English Composition                                      


Prof. McMahand


Guidelines and Prompts for Literary Analysis Essay


Single Story Analysis


You will compose a three to four page analysis of one of the stories we have read and discussed.  Your essay should assume an argumentative stance with a clearly articulated thesis, claims of support, and quoted passages from the source text.  For this essay, you will not consult any outside sources (except to look up terms and allusions in a dictionary), as I want you to rely solely on your own critical imagination.  I would suggest that you begin by reviewing your class notes and annotations, brainstorming, and outlining your ideas.  Allow for plenty of time to edit your essay thoroughly, checking and correcting your use of grammar, mechanics, and MLA format.


Keep in mind that your essay must show how symbols, point-of-view, tone, character, conflict, or context contribute to the story’s THEMES.  Your entire argument, beginning with your thesis, rests on your interpretation of themes and the author’s use of fictional elements in developing themes.


Sample Thesis: Gregor’s perspective in The Metamorphosis complicates the idea of human monstrosity in that readers are able to experiences his human thoughts and feelings even as they seem to vanish inside the body of a giant insect.    


Isaac Bashevis Singer


1.  Gimpel figures as Frampol’s primary source of ridicule and amusement.  How does Gimpel rationalize or justify his “foolishness,” and more importantly, in his transformation, how does he change from one kind of outsider into another?  In both stages of his role as a community outcast, Gimpel has an unusual relationship with stories, storytelling, and truth.  Explain how Gimpel uses his experiences in Frampol to frame his newfound belief about life, faith, and truth during his days spent away from his hometown?     


2.  Perspective (or point-of-view) is absolutely critical in the shaping of literary narrative.  Whoever tells the story affects not only the course of the plot, but more importantly, the way we see and relate with the narrator and other characters.  How does the fact that Gimpel narrates the story inform the way we read his foolishness and his relationship to the people of Frampol?  How would a third person narration possibly alter our view of Gimpel and other Frampolians?


T. C. Boyle


1. Bonds tradesman Irv Cherniske makes a deal with the devil, trading his soul for the comforts of wealth, just one of many parallels between Boyle’s story and those that appear in the Bible.  Locate other similarities and trace their significance in their formation of an allegory or parable.  First, define allegory or parable, and show how various elements of “The Devil and Irv Cherniske” exemplify the definition.  Observe, for instance, Boyle’s use of a didactic theme and narration.


2.  What comment is Boyle possibly making about the way in which we view outsiders/Others?  How do people of different ethnic and national origins figure in this story and how do these representations reflect the narrow mindsets of Irv, his wife, and their neighbors? Obviously, the devil plays a major role here, but a few other notable passages in the story suggest the theme of social alienation and racial prejudice.   


3.  Explore Boyle’s use of Gothic horror.  Define your use of the term Gothic and show how the elements of the grotesque, along with demonic and haunting forces, and the workings of a pathological mind (stark, raving mad or delusional) all play out in the story.  Is the devil real here, or is he a projection of Irv’s deranged (and greedy) mind? 


William Faulkner


1.  William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor alike level powerful critiques against the Old South.  Briefly define both the Old and New South in terms of political ideologies, customs, etc, and trace in “A Rose for Emily” Faulkner’s treatment of these paradigms.  Obviously, the Old South bears the brunt of Faulkner’s criticism, but his treatment of the New South is not all wine and roses.  Locate in the text his juxtapositions of Old and New South and comment on their symbolic significances in the story.  How does the title character illustrate a blending of Old and New South?


2.  Consider the theme of fatherly control and dominance in “A Rose for Emily.”  How does Emily both fall victim to her father’s interference and control, and how does Emily eventually defy patriarchy, that of her dead father and other controlling men?  Also, how do you read her interaction with Homer’s character?  Either way—as a “man’s man” bachelor type or as a homosexual—Homer’s presence poses a colossal impact on Emily’s life and on the way we read the story. 


Flannery O’Connor


1.  “You’re one of my babies.  You’re one of my own children.”  What do you think the grandmother in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” means by these words, her last comment?  Analyze the Misfit’s statement that she could have been a really honest person had she had someone around to shoot her every minute of her life?  In other words, how does this story treat the theme of social hypocrisy? You might also want to consider the conversation about the scarcity of “good men” that the grandmother has with Red Sammy.  Lastly, consider the ironic tang of the title.


2.  How does O’Connor’s story compare with a Shakespearean tragedy, say, Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet, King Lear, or Julius Caesar?  Consider the hero’s hubris (overbearing sense of pride and pompousness) as well as other debilitating flaws.  If the grandmother figures as the tragic hero, how does her narrative reflect a Shakespearean sense of fate, fatalism, death defiance, and epiphany?  Choose one of Shakespeare’s plays for comparison but focus most of your analysis on O’Connor’s story.


3.  One could read the dark wood scene in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” as a partial rewriting of the Garden of Eden story.  Certainly, both offer meditations on the trappings of evil and on the tragedy of recognizing truth too slowly.  How does O’Connor recast the players of Genesis, Chapter 3?  How do the Misfit and the grandmother share the role of the devil?  How does the Misfit as a sociopath reflect the devil’s lack of conscience?  Consider the snake image in O’Connor’s story and draw on its resonance with the Bible scene. 


Comparative Analysis


In lieu of a single story analysis, you may write about two stories.  In doing so, you should focus on the one element that connects these two pieces.  In your introduction, give the reader some general comments about the stories and/or what links them before positing your thesis.  Do not consult any outside sources (except to look up terms and allusions in a dictionary); rely on your own critical imagination.  Review your notes and annotations, brainstorming, and outline your ideas.  Make time to edit your essay carefully, checking and correcting your use of grammar, mechanics, and MLA format.


Sample Thesis for a Comparative Analysis:  Through depictions of risk-taking and aggressive force, Welty and Morrison similarly demonstrate the disruptiveness of black characters in Southern post-bellum pastorals.


Horror Defined and Depicted


Horror comes softly, with subtle forewarning in the tales we have read.  Of the following stories “Gimpel the Fool,” “The Devil and Irv Cherniske,” and “A Rose for Emily,” choose TWO and compare the horrific elements of both stories. Let Kristeva’s definition (the defamiliarization of the familiar, known, and knowable) guide your discussion.  How do Elka, Irv, the Big Man, Homer, and Emily illustrate this definition?  How do Elka, Irv, and Emily prove monstrous before AND after their deaths?


Let the People Have Their Say


Both “Gimpel the Fool” and “A Rose for Emily” feature a kind of Greek chorus—townspeople who become collective characters in their own right. Write an essay in which you examine the characteristics of these two sets of townspeople.  How are they similarly motivated?  How do they act in unison in their treatment of and attitudes toward the main characters?  In what ways do they change at the time of the falling action?


What Do Women Want?


How do you read Elka and Emily?  Are they totally unsympathetic or can you find compassion for their difficult positions in life?  Are they unforgivably unfair in their misdeeds and manipulations?  Do they deserve the punishment or judgment they receive? Or can you see them as wronged and controlled?  Whatever you decide, build a comparative analysis around their responses to the sexist box society puts them in.




Irv and Gimpel appear in stories in which point-of-view proves crucial to the way in which readers choose to interpret the stories.  Compare the use of perspective in both narratives, showing how they allow readers to make literal and figurative readings of key moments and encounters in the tales.  Do Gimpel and Irv really see the devil or do they simply imagine the figure?  How can we read the story as real-life? Or, how can we read them as symbolically, as pure allegory?  Is one piece purely allegorical and the other only partly, or are they both realistic and “true”?


The Big Man and The Misfit


Appearing in “The Devil and Irv Cherniske” and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” respectively, the Big Man and the Misfit have several similar traits.  Explore these in a comparative essay of the two stories.  How do both men embody evil, and how do they mirror the main characters?  Where do they do their dirty deeds?  How do they both induce bargaining and a sudden feeling of religious zeal in the main characters?  How do these Satanic figures differ from each other?




·         Stay in third person (no use of “you”).


·         Use present tense only (literary present tense).


·         Write in clear, active voice sentences.


·         Essay structure generally consists of an introduction that prepares the reader for the basic topics to be addressed, the title, the author’s full name, and the thesis statement.  After the initial use of the author’s full name, you should refer to the author by last name only. Second, your body paragraphs analyze the text. Your conclusion reiterates the thesis statement (reworded) and a major point or two, as well as a new but related idea that you have not developed as fully as the other points.  Make the new point minor, not worthy of your main argument.


·         Typical body paragraph structure:  Topic/Transitional Sentence—Identify the point. Illustrate with a quotation.  Interpret the text.


·         Do not spend any time relating the author’s biography, unless it specifically adds to your discussion of theme.


·         As you edit, carefully review your grammar.  Regard the errors marked in your previously graded essay and look for similar mistakes in this present paper. 


·         If you are uncertain about your chosen prompt, please ask me for clarification.


·         Final product must include rough draft with peer edits, brainstorming, outlining, and other notes.  Place everything in a flat, pocketed, ring-less folder.


·         Your essay will be evaluated according to clarity, insight, organization, coherency, grammatical correctness, and formatting.