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Student Question

How should one structure an essay that explores how an author uses humor to portray something?

Expert Answers

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Every essay begins with a thesis.  Your thesis is your argument in one sentence.  In this case, you can answer the prompt.  In the story _____________, the author creates humor by _________________.  Fill in the blanks and you're on your way.

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I won't touch on organization & structure of the essay response, as speamerfam has done a great job of describing how to do that already.

In responding to the type of essay question you describe, it's important to remember some key points:

  1. Don't fall into the trap of simply summarizing the plot. That's one of the most common errors in writing an essay response to a literary analysis question.
  2. Look at the tone the author takes toward the topic, the mood that the author's words and writing style create in the reader as he reads, and stick to the essay point of humor or whatever the instructor has identified.
  3. Come up with some textual examples of how the author accomplishes the purpose identified in the question. This may involve specific quotations and/or it might require that you summarize an event in your own words.
  4. For each example, explain how the author uses humor, etc., to accomplish the purpose. This is what instructors mean when they say "use evidence from the text to support your answer."
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In order to begin an essay response, you need to state a main idea in response to the question. In your example, a statement of your main idea would be to say something like "In (name of the book) the author, (name of author) uses humor (or whatever) to show the reader how American politics have become increasingly hostile."  That is what we call a thesis statement.  How will you support your thesis statement? Choose a few points you want to make to support your idea, and write a sentence that tells the reader what points you are going to make.  This is a kind of preview for the reader and helps the reader to organize what you have to say in his or her mind. 

Usually, when you are doing a literary analysis, you need to give the reader some information about the plot, setting, and characters of the book you are discussing.  If you can do this in a sentence or two, then you can place this information in the first paragraph. If your summary is going to take more than a few sentences, you need to start a second paragraph with this information.

Once you have introduced your main idea, given the reader a preview and some background information about the book, it is time to make the points you talked about.  Each point should be developed in a separate paragraph, with each paragraph giving the reader a topic sentence that tells the reader the point you are trying to make. In a literary analysis, you should use quotations or paraphrases from the book to support your statements. 

Finally, the last paragraph is the conclusion.  This is a good time to restate your main idea and give the reader a review of the ideas you discussed.

I hope this helps.  Good luck to you.

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