Select one of the prompts below in preparation for your Song of Solomon literary analysis essay. 

1) In retrospect, the reader often discovers that the first chapter of a novel or the opening scene of a drama introduces some of the major themes of the work. Write an essay about the opening scene of a drama or the first chapter of a novel in which you explain how it functions in this way.

2) An effective literary work does not merely stop or cease; it concludes. In the view of some critics, a work that does not provide the pleasure of significant closure has terminated with an artistic fault. A satisfactory ending is not, however, always conclusive in every sense; significant closure may require the reader to abide with or adjust to ambiguity and uncertainty. In an essay, discuss the ending of a novel or play of acknowledged literary merit. Explain precisely how and why the ending appropriately or inappropriately concludes the work. Do not merely summarize the plot.

3) The meaning of some literary works is often enhanced by sustained allusion to myths, the Bible, or other works of literature. Select a literary work that makes use of such a sustained reference. Then write a well-organized essay in which you explain the allusion that predominates in the work and analyze how it enhances the work’s meaning.

4) Some novels and plays seem to advocate changes in social or political attitudes or in traditions. Choose such a novel or play and note briefly the particular attitudes or traditions that the author apparently wishes to modify. Then analyze the techniques the author uses to influence the reader’s or audience’s views. Avoid plot summary.

5) Many plays and novels use contrasting places (for example, two countries, two cities or towns, two houses, or the land and the sea) to represent opposed forces or ideas that are central to the meaning of the work. Choose a novel or play that contrasts two such places. Write an essay explaining how the places differ, what each place represents, and how their contrast contributes to the meaning of the work.

6) In some works of literature, a character who appears briefly, or does not appear at all, is a significant presence. Choose a novel or play of literary merit and write an essay in which you show how such a character functions in the work. You may wish to discuss how the character affects action, theme, or the development of other characters. Avoid plot summary.

7) The British novelist Fay Weldon offers this observation about happy endings. “The writers, I do believe, who get the best and most lasting response from their readers are the writers who offer a happy ending through moral development. By a happy ending, I do not mean mere fortunate events—a marriage or a last minute rescue from death–but some kind of spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation, even with the self, even at death.” Choose a novel or play that has the kind of ending Weldon de- scribes. In a well-written essay, identify the “spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation” evident in the ending and explain its significance in the work as a whole.

8) In many works of literature, past events can affect, positively or negatively, the present activities, attitudes, or values of a character. Choose a novel or play in which a character must contend with some aspect of the past, either personal or societal. Then write an essay in which you show how the character’s relationship to the past contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.

9) Works of literature often depict acts of betrayal. Friends and even family may betray a protagonist; main characters may likewise be guilty of treachery or may betray their own values. Select a novel or play that includes such acts of betrayal. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the nature of the betrayal and show how it contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.

10) In a novel by William Styron, a father tells his son that life “is a search for justice.”
Choose a character from a novel or play who responds in some significant way to justice or injustice. Then write a well-developed essay in which you analyze the character’s understanding of justice, the degree to which the character’s search for justice is successful, and the significance of this search for the work as a whole.

11) It has often been said that what we value can be determined only by what we sacrifice. Consider how this statement applies to a character from a novel or play. Select a character that has deliberately sacrificed, surrendered, or forfeited something in a way that highlights that character’s values. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how the particular sacrifice illuminates the character’s values and provides a deeper understanding of the meaning of the work as a whole.

Essay Requirements

  • 2-4 pages typed (Works Cited page not included in page length) in MLA format
    • White 8.5″ x 11″ paper
    • Double-spaced
    • 12 pt. Times New Roman (or similar) font
    • Leave only once space after punctuation
    • 1″ margins
    • Indent the first line of paragraphs one half-inch
  • Minimum of one outside source cited within the essay
    • A book (not including Song of Solomon)
    • A website (you may not use Wikipedia as a source, but you may refer to it to help guide your research to reliable sources)
    • Anything else you can think of! :)

Essay Resources

Download and use this Literary Analysis KWL Chart while in the early stages of planning your essay.

Check out this sample literary analysis essay written in MLA format.

A strong essay starts with a strong thesis statement! Refer to BenchPrep’s great post, “Writing an Effective Thesis“.

Make sure you’re citing reliable sources from the internet! Refer to this helpful handout on finding quality websites from Minnesota State University before using a site for research.

Use this outline format to plan your essay. Make sure you’re writing full sentences for your outline! This will help you write a much stronger rough draft. Download the format as a word document to type your essay directly onto a pre-made outline.

Revisit the MLA Formatting PowerPoint Presentation to make sure you’re citing your sources properly.

Use out this handout on Patterns for Incorporating Quotations into Sentences when embedding textual evidence and research into your essay.

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Make sure you avoid plot summary and plot interpretation with this handy dandy handout on Plot Summary vs. Plot Interpretation vs. Literary Analysis.

Revisit this TedEd video titled “Mining Literature for Deeper Meanings” when trying to figure out what to say in your essay.

Revisit my post on Deepening Analysis for your Macbeth Director’s Notebook assignment. The texts and specific requirements may be different, but the skills are exactly the same.

 

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