How to Make Assertions in Literature

Assertions point to the meaning of a work of literature.
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Readers make assertions about literature, and literature makes assertions about life. When you are asked to make an assertion for the text of a literary work -- a story, poem or play -- you are actually being asked to make a claim and argue about what the text says about a life situation. A work of literature can have more than one possible meaning, and your assertions try to persuade your audience to accept your interpretation of its meaning using a particular perspective or way of seeing the work.

1 Read Carefully

Read the text several times, and jot down your thoughts. Analyze by formulating questions about and responding to all the elements of the type of literature you are reading -- fiction, drama or poetry. Focus on one or two elements for your interpretation. For example, in Kate Chopin’s short story, “The Story of an Hour,” Louise Mallard is mistakenly told that her husband, Brently, died in a train accident. When Mallard unexpectedly discovers that her husband is very much alive, she dies. A close reading could lead the conclusion that Louise Mallard died not because of her weak heart but because she realized that she could never feel alive as long as her husband lives.

2 Organize Your Assertions

A literary analysis may have multiple assertions, but all assertions must relate to the main thesis or central claim in the introduction. Make the topic sentence of each body paragraph an assertion related to the thesis. Follow with evidence from the text and explanations to support your assertion. When Mallard thinks her husband is dead, she feels released from the repression of a patriarchal society. The narrator explains: “She said it over and over under her breath: "free, free, free!" In the body of your essay, you might explain how Mallard felt before and during her hour of freedom.

3 Dig Deeper

The formalist approach to literary criticism considers only the text itself as a way to discover meaning. Perdue OWL explains how the formalist approach expanded with approaches from history, culture, gender and other areas of study can yield discoveries that are not obvious. In “The Story of an Hour,” psychological connections are implied by the narrator when readers learn Mrs. Mallard was not on the train when the supposed fatal accident to her husband occurred. The narrator presents this information at the moment of death to show that Mr. Mallard may have also had a repressed desire to be free of his invalid wife -- an implied assertion.

4 Test Assertions

Assertions must be plausible if not totally convincing, and they must also be backed up by evidence. Look in the text for evidence to the contrary of what you assert. Mrs. Mallard claimed her husband had "kind, tender hands" and remembered his that face “never looked save with love upon her.” However, Mr. Mallard was careless when he came home from a secret rendezvous. His will was powerful and he imposed it upon his wife with “blind persistence." Making an analysis about character inconsistency, internal and external conflicts and how they are resolved or not will help test assertions. Clearly, Mr. Mallard did not love Mrs. Mallard -- all statements in the story to the contrary -- and this is a central current of the tale. It shows why husband and wife, truly, wanted to be rid of each other.

A native of New Orleans, Amanda Petrona holds a Bachelor of Science in anthropology/social psychology and Master of Arts in English. She taught writing, research and literature at LSU Baton Rouge. Petrona founded Wild Spirit Louisiana, an organic farm, nature conservatory, and education center for sustainable and holistic living.