American Literature II

Literary Essay Assignment

American Literature II


Your assignment is to write a three to six-page essay about a specific aspect of a chosen literary work (short story or poem). Your work must be chosen from our anthology or written by an author in our anthology. The literary work must have been published after 1865 (post-Civil War). This essay must have a focused thesis that provides a statement of argument and persuasion; in other words, it describes what you (the writer) say the author is trying to say about the topic. This essay must also use support (at least three events from your chosen work) to support the thesis. You should use quotes (one or two per paragraph with a minimum of five in the essay). All of your support and quotes should clearly connect to the thesis/event from the work. Three sources are required for this essay and should be properly documented in the text of the paper and on a Works Cited page using MLA documentation style.


Note about thesis – Writing about literature is not merely summarizing literature. Your thesis is a claim about the meaning or effect of the literary work, not a statement of its plot. And your paper is a demonstration of your thesis, not a retelling of the work’s changes or events (taken from p. 121 of Jane Aaron’s LB Brief).


Questions for Literary Analysis (taken from pp. 122-24 of Jane Aaron’s LB Brief)


1. Plot – the relationships and patterns of events.

· What actions happen?

· What conflicts occur?

· How do the events connect to each other and to the whole?

2. Characters – the people the author creates.

· Who are the principal people in the work?

· How do they interact?

· What do their actions, words, and thoughts reveal about their personalities and the personalities of others (indirect characterization)?

· Do the characters stay the same, or do they change? Why?

3. Point of view – the perspective or attitude of the speaker in a poem or the voice who tells a story.

· First person told as a participant using the pronoun I. This narrator may be reliable or unreliable.

· Third person told by an outsider using the pronouns he, she, it, they. This narrator may be omniscient (knows what goes on in all characters’ minds), limited (knows what goes on in the minds of only one or two characters), or objective (knows only what is external to the characters).

· How does the narrator’s point of view affect the narrative?

4. Tone – the narrator’s or speaker’s attitude (joyful, bitter, confident, etc.).

· What tone or tones do you hear? If there is a change, how do you account for it?

· Is there an ironic contrast between the narrator’s tone (for instance, confidence) and what you take to be the author’s attitude (for instance, pity for human overconfidence)?


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