Close Reading Essay

In the short blog posts, our class has done an admirable job of zeroing in on specific evidence from the texts we have been reading. Our focus so far has been on close reading, the basic evidence of literary analysis.

For the longer close reading essay, select one of the texts we have read and use the kind of close textual analysis you’ve been doing in the blog posts to offer a more sustained interpretation/reading of that text. “Close reading” is an important skill, but we usually don’t just close read for it’s own sake. We usually do so to argue for a specific reading of the text.

Just like in an ENWR paper, literary papers should have claims and make arguments. One way to make sure you have a contestable claim in your paper is to ask an interpretive question of the text, then answer it. We’ve asked questions throughout the semester, for example:

  • Why does Langston Hughes name specific rivers in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” and how do those rivers add to the meaning of the poem?
  • Why does Hemingway so frequently use negative/understated language (“comfortably,” “painless”) to depict a scene of painful agony?
  • What does “the real” mean in Henry James’s “The Real Thing”?
  •  How does Stein’s repetitive style shape the meaning of “The Gentle Lena”?
  • What depends on a “red wheel / barrow”?

Don’t answer one of these questions in specific, but design a question that gets at similar problems of interpretation. Identify the question your paper is answering at the start of your post. Ground your argument in close readings of a few passages from the text, and show how those passages offer evidence for an argument.

For more guidance on how to write a strong literary analysis paper, the resources at the English Department’s “Grounds for Argument” site might be useful to you. These lessons are geared toward literature classes (as opposed to ENWR classes) in particular:

Your essay should be ~1000 words, and it should be posted to the blog by 10 p.m. on Wednesday, March 19. After it’s posted, you’ll get feedback from me and from some classmates, and you’ll have an opportunity to revise if you wish.

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