Each essay you write should focus on a specific text we have examined in class—with emphasis on a short passage or precisely defined feature or element of that text. A literary analysis is NOT…

  • a broad discussion of a text and its background, purpose, or influence
  • a summary of its plot or content
  • a reflective statement of your own emotional response to the text

Instead, a literary analysis is a tightly focused and methodical examination of some key element in a text—a powerful image, a puzzling symbol, an intriguing character, a structural oddity, etc.Furthermore, your discussion of that key element should aim to support a narrow, argumentative statement about the text.How does your examination of that key element help us to better understand the text’s theme, development, aesthetic merit, or significance for a given culture, place, or time?

For example, a literary analysis of The Epic of Gilgamesh might focus upon a single image, or pattern of images—say, the use of animal images—to underscore some part of the epic’s overall message.Surely, Gilgamesh contains many other formal elements as well, but your analysis would ignore those other elements, or mention them only when they relate to your particular thesis (the main point you want to make about the epic’s use of animal imagery).

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Sources:For literary analysis, you needn’t use any outsides sources other than the literary text you are analyzing.But if you do decide to include some ideas borrowed from scholarly sources – including those you discuss in your Literary Research Blog entries – be sure to cite all instances of borrowed material (words and/or ideas) and to document all sources from your which you borrow in a Works Cited list, using proper MLA guidelines. See the resources in our Blackboard site under the .Handouts. button for help on quoting, citing, and documenting literary and scholarly texts. Also, do not quote heavily from your sources; instead, use them sparingly but effectively to support your own ideas.

Length & Style: Each essay you write should be approximately 1,000 words in length (but no more than three pages, double-spaced) and should be aimed at a college-level academic audience. Your style, therefore, should be neither too formal nor too casual. Aim for a smooth, natural flow, but avoid contractions (can’t, wouldn’t, isn’t), first- and second-person pronoun references (I, me, you, your), and familiar expressions like come to find out, now back to my topic, and long story short. At the same time, do not aim for lofty diction or artful, “impressive” sentence structures. Keep your sentences clear and correct in accordance with the rules of standard, English grammar and punctuation.Finally, treat your audience and your topic with seriousness and respect.

Writing Tips: The following tips will help you to write effective literary analysis essays.

  • Choose a literary text you like, but one that you find a bit puzzling or intriguing.A suitable choice is not necessarily some text you feel you understand fully, or a short one, or one that seems easy to figure out.Such a text may leave you struggling to reach a 600-word minimum after you have quickly stated all you understand about it in two or three paragraphs.Instead, go with a text that offers you some promise of discoveries deeper than those you may have made during your first encounter with it.Be brave.
  • Have a clear and narrow (sharply focused) main idea.Your main point may be a response to ideas you have discovered in one or more of your scholarly sources, but don’t allow those third-party sources to dominate your essay.Remember: this is your analysis and interpretation of the literature; let your ideas and arguments direct the discussion.
  • Convey your main idea or purpose clearly in a thesis statement early in your essay.Your thesis statement need not be your first sentence, or even the last sentence of the first paragraph; but ideally, it should come early in the essay to orient your readers and help them follow the body of your discussion.
  • Support your points with evidence from the literary text and/or your scholarly sources, using direct quotations only when the exact language of the source is necessary to bolster your points.When you do quote a source, do so sparingly, using only as much text as you need in order to support your point. Where possible, rely more upon summary and paraphrase to set up your points and explain key scenes or passages of the text.
  • Document the text you analyze, and all additional sources from which you borrow words or ideas, in a Works Cited list (using MLA guidelines) at the end of your essay.Cite page or line numbers for any passages you quote, paraphrase, or summarize. See the resources in our Blackboard site under the .Handouts. button for help on quoting, citing, and documenting literary and scholarly texts.
  • Contact Mr. Rockson for help if you have any difficulty with this assignment.

Formatting Your Work:

  • Type your essay in a word processing application like Microsoft Word
  • Use Times New Roman font and 12-point characters (as in this handout)
  • Double-space the entire document (including the heading, title line, and Works Cited list)
  • Set the margins to 1-inch on all four sides (top, bottom, left, and right)
  • Provide a two-line heading at the very top of the page, flush to the left-hand margin
  • Identify your essay as Short Argument Essay 1 in the second line of your heading
  • Provide an original title, centered, on the line immediately below your two-line heading
  • Don’t use the title of this assignment instruction sheet as the title of your essay
  • Your document’s first page should conform to the model on the following page.

Your name

Literary Analysis Essay 1

Original Title

Begin your assignment text here, immediately below the title.Don’t skip lines between the assignment name and the title, between the title and the first line of text, or between paragraphs within the text.Don’t skip lines anywhere.

Indent the first line of each new paragraph ½ an inch from the left margin using the Tab key (not the spacer bar).Use the automatic centering feature of your word processor to center your title; don’t use tabs or the spacer bar for that purpose.


“Modernity and Modernism, 1900 – 1945” background essay, Norton 885 – 94

“Luigi Pirandello” background essay, Norton 1039 – 41

Six Characters in Search of an Author, Norton 1042 – 1082

“Virginia Woolf” background essay, Norton 1082 – 5

From A Room of One’s Own, Norton 1085 – 1117

“William Butler Yeats” background essay, Norton 1132 – 5

Poems by Yeats, Norton 1135 – 42

“T. S. Eliot” background essay, Norton 1147 – 50

“The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Norton 1150 – 3

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