Writing Tips for Literature Essays
Writing Tips for Literature Essays by Deborah Spangler Koelling, Ph.D
Writing Tips for Literature Essays* Remember what you learned about rhetoric in your composition course and apply it to your papers. Always give your essays titles which indicate the direction your paper will take. Start your essay by identifying the literary work(s) and author(s) you are discussing. (I dont feel you always have to do this, but it is a concise way to begin an essay.)Example: Both A Rose for Emily, by William Faulkner, and The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, have protagonists who are victims of family and society. Short story and short poem titles are put in quotes; long poem, novel, and drama titles are underlined or placed in italics. State your thesis within the first paragraph.Not this: This paper will discuss the main characters of A Rose for Emily, by William Faulkner, and The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. But this: Both A Rose for Emily, by William Faulkner, and The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, have protagonists who are victims of family and society. A good thesis statement introduces the topicthe protagonists of the Faulkner and Gilman storiesand indicates what the author of the essay wishes to prove within the paperthe protagonists are victims of family and society. In general, use present tense verbs to discuss works of literature. In general, avoid second person pronouns (you). When using a short quote (four lines or fewer) in your essay, you must follow the following four steps to avoid plagiarism: 1. 2. 3. 4. introduce the quote by indicating the context of the quote, provide introductory punctuation, complete the quote with an in-text page citation, and place a bibliographic entry for the source in your Works Cited list.Example: At the end of the story, the protagonist of I Stand Here Ironing seems resigned to the limitations fate has placed upon her daughter when she says, Let her be. So all that is in her will not bloom... (625). Note the use of ellipses when you leave out words in a quote, and note the punctuation of the page citation (i.e., period is placed after the page number in quotes).Quote accurately and without distorting the context of the quote. When using a long quote (five lines or more), your form is different than for a short quote.Example: Near the end of the story, the protagonist of I Stand Here Ironing summarizes all that seems to have gone wrong with Emily's life: She was a child seldom smiled at. Her father left me before she was a year old. I had to work her first six years when there was work, or I sent her home and to his relatives. There were years she had care she hated. She was dark and thin and foreign-looking in a world where the prestige went to blondeness and curly hair and dimples, she was slow where glibness was prized. She was a child of anxious, not proud, love. We were poor and could not afford for her the soil of easy growth. I was a young mother, I was a distracted mother. (625) In this example, the quotation is indented, no quotation marks appear, and the page citation comes after the terminal punctuation. (Also remember that in your paper, this whole thing will be double-spaced throughout with no extra space between the text and the quote.) After using any quote, you must be sure you explain the significance of what it says. You cannot assume that everyone will read the quote the same way you do; you must interpret it the way you wish it to be understood by your audience.Example: At the end of the story, the protagonist of I Stand Here Ironing seems resigned to the limitations fate has placed upon her daughter when she says, Let her be. So all that is in her will not bloom-but in how many does it? There is still enough left to live by. Only help her to knowhelp make it so there is cause for her to know-that she is more than this dress on the ironing board, helpless before the iron (625). From this conclusion to the story, we know that the mother is resigned to the idea that Emily will never live up to her full potential as a human being. But at the same time, she is concerned that Emily not feel she is a helpless victim of life, as helpless as a dress before an iron. When you quote dialogue or any material which occurs within quotes within the original text, you must use double quotes (meaning double on the outside and single on the inside).Example: At the climax of Young Goodman Brown, Goodman Brown tries to save his wife: Faith! Faith! cried the husband. Look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked one! (205). When you summarize or refer to a passage of a story without quoting it directly, you still must provide a page citation.Example: At the start of The Chrysanthemums, the author establishes that Elisas world does not challenge her strength, abilities, or energy (220-221).Your paper should conclude with a bibliographic citation for each work you cite within the essay. This will be a separate page entitled Works Cited. (This is the last page of your paper; so if you wrote a 4-page paper, the works cited would begin on page 5). Use MLA form.Example: Chopin, Kate. The Story of an Hour. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 7th ed. New York: Longman, 1999. 444-446. One of the most common grammatical errors encountered is the comma splice. A comma splice occurs when two independent clauses (i.e., complete sentences) are spliced together with a comma. For example, Emily was the victim of her father, he always chased all the young men away from her. Commas are not strong enough to fill this function.To correct a comma splice, use a semicolon, insert a dash (but sparingly), create two separate sentences by using a period, or revise the sentence's structure altogether. Emily was the victim of her father; he always chased all the young men away from her. (semicolon) Emily was the victim of her fatherhe always chased all the young men away from her. (dash) Emily was the victim of her father. He always chased all the young men away from her. (two sentences) Emily was the victim of her father who chased all the young men away from her. (relative clause)Examples:*Compiled by Deborah Spangler Koelling, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English, Northwest College, Powell, Wyoming.