Jamaica Kincaids “girl:5 paragraph essay- MLA format – Thesis statement/restated thesis- Works Cited page (2-3 sources)
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A Guide to Writing the Literary Analysis Essay
I. INTRODUCTION: the first paragraph in your essay. It begins creatively in order to catch
your reader’s interest, provides essential background about the literary work, and prepares the
reader for your major thesis. The introduction must include the author and title of the work as
well as an explanation of the theme to be discussed. Other essential background may include
setting, an introduction of main characters, etc. The major thesis goes in this paragraph usually
at the end. Because the major thesis sometimes sounds tacked on, make special attempts to link it
to the sentence that precedes it by building on a key word or idea.
A) Creative Opening/Hook: the beginning sentences of the introduction that catch the reader’s
interest. Ways of beginning creatively to include the following:
1) A startling fact or bit of information
Example: Nearly two hundred citizens were arrested as witches during the Salem witch scare of
1692. Eventually nineteen were hanged, and another was pressed to death (Marks 65).
2) A snatch of dialogue between two characters
Example: “It is another thing. You [Frederic Henry] cannot know about it unless you have it.”
“ Well,” I said. “If I ever get it I will tell you [priest].” (Hemingway 72). With these words, the
priestin Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms sends the hero, Frederic, in search of the
ambiguous “it” in his life.
3) A meaningful quotation (from the book you are analyzing or another source)
Example: “To be, or not to be, that is the question” {3.1.57}. This familiar statement expresses
the young prince’s moral dilemma in William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, Prince of
4) A universal idea
Example: The terrifying scenes a soldier experiences on the front probably follow him
throughout his life—if he manages to survive the war.
5) A rich, vivid description of the setting
Example: Sleepy Maycomb, like other Southern towns, suffers considerably during the Great
Depression. Poverty reaches from the privileged families, like the Finches, to the Negroes and
“white trash” Ewells, who live on the outskirts of town. Harper Lee paints a vivid picture of life
in this humid Alabama town where tempers and bigotry explode into conflict.
B) Thesis: a statement that provides the subject and overall opinion of your essay. For a literary
analysis your major thesis must
(1) relate to the theme of the work
(2) suggest how this theme is revealed by the author. A good thesis may also suggest the
organization of the paper.
Example: Through Paul’s experience behind the lines, at a Russian prisoner of war camp, and
especially under bombardment in the trenches, Erich Maria Remarque realistically shows how
war dehumanizes a man. Sometimes a thesis becomes too cumbersome to fit into one sentence.
In such cases, you may express the major thesis as two sentences.
Example: In a Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens shows the process by which a wasted life
can be redeemed. Sidney Carton, through his love for Lucie Manette, is transformed from a
hopeless, bitter man into a hero whose life and death have meaning.
A) Body: the support paragraphs of your essay. These paragraphs contain supporting Example:
(concrete detail) and analysis/explanation (commentary) for your topic sentences. Each
paragraph in the body includes (1) a topic sentence, (2) textual evidence (a.k.a. quotes from your
reading) and commentary (a.k.a. explanation), and (3) a concluding sentence. In its simplest
form, each body paragraph is organized as follows:
1. topic sentence
2. lead-in to textual evidence 1
3. textual evidence 1
4. commentary
5. transition and lead-in to textual evidence 2
6. textual evidence 2
7. commentary
8. concluding or clincher sentence
1) Topic Sentence: the first sentence of a body or support paragraph. It identifies one aspect of
the major thesis and states a primary reason why the major thesis is true.
Example: When he first appears in the novel, Sidney Carton is a loveless outcast who sees little
worth in himself or in others.
2) Textual Evidence: a specific example from the work used to provide evidence for your topic
sentence. Textual evidence can be a combination of paraphrase and direct quotation from the
Example: When Carlton and Darnay first meet at the tavern, Carlton tells him, “I care for no
man on this earth, and no man cares for me” (Dickens 105).
3) Commentary: your explanation and interpretation of the textual evidence. Commentary tells
the reader what the author of the text means or how the textual evidence proves the topic
sentence. Commentary may include interpretation, analysis, argument, insight, and/or reflection.
(Helpful hint: In your body paragraph, you should have twice as much commentary as textual
evidence. In other words, for every sentence of textual evidence, you should have at least two
sentences of commentary.)
Example: Carton makes this statement as if he were excusing his rude behavior to Darnay.
Carton, however, is only pretending to be polite, perhaps to amuse himself. With this seemingly
off-the-cuff remark, Carton reveals a deeper cynicism and his emotional isolation.
4) Transitions: words or phrases that connect or “hook” one idea to the next, both between and
within paragraphs. Transition devices include using connecting words as well as repeating key
words or using synonyms.
Examples: Finally, in the climax… Another example: … Later in the story… In contrast to this
behavior… Not only…but also… Furthermore…
5) Lead-In: phrase or sentence that prepares the reader for textual evidence by introducing the
speaker, setting, and/or situation.
Example: Later, however, when the confident Sidney Carton returns alone to his home, his
alienation and unhappiness become apparent: “Climbing into a high chamber in a well of houses,
he threw himself down in his clothes on a neglected bed, and its pillow was wet with wasted
tears” (Dickens 211).
6) Clincher/Concluding Sentence: last sentence of the body paragraph. It concludes the
paragraph by tying the textual evidence and commentary back to the thesis.
Example: Thus, before Carton experiences love, he is able to convince himself that the world
has no meaning.
III. CONCLUSION: last paragraph in your essay. This paragraph should begin by echoing your
major thesis without repeating the words exactly. Then, the conclusion should broaden from the
thesis statements to answer the “so what?” question your reader may have after reading your
essay. The conclusion should do one or more of the following:
1) Reflect on how your essay topic relates to the book as a whole
2) Evaluate how successful the author is in achieving his or her goal or message
3) Give a personal statement about the topic
4) Make predictions
5) Connect back to your creative opening
6) Give your opinion of the novel’s value or significance
PRIMARY SOURCE: The literary work (novel, play, story, poem) to be discussed in an essay.
Example: Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart”
**For most literary analysis papers, you will be using ONLY PRIMARY SOURCES
SECONDARY SOURCE: Any source (other than the primary source) referred to in the essay.
Secondary sources can include critical analyses, biographies of the author, reviews, history
books, encyclopedias etc. When citing primary or secondary sources, follow MLA style for
parenthetical documentation and “Works Cited” page.
WORKS CITED: a separate page listing all the works cited in an essay. It simplifies
documentation because it permits you to make only brief references to those works in the test
(parenthetical documentation). A “Works Cited” page differs from a “Bibliography” in that the
latter includes sources researched but not actually cited in the paper. All the entries on a “Works
Cited” pages are double spaced.
PARENTHETICAL DOCUMENTATION: a brief parenthetical reference placed where a
pause would naturally occur to avoid disrupting the flow of your writing (usually at the end of a
sentence, before the period). Most often you will use the author’s last name and page number
clearly referring to a source listed on the “Works Cited” page:
Example: Hemingway’s writing declined in his later career (Shien 789).
If you cite the author in the text of your paper, give only the page number in parentheses:
Example: According to Francis Guerin, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn reflects “those
same nightmarish shadows that even in our own time threaten to obscure the American Dream”
If two works by the same author appear in your “Works Cited,” add the title or a shortened
version of it to distinguish your sources:
Example: “He wouldn’t rest until he had run a mile or more” (Dickens, A Tale 78).
BLOCK QUOTATION: quotations that are set off from the rest of the paper. Indent one-inch
from the left margin only and double space. Do not use quotation marks unless they appear in the
original. Use block quotations sparingly since they should not take over the voice of the paper.
1) For a prose quotation of more than 4 typed lines, start the quotation after a colon and indent
each line of the quotation 0.5 inches (same indentation as a new paragraph), placing the citation
after the end punctuation.
Based on rumors and gossip, the children of Maycomb speculate about Boo Radley’s
appearance: Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on
raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained—if
you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long, jagged scar
that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and
he drooled most of the time. (Lee 13)
2) For any prose dialogue involving 2 or more speakers, start the quotation (dialogue) after a
colon and have each line of dialogue as its own paragraph (a 10-space indentation), placing the
citation information after the end punctuation.
Example: During the trial scene, Bob Ewell immediately shows his disrespect
for both the court and his family: “Are you the father of Mayella Ewell?” was the next question.
“Well, if I ain’t I can’t do nothing about it now, her ma’s dead,” was the answer. (Lee 172)
**This guide has been adapted from “A Guide to Writing the Literary Analysis Essay” at:
Literary Analysis Paper/Rubric
What is a literary analysis?

In a literary analysis, you write a formal paper in which you make an argument
and support your argument with examples from and analysis of a literary text.
What is the point?

You should be developing your abilities to READ a text, make an ARGUMENT,
LOGICALLY support that argument with evidence from the text, write in an
ORGANIZED manner which will aid in conveying your points to the reader, and
communicate via the written page. The importance of such skills should be

What a literary analysis IS NOT!

A paper exploring the relevance of the story to your own life. While your own
experience will of course shape your writing style as well as the story you pick,
you should not focus on personal life experiences or use them as arguments for
your topic.

A summary of the story.

A summary of the class notes.
Steps you should take:
1. Formulate a clear thesis.
2. Formulate a few questions relevant to your thesis which will help you when
you reread the story or poem.
3. Reread the story or poem you want to address carefully. Underline passages
which are relevant or copy them into your notes. Try to answer the questions
you’ve formulated.
4. Brainstorm ideas: what arguments can you make? What connections come to
5. Reexamine your thesis. Is it supportable? Is it complex enough? Is it
6. Organize your examples and your ideas. Make a rough outline, including
examples and page numbers.
7. Write!
Ask yourself: Do my sentences connect? Do my paragraphs connect? (In
other words, does this make any sense at all?)
10. Have some else proof read it.
11. Rewrite!
12. Turn in final draft.
Tips for Writing a Literary Analysis
1. Write in the present tense.

EXAMPLE: In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” the townspeople visit Emily
Grierson’s house because it smells bad.

NOT: In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” the townspeople visited Emily
Grierson’s house because it smelled bad.
2. Normally, keep yourself out of your analysis; in other words, use the
third person (no I or you).

FIRST PERSON: I believe that the narrator in “Sonny’s Blues” is a
dynamic character because I read many details about the changes in his
attitude toward and relationship with Sonny.

THIRD PERSON: The narrator in “Sonny’s Blues” is a dynamic character
who changes his attitude toward and relationship with Sonny as the story

SECOND PERSON: At the end of “Everyday Use,” Mama realizes that
Maggie is like her but has not received the attention you should give your
daughter to help her attain self-esteem.

THIRD PERSON: At the end of “Everyday Use,” Mama realizes that
Maggie is like her but has not received enough attention to build selfesteem.
3. Avoid summarizing the plot (i.e., retelling the story literally). Instead
analyze (form a thesis about and explain) the story in literary terms.

PLOT SUMMARY: In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the mad
narrator explains in detail how he kills the old man, who screams as he
dies. After being alerted by a neighbor, the police arrive, and the madman
gives them a tour through the house, finally halting in the old man’s
bedroom, where he has buried the man beneath the floor planks under the
bed. As he is talking, the narrator hears what he thinks is the old man’s
heart beating loudly, and he is driven to confess the murder.

ANALYSIS: Though the narrator claims he is not mad, the reader realizes
that the narrator in “The Telltale Heart” is unreliable and lies about his
sanity. For example, the mad narrator says he can hear “all things in the
heaven and in the earth.” Sane people cannot. He also lies to the police
when he tells them that the shriek they hear occurs in his dream. Though
sane people do lie, most do not meticulously plan murders, lie to the
police, and then confess without prompting. Finally, the madman is so
plagued with guilt that he hears his own conscience in the form of the old
man’s heart beating loudly. Dead hearts do not beat, nor do sane people
confuse their consciences with the sounds of external objects.
4. Include a clear thesis statement which addresses something meaningful
about the literature, often about the theme.
5. Use literary terms to discuss your points (i.e., character, theme, setting,
rhyme, point of view, alliteration, symbols, imagery, figurative language,
protagonist, and so forth).

NONLITERARY TERMS: To show that women are important, Adrienne
Rich writes about Aunt Jennifer and the tigers that she creates in her

LITERARY TERMS: The poem “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” contains vivid
images and symbols which reveal a feminist perspective.
6. Do not confuse characters’ (in fiction or drama) or speakers’ (in poetry)
viewpoints with authors’ viewpoints.

AUTHOR: As a black woman, Eudora Welty faces racism in “A Worn
Path.” (Eudora Welty, the author, was not black.)

CHARACTER: As a black woman, Old Phoenix faces racism in “A Worn
Path.” (Old Phoenix, a character, is black.)

POET: In “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Robert Frost is
tempted to drift into his subconscious dream world, yet he knows he has
other obligations to fulfill when he states, “But I have promises to keep, /
And miles to go before I sleep.” (The pronoun “I” refers to the speaker of
the poem, not to Robert Frost, the poet.)

SPEAKER: In “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” the speaker is
tempted to drift into his subconscious dream world, yet he knows he has
other obligations to fulfill when he states, “But I have promises to keep, /
And miles to go before I sleep.” (Here the “I” correctly refers to the
speaker of the poem.)
7. Support your points with many quotations and paraphrases, but write
the majority of your paper in your own words with your own ideas.
8. Cite prose, poetry, drama, critics, and any other sources used according
to specialized MLA standards. (Check Purdue Owl for updated MLA
formatting instructions)

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