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How to Write a Literary Analysis Paper: Prompts and Instructions

Evaluation criteria based on syllabus marking scale

Our evaluation of the paper will be based on the marking scale included on the syllabus. In addition to written comments, we will be using the rubric on our Nexus site.

a. notice critical details from a text

b. link details to a specific issue treated by the text

c. define this issue clearly and explain why these details are important

d. construct a thesis that is creative and specific (rather than obvious and general)

e. incorporate details and quotes correctly

f. link textual details to the thesis through analysis

g. clearly communicate your discussion in paragraph form, with attention to grammar,

spelling, organization, proper citation, and the format of a literary analysis paper.


1. Choose one or two textsfrom our list of readings and write a critical essay that argues for a specific thesis statement about your text (s).

2. Choose one of the prompts below and craft your own original thesis statementbased on details you see in the text. Most importantly: your paper must have a clearly defined, specific, and debatable central claim that presents an original argument about the text you are reading. Do not merely describe what the text is saying; instead, critically analyze passages and details from the text in order to advocate for your own interpretation.  

3. You might attend to things like repetition, word choice, theme, rhythm, metaphors, images, or typology (how are the words printed on the page?). You might make an argument about plot, character development, or what gets conspicuously left out of the text (whose voice do we not hear? What can we not see? What information is kept from us?). You might be interested in reading the text’s power dynamics or rhetorical strategies, or you might focus on narration, perspective, or point of view. Ask yourself: what is being represented to me as a reader and why? Where is our attention being drawn, in what way am I being asked to read this text, and why is this happening? Remember to trust yourself as a reader: if you see it, it’s there. Your job is to now show your reader what you see through your own carefully crafted interpretation of the text—you will accomplish this through the analysis of direct textual evidence.  

1. Whatdetails do you notice? What specific aspect of the text do you want to discuss?

2. Howare these details linked to a specific issue? How is this aspect operating in the text?

Tips for writing a successful literary analysis paper

3. Whyis this thing happening? What is the larger significance of what you’ve noticed?

Ask yourself why the text chooses to present something in a particular way and what argument it might be making about a specific issue. Remember that texts are crafted deliberately, not by accident, and that everything we read in this course is making some kind of claim. Your job as a literary critic is to decide what you think the text is saying and argue for that reading. As you write, think about the following: What is the work critiquing/endorsing? What is its social or cultural commentary? Does it identify specific problems? Does it offer any solutions (it may not)?  

Your paper should be 4-5 pages (1000-1250 words), double spaced, in MLA format. You should use the work we’ve done with close reading to assist you with the evidence. While you can draw on the text as a whole,you should use quoted material and analysis to prove your thesis. You do not need to summarize the text; instead focus on evidence and analysis.

1. You are not required to do any external research for this assignment, and incorporating secondary sources will not necessarily yield you a higher grade. However, if you do decide

2. to read other materials, you must cite and quote them appropriately. You may always cite lecture or class discussion as one of your sources.

3. Each paper should include a Works Citedat the end. Please use MLA style.

4. Please give your paper a descriptive title. In other words, titles such as “Term One Paper” or

5. Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’” or “Nature” are way too vague. Instead, give me something creative and specific, like: “Between the Grass and the Stars: Ecology and Democracy in Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’.”  

6. Paper format: Your paper should have 1-inch/2.54 cm margins, be double-spaced, in 12 point Times New Roman font and stapled. Your name and information should be at the top left of the paper, and each page should have your last name and page number at the top right. No cover sheets or title pages should be included.


You are very welcome and encouraged to develop your own idea, or choose one from below.

1. Many of our class discussions have been interested in the relationship between the individual and the collective; the small and the large; or the person and the people. Discuss how one of the texts we’ve read contributes to this conversation.

Instructions for choosing texts and crafting a thesis statement

2. Discuss the role that race has to play in one of the texts we’ve read this term. How do racialized categories function in your chosen text and what statement is being made through their representation? You may also wish to write about related issues of cultural difference, or the way the text deals with histories of slavery, colonialism, or immigration.

3. Look at the representation of a non-human element in one text (animals or objects, for example, or weather, landscape, nature, or architecture). What does the text argue through the representation of something that isn’t human? What does this non-human element symbolize? How is this related to the text’s treatment of a specific issue? How is this element linked to the text’s overall argument? 

4. Some of the texts we’ve read are invested in some notion of morality or justice. Discuss what specific version of justice the text is endorsing or critiquing, and what you think fairness means in the context of this piece of literature. What does justice look like here? Is it achievable? Is the text describing an injustice and/or imagining a new, more fair future on the horizon? Does justice look the same for everyone? Make a specific argument based on how this idea is employed in the text.

5. Discuss the text’s representation of labour or work. How are workers and their work portrayed and why does this matter? You may also wish to discuss class and/or economic dynamics.

6. Consider the status of the beautiful in one of the texts we have read this term. What role does the aesthetic play in this text and why is it important to the text as a whole? What statement about representation / art / beauty is the text advocating and why?

7. Construct an argument based on how one of the texts we’ve read deals with the theme of gender and gender roles. How do constructions of femininity / masculinity play a role in how this text makes meaning?

8. Consider the role of children or childhood in one of the texts we’ve read. You may also wish to discuss issues surrounding ideas of the family and familial roles, development/maturation, education etc.

9. How does power play out in the text you’ve chosen? What statement is the text making about power dynamics and their stability/instability? You may wish to explore themes of dominance, oppression, subversion, or revolution.

10. Some of the texts we’ve read this term invoke the Bible or the Judeo Christian tradition in some way. Construct an argument based on how the text interacts with this tradition and what the larger implications are.

11. Examine the concept of history in one of the texts we’ve studied. How does this text conceive of history and what role does it have to play in the present and future? Why is the past invoked in a particular way and what does it accomplish for this text? Are there multiple histories or only one? Argue for a specific reading of the text that accounts for its relation to the past.

12. Craft an argument that focuses on the subject of desire as it is represented in one of the texts we’ve read. You may choose to focus on issues of sex and sexuality, unrequited desire, or the dynamics of obsession. What statement is the text making about desire and how do we know? How does desire get articulated through the form/structure of the text?What versions of desire are advocated for here and what versions are cautioned against?

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