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How to Write a Critical Analysis of a Short Story

by Mary Earhart, Demand Media

    A critical analysis suggests that the short story's "hidden" message can be decoded and determines if it was clearly conveyed. The student must decide what the story is about and defend that decision with examples from the story itself.

    Items you will need

    • Short story
    • Specific directions from instructors for this assignment
    • Opinions about the story's meaning and construction

    State, Support, and Judge the Meaning of the Story

    Step 1

    Decide what the meaning of the story is. State it in one sentence. Because of their brevity and selective number of characters, short stories generally aim to evoke a single emotional response in a reader. What was the point the author tried to make to the reader? If the story has more than one meaning, choose the most important for this essay.

    Step 2

    Analyze the story's literary elements. Study the theme, characters, setting, plot, conflict, tone, point of view, and irony for clues as to how the author tried to make his point. Do the characters have flaws that readers can relate to? Does the conflict come about through misunderstanding? Who is narrating the story and how are events altered from this perspective? If the story contains irony, point out how it relates to the story's meaning.

    Step 3

    Use quotes from the short story to support your idea. Point out passages that show the author's meaning as it unfolds. Perhaps a character is manipulative. Quote dialogue from that character showing she assumed she knew what's best for everyone. Continuing with that example, if the author's message is that people who try to control everyone else are the most predictable and therefore most easily manipulated, quote parts of the story that convey this idea.

    Step 4

    Be critical and judge the short story. This is where opinions count. If the author conveyed meaning well and consistently, say so. If clarity was lacking or the meaning got lost in places, explain that. For example, in "The Necklace," a short story by Guy De Maupassant, incidents in the life of a French couple in the 1800s show how materialistic, resentful, and uncaring a woman is toward her husband. The reader might be left with the impression that the husband is long-suffering, patient, and loving as he gives up his inheritance to pay for a necklace his wife borrowed and lost. In a critical analysis, however, it could be stated that De Maupassant did a poor job of showing both sides of the story and could have related more realistically the passive-aggressive traits of the husband, who after all, has chosen to indulge a materialistic partner.

    Step 5

    Restate your ideas in brief by summarizing previous paragraphs. End the paper by repeating the meaning of the story in one sentence.

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    About the Author

    Mary Earhart is a registered nurse, a public health nurse and licensed midwife. Her articles have appeared in professional journals and online ezines. She holds a Bachelor of Science in nursing from California State University at Dominguez Hills. She works in a family practice clinic, has a home birth practice and her specialty is perinatal substance abuse.

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