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Literature Essays Analysis

INITIAL POST (due 9/4):

Focus on the setting in “A Worn Path.” What obstacles does Phoenix Jackson encounter?

How do these obstacles accentuate specific qualities of Phoenix? Discuss specific passages in the story to develop your response.

Use at least one concept from Ch. 3 (Literature textbook) or the notes on characters in the module (look at the terms in bold and italics) in your response to this question. Underline the term/concept in your response.

How does the setting in “A Family Supper” develop the story and add to the tension?

Discuss specific passages in the story to develop your response. Use at least one concept from Ch. 4 or the notes on setting in the module (look at the terms in bold and italics) in your response to this question. Underline the term/concept in your response.

What point of view is used in “A Rose for Emily”?

How is this important to the story’s themes? Use Ch. 2 or the notes on point of view in the module.

Length: One page (about 250 words) total (not for each question)
Worth: 7 points

Respond in a structured, focused response. This isn’t a free-write in which you just jot down thoughts.

Write clear, grammatical sentences, in coherent paragraphs, and use an appropriate tone. Your response should show that you are familiar with the texts.

Do not offer a long summary or background information unless it is related to the question.

RESPONSE POST (due 9/5):

Respond to at least one classmate’s post with a thoughtful comment.

You are not limited to praise or agreement. If something needs to be pointed out, do it in a polite but clear way.

Avoid irrelevant comments; focus on the texts and the classmate’s ideas. Avoid vague comments like “I agree” or “Good work.”

Note: Avoid posting blank or “test” posts. If you are unclear about the instructions or having trouble, contact me before posting.

Length: ~ 35 words
Worth: 3 points

Literature essays are analysis essays, which basically means you are breaking down a work of literature and showing how the parts come together to form the whole.

Whole: “Whole” here doesn’t just mean the whole poem or the whole story. The whole is the work as you see/interpret it. For example, you might see “A Rose for Emily” as a story in which the protagonist’s fragmented life is symbolic of the fragmented view much of the U.S. had of the South.

This, then, is the whole. The whole is not the poem or story as a text; the whole is the poem or story as a meaningful work of literature.

Parts: The significant parts of the text are those that make up the whole. For example, if the setting in “A Rose for Emily” brings out this idea that Emily’s life is symbolic, then the setting is a significant part of the whole.


The introduction of a literature essay is similar to the introduction of college essays in general.

The introduction does three things:

The lead-in is an intriguing statement that introduces the topic of the paper.

The background info/context section usually summarizes the text and/or focuses on the relevant aspects of the text. This sets up the thesis.

The thesis expresses an argument about the text.


Avoid generalizations and truisms as lead-ins: “Life can often present challenges,” etc.

Avoid praising the author or work.

Avoid unrelated background information about the author or work. If it’s not what your essay will focus on, it’s unrelated.

Your summary shouldn’t be comprehensive. It should focus on the facts that your argument and analysis are concerned with.

Your summary should be short, about a sentence or two.


The thesis, usually at the end of the introduction, presents the central claim of the essay.

Your thesis must be argumentative. It must present an interpretation/analysis of the work as a whole that goes beyond just the events and situations of the story.

Being argumentative also means that your interpretation should be complex. Works of literature are complex and present complex ideas; thus, your argument about the literature should also be complex.


Avoid simplistic interpretations. “‘A Rose for Emily’ is about struggling with change” is too simplistic. Who struggles? Why do they struggle? Why do others not struggle?

Considering these kinds of questions while brainstorming will help you make a simplistic tentative thesis like this more complex and arguable.

Avoid simply identifying themes in a work of literature: “An important theme in Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 130’ is physical beauty.”

Themes are like topics; they’re related to the larger idea, but they’re not the larger idea. Focus on larger, more complex ideas in the literature.

Avoid listing main ideas in your thesis. Your thesis should be comprehensive. Word your argument so that it covers (encompasses) all of your main ideas without stating them directly.

Thesis cont.

Thesis statements about literature usually argue that a work or author achieves/does something. This achievement is done by the work as a whole, through one or more of its major elements (characters, setting, symbolism, imagery, etc.).

Here’s a template for such thesis statements and an example:

(The work) (verb) ________ through/by/with (major element/s)

Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” uses the setting of the South and the point of view of the town as narrator to suggest the limitations of a fragmented view of the South and its traditions.

An argument about a work of literature might also be about one or more major characters in the work, or about another major element(s) of the work and its significance to the work as a whole.


These are some examples of problematic thesis statements, followed by stronger thesis statements about the same text.

“Cathedral” features a character with a physical handicap.

This thesis is problematic not because it’s short, but because it only states a fact about the story. There is no argument.

Source: The Norton Introduction to Literature


By depicting an able-bodied protagonist who discovers his own emotional and spiritual shortcomings through an encounter with a physically handicapped person, “Cathedral” invites us to question traditional definitions of “disability.”

This thesis is stronger because it presents an arguable interpretation of the story. It also indicates that the essay will focus on analyzing the main character (protagonist) and key events of the plot.

It doesn’t simply identify a theme. It argues that a complex idea is presented in the story.

Notice that it also fits the template: By _____, (work) (verb) ______.


“London” has three stanzas that each end with a period; two-thirds of the lines are end-stopped.

This thesis also is problematic because it only states facts. It describes the form of Blake’s poem, “London.”

The form of a poem can be a significant element to analyze, but here it’s unclear how the form is significant.

This “thesis” sounds more like something one would write down while brainstorming.

One would then consider how this form is significant, how it relates to other elements of the poem (imagery, for example), and how it relates to the themes of the poem.


In “London,” William Blake uses various formal devices to suggest the unnatural rigidity of modern urban life.

In this stronger thesis, the writer presents an arguable interpretation of the poem.

The interpretation is that the poem suggests modern urban life is unnaturally rigid.

The poem does this, according to this interpretation, through its formal devices, such as its rhyme scheme.

This paper’s analysis, then, would look at each part (in this case, the formal devices) and show how it makes up the whole.

Analysis, not Evaluation

A literature essay analyzes a work; it does not review/evaluate it.

What’s the difference?

An analysis identifies what ideas are presented in the text. It focuses on how the text works as a whole.

A review evaluates the work and makes claims about how “good” it is.

In a literature essay, you also want to avoid personal commentary on the ideas presented in the text.


The body of your essay is where you develop the main ideas related to the thesis.

Main idea sections/paragraphs should present ideas. There should be a clear point. Avoid simply summarizing.

A paragraph mustn’t merely present information; it must make a point.

Use a topic sentence to express the main idea.

Use transitions to show how paragraphs are related to each other and to the central argument of the essay.


Support in a literature essay comes, fundamentally, from the literature itself.

Quotations are crucial in a literature essay. Because they require interpretation and commentary, they generate the focused passages needed in the body of your essay.

There should be close analysis of specific passages throughout the body of your essay.

Avoid unnecessary quotation. Especially avoid quoting information you’ve already paraphrased.

Quote only what is relevant/significant.

Comment on quotes. Analyze them and show how they are relevant/significant.


In a literature essay, an overview of the text is called a plot summary.

Plot summaries are useful in your introductory paragraph, but they should be focused to serve the purpose of your essay.

Paraphrasing is restating a passage in your own words.

Paraphrase when the information is important but the words themselves are not. Provide citations for paraphrases.

A description of the work’s form, structure, or style is used as support when these features are the focus of your analysis.


Your essay can close in a number of different ways, but it should not merely repeat the main ideas.

Try one or more of the following techniques for your conclusion:

Briefly discuss the implications of your argument. What new discussions have you begun? What areas are open for further inquiry?

If you began with a defining quote from the text, return to that quote and comment on it further.

The conclusion is where you can offer brief commentary on the ideas/themes presented in the text. How are the ideas relevant today? What does the work add to our understanding of the issue?

Last Updated on September 2, 2022

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