Literary Analysis #1

The first formal writing assignment in ENG 106 is a literary analysis essay. In English studies we work closely with texts to better understand how the text works and what work the text does.  Our primary focus of study and analysis then is on specific passages from the particular text(s) we’re examining. Let’s break this down a bit more:

A literary analysis essay is an attempt to evaluate and understand the work of an author, either a single work or an entire body of work. Literary criticism is a description, analysis, evaluation, or interpretation of a particular literary work or an author’s writings as a whole. – See more at:

Literary: How is the text put together? What important observations can you make as far as themes, ideas, arguments, style, language? Often this involves careful examination of character, plot, setting, etc. However, in reading autobiography we would focus more on the writer’s strategies, main ideas/themes/arguments, the role of reading, etc.


  • How the various components of an individual work relate to each other.
  • How two separate literary works deal with similar concepts or forms.
  • How concepts and forms in literary works relate to larger aesthetic, political, social, economic, or religious contexts.

A literary analysis is not a summary of plot. Nor is it an attempt to address everything in a text, but rather it’s a close focus on one issue/idea/theme. Often they require working with secondary sources (what other scholars have said about a text), but for our purposes we’re only going to work with the text (as your primary document) and the xeroxed chapters from Smith and Watson’s Reading Autobiography. A literary analysis might focus on:

  • Recurring or important imagery or symbolism
  • Central themes or main ideas
  • Style or language
  • Form or structure of text
  • Representation of gender, class, race, power

For your first literary analysis choose to work closely with either Narrative of Frederick Douglass or the collection of autobiographical essays by Zitkala Sa.  Re-read your blog posts and your in-class freewriting. Pay close attention to the what you’ve been noticing as you’ve read. What has disturbed your or confused you? What has resonated with you?  What questions interest you? Ultimately, a literary analysis is a reader’s way to think about a text in a more focused and sustained manner by writing about it. (You’re writing your way towards attempting to answer the question(s) you’ve posed about this text!) Your job as the writer is to make an argument about the text–form a persuasive interpretation of some element of the text–by citing specific textual passages as evidence for your claims.

Draft #1: Due Wednesday, February 17th.  4-5 pages, double-spaced, with specific textual passages; working through an idea or reading to develop an “argument” about how the text works or what work the text does.

Please print out 3 copies and bring them to class for a small group workshop.



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