Essay Two: Literary Analysis
1. Choose any short story or poem in your textbook or online anthology that
will not be covered in class. You may choose one outside the book, but it’s
recommended that you get instructor approval to ensure that you know how
to cite it.
2. After having carefully read the work, determine an argument that the work
presents. Use the Chapter 6 or 7 as well as the Literary Analysis Thesis
handout you’ve been provided to help you formulate your argument.
Examine what evidence in the story supports that argument. Ordinarily, such
arguments are not explicitly stated in the text.
3. Write a 750- to 1000-word essay in which you present the argument you
have determined and discuss what evidence and literary devices the author
employs to support that argument. Provide textual evidence for each
example, which can be quoted or paraphrased. Use quotes sparingly. Should
you use quotes, make sure that you provide a thorough analysis for each.
4. Format your essay to conform to the MLA Handbook, Eighth Edition. All
examples you provide from the text must include properly formatted in-text
or parenthetical citations in order to meet minimum standards. Use the
Parenthetical Documentation handout to help. Never just guess.
5. Include a correctly formatted Works Cited page. Entries must have hanging
indents. For this essay, you need only cite the story you are analyzing. An
Essay submitted without a Works Cited page will receive a grade of F.
6. Seek instructor, librarian, or Center for Reading and Writing assistance if
you are not 100% certain that you are citing correctly.
7. Proofread your work for grammar, usage, spelling, and clarity before
8. Essay standards for the course are outlined in the syllabus.
9. Refer to the rubric for grading standards.
10.Bring two copies of your first draft to class for peer review on
______________________________. You MUST BE PRESENT with a
completed draft to receive credit for the peer review. Peer reviews
CANNOT be made up.
11.Submit your final draft into the designated D2L Dropbox by 11:59 PM on
LITERARY ANALYSIS THESIS
A thesis in a literary analysis or literary research paper can take many forms. When given an assignment to
analyze a work of fiction, poetry, or drama, you must first determine the requirements of the assignment. Make
sure that you understand the nature of the assignment and that you follow the instructions of your professor.
Useful Information: Literature is classified in categories, or genres, which have sub-classifications
or forms of their own. Being familiar with the characteristics of the genre in which the work is
classified will provide context for your analysis of that work. In the list below, which is not
exhaustive, are common forms of literature with the genres they represent.
Fiction: myths, parables, short stories, novels (picaresque, romance, historical, gothic,
science fiction, mystery, modernist)
Poetry: sonnets, ballads, epics, limericks, elegies, free verse, odes, lyrics, tercets, villanelles
Drama: tragedies, comedies, theatre of the absurd
Nonfiction (sometimes called creative nonfiction): slave narratives, personal essays,
memoirs, biographies, travel writing
Once you decide what work you will analyze, you will begin the analysis of the work and do any research
required. As you think about your topic, be sure to construct a thesis that will guide your analysis as well as
serve to focus and organize your essay. A good thesis is specific, limited in scope and offers a perspective or
interpretation on a subject. A literary thesis should be clear and focused, setting up an argument that the essay
will support with discussion and details from the work.
SAMPLE THESIS STATEMENTS
These sample thesis statements are provided as guides, not as required forms or prescriptions.
The thesis may focus on an analysis of one of the elements of fiction, drama, poetry or
nonfiction as expressed in the work: character, plot, structure, idea, theme, symbol, style,
imagery, tone, etc.
In “A Worn Path,” Eudora Welty creates a fictional character in Phoenix Jackson whose
determination, faith, and cunning illustrate the indomitable human spirit.
Note that the work, author, and character to be analyzed are identified in this thesis statement. The
thesis relies on a strong verb (creates). It also identifies the element of fiction that the writer will
explore (character) and the characteristics the writer will analyze and discuss (determination, faith,
The character of the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet serves as a foil to young Juliet, delights us with her
warmth and earthy wit, and helps realize the tragic catastrophe.
The works of ecstatic love poets Rumi, Hafiz, and Kabir use symbols such as a lover’s longing and the
Tavern of Ruin to illustrate the human soul’s desire to connect with God.
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The thesis may focus on illustrating how a work reflects the particular genre’s forms, the
characteristics of a philosophy of literature, or the ideas of a particular school of thought.
“The Third and Final Continent” exhibits characteristics recurrent in writings by immigrants:
tradition, adaptation, and identity.
Note how the thesis statement classifies the form of the work (writings by immigrants) and
identifies the characteristics of that form of writing (tradition, adaptation, and identity) that the
essay will discuss.
Samuel Beckett’s Endgame reflects characteristics of Theatre of the Absurd in its minimalist stage
setting, its seemingly meaningless dialogue, and its apocalyptic or nihilist vision.
A close look at many details in “The Story of an Hour” reveals how language, institutions, and
expected demeanor suppress the natural desires and aspirations of women.
The thesis may draw parallels between some element in the work and real-life situations or
subject matter: historical events, the author’s life, medical diagnoses, etc.
In Willa Cather’s short story, “Paul’s Case,” Paul exhibits suicidal behavior that a caring adult
might have recognized and remedied had that adult had the scientific knowledge we have
This thesis suggests that the essay will identify characteristics of suicide that Paul exhibits in the
story. The writer will have to research medical and psychology texts to determine the typical
characteristics of suicidal behavior and to illustrate how Paul’s behavior mirrors those
Through the experience of one man, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American
Slave, accurately depicts the historical record of slave life in its descriptions of the often brutal and
quixotic relationship between master and slave and of the fragmentation of slave families.
In “I Stand Here Ironing,” one can draw parallels between the narrator’s situation and the author’s life
experiences as a mother, writer, and feminist.
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SAMPLE PATTERNS FOR THESES ON LITERARY WORKS
In (title of work), (author) (illustrates, shows) (aspect) (adjective).
Example: In “Barn Burning,” William Faulkner shows the characters Sardie and Abner
Snopes struggling for their identity.
In (title of work), (author) uses (one aspect) to (define, strengthen, illustrate) the (element
In “Youth,” Joseph Conrad uses foreshadowing to strengthen the plot.
In (title of work), (author) uses (an important part of work) as a unifying device for (one
element), (another element), and (another element). NOTE: The number of elements can
vary from one to four.
Example: In “Youth,” Joseph Conrad uses the sea as a unifying device for setting,
structure and theme.
(Author) develops the character of (character’s name) in (literary work) through what
he/she does, what he/she says, what other people say to or about him/her.
Langston Hughes develops the character of Semple in “Ways and Means”…
In (title of work), (author) uses (literary device) to (accomplish, develop, illustrate,
strengthen) (element of work).
Example: In “The Masque of the Red Death,” Poe uses the symbolism of the stranger,
the clock, and the seventh room to develop the theme of death.
(Author) (shows, develops, illustrates) the theme of __________ in the (play, poem,
Example: Flannery O’Connor illustrates the theme of the effect of the selfishness of
the grandmother upon the family in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
(Author) develops his character(s) in (title of work) through his/her use of language.
Example: John Updike develops his characters in “A & P” through his use of
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Refer to your literary textbook. The first chapter often includes information on writing essays on literary
topics, and later chapters discuss elements of literature.
Use supplemental resources available in the LTC. Consider the following:
McKeague, Pat. Writing about Literature: Step by Step. 8th ed. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt
Publishing Co. 2005.
Roberts, Edgar V. Ed. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 4th Compact Ed.
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2008.
Refer to this very reputable online resource: The OWL (Online Writing Lab) at Purdue:
“Writing in Literature: An Overview”: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/713/01/
This overview page includes links to pages that discuss how to write a thesis, how to read a
poem, how to read a novel or short story, and how to read a play, among other topics.
Ask an LTC tutor to review drafts of your thesis statement for strength and coherence.
FINAL NOTE: Conventions for Writing a Literary Analysis Essay or Research Paper
Ensure that your essay…
makes an argument or claim or illustrates an engaging perspective on the work
includes a thesis which lists the key points the essay will discuss
provides evidence to support your claim
refers to the author(s) and the work(s) in the opening sentences. Use the author’s full name the
first time and the author’s last name in all further references in the essay.
uses literary present tense to discuss events in the fiction, poetry, or drama.
For information on this convention, see: http://humanities.ucsd.edu/writing/workshop/present.htm
uses strong verbs in the thesis statement and throughout the essay: demonstrates, uses, develops,
underscores, accomplishes, strengthens, illustrates, shows, reveals, serves, emphasizes, identifies,
suggests, implies, etc.
uses formal rather than informal language
For more information on levels of formality, visit our website:
does more than simply summarize the work
For more information on literary analysis, visit our website:
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How to Read a Short Story
√ Look at the story’s title. What might this story be about?
√ Use and develop your background knowledge about this subject. If the title is “The Lesson,”
(by Toni Cade Bambara) ask yourself what kind of lessons there are, what lessons you have
learned, and so on.
√ Establish a purpose for reading this story. “Because my teacher told me to” is one obvious
purpose, but not a very useful one. Try to come up with your own question, one based
perhaps on the title or an idea your teacher recently discussed in class. How about, “Why do
we always have to learn the hard way?” if the story is titled “The Lesson”? Of course, you
should also be sure you know what your teacher expects you to do and learn from this story;
this will help you determine what is important while you read the story.
√ Orient yourself. Flip through the story to see how long it is. Take a look at the opening
sentences of different paragraphs, and skim through the opening paragraph; this will give
you a sense of where the story is set, how difficult the language is, and how long you should
need to read the story.
Terms to Know
√ Identify the main characters. By “main” I mean those characters that make the story happen
or to whom important things happen. Get to know what they are like by asking such ques• theme(s)
tions as “What does this character want more than anything else––and why?”
√ Identify the plot or the situation. The plot is what happens: The sniper from one army tries to
shoot the sniper from the other army (“The Sniper”). Some writers prefer to put their
characters in a situation: a famous hunter is abandoned on an uncharted island where, it
turns out, he will now be hunted (“The Most Dangerous Game”).
√ Pay attention to the setting. Setting refers not only to where the story takes place, but when it happens. It also includes
details like tone and mood. What does the story sound like: a sad violin playing all by itself or a whole band charging
down the road? Does the story have a lonely feeling––or a scary feeling, as if any minute something will happen?
√ Consider the story’s point of view. Think about why the author chose the tell the story through this person’s point of view
instead of a different character; why in the past instead of the present; in the first instead of the third person.
√ Pay attention to the author’s use of time. Some short story writers will make ten years pass by simply beginning the next
paragraph, “Ten years later....” Look for any words that signal time passed. Sometimes writers will also use extra space
between paragraphs to signal the passing of time.
√ Find the crucial moment. Every short story has some conflict, some tension or element of suspense in it. Eventually
something has to give. This is the moment when the character or the story suddenly changes direction. A character, for
example, feels or acts differently than before.
√ Remember why you are reading this story. Go back to the question you asked when you began reading this story. Doublecheck your teacher’s assignment, too. These will help you to read more closely and better evaluate which details are
important when you read. You might also find your original purpose is no longer a good one; what is the question you are
now trying to answer as you read the story?
√ Read first to understand...then to analyze. When you finish the story, check to be sure you understand what happened. Ask:
WHO did WHAT to WHOM? If you can answer these questions correctly, move on to the next level: WHY? Why, for
example, did the character in the story lie?
√ Return to the title. Go back to the title and think about how it relates to the story now that you have read it. What does the
title refer to? Does the title have more than one possible meaning?
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
The Boarded Window
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) was an American writer, journalist, critic, and satirist. He is best
known for his short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (1890), collected in his Tales of
Soldiers and Civilians (1891), and The Devil’s Dictionary (1906), a satiric and cynical book of
definitions. For example, he defined Presidency as “The greased pig in the field game of
American politics.” Bierce disappeared in Mexico in 1914 while covering the Mexican
Revolution. “The Boarded Window: An Incident in the life of an Ohio Pioneer,” was published
in The San Francisco Examiner in 1891 and collected in Tales of Soldiers and Civilians in the
same year. National Public Radio broadcast an adaptation of “The Boarded Window” on Radio
Tales in 2001.
In 1830, only a few miles away from what is now the great city of Cincinnati, lay an
immense and almost unbroken forest. The whole region was sparsely settled by people of the
frontier—restless souls who no sooner had hewn fairly habitable homes out of the wilderness and
attained to that degree of prosperity which today we should call indigence, then, impelled by
some mysterious impulse of their nature, they abandoned all and pushed farther westward, to
encounter new perils and privations in the effort to regain the meager comforts which they had
voluntarily renounced. Many of them had already forsaken that region for the remoter
settlements, but among those remaining was one who had been of those first arriving. He lived
alone in a house of logs surrounded on all sides by the great forest, of whose gloom and silence
he seemed a part, for no one had ever known him to smile nor speak a needless word. His simple
wants were supplied by the sale or barter of skins of wild animals in the river town, for not a
thing did he grow upon the land which, if needful, he might have claimed by right of undisturbed
possession. There were evidences of “improvement”—a few acres of ground immediately about
the house had once been cleared of its trees, the decayed stumps of which were half concealed by
the new growth that had been suffered to repair the ravage wrought by the ax. Apparently the
man's zeal for agriculture had burned with a failing flame, expiring in penitential ashes.
The little log house, with its chimney of sticks, its roof of warping clapboards weighted
with traversing poles and its “chinking” of clay, had a single door and, directly opposite, a
window. The latter, however, was boarded up—nobody could remember a time when it was not.
And none knew why it was so closed; certainly not because of the occupant's dislike of light and
air, for on those rare occasions when a hunter had passed that lonely spot the recluse had
commonly been seen sunning himself on his doorstep if heaven had provided sunshine for his
need. I fancy there are few persons living today who ever knew the secret of that window, but I
am one, as you shall see.
The man's name was said to be Murlock. He was apparently seventy years old, actually
about fifty. Something besides years had had a hand in his aging. His hair and long, full beard
were white, his gray, lusterless eyes sunken, his face singularly seamed with wrinkles which
appeared to belong to two intersecting systems. In figure he was tall and spare, with a stoop of
the shoulders—a burden bearer. I never saw him; these particulars I learned from my
grandfather, from whom also I got the man's story when I was a lad. He had known him when
living nearby in that early day.
One day Murlock was found in his cabin, dead. It was not a time and place for coroners and
newspapers, and I suppose it was agreed that he had died from natural causes or I should have
been told, and should remember. I know only that with what was probably a sense of the fitness
of things the body was buried near the cabin, alongside the grave of his wife, who had preceded
him by so many years that local tradition had retained hardly a hint of her existence. That closes
the final chapter of this true story—excepting, indeed, the circumstance that many years
afterward, in company with an equally intrepid spirit, I penetrated to the place and ventured near
enough to the ruined cabin to throw a stone against it, and ran away to avoid the ghost which
every well-informed boy thereabout knew haunted the spot. But there is an earlier chapter—that
supplied by my grandfather.
When Murlock built his cabin and began laying sturdily about with his ax to hew out a
farm—the rifle, meanwhile, his means of support—he was young, strong and full of hope. In that
eastern country whence he came he had married, as was the fashion, a you ...
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