Analytical Essay On A Book

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The purpose for writing a critique is to evaluate somebody's work (a book, an essay, a movie, a painting...) in order to increase the reader's understanding of it. A critical analysis is subjective writing because it expresses the writer's opinion or evaluation of a text. Analysis means to break down and study the parts. Writing a critical paper requires two steps: critical reading and critical writing.

Critical reading:

  1. Identify the author's thesis and purpose
  2. Analyze the structure of the passage by identifying all main ideas
  3. Consult a dictionary or encyclopedia to understand material that is unfamiliar to you
  4. Make an outline of the work or write a description of it
  5. Write a summary of the work
  6. Determine the purpose which could be
    • To inform with factual material
    • To persuade with appeal to reason or emotions
    • To entertain (to affect people's emotions)
  7. Evaluate the means by which the author has accomplished his purpose
  • If the purpose is to inform, has the material been presented clearly, accurately, with order and coherence?
  • If the purpose is to persuade, look for evidence, logical reasoning, contrary evidence
  • If the purpose was to entertain, determine how emotions are affected: does it make you laugh, cry, angry? Why did it affect you?
Consider the following questions: How is the material organized? Who is the intended audience? What are the writer's assumptions about the audience? What kind of language and imagery does the author use?

 
 

SAMPLE OUTLINE FOR CRITICAL ESSAY

After the passage under analysis has been carefully studied, the critique can be drafted using this sample outline.

  • I. Background information to help your readers understand the nature of the work
    • A. Information about the work
      • 1. Title
      • 2. Author
      • 3. Publication information
      • 4. Statement of topic and purpose
    • B. Thesis statement indicating writer's main reaction to the work
  • II. Summary or description of the work
  • III. Interpretation and/or evaluation
    • A. Discussion of the work's organization
    • B. Discussion of the work's style
    • C. Effectiveness
    • D. Discussion of the topic's treatment
    • E. Discussion of appeal to a particular audience

Remember:

Avoid introducing your ideas by stating "I think" or "in my opinion." Keep the focus on the subject of your analysis, not on yourself. Identifying your opinions weakens them.

Always introduce the work. Do not assume that because your reader knows what you are writing about, you do not need to mention the work's title.

Other questions to consider: Is there a controversy surrounding either the passage or the subject which it concerns?

What about the subject matter is of current interest?

What is the overall value of the passage?

What are its strengths and weaknesses?

Support your thesis with detailed evidence from the text examined. Do not forget to document quotes and paraphrases.

Remember that the purpose of a critical analysis is not merely to inform, but also to evaluate the worth, utility, excellence, distinction, truth, validity, beauty, or goodness of something.

Even though as a writer you set the standards, you should be open-minded, well informed, and fair. You can express your opinions, but you should also back them up with evidence.

Your review should provide information, interpretation, and evaluation. The information will help your reader understand the nature of the work under analysis. The interpretation will explain the meaning of the work, therefore requiring your correct understanding of it. The evaluation will discuss your opinions of the work and present valid justification for them.


: Writing an analytic essay requires that you make some sort of argument. The core of this argument is called a thesis. It is your claim, succinctly stated in a single sentence. What do budding literary critics such as yourselves argue about? You make a pervasive, persistent case that a certain thing is true about a piece of literature. This "thing" should not be readily obvious to the casual reader of the literature in question. It is what you draw out of the book or essay, how you interpret it. It is a claim that must be supported by specific evidence from the text. At least once during the course of writing your essay, isolate what you consider to be your thesis. Is your proposition both arguable and reasonable? If it is obvious (i.e. Mary Rowlandson used the Bible for comfort during her captivity) you don’t have an argument. Argument requires analysis (i.e. taking things apart and explaining them). One test that may help is asking yourself what the opposite "side" of your argument would be. A good, complicated thesis (which was proposed by one of your classmates) is that "Although Mary Rowlandson says she often used the Bible as a source of comfort during her captivity, a closer reading of her narrative suggests her faith may have been more troubled by her experience than she lets on." One useful structure for writing thesis statements is the "although" form used above: "Although x seems to be true about this piece of literature, y is in fact more true (or makes our thinking about x more complex)." In this form you present both sides of your argument at once and show which side you’re on. Your job in the paper is to convince your reader to join you. Another way to write an effective thesis statement is to use the form "If we look closely at x (e.g. how Bradford defines freedom) we discover y (that ).

Look for images or metaphors that the author uses consistently. What other sort of pattern can you identify in the text? How do you interpret this pattern so that your reader will understand the book, essay, poem, speech, etc. better?

What philosophical, moral, ethical, etc. ideas is the author advocating or opposing? What are the consequences of accepting the author's argument?

Explain how the work functions as a piece of rhetoric--how does the author attempt to convince his or her reader of something? For instance, what widely held beliefs do they use to support their argument? How do they appeal to emotions, logic…

Re-examine something that the text or most readers take for granted (that Thoreau’s book Walden represents his attempt to escape from society). Question this major premise and see where it takes you

Ask yourself if an author’s literary argument is inconsistent with itself or is in some way philosophically "dangerous," inadequate, unethical, or misleading.

Examine how characters are presented in a story. How do they help the main character to develop? Which characters are trustworthy? Which are not? Why are they presented this way?

Structure

: How the parts of the book or essay follow one another; how the parts are assembled to make a whole? Why does the author start where they start, end where they end? What is the logical progression of thought? How might that progression be intended to affect the reader What effect might this progression of ideas have on a generic reader or on a reader from the time period in which the work was written? Does the piece move from the general to the specific or vice versa?

If you could divide the book/essay into sections, units of meaning, what would those sections be? How are they related to each other? Note that chapters, while they form obvious sections can themselves be grouped.

Referring to the text

: In writing analytic papers that address any kind of literature, it is necessary to refer to the text (the specific words on the page of the book) in order to support your argument. This means that you must quote and interpret passages that demonstrate or support your argument. Quotation is usually stronger than paraphrase. Remember also that your purpose in writing an essay is not merely to paraphrase or summarize (repeat) what the author has said, but to make an argument about how the make their point, or how they have said what they have said.

Language

: includes the way an author phrases his or her sentences, the key metaphors used (it’s up to you to explain how these metaphors are used, why these metaphors are appropriate, effective, ineffective, or ambiguous). Is the way a sentence is phrased particularly revealing of the author’s meaning?

Please title your paper and make the title apt and enticing--I LOVE a good title. It puts me in a good mood before I start reading.

Be clear about whether you’re writing about a book, an essay (non-fiction, short prose), a story (short fiction) a poem, a novel (book-length fiction), an autobiography, a narrative (as in Captivity Narratives) etc. Walden is a book comprised of chapters. Each of these chapters could also be called an essay. Within these essays, Thoreau sometimes tells stories. The book itself is not a story, but closer to a narrative, which is non-fiction.

Always go through at least two drafts of you paper. Let your paper sit, preferably for 24 hours between drafts sometime during the process of your writing.

Eliminate

first person pronoun ("I") in your final draft (it’s OK for rough drafts and may help you write).

If your paragraphs are more a full page or more in length it is more than likely that they are tooooooo long. Probably you have too many ideas "in the air" at once. Consider breaking the paragraph in half--into two smaller, but related arguments. Your reader needs a break, needs more structure in order to be able to follow your meaning.

If several of your paragraphs are exceedingly short (4-5 lines), it is likely that you are not developing your ideas thoroughly enough--that you are writing notes rather than analysis. Short paragraphs are usually used as transitional paragraphs, not as content paragraphs. (Short paragraphs can be used in the rhetorical devise of reversal where you lead your reader down a certain path (to show them one side of the argument, the one you are going to oppose) and then turn away from that argument to state the true argument of your paper.)

Employ quotation often.

One quotation per argumentative paragraph is usually necessary. Depending upon the length and complexity of the passage or topic you're dealing with, more quotations may be useful to prevent you from getting too far away from the text. Your quotations combined with your interpretations are your proof. Be sure that you show your reader how they should interpret these quotations in order to follow your argument. (Almost every quotation should be followed by an interpretation, a deeper reading of what is being said and how its being said. This interpretation demonstrates how the quotation supports the claim you're making about it). Pay attention to metaphor, phrasing, tone, alliteration, etc. How is the author saying what they are saying--what does that teach us about the text?

Remember to write directive (sometimes called "topic") sentences for your paragraphs. The first sentence of any paragraph should give your reader an idea of what the paragraph is going to say and how the paragraph will connect to the larger argument. It should have more to do with what you have to say about the materials than what the author him or herself has said.

Transitions between paragraphs

: try to get away from using "The next," "First of all" "Another thing..." to connect your paragraphs. This is the "list" method of structuring a paper--not an integrated, logical approach. A really strong transition makes the logical connection between paragraphs or sections of a paper and gives the reader a sense that you’re building an argument. To make sure you are making a well-connected argument, ask yourself how the last sentence of each paragraph and the first sentence of the next are connected. Each of the sentences within your paragraphs should be related somehow (follow from, refer to, etc.) the one that precedes it, and the one which follows it. This will help the reader follow the flow of your ideas. The order of your paragraphs should reveal a developing argument.

On the most basic level, you should be able to consciously justify the presence and placement of every word in every sentence, every sentence in every paragraph, every paragraph in every essay. To repeat: in revising your papers after the first draft (which is always, inevitably to some degree confused because you are involved in the process of working your ideas out), you should be highly conscious of what you are doing and why you are doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

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