In most English courses you will be required to read literature -- and then you will have to write about it. In order to successfully write an essay in response to a text, you must have a clear point, and you must read and analyze the characters, themes and language for support and evidence.
While you should evaluate various elements of a literary text to write an essay, you ultimately need to be making a single point. Your point can address the story's themes, the author's intentions, the relationship between the text and the world today or specific aspects of the story, play or poem. This point is encapsulated in a single sentence, in the form of a thesis statement, and included in the introductory paragraph of the essay. The function of the rest of the essay is to explain and prove this statement.
In the case of fiction and drama, the role of characters is a key source of information. You can reflect on how the characters change throughout the text, what important decisions they make and how their decisions reveal their values. You can also address the conflicts they face -- within themselves, with other people and with forces such as nature or God. For example, in an essay on Kate Chopin's novel "The Awakening," you could write about the protagonist's conflict with Victorian society and the limitations placed on women.
Theme must be addressed in all literary essays. It can expressed in literature in various ways, usually implicitly, and can be identified through inference and interpretation. For example, you may be given a specific theme such as "loss of innocence," and asked to compare how the theme is manifested in two different texts. Or you may be asked to identify major themes in Langston Hughes' poetry. Make certain to provide the reader with evidence, in the form of specific quotations, to support your analysis and evaluation of theme.
Figurative language is particularly important in analyzing poetry. Examples of figurative language include metaphor, simile, alliteration, hyperbole and personification. University of North Carolina at Pembroke states that it "usually involves a comparison between two things that may not, at first, seem to relate to one another." Figurative language allows the author to express abstract ideas and to communicate emotion by creating new relationships or evoking commonly held beliefs.
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