Essay Length: 4-5 pages, typed, double-spaced First Essay Assignment: Short Fiction

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
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
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
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