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II. Strategies for conducting literary text analysis and writing an essay

  1. Plan your literary analysis essay. Your outline can help you organize your thoughts, but keep yourself open to new ideas and interpretations that occur to you as you draft. To start your draft, you might begin with a thesis statement.

  2. Organize your draft. Keep in mind the following points for making your analysis effective:

  • In the introduction to your literary analysis, identify the title and author of the work you are analyzing, and briefly state your main point.

  • Provide enough of a summary of the work, so that your essay can be clear to those unfamiliar with the work. Avoid giving a detailed plot summary.

  • Cover all the points suggested in this Guide (genre, social and cultural context, thematic structure, the author’s tone and intent, composition, view-point, type of narration, methods of characterisation, setting, language and style, imagery, etc).

  • Use quotations from the text to show that your statements are valid. Explain how the quotations support your ideas about the text. Avoid long quotations. Remember to place quotation marks at the beginning and end of the passages quoted. Place the page reference in parentheses after the quotation.

  • Don’t misrepresent your understanding of a literary work for the sake of convenient interpretation. In case the work of literature reflects two opposing value systems or suggests two contradictory views of human nature, let your interpretation reflect such complexities.

  1. Reread and reflect. Review your writing.

    1. Standards for essay evaluation An effective literary analysis…

  • is written in the present tense;

  • has a well-defined purpose;

  • provides precise definitions of the terms used;

  • identifies clearly the title and author of the literary text;

  • uses author’s background to substantiate interpretation;

  • provides a short summary of the important plot events (the whole story should not be told or irrelevant details repeated);

  • gives a clear presentation of the theses (states the central problem of the text and establishes the author’s approach), consisted and coherent argumentation;

  • ties the background information to the problem;

  • clarifies the meaning of the text and reveals how the text operates;

  • provides textual evidence for interpretation in advances and shows how the evidence supports the interpretation;

  • cites supporting quotations;

  • provides symbolic interpretation;

  • concludes by tying the ideas in the essay together;

  • takes into account any plausible alternative interpretations and any contradictory evidence;

  • gives the precise bibliography.

    1. Theoretical approaches to literary texts

Modern literary theory has taken up many ideas from philosophy, psychology, sociology, linguistics, and cultural theory. It uses a number of general methods as well as special ones characteristic of a particular school / trend (neocritical method of close reading) or suggested by one school and then incorporated by the others (method of intertextual analysis).

The approaches to studying literature can be grouped in the following way:

  • author-oriented (biographical, psychoanalytic, hermeneutic, cognitive) that consider the history of the literary work creation, the author’s biography, his/her conscious intention, and the unconscious;

  • context-oriented (typological, cultural and historical approach, sociological approach, mythological criticism, Marxism, cultural materialism, New Historicism, Reconstructing Historicism, feminism, post-colonial studies, ecocriticism) that consider the interrelation of the text and the context (the system of cultural practices);

  • text-oriented (New Criticism, formalism, structuralism, semiotics) that ignore extra-textual influences and focus on inter-textual processes;

  • reader-oriented (reader response theory) that consider a work of literature as the result of the text-reader contact.

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