant and don’t have a clue. I believe the dynamic character in the story “The Open Boat” is nature. I see nature as being not just a place, but a character that is able to change. This character, 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 not seem to unleash its full potential.

Which 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 close to reaching land. When the storm hits she [nature] got really mad and it always seems like she wants to take it out on the little dinghy. Throughout the story nature does different things to, in a way, reveal its attitude or change in attitude. “Slowly and beautifully the land loomed out of the sea. The wind kept returning. It had veered 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 rough and 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 take it out on the little dinghy. This story is about the struggle. Thus, the struggle versus man and nature was apparent.

•Use the devices for introductory paragraphs but avoid using the same device in the introduction and conclusion of an essay. •Summarize the main points of the essay. •Call for awareness and/or action. •Point to the future.

•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. •Don’t apologize.

LITERARY ANALYSIS ESSAYS QUIZ Rob Melton — English 1. What is the definition of opinion?


Why can’t a fact be an essay topic?


Explain why it is not important whether you like a book or not:


What are the four steps that can help you develop a thesis? 1) 2) 3) 4)


What is a “controversial question”?


List three different ways you could start your introduction: 1) 2) 3)


What are some things you should avoid doing in the introduction? The conclusion?


When you are a poet, the main thing is to __________ __________.

10. Where does Kingsolver get ideas for poems?

11. Why do poems “fall” when Kingsolver is least able to pay attention?

12. When is it time to write a poem?

13. Is writing poetry an honest living?

14. Name at least one of the novels Kingsolver has written:

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