a level english literature essay example

a level english literature essay example

Analyzing and Interpreting Literature: A Comprehensive Guide for A-Level English Students

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1. Introduction to Literary Analysis

The purpose of this book is to replace chance or haphazard literary judgment with thoughtful insights and interpretations based on sound principles of literary analysis. Fully to understand and enjoy literature, one must lead backwards from the effects of literature, which sometimes one feels on a consciously emotional level and always one feels on an intellectual one; back through careful and thoughtful reading of the words on the page; to a knowledge of the techniques and devices the writer has employed to create these emotional and intellectual values. By the larger goal principles, we intend to be a means to the rewards that can only come from careful and thoughtful reading of the works themselves.

Literary analysis is as important in literature as ever it was, especially in an age such as ours when literature is being swamped by other media—audio, visual, cybernetic—that could easily elbow literature out of the way so that the world will go back to the specious simplicity of the pre-literate age. The need for good readers (and not only consumers) of literature is all too manifest, in order that we continue discerning and enjoying this rich means of exploring imagination, the human condition, language itself, and the ever-intriguing mysteries of life. Your position as college students and persuasively effective future readers of literature can be fulfilled by venturing far beyond the gamins of indulgent, cocktail party chitchat.

2. Key Elements of a Literature Essay

You’re in the body of your essay with the clock ticking. Each well-written essay requires at least 3-4 structured paragraphs, making a profound text that is aware of its own composition and that can explore and tease ideas about the literary text without worrying too much about the overall argument. Provide quotations that obviously fulfill your task requirements; analyze the language that connects the key terms of your argument and comment on the lexical field; fully integrate your textual evidence in the body of your writing; find a style that is coherent and relevant to the task outlined by the exam rubric; and finally, use different words as though their use is the only way to open the meaning of the literary texts under discussion, inasmuch as you respect the author and the textual evidence. With all this work to do, you don’t want the reader to be overwhelmed. Keep your evidence integrated in your response and avoid simply stringing dozens of quotes together, as this technique calls into question the authenticity of your argument. Organize your essay well to subdue this issue, giving a sense of direction and argument that will land you the highest marks.

In any high-level English literature essay, structure is half the battle. The trick is to grab the bull by the horns, as it were, and launch into a convincing argument that provides a compelling answer to the question. This approach makes the introduction integral to your solution. Not only does it offer a sense of purpose, it also teases the essay to follow. The order and content of introduction paragraphs must differ according to literature genre: 800-word prose-based essays should offer brief contextual material in the first sentence; 2,000-word term papers will demand more detail if they are to sound authoritative. But in every case, your thesis statement should emerge as a consequence of the subject matter outlined in the opening paragraphs.

3. Structuring Your Essay

The first rule of writing is to ensure that you do write, writing doing more than outlining what you might have said. Many students answer questions quite well and with a lot of sense when engaged orally, but when required to produce anything written, often fail to put the same thoughts on paper. This happens for several reasons, one being the fear many learners have of the blank page presenting itself as a battleground to be overcome rather than an opportunity to impress. A good strategy that can overcome this particular stumbling block requires you to present an essay in the form of bullet points rather than as the language of strict paragraphs. Bullets are less formal and so less daunting as sentence and paragraph-type prose. This makes jotting down your points in the first place more doable. Once you do this, you see a skeleton of your answer, and it is much easier to type it out in the long hand as words and phrases now seem to flow naturally.

Once you have analyzed a text in the depth outlined earlier, you should decide what to include in your essay and how to structure it. There will be, as illustrated in the previous chapter, lists of specific topic areas relevant to every text under certain focus. In answering a text-based question, the rule is fairly simple: you should make sure, in different ways, that you touch on as many of the possible areas of focus as is relevant to the text you are analyzing. This is so even if a question asks for more than a particular area of focus. For example, a question that specifically relates to the themes in a text should still have at least passing references to the style, image, and structure of that text, and vice versa. The trick to doing this decently is to maintain a good overall balance in your essay writing.

4. Incorporating Critical Perspectives

Some of the English A-level syllabuses insist on knowledge of a range of critical perspectives and most examine candidates’ ability to use alternative critical methodologies. Whatever the demands or procedures of your own course, most students find that they find a particular perspective more enlightening or attractive. The token requirements that are usually obligatory subject matter for study for a particular text might encourage a particular approach, hence, an increased understanding of a text through particular critical perspectives may well be serendipitous (i.e. by happy accident, rather than by design).

By interpreting literary texts in the light of different critical perspectives, you will find your understanding enhanced immeasurably. It is possible to take a variety of approaches according to whether, for instance, you wish to emphasize the text’s cultural and historical aspects or foreground fundamental human relationships. Most critical approaches work off a base of close textual analysis, but supplement this with a search for the social, psychological, philosophical, or artistic context important to the creation or the reception of the text.

5. Concluding Your Essay with Impact

Your conclusion should not answer another question. You have proven the validity of your own question, arrived at cogent conclusions, and provided recommendations – so stop there. Do not introduce another problem or issue, tightly packed into a new question or essay, in a sudden and strange manner. Be aware of the question you are answering and do not contradict your answer in the conclusion. Understand how to properly conclude an essay or explanation and avoid opening up further inquiry. Finish your essay without discussing implications and developments of the issue you have raised. Let the reader determine the necessary steps to take based on your completion. Be clear in your conclusion that you have addressed your opening question, from research to theory to practical application. Highlight the main focus of your writing and ensure it is clear. Ensure that your question leads to the conclusion.

Re-draft your introduction so that it dovetails seamlessly with your final paragraph. Your conclusion should not be a literal copy of a phrase from your introduction, but it should demonstrate how far your arguments and evaluation have taken you within the allotted essay distance. If your introduction states the drier, more formal objective for writing your essay and explains the core issues behind your writing, your conclusion should provide carefully reasoned responses and directions on the question, largely in a chronological manner.

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