The literary essay
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The Literary Essay. Defining the Literary Essay. T he literary essay: a nalyzes literary works; e mploys an objective, scholarly tone; u ses formal, standard Canadian English; i s written in the present narrative tense; u ses the 3 rd person objective narrative. Essay Structure.

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The Literary Essay

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The literary essay

The Literary Essay


Defining the literary essay

Defining the Literary Essay

The literary essay:

  • analyzes literary works;

  • employs an objective, scholarly tone;

  • uses formal, standard Canadian English;

  • is written in the present narrative tense;

  • uses the 3rd person objective narrative.


Essay structure

Essay Structure

Like all essays, the literary essay consists of:

1. an introductory paragraph

2. body paragraph(s)

3. a concluding paragraph


Introductory paragraph

INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPH

The introductory paragraph consists of compulsory and optional components.

  • (optional) Lead-in sentence(s) “lead into” the topic of the essay. In writing lead-in sentences, your challenge is to make sure that your choice of lead-in sentence(s) clearly connects to the topic of the essay. Avoid irrelevant “padding” that adds nothing of substance to your introduction.

    e.g.

    “William Shakespeare is the greatest playwright in the history of the English language.” Unless your essay intends to prove this statement, it is off- topic.


Lead in exemplar

Lead-in Exemplar

Ambition is often perceived as an admirable trait; however, ambition without any regard for moral considerations can lead to destructive consequences.


Compulsory elements in the introduction

Compulsory Elements in the Introduction

  • Topic

    In introducing the topic, the author’s full name, as well as the title of the work being analyzed must be included. This information must be naturally integrated.

    For example: William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, explores the nature of uncontrolled ambition through the choices made by the main protagonist Macbeth.

    Note that the topic, as well as the author’s full name and the title of the work are all included in this example.


Compulsory elements in the introduction continued

Compulsory Elements in the Introduction continued

  • Thesis

    The thesis statement in a literary essay states what you intend to prove about the topic in the Body paragraphs of the essay.

    The thesis statement must answer the “so what” question. If it does not, your thesis lacks adequate substance.

    The thesis statement may require a clarifying statement in order to adequately answer the “so what” question.


Exemplar of a thesis statement

Exemplar of a Thesis Statement

The destructive potential of Macbeth’s uncontrolled ambition is clearly revealed through his tragic downfall.


Introductory paragraph lead in topic thesis

Introductory Paragraph Lead-in, Topic & Thesis

Ambition is often perceived as an admirable trait; however, ambition without any regard for moral considerations can lead to destructive consequences (lead-in). William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, explores the nature of uncontrolled ambition through the choices made by the main protagonist Macbeth (topic). The destructive potential of Macbeth’s uncontrolled ambition is clearly revealed through his tragic downfall (thesis).


3 point thesis vs umbrella thesis

3-Point Thesis vs Umbrella Thesis

  • 3 Point Thesis (limited)

    A 3-point thesis is generally only effective when the three points you wish to make are easily defined such as in a character analysis essay. However, even a character analysis essay, requires an overall assessment of a character. Stating the character traits is an incomplete thesis.

  • Umbrella Thesis (preferred)

    An umbrella thesis states the argument you intend to prove in a comprehensive statement that your essay will conclusively prove by the last Body paragraph. It may require a clarifying statement to fully answer the “so what” question.


Exemplars of 3 pt thesis statements

Exemplars of 3 pt Thesis Statements

Nick Carraway’s objectivity, sense of responsibility and moral code, make him a trustworthy judge of the character of Jay Gatsby.

Atticus Finch’s work ethic, caring nature and integrity make him an ideal role model for his children.


Exemplars of umbrella thesis statements

Exemplars of Umbrella Thesis Statements

Free will rather than fate leads to the tragic deaths of

Romeo and Juliet.

Macbeth’s character fits the definition of the

Shakespearean tragic hero.


Developing a strong thesis statement

Developing a Strong Thesis Statement

  • A strong thesis statement takes some sort of stand.

  • What is it that you are arguing?

  • Your thesis must show your conclusions about a subject. How did you interpret it?


The literary essay

2.A strong thesis justifies discussion.

  • Think controversy.


The literary essay

3.A strong thesis expresses one main idea.

  • Readers need to be able to see that your essay has one main point.

  • Focus, focus, focus.

  • Hint: a great many clear and engaging thesis statements contain the words “because,” “since,” “so,” “although,” “unless,” and “however.”


The literary essay

4.A strong thesis statement is specific.

  • Make sure it is manageable for the length of the paper assigned.

  • Including the supporting points in your thesis is not necessary. This is preferred only to help beginner writers outline what is to be argued and in what order in simple, straightforward essay arguments such as a character analysis essay.


Body paragraphs

Body Paragraphs

  • Each BodyParagraph must begin with a topic sentence which is clearly connected to proving the thesis introduced in the introductory paragraph.

  • The topic sentence must specifically relate to the work(s) being analyzed and should NOT be a generalized statement about the topic.

  • The topic sentence must introduce the main point of argument to be proven in the paragraph.

  • Each point of argument must be supported by specific proof from the work, in the form of either an example or a quote.


For example

For Example:

People who have a good moral code are superior judges of character. X

This is an example of a generalized topic sentence. You are not in a position to judge people in general

Nick Carraway’s strong moral code makes him a more reliable judge of Gatsby’s character. √

This is an example of a specific topic sentence. You are just analyzing the literature.

Teenagers act impulsively in the passion of first love. X

This is an example of a generalized topic sentence. You are not an expert on adolescent love.

Romeo acts impulsively when he falls in love at first sight with Juliet. √

This is an example of a specific topic sentence. You are just analyzing how Romeo acts in the play.


The literary essay

  • A Body Paragraph may end with a concluding sentence that reinforces the topic sentence in a “fresh” way.

  • A Body Paragraph should NOT end with a lead-in to the next topic sentence, but should conclude the point of argument in the paragraph with a sense of closure.

  • The next paragraph should logically lead from the previous paragraph. Overall coherency should be assisted by the use of appropriate transitional words/phrases such as: in addition, also, moreover, however, as well etc.


Additional information about body paragraphs

Additional Information About Body Paragraphs

  • All essays do not consist of three body paragraphs.

  • Your essay requires as many points of argument as are needed to effectively prove your thesis and, therefore, as many Body Paragraphs as needed to do so.

  • The required length of the essay should determine the number of points of argument. It does not make sense for a 5,000 word essay to consist of only three body paragraphs.

  • Instead of thinking of the 5 paragraph essay, think of an essay consisting of 5 paragraphs.


Concluding paragraph

Concluding Paragraph

  • The concluding paragraph should logically follow from the last Body Paragraph. By this point, your thesis should have been effectively proven.

  • The concluding paragraph should briefly summarize your essay, NOT by a detailed reiteration of the points of argument already stated in the BodyParagraphs, but by a concise and comprehensive sentence or two about your overall argument.

  • The concluding paragraph should include a “fresh” restatement of your thesis.

  • Finally, your concluding paragraph should end with a clear sense of closure. DO NOT end with a tangential statement or question on another aspect of your topic.


Additional information

Additional Information

  • Include quotations from the literary works being analyzed and always cite them correctly.

  • Quotations must be properly “embedded”, not dropped in as if they are self-explanatory. See the information sheet entitled “Embedding Quotations” under Resources on the MyClass Site for additional review of the proper way to insert quotations in an essay.

  • Secondary sources, must be acknowledged and correctly cited. Otherwise, you are committing plagiarism.

  • Include a Works Cited page

  • Use MLA format for literary essays and follow the format precisely.


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