Writing about literature typically involves analyzing a literary work, whether it is a novel, short story, poem, or drama (plays). There are many ways to analyze a literary work, but the most common ways are
The GALILEO databases offer literary criticism, which can be very useful when writing about literature. The presentation below gives tips on searching for literary criticism in GALILEO.
In order to effectively analyze a work of literature, it is important to understand the various elements within that work. In novels, short stories, and dramas, these story elements include the following:
The elements of poetry differ slightly, but include
There are many elements to consider when reading a story or drama in order to criticize it. Below are some of the main elements and their definitions. All definitions have been summarized from Kennedy and Gioia's Backpack Literature.
There are many elements to consider when reading a poem in order to criticize it. Below are some of the main elements and their definitions.
If you need more help, don't forget to look at the following series for examples of literary criticism: Critical Companions, Bloom's, and Greenhaven's Literary Companion. You can search our Library Online Catalog.
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An analysis essay is "an essay that breaks a work into its elements and, usually, studies one part closely" (Kennedy and Gioia 1115). In other words, an analysis essay first looks at a story, drama, or poem as different parts (e.g. tone, theme, symbolism, diction, rhythm, and etc). Then, it identifies a single part to focus on, such as symbolism. Finally, it examines how symbols help form the story, drama, or poem. It is important to remember that any statements made about an element should be backed up by quotes from the work.
An example of a topic for analysis would be the use of symbols to represent rising rebellion in Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games. To properly analyze the book, several examples of the symbols as rebellion would need to be given, and then it would be necessary to demonstrate how rebellion (and the symbols of it) effects the book's plot and meaning over all.
In The Hunger Games, food, flowers, and mockingjays all represent rebellion against a society where death is amusement at the cost of the less fortunate. In the end, the tentative uprising created by Katniss and Peeta opens the doors for a more powerful rebellion in future books.
Comparison and contrast papers come in three varieties. First, there are comparison papers, which point out the similarities of two or more works, characters, symbols, themes, or other elements. Second, there are contrast papers, which point out the differences of two or more works, characters, symbols, themes, or other elements. Finally, there are comparison and contrast papers which examine both the similarities between two things and the differences between those same two things.
For example, one might compare and contrast Pip, from Dicken's Great Expectations, with Oliver, from Dicken's Oliver Twist. Both boys were orphaned at a very young age, and both ended up being very successful in life; however, Oliver grows up in a life of crime before finally being assisted by long-lost family, while Pip grows up with relative luxury, financed by an unknown benefactor.
"Explication is the patient unfolding of meanings in a work of literature" (Kennedy and Gioia 1107). In other words, explication looks, in detail, at every line and every word in a story, poem or drama. Typically, explication is only used on short works like brief poems or parts of works because it is a very long, tedious process. Rather than looking at the whole of the poem or focusing simply on one element (like in an analysis), readers look at small details and meanings and how those tiny details can make up a larger theme or image. To properly explicate a work, the denotations, connotations, imagery, rhythms, and other notable details must be examined individually.
Response (Back to Top)
A response paper is "a short essay that expresses your personal reaction to a work of literature" (Kennedy and Gioia 1127). In other words, it is an opinion paper. This paper does not require much, if any, research aside from the work itself and your own thoughts on what the work was about or what one aspect of the work was about, and how this affected you. Did it evoke questions; if so, what were they? What did the work make you think about as you read it? What experiences do you share with the characters, with the plot, with the author?
For example, after reading The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, I could not help but think about how Holden Caulfield's actions over the years had affected his younger sister. After her big brother leaves school early and visits her, she decides that she too wishes to leave school. I never idolized my own big brother like that, so it made me wonder why she feels like she does about Holden. Is it because her brother goes away to school and she only sees him for brief periods of time?.