How does one find secondary sources to use in an essay that is a literary analysis of Louise Erdrich's "The Shawl"?

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tamarakh's profile pic

Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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When writing a literary analysis paper, the type of secondary source you need is what we refer to as literary criticism. Literary criticism refers to studies conducted by scholars to "define, classify, analyze, interpret, and evaluate works of literature" (Mississippi State University, "What is Literary Criticism? How do I find it?"). You would use these scholarly arguments about Louise Erdrich's "The Shawl" to support or add counterarguments to your own literary analysis of the work. While the Internet is useful, it's actually not the place to find all information. Some literary criticism can be found online, like on Google Scholar, but you often need log-in information and the search process is much more difficult than in other scholarly databases. I tried a Google Scholar search myself, but even on the first page, while the keywords did show up, none of the articles were relevant. Even eNotes, sadly, does not currently offer any literary criticism on that specific work. In short, it's very difficult to find literary criticism on the Internet, and the best place to find literary criticism is still the library, especially your school library or even local university library. There are two different types of sources in which you can find literary criticism: books and articles.

To find books containing literary criticism of "The Shawl," go to your library or access the online library catalog and either do a subject search on the author or do a keyword search using the author's name, the title of the work, and words like "'criticism' or 'interpretation'" ("Finding Books"). For your specific work, try these two following search terms:

  • Louise Erdrich The Shawl criticism
  • Louise Erdrich The Shawl interpretation


For a book search, you can also find literary criticism in certain anthologies and may be able to find something that applies to "The Shawl" in works like Introducing Literary Theories: A Guide and Glossary by Julian Wolfreys or Critical Theory and the Literary Canon by E. Deans Kolbas. However, you are more likely to have an easier time finding books using the keywords above.

Articles are easily found using your library's electronic databases. The latest copies of academic, peer reviewed journals are stored in electronic databases, and its in these journals you will quickly and easily find the most current literary criticism on your topic. However, many databases require memberships, which your library has, so using the databases through the library will be much more convenient than trying to access them on Google Scholar. Databases you should be able to access through your library are "Academic Search Complete, Humanities International Complete, JSTOR, Literary Reference Center, MLA International Bibliography, and Project MUSE" ("Finding Articles"). To find literary criticism articles pertaining to your specific topic, again, either search by the author's name, or search under the title of the work the word AND plus the word criticism. For example, consider searching under the following:

  • Erdrich AND criticism
  • The Shawl AND criticism


Also, if all else fails, be sure and ask your research librarian for further assistance.

Sources:
dwashburn's profile pic

dwashburn | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

I typically teach my students to turn to scholarly journals. You can find them easily on google scholar. These are journals that have been approved to be used as resources, avoiding any faulty information on the Internet. 

Secondary sources can be found there. 

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