Many teachers say to use quotations in essay exams, but I don't understand how to use quotations in an answer. For example, using Eagleton's definition of literature to answer the exam question,...

Many teachers say to use quotations in essay exams, but I don't understand how to use quotations in an answer. For example, using Eagleton's definition of literature to answer the exam question, "What is Literature?" what would be a quotation that I could use?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The first step, of course, is to carefully read and understand Eagleton's "Introduction: What Is Literature" to Literary Theory: An Introduction. Without this, you cannot hope to find a quotation to use in an answer. Eagleton's Introduction is very complicated. He goes through a pattern of reasoning on several theories of literature to reveal various ideas of what literature is, then he concludes with his assertion of what it is. The pattern he follows through the examination of each theoretical position is this:

  • he states what the theoretical position is.
  • he states what the problematic weaknesses of the position are.
  • he states what is, in his opinion, relevant from the theory to a universalized answer about what literature is.

One of the theories he thus analyses is Russian Formalism, another is Marxism. In both of these, and in the others, he ends his analysis by favoring the part of the theoretical approach that he sees as a sound contribution to what literature is. Thus, one way to find quotes for this question is to quote his concluding remarks of analysis about one of the theories he discusses. You may use run-on quotations, which are incorporated seamlessly into the sentence you write, or you may use block indent quotations, which are inset from the margins of the text.

Another way to find a quotation is use Eagleton's final concluding statements where he makes some bold claims about what literature is. His claims incorporate elements from his earlier analyses of the various theoretical approaches he discusses. For instance, in his conclusion Eagleton draws on Marxism and asserts that literature is an ideologically important part of the superstructure of society that advances and maintains the power structure. If you read and understand his conclusion where he makes this assertion--here paraphrased, not quoted--you will certainly find good material for quotations. 

Let's take an example from the conclusion of Eagleton's discussion of Russian Formalists (p. 3), which later forms part of the foundation of his final conclusion and his own assertion of what literature is. The quotation we'll work with is this: "Literature, by forcing us into a dramatic awareness of language, refreshes these habitual responses and renders objects more 'perceptible'." While a quotation itself is meaningless in relation to your own exam essay without the context, thesis, and arguments of your own analysis, this example will serve to show you how this quotation might be used effectively. What follows are two hypothetical sentences incorporating the above quote as a run-on quotation and as a block indent quotation.

  • While Eagleton may emphasize other points in his final answer to the question of what literature is, his analysis of Formalism yet has salient application because literature's language does force "us into a dramatic awareness of language." A foundational part of Eagleton's final assertion depends upon Formalism's insights because ideologies undergirding value-judgements are made more "'perceptible'" by the heightened language of literature:

Literature, by forcing us into a dramatic awareness of language, refreshes these habitual responses and renders objects more 'perceptible'.

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clairewait's profile pic

clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

For reference, it would be helpful to know and understand how to incorporate quotes in essay exams no matter what the question.

It does not matter if an essay question requires a one paragraph or a one page response, quotations from another print source are always used as evidence, sometimes called concrete detail or examples. When giving an answer, start with a topic sentence, which essentially gives the overall idea of the answer you are about to provide. Most often, turning the essay question into a declarative sentence provides a basic structure for an easy and effective topic sentence. Then, in the next sentence or two, provide evidence. The entire sentence does not need to be a quote from the text (and should not be), but rather, it is best to paraphrase some of the text and then put key concepts in quotations. In the final sentences of the paragraph, elaborate by explaining what your examples mean. Here you will use your own words. I would encourage you to go a step further and provide at least one more piece of evidence (utilizing paraphrased and quoted material from your source) and finish with one or two final sentences of elaboration. 

This is the structure for an effective body paragraph within a larger essay, or a very solid structure for a one paragraph answer to an essay question on an exam, and it could be made stronger with one more example quote and elaboration.

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