Writing a critical analysis of a short story is a way to expand on simply reading the story. It is also a place to express your ideas and thoughts about the author and story. A critical analysis suggests that the short story's "hidden" message can be decoded by an outside source. It also determines if that message was clearly conveyed to the reader. A student writing a critical analysis of a short story must decide what the story is about and then defend that decision with examples from the story itself.
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.
Analyze Literary Elements
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. If you have context relating to the story or contemporary history, include that to give the reader perspective.
Use specific 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. 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.
Be critical when writing your analysis of the short story as this is where opinions count and should engage the reader. If the author of the short story conveyed meaning well and consistently, express that in your critique. Likewise if clarity was lacking or the meaning got lost in places, explain that further as well. 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. Without context or explanation, the reader might be left with the impression that only the husband is long-suffering, patient, and loving as he gives up his inheritance to pay for a necklace his wife borrowed and then lost. However, in a critical analysis, it could be stated that De Maupassant did a poor job of showing both sides of the story. Further analysis could have related more realistically the passive-aggressive traits of the husband who has chosen to indulge a materialistic and calloused spouse. As you write the criticism, try to support any analysis with contemporary materials or information that further supports your assertions.
After you complete the critique section of the essay, restate your ideas in in the conclusion by summarizing previous paragraphs. Take care not to introduce new ideas in this section as that can confuse the reader. Finally, end the paper by repeating the meaning of the story in one sentence to reiterate the ideas for the reader.