I am struggling to find a text (primary and secondary) and a topic for my argumentative ten-page English paper. How can I come up with a topic that makes a claim about a literary text and validates that claim with supporting evidence through literary criticism?

I must choose one of the following literary frameworks:

  • Marxist Criticism    
  • Feminist Criticism
  • New Criticism
  • Structural Criticism
  • Deconstructive Criticism 
  • New Historical and Cultural Criticism
  • African American Criticism

My essay could be about a novel, a poem, a short story, a play or any other material through the lens of a single literary theory. 

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For a paper of this scale, you will have to devise an in-depth and complex thesis regarding a literary text. Since the assignment states that you have to use a critical framework, let us begin by defining these distinct frameworks.

Marxist Critics are interested in a text’s stance on economics,...

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For a paper of this scale, you will have to devise an in-depth and complex thesis regarding a literary text. Since the assignment states that you have to use a critical framework, let us begin by defining these distinct frameworks.

Marxist Critics are interested in a text’s stance on economics, class differences, and the ramifications of capitalism.

Feminist Critics explore a text’s stance on the oppression of women in political, social, or psychological spheres.

Proponents of New Criticism analyze literature as a self-contained art object. They disregard the work’s historical or biographical aspects.

Structural Critics typically examine a variety of works to identify general patterns of linguistics and communication within a specific genre or time period.

Deconstructionist Critics explore contradictions in a text, or the subtle ways in which certain elements of a text may oppose its general intended meaning, to establish a text’s multiplicity of meanings.

New Historical and Cultural Critics expose how a text aligns with a cultural or political movement from its historical period.

African American Criticism explores racial considerations across various forms of artistic expression.

Now that you are familiar with these theories, you should choose a text to close read. Though every text may lend itself to analysis through one of these literary theories, you should choose a text that interests you, since you will have to spend a great amount of time close reading it. Close reading means reading the text slowly and identifying the theoretical ramifications of a character or narrator’s dialogue or actions. As you close read, take a copious amount of notes! These initial notes do not have to regard only one literary theory or analysis; they should be merely critical observations you’ve made about the text.

Once your close reading is done, you should look for lines of thought that you may then shape into an arguable thesis. What does the text suggest about capitalism? What does the text suggest about the agency of women in a given time or place? Does the text align with a political or cultural movement in history? Your answers to these questions, if you are looking at the text closely, should not merely be yes or no. Your answer should instead be more nuanced. For instance, perhaps a text suggests that some aspects of capitalism fail to align with Christian principles, or that a text demonstrates the inherence of female oppression in the 21st century workplace.

Once you have a tentative answer to these questions, you should research your chosen literary theory to refine and add complexity to your thesis. Your thesis should ultimately be about what the author or the text itself is doing, or what the author or text is establishing, suggesting, justifying, critiquing, suggesting, or undermining. This thesis, however, may change as you begin writing! As you write, you will make new observations that may validate or contradict your thesis, and you should explain or resolve evidence or oppositions in your paper. Since this is a research paper, you will also have to show how your thesis aligns with or opposes the arguments of published literary critics.

I hope this helps, and good luck on your paper! For more information, please visit the eNotes essay lab!

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