Writing a Literary Analysis
Introduce your paper effectively.
Begin your paper with a specific title that establishes the focus and the specific work that you're discussing. If you use a clever title, make sure that the focus is clear in a subtitle ("All right then, I'll go to Hell": False Religion in Huckleberry Finn).
Your introduction should: (1) get the reader interested; (2) provide necessary background information (relevant composition/publication history, previous critical views); (3) indicate your procedure or critical methodology; and (4) gradually build to a clear and significant thesis.
Anyone who has lived in a small southern town knows how deeply the community can affect the life of the individual. By the time he wrote Light in August (1932) William Faulkner had spent nearly all of his 35 years living in such a town. Critics have generally recognized that the power of the community is a significant theme in the novel. In his book William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country, Cleanth Brooks argues that Faulkner sees the community as the moral center of the novel: "Unless the controlling purposes of the individual are related to those that other men share, he is indeed isolated. The community is as once the field for man's action and the norm by which his action is judged and regulated" (69). However, Faulkner's view of the community is not as positive as Brooks's quote would indicate. A close study of the text of Light in August suggests that the modern community has been warped by its lack of understanding and forgiveness.
Develop your thesis with well-supported paragraphs.
Your audience is a skeptical reader who needs to be convinced that your reading is a sound one. Thus you must support any potentially controversial or unclear points with evidence--quotes from the text or summaries of events that support your interpretations. Assume that your audience has read the text, so you should analyze rather than summarize the plot.
Light in August depicts the joylessness and judgmentalism
of the community's religion. The
religious characters reduce religion to simplistic terms. Simon McEachern teaches Joe that "the
two abominations are sloth and idle thinking, the two virtues are work and the
fear of God" (144). Likewise Calvin
Burden teaches his son to hate "hell and slaveholders" (243). Many of the ministers in the novel preach
bizarre messages to their congregations.
Although he is supported by African Americans, Doc Hines interrupts
their church services to preach "humility before all skins lighter than
theirs" (343). Hightower mixes the gospel with his obsession
with his Civil War grandfather (61). The
harshest critique of
All paragraphs should begin with a topic sentence that clearly relates to the thesis. Your paragraphs should be a blend of your interpretative points and well-chosen quotes or examples that support your points. You can use paraphrase/summary to set up the context (plot, speaker), and you should quote only what is relevant to your point. Avoid free-standing quotes: all quotes should be integrated into your sentences with one of the following techniques:
(1) you might blend relevant phrases from the quote with your own prose.
Eg: Thoreau goes to the woods to "live deep and suck out all the marrow of life" (632).
Eg: However, the speaker quickly realizes that previous travelers had worn the paths "really about the same," and that both paths "equally lay / In leaves no step had trodden black" (10-11).
(2) you might paraphrase the point of the quote and then give the quote after a colon.
Eg: However, the speaker quickly realizes that the two paths are similar: "Though as for that, the passing there / Had worn them really about the same" (9-10).
Generally you do not need ellipses if you are removing words from the beginning or ending of a passage; only use ellipses when you cut from the middle of a sentence or passage. Quotes longer than 4 lines prose and 3 lines poetry should be block indented 1" from left margin, no quotation marks. Brackets can clarify references, indicate changes; use [sic] to show errors in original. Use single quotation marks to indicate quotes within quotes (unless blocked, then use double). The page or line number of the quote or paraphrase goes in parentheses, after the quotation mark and before the period. Question marks & exclamation points go inside quotation marks when part of quoted sentence, outside parentheses otherwise.
Conclude your paper effectively.
You should reiterate your thesis, but in different words. You might also suggest the significance of the work you're discussing, but be careful of overstatement.
Use correct MLA documentation.
With MLA, you do not use footnotes/endnotes to indicate your source (they can be used to give the reader supplemental information). Instead, the bibliographic information for your sources is given in a Works Cited page. In the text of the paper, you merely indicate in parentheses the page or line numbers of your quotes and paraphrases (see above examples).
MLA Works Cited form:
Faulkner, William. Light in August.
Robert. "The Road
Not Taken." The Harper Single Volume American Literature. Ed.
Donald McQuade. 3rd ed.
Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 6th ed.