Literary-Essay

Introduction

Summary:

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?

An argument

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.

Examples

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.

The literary essay represents one of the most interesting and one of the most difficult writing assignments. In this type of essay you are asked to research certain pieces of literature, and evaluate some specifics of the book that you have read.

In the literary essay you should emphasize such elements as subtext, structure and style. You should examine some written work or composition and try to find out why it was organized in such a way.

You should have your particular point of view of the work (which certainly requires some preliminary readings) and demonstrate how several elements of the written work support your point of view. Concentrate on your opinion and do not restate some obvious or well-known facts writing an essay. Try to avoid empty statements or sentences full of platitudes and generalities.

A literary essay may be your evaluation of the work or combination of different opinions of several critics. In the later case, you should use other sources very cautiously to avoid plagiarism or allow the opinions of other individuals substitute your own evaluation of the work. Remember, you should complete reading of the original work, before you start using the critical articles about it in essay writing.

The literary essay should have introduction, body and conclusion as described in the first part.

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