Analytical Essay

LIT1000Analytical Essay Guidelines


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During this term, you will complete two short analytical essays (each more than four but a maximum of six full pages, plus a Works Cited page).  These essays differ from the Reading Response papers in that they require you to engage in deeper analysis of the chosen text and to interpret a statement about reality made by the text(a.k.a. a theme). You will need to present textual evidence supporting your central claim. One way to do this is to apply a specific school of literary thought to the text you are discussing, such as Marxism, Freudianism, Feminism, Cultural, Historical, or Archetypal criticism.  (You are not limited to these literary theories, but they are good starting points.  Others are discussed in Chapter 7 of the textbook, and you should seek additional clarity from me or reliable outside sources if using them.)

You may choose any of the texts that we have studied in class to date for your analysis.  Do not choose more than one text.  (I do not recommend choosing a short poem for this reason, although a longer poem may contain sufficient depth of meaning to warrant an analysis of this length.)

Remember that the purpose of literary analysis is to find a deeper truth within the text – subtext – that the author is trying to impart through the text. Your understanding of this theme should always be stated in the form of a full sentence, not a simple phrase, and be a comment about reality, not the text itself.  (For example, “War is theme of ‘The Things They Carried’” is a superficial argument. “In ‘The Things They Carried,’ the mindless repetition of actions in the field, and the boredom of soldiers resulting from it, creates a lack of vigilance that can be disastrous on a battlefront” is focused and meaningful.) Your analysis should demonstrate at least three ways in which the text conveys the theme.  It is, of course, possible for one text to include numerous themes—you need to focus on just one theme.  Use direct quotations and paraphrases as support for your argument, and follow MLA style for internal documentation.

For your first analysis paper, you should find at least two outside sources of peer-reviewed criticism, which will either support your argument or be refuted by it.  For your second paper, you need to use three such sources.  I recommend using our library databases, such as Literary Reference Center Plus or JSTOR, to find relevant articles.  Keep in mind that all of your sources must a) be identified with a proper MLA Work Citation in a Works Cited list and b) be relevant to the argument you are making—do not pull the first three random articles that appear in a search and mention them in your essay, even if they focus on a completely different topic of analysis.  DO NOT USE GOOGLE OR SAFARI (or Yahoo or Bing, if you’re a weirdo) TO FIND PEER-REVIEWED CRITICISM.  If you need help finding information, ask a reference librarian for assistance.  (If we are still having remote classes when this assignment is due, they are available for live chats through the library website.)




Unlike your Reading Response papers, literary analysis papers are formal essays.  Therefore, they must:

  • Be typed and printed in proper MLA format—12-point Times New Roman font, double-spaced, and single-sided. Your last name and a page number should be included as a header in the upper-right corner of each page (like this one).  It should be left-justified with 1” margins on all sides.  If you use direct quotations from the text, they should be in proper MLA format and introduced within a larger sentence and paragraph.  Quotations longer than three lines of text should be in “block” format. The essay must also be broken into paragraphs at appropriate junctures.
  • Include a Works Cited page at the end, which is not part of the assigned page count but is part of the file (it should have the name and page number in the corner like other pages). Insert a page break at the end of your conclusion and start the Works Cited at the top of the next page.
  • Be properly proofread for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and logical consistency. Although this is not a College Composition course, the purpose of those classes was to prepare you for doing this in all of your classes.  If you need assistance, first use the “Review” toolbar in Microsoft Word, and think about the changes suggested by the computer.  Then take your paper to the SLC and have one of the tutors there review it.  Don’t let the tutors change your thoughts; do allow them to help you express those thoughts in grammatically-correct and properly spelled English.
  • Be written exclusively in third-person point-of-view. DO NOT USE FIRST- OR SECOND-PERSON POINT-OF-VIEW.  This helps maintain the appearance of objectivity in your judgments. (First person POV includes the use of such useless phrases as “I believe,” “In my opinion,” and so forth.)
  • Avoid the use of obvious filler phrases and sentences, sometimes known as “deadwood.” These are broad, generic statements that often are unsupported (or unsupportable) and contribute nothing meaningful to your essay except filling the page—for instance, “Everyone has visited a supermarket like the A&P.”  Don’t be unnecessarily wordy, either—brevity and concision are important in writing.  If you can’t think of more to say that actually says something, you need to think some more.



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