How to Write a Good Essay on English Literature
To write a good essay on English literature, just follow these 5 easy steps:
1) Understand the purpose of writing essays about literature.
2) Understand how to understand a work of literature.
3) Define "English."
4) Focus your essay.
5) Write your essay.
Let's take these in order.
1) Purpose. There are two closely related purposes of writing essays about literature. Instructors have you write them to make you examine literary works more closely. These works deserve your attention. They have moved people to tears and express the greatest thoughts and feelings of humanity in the best-known writing. As a student, the purpose of writing such an essay is to demonstrate that you understand this work fully and deeply.
2) Understanding. But how do you get that understanding? You get it by reviewing the work closely and repeatedly, and by looking at content, form, and function. You might think of the process as taking an engine apart and putting it back together. In the process, you should come to understand this particular "engine" (literary work) well. To do so, examine each choice made by the author until you can explain how it relates to the whole. Slow down, and take all elements of the work into account: sound, shape on the page, structure (chapter length, number of chapters, etc.), point of view, and so on. Assemble a list and move through it, always keeping the larger purposes of the essay in mind.
3) English. Don't take the term "English" for granted. It's been the subject of a lot of debate over the centuries, and you want to know how you're using it. Research the work's historical period and the author, and take what you learn to define your use of "English." Where is the author from? How did that location define itself during this period in relation to England—and how does it show up in the work?
4) Focus. As you write a literary essay, you argue for a specific interpretation of the work. The essential focus of your essay should be expressed in the thesis statement. Though there are many ways to phrase a thesis statement, you should always be able to translate it to a statement like this: "In this essay, I will prove ___ about this work." Your focus must relate to the purposes of literary essays. You should always be proving that you understand this work on a profound level, but also that you understand the larger meaning of...
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