Kristi Siegel, Ph. D.
English Department
Mount Mary College

Module Two - Literary Analysis
September 19 to October 17


Writing About Literature

Paper no. 2 is a literary analysis of one of the short stories or one or more of the poems you've been given in the literature "packet."  You may use secondary material if you find it helpful (be sure to credit sources), but it is not necessary.  Although there are many ways to approach and/or analyze literature, and you may already have your own ideas, here are some suggestions:

1. You can carefully select a speech or passage or detail that brings many elements of the work into focus.  The discussion can then move outward to illustrate the central importance of this passage.  The important emphasis here is to begin with the small significant detail and then develop more general thoughts.
2. Instead of the all too familiar summary theme that begins with the beginning, you can start with the end of the work and explain the outcome in terms of the earlier development.  In explaining why the work ends as it does, you often are led to explain the meaning of the whole thing.  By the way,
do not do a "summary" paper; that is a book report--not an analysis.

3. You can attempt to see the major characters from the point of view of one of the secondary characters. This provides a mean of selective analysis and demands an interpretation from a point of view other than the author's own.  This approach may
provide fresh insight because we usually tend to focus on major characters.

4. You can collect small clues and signs that set the tone and create an atmosphere for the whole work.  Here you can often be original because you may be sensitive to details that others do not see.

5. Consider comparing and/or contrasting a favorite author of yours with the author of the short story or the poems.  You could even take a popular writer from contemporary culture or use a contemporary movie or play as the basis for your comparison.  Remember, while
you may compare the work with a movie or a play, your dominant focus should be on the
literary text you're analyzing.  Have a point other than A is an apple and B is an apple, too.

6. "Continue" the short story according to your view of its projected ending.  Give quotes and examples from the story to support your imagined ending.  At least one-third of your paper should then be a critical discussion commenting on your results.

7. Write a poem using the style, themes and imagery of the poet.  Write your paper about how well your poem exemplified the poet's ideas and writing techniques.

8. You can examine a particular literary device as a way of discovering how the author creates her effects (e.g., plot, setting, style, character, language, etc.).

9. You can begin with an interpretation or critical evaluation written by someone else and then agree or disagree, support or refute, expand or offer an alternate interpretation.  This approach requires some outside reading.  It has its advantages and disadvantages. You can always learn from others but you want to make certain that you do not use outside criticism as a crutch or substitute for your own thinking.

10. You can begin with what interests you most about the work and then try to account for this reaction in terms of other things that have receded in your attention. How, finally, does everything fit together?

11. You can write your paper as if it were a book review (perhaps for the Arches), where you would pretend this work was recently published.  Here you would be judging the work and presenting your own critical opinion (basically, you're informing your audience whether the literary work is worth reading or not).

12. You can write your paper using a number of other fictional "premises" that we'll be discussing during our Saturday class session.

** As the analysis of poetry often deals with "language," here are some specific questions to consider regarding style and usage.

12. Are images and symbols natural or contrived?  Universal or occasional?  To what extend do they seem forcibly imposed on the material?  What is gained by images that hit on extremely unlikely comparisons?  In what way is the imagery an index to the writer's personality and mind?  In what way can the metaphors be paraphrased so that the full meaning emerges?

13. What are the consistent mental and emotional impressions that emerge from reading the work?  What areas of experience are drawn from?  Do these follow a pattern?

14. In what terms can the author's language be characterized?  Highly figurative or symbolic?  Abstract?  Colloquial?  What is the general appropriateness of the language to the theme of the work? 

15. What is the source of verbal humor?  What is its purpose?  Is it for contrast, diversion, satire?  If it is satiric, what is being mocked?

Link to Assignments/Schedule for Module Two

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