Analytical WritingWriting About Literature
Why bother?I think, therefore I am. (I guess some of you may not be)Why dissect a frog? To learn how and why things inside the frog work as they do. Why are there two arteries here instead of one?The written word gives us access to the countless experiences and ideas of those around us and those who came before us; it can deepen our understanding of the world and how we live.
If you dont learn how to write well, my rabbit, Foo-foo, will haunt your dreams forever
What does good analytical writing look like?Analysis does not equal description and summary (though these may be present in your writing)Goes beneath the surface, going beyond describing ideas to examining relationships between ideasYour own voice is present in the writing; dont just tell me what the author of the text has to say, your voice should come through and tell me how the text accomplishes what it does and why it matters!
Different Types of AnalysisThere are many ways to conduct analysis of text and many lenses through which we examine literary works.For our purposes, we will focus on FORMALISM. You will essentially stay within the text as the source of your topics and evidence in your analysis
MetacriticismEssentially, being critical of criticism. Often writers and thinkers debate the validity and value of using certain terms and guidelines for evaluating literature. Sometimes, artists can be quite satirical about the way criticism is taught (Billy Collins).Comes in waves and trends critical thought evolves to fit with the literary trends, philosophies, and styles of the era.
Introduction To PoetryI ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide or press an ear against its hive. I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe his way out, or walk inside the poem's room and feel the walls for a light switch. I want them to waterski across the surface of a poem waving at the author's name on the shore. But all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it. They begin beating it with a hose to find out what it really means. Billy Collins
Formalism/New CriticismFormalism attempts to treat each work as its own distinct piece, free from its environment, era, and even author. This point of view developed in reaction to "...forms of 'extrinsic' criticism that viewed the text as either the product of social and historical forces or a document making an ethical statement" Formalists assume that the keys to understanding a text exist within "the text itself"
Formalism/New CriticismHow does the work use imagery to develop its own symbols? (i.e. making a certain road stand for death by constant association)What is the quality of the work's organic unity "...the working together of all the parts to make an inseparable whole..."? In other words, does how the work is put together reflect what it is?How are the various parts of the work interconnected?How do paradox, irony, ambiguity, and tension work in the text?How do these parts and their collective whole contribute to or not contribute to the aesthetic quality of the work?How does the author resolve apparent contradictions within the work?What does the form of the work say about its content?Is there a central or focal passage that can be said to sum up the entirety of the work?How do the rhythms and/or rhyme schemes of a poem contribute to the meaning or effect of the piece?
Formalism/New CriticismIts central tenant is that the text of the writers work should be the focus of any inquiry or criticism regarding the work. Formalists believe that literature, including poetry, should not be interpreted based on ideology, historical interests, or psychological principles. Literary art is the total effect of literary devices and strategies the writer uses to achieve her aims.
Formalism/New CriticismOne key feature that formalists identify as distinguishing literature from other endeavors is its use of defamiliarization. This term refers to the way in which literature uses language in new, unfamiliar, and even strange ways. The writer is in control of a universe of her own making. She can explain the world in a whole new light through her choice of language and story construction. What the writersayscannot be separated fromhowshe says it.
Formalism/New CriticismFormalists believed that literature has its own distinct history and innovations. It is left to the writers to find new approaches to defamiliarization. relationships between concepts are dependent on the culture and language in which the concepts are created. These relationships can be discovered and studied. believe that literature must be studied on its own terms. It cannot be evaluated in terms of cultural and historical externalities. The focus of study should be the literary strategies and craft of the writer. Requires an understanding or literary jargon and how various literary/rhetorical devices are employed intentionally and carefully for a desired effect.
Good Literary AnalysisAn argumentWhen you write an extended literary essay, you are essentially making an argument. You are arguing that your perspective-an interpretation, an evaluative judgment, or a critical evaluation-is a valid one.A debatable thesis statementYou must have a specific, detailed thesis statement that reveals your perspective, and, like any good argument, your perspective must be one which is debatable.
Thesis StatementStep 1: What is your topic/subject?Step 2: What is your position/evaluation/criticism/idea about the topic?Step 3: Answer WHY? or HOW? Or SO WHAT? about your idea(s) about the topic
Bad ExampleShakespeare'sHamletis a play about a young man who seeks revenge.DuhThat doesn'tsayanything-it's basically just a summary and is hardly debatable.I call this reportingFoo-foo doesnt like reporting
Better ExampleHamlet experiences internal conflict because he is in love with his mother.That is debatable, controversial even. The rest of a paper with this argument as its thesis will be an attempt to show, using specific examples from the text and evidence from scholars, (1)howHamlet is in love with his mother, (2)why he's in love with her, and (3)whatimplications there are for reading the play in this manner.Adding a how, why, or so what to the thesis itself may also strengthen it. Beware a thesis that is too long and wordy can compromise its clarity and power.
Another Bad ExampleSpirituality means different things to different people.King Lear,The Book of Romans, andZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenanceeach view the spirit differently.
Better ExampleKing Lear,The Book of Romans, andZenand the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance each view the soul as the center of human personality. In comparative analysis, the specifics of why, how, or so what might need to be addressed elsewhere in your writing because you may not be able to make strong generalizations that are true for each work discussed.
EvidenceIn FORMALISM, you must prove your thesis using evidence.You evidence should be direct quotations from the text.I dont care how the text makes you feel or how the barn on page 45 is like the barn at your aunts house. Evidence requires three things: context, the quote itself, and analysis.
ContextBriefly explain the circumstances/conditions around the quotation.What is going on in the plot? Who is speaking and to whom?What information outside of the quotation will be necessary for your reader to understand its significance?
ContextAtticus attempts to comfort Scout after her difficult first day of school:
Dill recounts his story about the railroad in Mississippi:
Ms. Maudie often invites the ladies over for tea. At these meetings they would discuss the importance of reputation:
The QuoteIt should only be one or two sentences No quote bombs to fill spaceQuotes longer than 4 lines in block formatCite correctly per MLA, using the authors last name and page number (Moulison 34).Periods go after the citationUse ellipsis () to shorten quotationsIt is ok to quote a word or phrase rather than an entire passage
AnalysisThe most important part!How exactly does this quotation support your thesis and/or further your ideas?Directly interject your own voice, and make the connection for your reader.Use some polysyllabic words, and vary your sentence structure so you sound like less of a moron.
AnalysisLees use of the words _____________ and __________ signify a negative association with ____________.
Atticus tells Scout and Jem ___________ because _______________. This recurring motif suggests that _____________.
The Last SlideIntroductions and conclusions are hard.Do not begin with a random quote Foo-foo will break you.Your conclusion and introduction should be similar or parallel, but not rephrased copies.Your conclusion should elaborate on the implications of your thesis being correct and tie up any loose ends not fully resolved in the body of your essay.FIN