How do I begin a literary analysis of Malcolm X's "Literacy Behind Bars"?

Begin with a hook, or engaging first sentence. Then give an introduction to the relevant rhetorical context and a thesis statement.

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Most introductions should start with a hook, or an engaging first sentence. After that, relevant context follows and then your thesis statement. The relevant context, in this case, will be rhetorical context because you are writing an analysis. Rhetorical context sounds fancy, but all it really means is that you briefly explain the main idea, the purpose, and the audience of the work.

Main idea and purpose are often confused, but they are not always the same. The main idea explains what the main point of the text is, while the purpose explains why the author took care to say that main idea in the first place. For example, the main idea of "Literacy Behind Bars" could be that reading in prison liberated Malcolm X in a way, but the purpose could be to encourage others to embrace literacy. You will need to narrow this statement down into how he was liberated and what form of literacy he wants people to embrace for your assignment.

The audience is tougher to determine. You will want to think about where the article was first published and who might need to be encouraged to embrace literacy.

After you write the rhetorical context, be sure to add a hook and your own thesis statement. Your hook could be a question, a surprising statement, or a quote from the article that really represents what you are talking about. Your thesis should make a statement about how the text communicates the main idea: Does it use his personal experience? Does it use examples of literacy? What are those examples of literacy? Does he use an effective tone?

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A literary analysis asks readers to determine and justify how and why a text was written. A good literary analysis will examine and explain the choices an author makes regarding word choice, use of literary/rhetorical devices, and character (including characterization and actions/thoughts). 

In order to construct/begin a literary analysis of Malcolm X's essay "Literacy Behind Bars," a reader must be aware of his historical importance and ideologies. His lack of a formal education, no formal education "beyond the eighth grade," proves curious (given his eloquent and powerful language). This said, what appeals to you as a reader must be the focus of a literary analysis. 

In order to begin, choose what you would like to focus upon. A literary analysis can focus upon language, connotations (emotional meaning of words), diction, imagery, point of view, or tone. Depending upon which idea you focus upon, the support necessary to substantiate the point being made can be either direct (openly stated) or indirect (inferred by the reader). 

Given the essay opens with a discussion about words, a literary analysis upon the meaning Malcolm implies in his word choice would be thought provoking. 

The steps to conducting a literary analysis are as follows: 

1. Read the text.

2. Identify which elements "speak to you" (what you would like to focus upon).

3. Identify how the "parts" of this element act singularly and as a whole (throughout the text). 

4. Define meaning, reasoning, and use (as interpreted by self). 

5. Begin writing: Include name of article/author, any necessary background information (on author or text), summarize the work, and define analysis. 

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