McLean/Fall 2012/English 4 First Essay Assignment: Short Fiction Essay Length: 4-5 pages, typed, double-spaced First Draft Due (peer review): Wednesday, September 19. Final Draft Due (at the beginning of class): Monday, September 24. Literary analysis involves reading “between the lines” of a text, looking closely not only at its basic storyline, but at the many ways its characters, point of view, setting, symbols, and particular uses of language convey larger ideas. Through analysis, we not only see the story that is explicitly told (literal meaning), but may read against the grain to discover levels of meaning (themes) that are indirect or implied. This essay assignment asks you to practice your skills in analysis and interpretation with one of the short stories we have discussed in class. Choose one of the following stories we have read in class so far to focus on in your analysis: “Sonny’s Blues,” “Interpreter of Maladies,” “Woman Hollering Creek,” “Cathedral.” To begin, you must arrive at a good understanding of what the text is literally about: the denotations of its words, what it directly says, what happens. Next, build ideas by writing down your thoughts, impressions, and observations about the text: notice anything that stands out about how it is written, taking notes especially on its use of characters or symbolism. Use these ideas as the basis for the following 4-5 page essay. Essay Question: How does your story use characters and/or symbols (you may focus on one or the other, or some combination of the two—but be specific about which characters and/or which symbols you are focusing on) to convey a particular underlying theme or themes? In other words, how does this literary element (character and/or symbolism) help you to understand the deeper meaning of the story (its themes—its Big Ideas), beyond the literal level? Remember that the goal here is to get beyond summary to interpretation; don’t merely focus on what happens in the story, but what underlying ideas or messages the story conveys: what it means. A successful essay will require sharp focus: limit your discussion to just a few specific characters and/or symbols and just a couple of themes—the ones that interest you the most. It is much more interesting to say MORE about less—to delve into the details of your chosen element, thoughtfully discussing a variety of quotes and examples—than to skim briefly over many points. Whatever you decide to concentrate on, your essay must contain all of the following: 1) An introduction paragraph with a hook, background information, and a clear and focused thesis that makes an argument about what you think the story “really” means or has to say about the world (through its specific characters and/or symbolism). 2) A minimum of 4 developed body paragraphs that support the thesis by making original points about the text and supporting them with brief, carefully-chosen quotes and examples. Often you will find that you need more than one quote per body paragraph to effectively support a point. Keep your quotes relatively short and focused: only quote that part of the text that helps you make your point. Don’t fill up your pages with giant quotes. 3) Remember that quotes can’t stand alone, and can’t speak for themselves. You must incorporate them gracefully into your own sentences, and analytically tie them to the point of your paragraph and essay. Therefore, be sure to lead in to each quote, explaining the context, what is happening, and who is speaking, to make the literal sense clear to your reader. Then, analyze each quote, looking closely at the language you have chosen and discussing what in it supports your point. It often helps to pull out short “bits” of a longer quote you have used (a word or a phrase) that you think are particularly important, and quote them again while you are analyzing them. See the student sample we discussed in class for examples. 4) You will also need a fitting conclusion paragraph that sums up your main argument and leaves the reader thinking. 5) Last, but of course not least, print your paper before it is due and proofread it carefully before turning it in. Make sure it has a title (NOT “Essay #1” or the title of the short story you are writing about), that it is LONG enough (not 3 ¾ pages…at least 4 full pages), and that it is as free as possible of formatting, grammar and punctuation errors. 6) Remember our talk about plagiarism. If even a sentence or phrase is taken from another source and not cited, you will fail this paper with 0 points and no possibility of a rewrite, and therefore you will likely fail the class. Learn from the ideas of others all you want, but if taking exact words you must quote, and you must develop your own original analysis.