Prof. McMahand


English Composition


Constructing a Nonfiction Analysis



Below is a set of guidelines and stipulations you must follow in building your analysis of nonfiction. 


Your heading should follow MLA rules (check your WR handbook). 


Your title must contain a brief, condensed description of your thesis idea, the author’s name, and the nonfiction’s title.  Since the nonfiction is a short work, put its title in quotation marks.



An example:

New Essentialisms: Critiquing Stuart Hall’s Dialogic Spaces

in “Minimal Selves” and “New Ethnicities”



Constructing the Introductory (Opening) Paragraph


Begin with general remarks about the subject.  Give the framing ideas that contextualize the author, the essay, and its publication.  Mention the author’s full name, the title of the nonfiction work, and comment on the position of the work in the writer’s canon, the period of literature, and the larger canon(s) to which it belongs. You may also remark on the essay’s devices—its use of logos, ethos, pathos, or any other rhetorical technique you find interesting.  Lastly, posit your thesis, which must link theme and context or theme and technique.       


An Example:

In “Minimal Selves” and “New Ethnicities,” two seminal postcolonial texts, Stuart Hall addresses the fluctuating state of race relations in present-day British culture. Underlying much of Hall’s description of the two phases of black British politics—the first characterized by collective resistance and the latter marked by political difference—is a provocative sense of irresolution.  How does one win social justice without totalizing the identity of the oppressed? Can there not exist a middle space, one that combines resistance and hybridity? No less relevant to this discussion is the recognition of those individuals and groups that purposely seek sameness against a perceived onslaught of hybrid or hegemonic influences.  Black British politics in the 1970s used solidarity to strengthen its resistance.  The present loss of solidarity has occasioned new anxieties about identity and has generated new exertions to essentialize black culture.



Constructing Body Paragraphs


The first body paragraph should clearly and thoughtfully explain the position of the essay in its literary era.  Next, you should explore the ways in which the essay illustrates its points 


All body paragraphs must then conform to the following pattern: The Three Is: Identify, Illustrate, and Interpret.



Identify the claim: Begin with an argumentative statement (a smaller claim) that refers back to a part of the thesis.



Illustrate: Provide examples (textual evidence from the nonfiction work) to support the claim you have just made.



Interpret: Offer an interpretation of the evidence you have given.  This process may mean drawing upon a discussion of other rhetorical strategies or points in the essay.


An example:

In these two essays, Hall discusses just how these paradigms continually overlap, one informing (and distressing) the other.  Nevertheless, in the short piece “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” Hall boldly tips his hat toward the second phase as “the fate of the modern world” (401). His statement here highlights his general attitude in “Minimal Selves” and “New Ethnicities” and the hyperbolic strain of his argument.  Both the point he makes and the rhetoric he employs stress that to return en masse to a base of solidarity agendas would enact a willful disregard to the new dialogic space Hall perceives opening up in Great Britain and elsewhere around the world.  At the same time, two critical forces challenge the formation of cultural dialogism: the persistence of black essentialism and the pirating away, or co-opting, of that essentialist black culture.


Other Uses for Body Paragraphs


You may also use the body paragraphs to evaluate the quality, effectiveness, and density of the author’s ideas. Does the author provide a fair, convincing, provocative, and representative depiction of the literary era or of cultural issues?



An example:

How, then, do some blacks uncouple themselves from fixed notions of race, while others do not, or do not as readily?  Because of these conversations and encounters abroad and here in the States, I am inclined to attribute black fixedness to boundaries of class and to anxious struggles for identity control.  Even while largely disenfranchised and confined to the lower echelons of a class-based society, African descended cultures in Britain and America have begun to reject nationalistic ideas of non-white identity as essentially “other.”  Hall begins “Minimal Selves” commenting on London’s black youth: “[t]hey look as if they own the territory” (114).  Classic Marxist theorists remind us, as Hall himself admits, that these people, as marginalized subjects, can make no material claim on the territory.  What is left to them, then, but their own identities, their very bodies, which they control and ultimately possess? 

Hall’s essays privilege the politics of difference over essentialism, describing the development of a new space for a politics of dispersed identity and contingent closures of the self (“Minimal Selves” 117-18).  Ultimately, I agree with Hall’s assessment that this new ethnic specificity and conjuncture offer an opportunity for change in Britain’s present and future cultural landscape.  But hiccups are bound to interrupt the breathing in and breathing out of new political life.  Even in this time of revolutionary identity, basic economic barriers continue to threaten cross-cultural dialogue.  Deep, substantive cultural exchange happens slowly and without any recognizable continuity of movement.




Constructing a Concluding Paragraph


Your conclusion needs to begin smoothly without the perfunctory “In summary” or “In summation” phrases. Begin the paragraph as you would any other body paragraphs.  Recapitulate in different words your thesis and major points, and, if possible, add a new path of interpretation or discussion.


An example:

A two-fold trajectory, involving racial division and ethnic exchange, seems to be in motion: white British transmutability and the loss of a solid, categorically resistant black identity. The expressions “keeping it real” and “It’s a black thing” illustrate attempts at mobilizing solidarity, but they also persist in reducing identity to prescribed ideas of ethnic validity and correctness. While whiteness, in its transmutations into non-white ethnicities, indicates recognition of and exchange with other cultures, the shift reads too often like reassertions of stereotype.  Any encoding or performance of other cultures that inherently depends on fetishized imagery and manner will inevitably yield a closed and truncated cultural dialogue.


Be sure to read and reread your work before turning it in.  Look for your usual errors in grammar, mechanics, and citations.