In general, writing about literature isn’t that much different from writing about anything else.
kinds of expository writing, you need to state a clearly defined thesis (the main point or argument that you are
going to prove throughout the course of your paper) and then support it with specific evidence and examples.
Now, obviously, this sounds a lot easier than it is.
You’ll, of course, be graded on how interesting and perceptive
your thesis is and how thoroughly you support and develop your argument.
1. Analyze, Analyze, Analyze
The most important thing to remember about literary writing is that it is analytical
Your job is to look
extremely carefully at literary texts in order to figure out how they work.
And, depending on the assignment, you
may be asked to explore one or more of the following questions: how do the form and the content of the text
relate to one another? how is the text informed by the social and/or political conditions of its time? how does the
author draw upon experiences from his or her own life in this text?
what does it reveal about attitudes toward
gender or race or social class? how does one text draw upon and transform the ideas or imagery of another text?
If you are to succeed at any of these assignments, you need to find ways to make your argument as
convincing as possible.
And that really is how you should think about this kind of writing--you are trying to
prove to your reader that your interpretation of the text is a valid one.
True, there are many possible readings of
most literary texts, but you still need to convince your reader that your interpretation works.
Just saying that a
text happens to strike you a certain way isn’t enough; you need to figure
it struck you that way and construct
an argument to validate your reaction.
How you go about doing this will vary depending upon what kind of analysis you’re doing.
will require you to consult what other literary critics have come up with, some will require you to research social
or historical conditions; nearly all assignments, though, will ask you to look closely at one or more literary texts
and to use evidence from those texts to support your thesis.
2. Avoiding Two Common Mistakes
2a. Do Not
Just Summarize the Plot!
When you’re writing an analysis of a story, play, novel, or narrative poem, you can assume that your
reader has read the text you’re discussing.
Therefore, you don’t
need to summarize the entire story line; retelling
it all over again is just going to bore your reader and bring in a lot of material that’s completely irrelevant to your
Instead, what you need to do is focus in on those episodes or incidents that relate to your topic,
summarize those episodes, and, then, in as much detail as possible, analyze
what it is about them that relates to
2b. Don’t Be Too Abstract