Critical Reading Response/Analysis: Poetry Explication or Fiction Interpretation

Assignment 1 Critical Reading Response/Analysis: Poetry Explication or Fiction Interpretation   

Select a story or poem from one of the readings from the course schedule. The paper must be typed and double-spaced, conforming to proper MLA manuscript format. You must include evidence and support from at least one academic article.

  • Length: 2 pages minimum
  • You may use sources from the academic databases from the Palm Beach State online library.

Please note there are sample papers on Blackboard, as well as more information about writing a poetry analysis.

Guidelines if Selecting a Poem: An Explication is a detailed analysis of a work of literature, often proceeding word-by-word or line-by-line through the work. For this paper, you will be writing an explication of a poem. You may choose any of the poems we have read or will read for class.

In the explication you will be presenting your “reading” of the poem you have chosen. Such a reading will require you to understand many aspects of the poem and to have a grasp of the meaning of individual parts of the poem in relation to the entire work. You are not, however, striving to be exhaustive in your “explanation” of the poem, but rather you should try to be selective in considering only those details that are significant to your own thematic understanding of the poem.

Some general questions to consider when writing about Poetry:

  1. What does the title contribute to the reader’s understanding of the poem?
  2. Who is the speaker? Where is the speaker when the poem is happening?
  3. What is the situation? What has happened in the past, or what is happening in the present, that has brought about the speech/poem?
  4. Is there a specific setting of time and place?
  5. Is the speaker addressing anyone in particular?
  6. How do you respond to the speaker? Favorably? Negatively? Are there any special circumstances that inform what the speaker says?
  7. Does reading the poem aloud help you to understand it better?
  8. What is the theme/meaning of the poem? Is the theme of the poem presented directly or indirectly? What details make possible the formulation of the main idea?
  9. Do any allusions enrich the poem’s meaning? What references need explaining? How does an explanation assist in the understanding of the poem?
  10. What difficult, special, or unusual words does the poem contain? How does the diction reveal meaning? Are any words repeated? do any carry evocative connotative meanings? Are there any puns or other forms of verbal wit?
  11. Are figures of speech used? How does the figurative language contribute to the poem’s vividness and meaning?
  12. Do any objects, persons, places, events, or actions have allegorical or symbolic meanings? What other details in the poem support your interpretation?
  13. Is irony used? Are there any examples of situational irongy, verbal irony, or dramatic irony? Is understatement or paradox used?
  14. What is the tone of the poem? Is the tone consistent?
  15. What sounds are repeated? If there are rhymes, what is their effect? Do they seem forced or natural? Is there a rhyme scheme? Do the rhymes contribute to the poem’s meaning?
  16. Did you enjoy the poem? What, specifically, pleased or displeased you about what was expressed and how it was expressed?
  17. How might biographical information about the author help to determine the central concerns of the poem?
  18. How might historical information about the poem provide a useful context for interpretation?
  19. To what extent do your own experiences, values, beliefs, and assumptions inform your interpretation?
  20. What kinds of evidence from the poem are you focusing on to support your interpretation? Does your interpretation leave out any important elements that might undercut or qualify your interpretation?

Organizing your paper:

An explication demonstrates your ability to (1) follow the essential details of the poem, (2) understand the issues and the meaning the poem reveals, (3) explain some of the relationships of content and technique, and (4) note and discuss especially important or unique aspects of the poem.

  • In your introduction, use your thesis or central idea to express a general view of the poem, which your essay will fill out with specific details.
  • Next, explicate the poem in relation to your central idea. You choose your own order of discussion, depending on your topics. You must, however, keep stressing your central idea with each new topic. Thus, you may wish to follow your description by discussing the poem’s meaning, or even by presenting two or more possible interpretations. You might also wish to refer to significant techniques. In other words, discuss those aspects of the meaning and technique that bear on your thesis/analysis.
  • In your conclusion, you should repeat your main idea to reinforce your essay’s thematic structure. Since you’ve been working on a general explication (not an exhaustive one), there will be parts of the poem that you will not have discussed. You might then mention what could be gained from an exhaustive examination of various parts of the poem (you should not by any means begin such a task yourself in your concluding paragraph). Finally, leave the reader with a lasting impression of your “reading” of the poem. This is your chance to turn poet for a moment; as with a poem, occasionally the final image of an essay can have the greatest impact on a reader.

Guidelines if Selecting a short story or prose:

What is a literary critical analysis?

A literary critical analysis explains a work of fiction, poetry or drama by means of interpretations. The goal of a literary analysis (as with any other analysis) is to broaden and deepen your understanding of a work of literature.

What is an interpretation?

An interpretation is an individual response that addresses meaning.

Example: The mother in Jamaica Kinkaid’s story “Girl” cannot speak directly of her love for her daughter, so Kinkaid uses details about a woman’s everyday life to convey her pride and anxiety about her daughter.

How do you develop an interpretation?

Interpretations are developed by an in-depth examination of a text. An interpretation often will be the thesis of your paper. The thesis  must have several paragraphs that grow systematically out of the central idea (thesis) and everything in it must be directly related to the central idea and must contribute to the reader’s understanding of that central idea.

How do you conduct an “in-depth” examination of a text?

  • Before reading the work, make sure to examine the title carefully. Often the title is a clue to an important idea in the work.
  • After reading the work the first time, ask yourself the following questions:
  • What is the geographical, historical and social setting? How does this affect the story or poem?
    • Who is (are) the main character(s)?
    • Who are the secondary characters, and how are they linked to the main characters?
    • Does the main character change? If so, how and why? If not, why not?
    • What is the conflict? Can you trace the development and resolution of the conflict?
    • Who is telling the story? How does this influence the story?
  • As you re-read the work, make sure you can answer these questions. Then ask yourself the following questions, which may help you to discover deeper meanings that will lead you to an interpretation.
  • Can you summarize the author’s meaning in one paragraph?
    • Can you state a theme of the work in one sentence?
    • Can you identify any symbols or metaphors? What do they mean?

How do you prove your interpretation?

You prove your interpretation by finding a pattern of examples in the literature that support your idea. You find this pattern in the literary elements, such as plot, point of view, character, setting, symbols, tone, and style.

Where do you find evidence to support your interpretation?

 In a literary analysis evidence is found mainly from the work you are discussing. Secondary sources (published critical analyses) may support your point of view as well.

How much of the story should you retell in a critical analysis?

You do need to locate your reader to the scene or section of the poem that you are discussing; therefore, some plot summary is necessary, but re-telling the story is not considered an analysis. You can assume your reader has read the work.

What should be documented in a critical analysis?

Any secondary sources must, of course, be documented. Also, direct quotes should be documented. Unlike secondary sources, a summary of a literary scene or event does not need documentation. Typically, MLA style documentation is used.

Structure: Introduction, Body, Conclusion

The introduction to your literary analysis essay should try to capture your reader’s interest.  To bring immediate focus to your subject, you may want to use a quotation, a provocative question, a brief anecdote, a startling statement, or a combination of these.  You may also want to include background information relevant to your thesis and necessary for the reader to understand the position you are taking.  In addition, you need to include the title of the work of literature and name of the author.

The Body. The term regularly used for the development of the central idea of a literary analysis essay is the body.  In this section you present the paragraphs that support your thesis statement.  Good literary response essays contain an explanation of your ideas and evidence from the text (short story, poem, play) that supports those ideas.  Textual evidence consists of summary, paraphrase, specific details, and direct quotations. Each paragraph should contain a topic sentence (usually the first sentence of the paragraph) which states one of the topics associated with your thesis, combined with some assertion about how the topic will support the central idea. 

The Conclusion. Your essay should have a concluding paragraph that gives your essay a sense of completeness and lets your readers know that they have come to the end of your paper.  Your concluding paragraph might restate the thesis in different words, summarize the main points you have made, or make a relevant comment about the literary work you are analyzing, but from a different perspective.  Do not introduce a new topic in your conclusion.

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