This handout provides examples and description about writing papers in literature. It discusses research topics, how to begin to research, how to use information, and formatting.
Contributors:Mark Dollar, Purdue OWL
Last Edited: 2011-10-19 02:27:10
What Makes a Good Literature Paper?
When you write an extended literary essay, often one requiring research, 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 statement
Like any argument paper you have ever written for a first-year composition course, you must have a specific, detailed thesis statement that reveals your perspective, and, like any good argument, your perspective must be one which is debatable.
You would not want to make an argument of this sort:
Shakespeare's Hamlet is a play about a young man who seeks revenge.
That doesn't say anything-it's basically just a summary and is hardly debatable.
A better thesis would be this:
Hamlet 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) how Hamlet is in love with his mother, (2) why he's in love with her, and (3) what implications there are for reading the play in this manner.
You also want to avoid a thesis statement like this:
Spirituality means different things to different people. King Lear, The Book of Romans, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance each view the spirit differently.
Again, that says nothing that's not already self-evident. Why bother writing a paper about that? You're not writing an essay to list works that have nothing in common other than a general topic like "spirituality." You want to find certain works or authors that, while they may have several differences, do have some specific, unifying point. That point is your thesis.
A better thesis would be this:
Lear, Romans, and Zen each view the soul as the center of human personality.
Then you prove it, using examples from the texts that show that the soul is the center of personality.
WritingYour Literary Analysis
Stepone: Read the work forits literal meaning. Make sure youunderstand the plot of the play or novel and who the characters are.
Step two: Annotatethe play or novel--underline descriptions that seem significant to you. Write down your reactions, questions,and comments.
Step three: Drawa picture of the story or draw a character map that notes how you feel abouteach main character in the beginning of the work and how you feel about themain characters at the end of the work.
Step four: Review your notes about what you read.
Step five: Decidewhat question you want to answer about the works you are analyzing. Your thesis is the answer to your question. Try to develop an interesting thesisand interpretation. Choose thequotes and evidence in the story that support your thesis.
Suggested Structure of Your Literary Analysis Essay
A. Summarize what each work is aboutin one sentence. Don't forget to mention the title of the each work you are analyzingand who the author is.
B. State the main pointor thesis of your essay. Yourthesis should answer a question about how an important element in the piece ofliterature works. For instance, you might answer the question: What do you thinkwas the main point the author was trying to make about his/her subject (theme) or what was the author trying to showthrough one of the characters?
A. Explain your firstpoint connected to your thesis and support it with quotations from the book.
B. Explain your secondpoint connected to your thesis and support it with quotations from the book.
C. Explain your mostimportant idea connected to your thesis. Discuss your interpretation and support it with quotations from thebook.
(Note:Be careful that you don't just re-tell the story without giving yourinterpretations. A better analysiswould focus on your interpretation, not on synopsizing the story.)
III. Conclusion: You can summarize your main points, andconnect them to your thesis. Youcan connect your interpretation to a larger theme in the novel or you canexplain what you learned about human nature or the complexity of humanexperience through the novel.