Penn Arts & Sciences Logo


As you’ll remember from the Four Noble Truths of writing, students of literature stray from the text at their own risk.  So, the obvious question follows: what do we do with the text now that we’re not straying from it?  As always, it’s easier to stipulate what not to do first: don’t summarize the text at hand.  Why?
1.      It’s boring: the most brilliant summary of a text (or a part of one) can never do more than give readers what they would have gotten from reading the original; you, in contrast, want to provide a unique argument that opens up aspects of the text that your readers will not have previously contemplated.
2.      It goes against a basic assumption shared by all writers of the genre known as the “literary critical essay”: namely, that your readers already know the basic facts about a text (plot, characters, basic argument, etc.); thus, you should never feel pressure to include any of this information, and you should always keep in mind that your audience expects your text to work at a level beneath or beyond these concerns.
As you may have guessed by now, the goal of the “literary critical essay” is to analyze the text at hand.  In so doing, you will find yourself following this pattern:
The “claim” is a simple statement of what a certain limited aspect of the text “does,” the “evidence” is the aspect of the text you’re working with (usually a quotation or paraphrase), and the “analysis” is a full explanation of how the text does what you say it does. This analysis can take many, many forms, from the tiniest bits of language (e.g., the “diction” or particular word choice of a poet) to large-scale observations about form (e.g., the way settings like forests and cities frame certain actions in a novel or play).
This triad of claim/evidence/analysis is the motor that drives your argument; like a multi-stage rocket, each triad leads to another in sequence, until your argument has reached its target…
Take a look at the following excepts.  Locate and label the claim/evidence/analysis triad, pointing out areas where one or more of the parts are missing or weak:
1)         The narrator’s independence is also catalogued in the structure of the text; through the text she shifts away from John and towards the wallpaper.  The voice at the beginning of the text is very passive, the narrator talks through John’s voice.  For example when describing her apprehensions about the house she says, “But John says if I feel so…” (43).  By saying “John says” and using a weak verb like “feel” she makes herself appear feeble.  At the end of the story she makes statements like “I must” and “I will” and places emphasis on the verbs.  This sets a more dominant tone and makes her appear strong…
2)         She tries to be the typical wife, but she has trouble fitting into the role.  She is supposed to be the normal stay-at-home wife of a doctor, a wife with no problems.  “I meant to be such a help to John, such a real rest and comfort, and here I am a comparative burden already!” (44).  She is supposed to act according to John’s demands.  “I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes.  I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive… But John says if I feel so, I shall neglect proper self-control; so I take pains to control myself—before him, at least, and that makes me very tired” (43).  She sometimes finds it hard to control herself for him.  “He says with my imaginative power and habit of story making, a nervous weakness like mine is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies, and that I ought to use my will and good sense to check the tendency.  So, I try” (46).  She tries to listen to everything he says so that she can live up to the standards of the perfect wife.