Literary Analysis

Choose one of the following prompts for your first literary analysis essay:

  1. Several of the works we have read this semester deal with the theme of justice, including The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Medea, “Two Brothers,” “The Joseph Story,” and The Aeneid. Choose one or two texts and make an argument about the theme of justice. Some questions to consider: How do these texts define justice? Is revenge justice? Does doing what is “just” always have consequences, for the “offenders,” for “innocent” bystanders, or both? Ultimately, your essay should make an argument about the theme of justice in the chosen text(s).
  2. Many of the works we have read have dealt with the theme of moderation, including The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Medea, and The Aeneid. Choose one of two texts and make an argument about the theme of moderation. Some questions to consider: What causes people to lose self-control? What does it mean to act moderately? What are the effects of not acting with moderation?
  3. All of the works we have read thus far have female characters, including, but not limited to, Shamhat and Ishtar in The Epic of Gilgamesh, Anubis’ wife and the Pharaoh’s wife in “Two Brothers,” Tamar in “The Joseph Story,” Ruth and Naomi in The Book of Ruth, Medea in The Medea, Dido and Juno in The Aeneid. Focus on at least two female characters in one text and make a claim about how women were perceived in the ancient world. You should only use the texts chosen to support your argument; no outside research is to be used in this first literary analysis essay. Questions to consider: Are women powerful, intelligent figures? Are women considered emotional, perhaps to a fault? Are they viewed as helpers rather than leaders?
  4. Several of the works we have read this semester focus on a relationship between two or more people (Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Bata and Anpu, Joseph and his brothers, Ruth and Naomi, Medea and Jason, Aeneas and Dido, etc.). Choose one text and write an essay that makes an argument about the theme of relationships. Some questions to consider: What defines a “good” relationship? How does the end of a relationship affect individuals? Do relationships make us better people? Do we feel a duty to those we are in a relationship with or do we feel others have a duty to us?
  5. Come up with your own prompt. I want you to want to write this paper, so if you are not inspired by any of the prompts above, construct your own. Please be sure to run your prompt by me. Remember, for this first essay, you will use only the primary text; no outside research is to be used for this first essay. Just you, the text, and your close reading.

Your final essay should be 3-5 pages, double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman.

For this first paper, I want to see that you can make your own argument about the text using your own resources. This means NO outside resources should be used in thinking about or writing this essay; you should only use the primary texts as sources.

Regardless of the prompt you choose, your essay should have the following parts:

  1. An introduction with a thesis statement that makes an argument about the chosen works.
    • You should build to your thesis, so your thesis is the last thing the reader sees in your introduction
      • Ways to build to your thesis include:
        • Use a quote that relates to the topic/argument of your paper
        • Use a quote from the text that you don’t intend to use later in your paper
        • Tell a story that relates to the topic/argument of your paper
        • Offer a brief summary of the works before moving to the argument
  2. Body paragraphs (more than three — we are beyond writing five paragraph essays ☺)
    • Each body paragraph should begin with an argument that helps you prove your thesis. To be an argument, the topic sentence has to give you something to prove; it cannot be a plot fact. The best topic sentences will make a claim about both works.
      • Topic Sentence that does not make an argument: Papa Eugene is Catholic.
        • This is not an argument because the author tells us this fact within the text.
      • Topic Sentence that does make an argument: Papa Eugene’s violent adherence to his faith mirrors the violence present in Nigerian culture.
        • This is an argument because it requires you to interpret Papa Eugene’s practice of religion but also how Adichie portrays Nigerian culture. You have to prove/show how you see that Papa Eugene violently adheres to his faith as well as how Nigerian culture is filled with violence at this time. The author doesn’t come out and tell us this information; rather, she writes the novel in a way that allows us to interpret this.
    • Evidence from the text to support your point
      • As a general rule, you should use two pieces of textual evidence per paragraph to support your points.
      • You need to introduce the quotes and explain how they support your point. For examples on how to do this, see the Integrating Quotations Handout as well as the “Annoying Ways People Use Sources” video.
        • Cite the author’s name and page number for every quote (MLA format)
  3. A conclusion that wraps up your argument in a creative way.
  4. A Works Cited page (MLA format)
  5. Remember, the great thing about literature is that it is always alive, so be sure you write your essay in present tense!

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