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PAPER TWO PROMPT: Analysis of a Text
Write a 4-5 page focused analysis of any text from the course that you have not yet written on. Note: going over five pages is fine, but not meeting the minimum is not fine. Your response should address how your close examination of the text illuminates your understanding of the themes and/or characters of the piece and, in some cases, its cultural relevance. Your paper should also act as a demonstration of your rhetorical knowledge of the text.
You should have a clear and original idea driving your essay. It should in some way illuminate a universality or human truth beyond the confines of the text. Use the questions below as a jumping off point for your close exploration of the text. Make sure your idea is focused: look at one element of a text or look at the text through a single lens and unravel what is most meaningful to you about the text. You are not limited to these questions. They are here to help you find a focus. In class lectures may also provide you with some additional possibilities.
Your ideas should be original and should be supported by the text. This means you must quote from the text and refer to specifics within the text, not just the story in general, throughout your response. The quotes should support your ideas.
Your analysis should unravel the text, not merely state the obvious. Drawing on the specifics of the text rather than discussing the text in generalities will help you come up with a more insightful analysis.
This is not a research paper. Secondary sources may be used but need not be, and the bulk of your paper should be made up of your own analysis of the text in question. Unlike the first paper for this class, this should not be about your personal experiences.
Learning how to “talk the talk” does count: if you use literary terminology, it is important that you use it correctly. Be sure to title your essay. A title may help clarify your focus for yourself and for your reader.
Utilize close reading for this assignment.
QUESTIONS (choose one or generate your own)
Choose one work and apply a psychological, political, socio/economic, spiritual, feminist, queer, biographical, or historical lens to the story you’ve chosen.
Apply the idea of the “single story” to any of the texts.
Apply a philosophical concept to any of the texts.
Examine the role of The Other in any of the texts.
Examine the role of fatherhood, motherhood, or family in any of the texts. In what ways do historical, political, and/or social climates of the times affect these relationships?
Examine power relationships in any of the texts.
Summary and Analysis
A summary answers the question, “What is it?” When you summarize a text, you restate what the text already says in a briefer format. Summaries are useful when recapping what happened in a story or novel. Since your professor has read the text, it is not necessary in this essay to summarize the text. Your knowledge of the text will be clear when you support your analysis with details from the text, not because you’ve summarized all the events.
An analysis answers the question, “How does it work?” An analysis is a close examination of the text. It is a little like looking at the parts of the car and determining how each of those parts makes the car run. In the case of literature, you are examining the parts–for example, characters, imagery, setting, structure, theme, context, use of language, etc…–to draw larger conclusions about the work as a whole. Literature tries to answer the big questions through the lens of human experience and emotion. Good stories ask us to consider the “so what’s” of human nature. Stories are more than a series of events. They are a series of events with a “so what” implied. An analysis explores the way the story leads to something bigger, something that helps us understand not just the characters better, but understand ourselves better. Every reader sees a story in a different way and walks away with a different “so what.”
An analytical argument is not an argument that people will come to fisty-cuffs over. In general, if you’ve accurately portrayed a text, readers are not likely to strongly disagree with your argument or thesis, your “so what.” Instead, an analytical argument is merely a way of seeing a text differently. Often your most insightful ideas about a text come
only after you’ve done the close analysis. Sometimes, we have a hunch about a “so what” in a text, and then we go into the text and search for the passages that will help us explain that idea to others and help us clarify it for ourselves. A thesis statement is a good way to assure that your reader knows what your point is, which is why most teachers ask you to write one. Whether or not you have an explicit thesis statement in your essay, your reader should walk away with a clear sense of your point, your “so what.” In what ways is this story more than a series of events? How can we apply it to our understanding of human nature? What is “the human element”?
Looking at a piece through an analytical lens means considering the events and characters in light of that focus. Examples of analytical lenses include but psychological, socio/political, spiritual, queer and feminist lenses If you look at a text through a psychological lens, you might pay close attention to the psychology of siblings, of parenting, or of abuse. If you look at it through a feminist lens, you would likely start by considering the role of women in the texts and their relationship to empowerment. If you look through a spiritual lens, you’re likely to consider the role of the mystery and wonder, birth and death and the ways in which these things illuminate humanity’s relationship to the unknown.
Context refers to everything surrounding the thing you’re looking at, in this case, a piece of literature. If you are looking, for example, at the cultural context of an African writer’s stories, knowing something about Africa would be necessary. Context can also refer to the things going on in the background of a story, that is, not necessarily something you need to know outside of the text. The lectures on all of these units provide us with context as do the texts themselves. The context contributes to the “so what” of the text, that ever elusive “universality.” Everything has context. We see the thing and we also see the thing with all its surrounding contexts. We draw meaningful conclusions by examining how the thing relates to one or more of its contexts. While you don’t have to be an expert in a particular region or time period, understanding the context in which a story takes place as that context is presented in the text is important.