Literary Analysis Research Paper
David A. James
The type of research paper required in most sophomore literature courses is generally referred to as a literary analysis research paper because its focus must be on an element of the literary work‟s construction as a piece of literature—for example, an element such as the work‟s characters or conflict or symbolism or theme, or perhaps two or more related literary elements [such as the interrelated elements of conflict development and theme, or symbolism‟s contribution to the creation of theme(s)]. It would not focus on such ideas as the author‟s life (biography), the historical events and beliefs of the period in which it was written (historical and/or sociological aspects of the work), or psychoanalysis of the characters (psychology), as these are not elements of literary analysis, though passing reference to one or more of these is usually acceptable. If there‟s any doubt regarding the acceptability of a particular idea you‟re considering, it‟s essential to consult with the professor before proceeding further in order to avoid wasted time on an inappropriate writing topic.
While individual approaches to a research paper involving literary analysis may vary, one standard approach can be presented as follows:
about the work
(presented in the
form of a thesis
from the work
analytic ideas and
to gather and
relate to or
This „formula‟ for producing an effective literary analysis research paper can be detailed by the following process, or series of steps taken to achieve the ultimate goal.
Selecting an Author and Literary Work
Select an appropriate author (one whose works fall within the time parameters of the literature course in question) and one (possibly two, if brief) literary work(s) to analyze. For example, one novel/novella or two brief short stories would generally be selected to produce a research paper of 1500 or more words. In courses where long, complex works are covered (such as Homer‟s Iliad or Chaucer‟s The Canterbury Tales), it is probably wise to attempt to analyze only a particular portion of the work. Again, consult with the professor about an appropriate choice of work or portion thereof. It is also helpful, though not necessary, to have previously read the literary work(s). This allows you to begin right away to direct your focus toward particular elements of the work(s) as you are re-reading because you already have familiarity with the basic plot and characters.
Read and Re-read
Read (re-read?) the selected work(s), keeping a close watch for the particular literary element that interests you. You might choose to analyze the character and conflicts of Huckleberry Finn, for instance, or satirical devices in Gulliver’s Travels or theme and symbolism in The Scarlet Letter. As you read and note the presence of the particular element(s) in the work, you should begin to formulate mentally (and take notes on) your ideas on it. These ideas will later be turned into a working thesis or opinion about the work and the element(s).
Take careful notes for each instance in the work where the literary element seems present. These places in the work will be used later (when writing the paper) as the textual evidence necessary to properly support your analytic opinion and thus produce a convincing argument for your thesis. As you take these notes (in whatever fashion is most comfortable or useful for you), be certain that you record accurate quotes and page numbers (for proper MLA—Modern Language Association-- citations when
writing the paper). Carelessness in this area can affect the clarity of the paper, as well as result in unintentional plagiarism.
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