Literary analysis

Literary analysis

Project description

Assignment: Write a 700-800-word essay in which you describe, analyze, and interpret a crucial problem, paradox, contradiction or discontinuity at work in one of the literary texts we have studied in this course, with evidence from the text to back up the claims you make. Note that the word limits are firm ones.

Choose a literary text (poem, essay or short story) that we have read for this class, and identify within that text a crucial problem, paradox, contradiction or discontinuity some thematic element, object, image, or event, or the relationship between two of these, that seems problematic or unresolved, or that one can observe and interpret from more than one perspective, and that fundamentally alters our understanding of the text depending on the perspective the reader takes. You can choose any such element of any literary text weve read so far, but here are some suggestions to consider if youre struggling to think of a topic, or if you want ideas to help stimulate thought:

In Plaths Lady Lazarus, the discontinuity between, on the one hand, having the position of agency and control over ones fate that is implied in the act of suicide, and on the other hand, the portrayal of the speaker in the poem as a victim, particularly of the holocaust
In Heaneys Digging, the representation of the pen as both a weapon, resting snug as a gun between the fingers, and as a spade, a productive tool for literal as well as metaphorical digging
In Orwells Shooting an Elephant, the authors claim to speak in defense of the oppressed, and at the same time his implicit bias against them
(You may use one of the above for your essay, but I strongly encourage you to consider identifying one of your own and making that the focus of your essay.)

Write a 700-800-word essay in which you tackle the following components of the assigned task:

Identify the paradoxical, contradictory, uncertain or discontinuous quality of the element youre analyzing by describing it from each relevant perspective, revealing, with quotations from the text , the way in which the text supports each perspective. Offer an account of what makes the element a paradox, problem, or point of uncertainty within the text: what is it about this element that makes it uncertain, contradictory, or difficult to interpret and resolve?
Analyze the impact of the paradox or contradiction on the interpretation of the text in general. If we treat this uncertainty as a kind of lens through which to view the text as a whole, how does our understanding of the text change? Why has the author chosen to incorporate this element in the text in a way that leaves our interpretation of it uncertain? What impact does this have on our reading of other images, characters, conflicts, etc., within the text? Again, engage in this analysis with quotations from the text to support the claims you make.
Offer an overall interpretation of the role of this element within the text. Your interpretation can have one of a number of goals here:
o You may strive for resolution , by resolving the apparent discontinuity and arguing in favour of one or another interpretation of the element with quotations from the text to support your claims.
o You may strive for synthesis , by arguing that the apparent discontinuity or uncertainty is not there at allthat, in other words, the multiple perspectives on this element do not conflict but instead are essential and coherent parts of a larger point the author appears to be making, or that there is another way to view them. Again, support your claims with quotations from the text .
o You may ultimately argue that the conflict or problem is irresolvable , and demonstrate, with quotations from the text , the essential and fundamental role of the conflict in the text.
o Etc.
Suggestions for pre-writing work, if youre having trouble getting started:

Use the following three categories to unpack the element and the text that you have chosen. Make notes in each category and finish by writing a conflict statement to help focus your topic and the claim you intend to make about it.

Static : Note what is, what remains the same: the places where the problem you are interested in occurs. Look for frequency, for repeated patterns. Note your first impression of the text and of the element you are focusing on. Note every occurrence of the problem or paradox within the text; note also what this element is linked to. What is the problem youre focusing on, and how does the text construct it?

Dynamic : Mark the transformations that the featured element goes through in the course of the text, and any changes of mind the reader undergoes in the course of trying to construct the works meaning. Here, you are interested in the historicity of the work, its alterations through time, and in the readers changes of attitude, which point to the way the text revises itself as it goes along. It is particularly important to note precisely where these changes happen. Compare the text to other things you have read or seen, either inside or outside of literature. How does the text wrestle with the problem it contains? What other interpretive problems does this discontinuous element present as the text proceeds? How does it complicate the text as it develops?

Relative : Now consider this element as the instrument through which the text itself is revealed. The relative involves expanding the microscopic element to treat the work as a whole; look at the work through the image, rather than the other way around. Chart the implications for the text of the element you have been unpacking. Can we resolve this problem? Either way, how does the problem affect our reading of the text? What role does it play in interpreting other parts of the text, or of the text taken as a whole?

Conflict statement : Ideally, this should be expressed in a single sentence. Please note that you are not expressing a conflict about the plot, like The mother and her daughter dont get along; instead, you are expressing the apparent paradox or contradiction which for you captures the fundamental literary or thematic tension of the story. This statement will provide the focus (in a sense, the thesis statement) for the opening move and for the essay.


– Double-spaced, all pages except the first numbered in the top-right corner
– 12-point Times New Roman font, 1 margins
– Include your name, student number, class number and section, instructors name, and the date at the top of your first page
Grading Emphases:

– understanding of genre (analysis, argument)
– clear assertion of conflict in opening move
– analysis/interpretation/resolution which comments on the meaning of the story as a whole
– use of textual evidence
– proper citation and integration of quotations
– understanding of academic audience
– avoiding verb tense shifts and agreement errors.
Comma splices, misused semicolons, sentence fragments, run-on sentences and apostrophe errors penalized at 1 each.


For this assignment, you MUST submit a Works Cited list that contains the entry in the Broadview anthology that you are referring to, and you MUST cite your quoted evidence from the text completely, accurately, and according to MLA format.