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Literary Approaches
In Criticism

A Teacher’s Manual
on the Literary Approaches used in Analyzing Texts

Gian Carlo M. Pangilinan

Foreword 1

– Introduction to the Department of Education K-12 Program for
Senior High School 2
– Introduction to the Subject: 21st Century Literature
from the Philippines and the World 2


– Literature 3
– Introduction to Literary Criticism and Theory 3
– Forms of Literature 5
– Nonfiction prose 5
– Fiction prose 5
– Poetry 5
– Drama 5
– Literary Terms 5
– The Basics 5
– Types of Prose Texts 7
– Terms for Interpreting Characters 7
– Terms for Interpreting Word Choice, Dialogue, and Speech 8
– Terms for Interpreting Plot 8
– Terms for Interpreting Layers of Meaning 8
– Purposes of Literary Approaches 9
– Which approach is the best? 10
– Literary Approaches 10
– Formalism 11
– Moral-Philosophical
– Biographical
– Historical
– Psychological
– Marxism
– Archetypal
– Feminism
– Reader’s Response
– Structuralism
– Mimetic
– Deconstructionism
– Queer


– Why practice literary analysis
– The Steps in Wring a Literary Analysis
– Method 1: Developing your Thesis Statement
– Method 2: Supporting Your Argument: Introductory Paragraph
– Method 3: Supporting Your Argument: Body Paragraphs
– Method 4: Supporting Your Argument: Conclusion
– Method 5: General Guidelines
– Method 6: What to Avoid
– Tips in Making the Literary Analysis Essay
– The Importance of Literary Analysis
– Sample Literary Pieces with Analyses
– Stopping into the Woods on a Snowy Evening
By Robert Frost
– The Tell-Tale Heart
By Edgar Allan Poe
– How to Check Literary Analysis Essay?

– References


Teaching is an essential part of the mission of educators and you are now an important part of that teaching mission. Teachers should have a material in accordance with the subjects they are teaching. This Manual guides teachers in the different approaches being used in analyzing literary genres to lead the students through the process of applying literary criticism and writing their literary analysis paper.

This manual is primarily for the teachers handling literature subjects, particularly teaching 21st Century Literature from the Philippines and the World in the Senior High School. Literary texts were added in this manual to further understand literary approaches. The development of this material was based from the study conducted by the author entitled, ‘Senior High School Teachers’ Literary Approaches Performance: A Basis for a Proposed Teacher’s Manual’. This manual is specifically about:

• Identifying the literary approaches in criticism;
• Differentiating the function of the literary approaches;
• Appreciating literary texts of different genres; and
• Writing a close analysis and critical interpretation of literary pieces.

As the adage of the Department of Education goes, ‘Para sa bata, Para sa bayan!’ this material hopes to incorporate information about literary approaches to teachers in order to help their learners unfold their knowledge and understanding in literature.

Unit I. Introduction to the Core Subject: 21st Century Literature from the Philippines and the World

The K to 12 Program covers Kindergarten and 12 years of basic education (six years of primary education, four years of Junior High School, and two years of Senior High School SHS) to provide sufficient time for mastery of concepts and skills, develop lifelong learners, and prepare graduates for tertiary education, middle-level skills development, employment, and entrepreneurship.

Senior High School (SHS) refers to Grades 11 and 12, the last two years of the K to 12 Basic Education Program. In SHS, students are required to go through a core curriculum and subjects under a track of their choice.

Each student in Senior High School can choose among three tracks: Academic; Technical-Vocational Livelihood; and Sports and Arts. The Academic track includes three strands: Accountancy, Business and Management (ABM); Humanities Sciences (HumSS); and Social and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

21st Century Literature from the Philippines and the World is one of the core subjects in the K-12 Curriculum that is based under RA 10533 which is known as the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013.

21st-Century Literature from the Philippines and the World facilitates the understanding and analysis of literary texts in various genres across cultures. Its overall goal is to help learners gain an increased appreciation of literature from the 21st century and ultimately to inspire them to view the world in a different light—a world where differences are set aside and traditions of the past coexist in harmony with values of the present (Tayao, et al., 2017).

21st-Century Literature from the Philippines and the World covers the study and appreciation of contemporary literature from the different regions of the Philippines as well as from around the world. It familiarizes the students with the different forms of Philippine literature being produced today and provides comparison and contrast with contemporary literature from other countries (Sanchez, et al., 2017).

This course aims to engage students in appreciation and critical study of 21st Century Literature from the Philippines and the World encompassing various dimensions, genres, elements, structures, contexts and traditions.

This subject revolves around the following scopes: comparison of the 21st century literature by region; study and appreciation of literary texts; literary genres, traditions and forms; basic textual and contextual reading approach; and other scopes that are related with the core subject.
Unit II. Literature, Literary Criticism, and Literary Approaches

Literature are writings in prose or verse; especially writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest (Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2018).

Literature is a form of human expression. But not everything expressed in words—even when organized and written down—is counted as literature. Those writings that are primarily informative—technical, scholarly, journalistic—would be excluded from the rank of literature by most, though not all, critics. Certain forms of writing, however, are universally regarded as belonging to literature as an art. Individual attempts within these forms are said to succeed if they possess something called artistic merit and to fail if they do not. The nature of artistic merit is less easy to define than to recognize. The writer needs not even pursue it to attain it. On the contrary, a scientific exposition might be of great literary value and a pedestrian poem of none at all (Kharbe, 2009).

Introduction to Literary Criticism and Theory

Literary Criticism refers to the act of interpreting and studying literature. A literary critic is not someone who merely evaluates the worth or quality of a piece of literature but, rather, is someone who argues on behalf of an interpretation or understanding of the particular meaning(s) of literary texts. The task of a literary critic is to explain and attempt to reach a critical understanding of what literary texts mean in terms of their aesthetic, as well as social, political, and cultural statements and suggestions. A literary critic does more than simply discuss or evaluate the importance of a literary text; rather, a literary critic seeks to reach a logical and reasonable understanding of not only what a text’s author intends for it to mean but, also, what different cultures and ideologies render it capable of meaning.

It is the comparison, analysis, interpretation, and/or evaluation of works of literature. Literary criticism is essentially an opinion, supported by evidence, relating to theme, style, setting or historical or political context. It usually includes discussion of the work’s content and integrates your ideas with other insights gained from research. Literary criticism may have a positive or a negative bias and may be a study of an individual piece of literature or an author’s body of work.

Part of the fun of reading good literature is looking for all its meanings and messages. Since people have written literature, critics have been interpreting it. Going all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome. For many centuries, literary criticism has been limited to some basic approaches involving historical, moral and biographical perspectives. But during the 20th century, critical approaches have become much more varied due to the huge increase of educated people and their widely diverse reactions to literature.

Because there are a million different ways to dissect written works, such as novels or poems, it provides some general guidelines to help us analyze, deconstruct, interpret and evaluate. Criticism is how we evaluate and interpret art. Critics let us know if a movie is worth spending our hard-earned money to see in a theater or whether we can wait for it on cable or even if we can skip the film all together.

Literary Theory, however, refers to a particular form of literary criticism in which particular academic, scientific, or philosophical approaches are followed in a systematic fashion while analyzing literary texts. For example, a psychoanalytic theorist might examine and interpret a literary text strictly through the theoretical lens of psychoanalysis and psychology and, in turn, offer an interpretation or reading of a text that focuses entirely on the psychological dimensions of it.

• Note: The study of literary theory is challenging, especially for students who are relatively new to the field. It takes time, patience, and practice for students to get used to the unique and sometimes highly specialized language that literary theorists tend to use in their writings as well as the often complicated and detailed arguments they make. As you are exposed to literary theory, take the time to carefully consider the argument being made, to re-read when you find yourself confused by a statement, and to look up and acquaint yourself with any language or terminology you are exposed to and not familiar with.

Major Literary Forms

Nonfiction prose is literature that is written in ordinary, non-metrical language and communicates facts or opinions about reality. Every time you read a science textbook or a how-to article, you are reading nonfiction prose. Nonfiction meanings are usually pretty straightforward because the writer’s primary purpose is to convey information or persuade readers.

Fiction prose is also written in ordinary, non-metrical language, but it is the product of the writer’s imagination. You’ve probably been reading novels and short stories for years; if so, you already know a lot about fiction prose. The meaning of fictional works can stretch all the way from obscure and difficult to clear and direct.

Poetry, on the other hand, uses metrical language with lots of rhythm and rhyme to create word pictures. Poetry employs all kinds of word play, figurative language, and imagery to send its messages, which are often rather obscure and need to be dug out with some effort on the part of the reader.

Drama combines elements of prose and poetry into plays that are usually intended to be performed on stage. Drama joins monologues and dialogues by characters with stage directions and occasionally narrative sections that explain the action. Like poetry, drama can feature hidden meanings and messages that take some work to decipher.

These four literary forms are like the roots of the literary family tree, and they branch off into many different genres. We can’t meet all these genres within the scope of this lesson, but we’ll look at a few of the most common for each literary form.

Literary Terms
Included below is a list of literary terms that can help you interpret, critique, and respond to a variety of different written works. This list is by no means comprehensive, but instead offers a primer to the language frequently used by scholars and students researching literary works.

The Basics

• Characterization: The ways individual characters are represented by the narrator or author of a text. This includes descriptions of the characters’ physical appearances, personalities, actions, interactions, and dialogue.
• Dialogue: Spoken exchanges between characters in a dramatic or literary work, usually between two or more speakers.
• Genre: A kind of literature. For instance, comedy, mystery, tragedy, satire, elegy, romance, and epic are all genres. Texts frequently draw elements from multiple genres to create dynamic narratives.
• Imagery: A term used to describe an author’s use of vivid descriptions “that evoke sense-impressions by literal or figurative reference to perceptible or ‘concrete’ objects, scenes, actions, or states” (Baldick 121). Imagery can refer to the literal landscape or characters described in a narrative or the theoretical concepts an author employs.
• Plot: The sequence of events that occur through a work to produce a coherent narrative or story.
• Point of View: The perspective (visual, interpretive, bias, etc.) a text takes when presenting its plot and narrative. For instance, an author might write a narrative from a specific character’s point of view, which means that that character is our narrative and readers experience events through his or her eyes.
• Style: Comprised of an author’s diction, syntax, tone, characters, and other narrative techniques, “style” is used to describe the way an author uses language to convey his or her ideas and purpose in writing. An author’s style can also be associated to the genre or mode of writing the author adopts, such as in the case of a satire or elegy with would adopt a satirical or elegiac style of writing.
• Symbol(ism): An object or element incorporated into a narrative to represent another concept or concern. Broadly, representing one thing with another. Symbols typically recur throughout a narrative and offer critical, though often overlooked, information about events, characters, and the author’s primary concerns in telling the story.
• Theme: According to Baldick, a theme may be defined as “a salient abstract idea that emerges from a literary work’s treatment of its subject-matter; or a topic recurring in a number or literary works” (Baldick 258). Themes in literature tend to differ depending on author, time period, genre, style, purpose, etc.
• Tone: A way of communicating information (in writing, images, or sound) that conveys an attitude. Authors convey tone through a combination of word-choice, imagery, perspective, style, and subject matter. By adopting a specific tone, authors can help readers accurately interpret meaning in a text.
• Types of narrative: The narrator is the voice telling the story or speaking to the audience. However, this voice can come from a variety of different perspectives, including:
o First person: A story told from the perspective of one or several characters, each of whom typically uses the word “I.” This means that readers “see” or experience events in the story through the narrator’s eyes.
o Second person: A narrative perspective that typically addresses that audience using “you.” This mode can help authors address readers and invest them in the story.
o Third person: Describes a narrative told from the perspective of an outside figure who does not participate directly in the events of a story. This mode uses “he,” “she,” and “it” to describe events and characters.

Types of Prose Texts

• Bildungsroman: This is typically a type of novel that depicts an individual’s coming-of-age through self-discovery and personal knowledge. Such stories often explore the protagonists’ psychological and moral development. Examples include Dickens’ Great Expectations and Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
• Epistolary: A novel comprised primarily of letters sent and received by its principle characters. This type of novel was particularly popular during the eighteenth century.
• Essay: According to Baldick, “a short written composition in prose that discusses a subject or proposes an argument without claiming to be a complete or thorough exposition” (Baldick 87). A notable example of the essay form is Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” which uses satire to discuss eighteenth-century economic and social concerns in Ireland.
• Novella: An intermediate-length (between a novel and a short story) fictional narrative.

Terms for Interpreting Characters

• Antagonist: A character or characters in a text with whom the protagonist opposes.
• Anti-hero: A protagonist of a story who embodies none of the qualities typically assigned to traditional heroes and heroines. Not to be confused with the antagonist of a story, the anti-hero is a protagonist whose failings are typically used to humanize him or her and convey a message about the reality of human existence.
• Archetype: “a resonant figure or mythic importance, whether a personality, place, or situation, found in diverse cultures and different historical periods” (Mickics 24). Archetypes differ from allegories because they tend to reference broader or commonplace (often termed “stock”) character types, plot points, and literary conventions. Paying attention to archetypes can help readers identify what an author may posit as “universal truths” about life, society, human interaction, etc. based on what other authors or participants in a culture may have said about them.
• Epithet: According to Taafe, “An adjective, noun, or phase expressing some characteristic quality of a thing or person or a descriptive name applied to a person, as Richard the Lion-Hearted” (Taafe 58). An epithet usually indicates some notable quality about the individual with whom it addresses, but it can also be used ironically to emphasize qualities that individual might actually lack.
• Personification: The use of a person to represent a concept, quality, or object. Personification can also refer to “a person who is considered a representative type of a particular quality or concept” (Taafe 120).
• Protagonist: The primary character in a text, often positioned as “good” or the character with whom readers are expected to identify. Protagonists usually oppose an antagonist.

Terms for Interpreting Word Choice, Dialogue, and Speech

• Alliteration: According to Baldick, “The repetition of the same sounds—usually initial consonants of words or of stressed syllabus—in any sequence of neighboring words” (Baldick 6). Alliteration is typically used to convey a specific tone or message.
• Apostrophe: This figure of speech refers to an address to “a dead or absent person, or an abstraction or inanimate object” and is “usually employed for emotional emphasis, can become ridiculous or humorous when misapplied” (Baldick 17).
• Diction: Word choice, or the specific language an author, narrator, or speaker uses to describe events and interact with other characters.

Terms for Interpreting Plot

• Climax: The height of conflict and intrigue in a narrative. This is when events in the narrative and characters’ destinies are most unclear; the climax often appears as a decision the protagonist must make or a challenge he or she must overcome in order for the narrative to obtain resolution.
• Denouement: The “falling action” of a narrative, when the climax and central conflicts are resolved and a resolution is found. In a play, this is typically the last act and in a novel it might include the final chapters.
• Deus Ex Machina: According to Taafe, “Literally, in Latin, the ‘god from the machine’; a deity in Greek and Roman drama who was brought in by stage machinery to intervene in the action; hence, any character, event, or device suddenly introduced to resolve the conflict”.
• Exposition: Usually located at the beginning of a text, this is a detailed discussion introducing characters, setting, background information, etc. readers might need to know in order to understand the text that follows. This section is particularly rich for analysis because it contains a lot of important information in a relatively small space.
• Frame Narrative: a story that an author encloses around the central narrative in order to provide background information and context. This is typically referred to as a “story within a story” or a “tale within a tale.” Frame stories are usually located in a distinct place and time from the narratives they surround. Examples of stories with frame narratives include Canterbury Tales, Frankenstein, and Wuthering Heights.
• In media res: Beginning in “the middle of things,” or when an author begins a text in the midst of action. This often functions as a way to both incorporate the reader directly into the narrative and secure his or her interest in the narrative that follows.

Terms for Interpreting Layers of Meaning

• Allegory: A literary mode that attempts to convert abstract concepts, values, beliefs, or historical events into characters or other tangible elements in a narrative. Examples include, Gulliver’s Travels, The Faerie Queene, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Paradise Lost.
• Allusion: When a text references, incorporates, or responds to an earlier piece (including literature, art, music, film, event, etc). T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) offers an extensive example of allusion in literature. According to Baldick, “The technique of allusion is an economical means of calling upon the history or the literary tradition that author and reader are assumed to share” (7).
• Hyperbole: exaggerated language, description, or speech that is not meant to be taken literally, but is used for emphasis. For instance, “I’ve been waiting here for ages” or “This bag weighs a ton.”
• Metaphor: a figure of speech that refers to one thing by another in order to identify similarities between the two (and therefore define each in relation to one another).
• Metonymy: a figure of speech that substitutes a quality, idea, or object associated with a certain thing for the thing itself. For instance, referring to a woman as “a skirt” or the sea as “the deep” are examples of metonymy. Using metonymy can not only evoke a specific tone (determined by the attribute being emphasized or the thing to which it refers), but also comments on the importance of the specific element that is doing the substituting.
o Note that metonymy differs subtly from synecdoche, which substitutes a part of something for the whole. For example, the phrase “all hands on deck” can substitute for the more awkward “all people on deck.”
• Parody: a narrative work or writing style that mocks or mimics another genre or work. Typically, parodies exaggerate and emphasize elements from the original work in order to ridicule, comment on, or criticize their message.
• Simile: a figure of speech that compares two people, objects, elements, or concepts using “like” or “as.”

Purposes of Literary Approaches

These approaches are the way to opening new avenues of thinking for readers as well as increasing their understanding if the various perspectives of a work of literature. These can make the way of having a ‘conversation’ about a work, placing the work not only on its own context, but also in the context of the thinking of the time of the criticism. Indeed, these literary approaches make literature alive.

Which approach is the best?

That which proves the most illuminating is the usual answer. The various approaches are not entirely distinct, and one can aim for a wise variety, incorporating several approaches in the one article. Certainly this adds length and multiple perspectives to the critical article, but are the individual approaches sound in themselves? They may provide more matter to ponder, but that is surely no proof of value.

These are real and important. If literature had no truths to convey, there would be nothing to distinguish it from recreation or entertainment. Art aims at fullness and fidelity to human experience, and therefore includes the wider social spectrum.

The Literary Approaches

The following are the literary approaches with various questions used in analyzing and criticizing a literary text.

– Formalism
– Moral-Philosophical
– Biographical
– Historical
– Psychological
– Marxism
– Archetypal
– Feminism
– Reader’s Response
– Structuralism
– Mimetic
– Deconstructionism
– Queer

Formalistic Approach: This approach focuses on form. The analysis stresses items like symbols, images, and structure and how one part of the work relates to other parts and to the whole. A primary goal for formalist critics is to determine how such elements work together with the text’s content to shape its effects upon readers.

The Russian formalist critics, Roman Jakobson, Viktor Skhlovsky, and I. A. Richard are the most popular proponents of Formalism.

Questions for analyzing a text using Formalistic Approach:
A. How is the work’s structure unified? What is the work
B. What is the effect of the plot, and what parts specifically produce that effect?
C. What figures of speech are used? (metaphors, similes, etc.)
D. Is there a relationship between the beginning and the end of the story?
E. What tone and mood are created at various parts of the work?

Analysis of ‘The Road not Taken’ from a Formalistic Perspective.
(Rabu, 2016)

As the speaker used “I” in the poem “The Road Not Taken”, is in the middle of journey somewhere in a wood and stands between two roads that he had to choose. The evident that show the speaker see the two roads in front of him, when he writes “two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” The speaker had to stand and choosing which is road he had to take, so this poem is kind of a Lyric Poem which express the thoughts, or feeling to the poet. Hence the tone of the poem can directly see that there is a confusion and hesitation in order to which road to choose. It is makes the reader nerve whether the speaker choose the right road for himself.

Besides, the other characteristics like imagery, symbol, overstatement, sound, and the stanza-structure are given a meaning to the poem. The using of imagery in this poem is more concrete than abstract and mostly visual. The imagery in the poem can be seen in the first stanza and the second stanza. The evident is when the speaker writes “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” in line 1 and “Because it was grassy and wanted wear” in line 8. The word of “yellow wood” and “it was grassy” those are show the verbal imagery for the poem. It shows the concrete representation of the object that describe in the poem.

It can be seen that the formalist approach can applies well to the poem. Some elements of the poem use in this poem such as imagery, symbol, tone, overstatement, sounds, and also stanza-structure. They are important to get the meaning of the poem. The meaning of the poem related to our life which is sometimes in the life we face some choice that we had to choose. In this poem, the idea is using the nature (wood) to explain that there are two roads in the wood, one of the road is often pass by person and the others rarely pass by person. The speaker in the end choose the road that rarely pass by person. It is related in our life, sometimes we also choose the choice that other person rarely choose. However the choice that we choose can affect the future. In conclusion, the different ways can reveal the meaning of the poem, and the formalist approach is one of the possible choice.

Moral-Philosophical Approach: This approach focuses on themes, view of the world, moral statements, author’s philosophy, etc. It takes the position that the larger function of literature is to teach morality and probe philosophical issues, such as ethics, religion, or the nature of humanity.

The First Moral Critics were:
Plato – emphasized moralism and utilitarianism
Horace – stressed that literature should be delightful and instructive
Matthew Arnold – a great literary work must possess “high seriousness”

Questions for analyzing a text using Moral-Philosophical Approach:
A. What view of life does the story present?
B. What moral statement, if any, does this story make? Is it explicit or implicit?
C. What is the author’s attitude toward his world? Toward fate? Toward God?
D. What does the work say about the nature of good or evil?
E. What does the work say about human nature?

Analysis of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain from a Moral-Philosophical Perspective.
(Schinkel, 2011)

The adventures of Huckleberry Finn are famous and well-known in the world. It must be clear that, as any high-quality story, it must have some moral. It is important that the moral of the story still stays interesting. One can notice that they are interested not only in the main moral of the whole story but more about the moral of the main character. The poem possess moral values where positive thought can be identified, good actions can be portrayed and better thinking can be achieved.

The case of Huckleberry Finn seems to be quite interesting, taking into account the factors that have an impact on him. Reading the story, one can notice that Huckleberry is surrounded by the common morality of his time and environment. However, when it is time to act in some way, Huckleberry behave in the way that seems to be right for him and the modern readers, not for the sources of common moral that could affect him. In this way, considering the sources of Huckleberry’s morality, one can notice not only different external sources but also his own feelings about right and wrong

In this way, there are different sources of Huckleberry’s morality. There are two women, Miss Watson and the widow, who tried to instill him their morality. One more source is the common morality of his time, which can impact on Huckleberry from the different people and different sources, but he in any way could not avoid it. However, actions of Huckleberry are not caused by any of that morals. Thus, the sources of Huckleberry’s morality can be separated in external and inner. One can notice the inner feelings and understanding of right and wrong is the most important for Huckleberry and it causes his behavior, not the common morality of his time or people who tried to instill their morality to him.

Biographical Approach: This approach “begins with the simple but central insight that literature is written by actual people and that understanding an author’s life can help readers more thoroughly comprehend the work. The biographical critic “focuses on explicating the literary work by using the insight provided by knowledge of the author’s life.

Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve was a literary critic and one of the major figures of French literary history. One of his major contentions was that, in order to understand an artist, it is necessary to understand the artist’s biography.

Questions for analyzing a text using Biographical Approach:
A. What aspects of the author’s personal life are relevant to this story?
B. Which of the author’s stated beliefs are reflected in the work?
C. What seem to be the author’s major concerns
D. Do any of the events in the story correspond to events experienced by the author?
E. Do any of the characters in the story correspond to real people?

Analysis of ‘The Story of an Hour’ by Kate Chopin from a Biographical Perspective.

Historical Approach: This approach focuses on connection of work to the historical period in which it was written; literary historians attempt to connect the historical background of the work to specific aspects of the work.

Pioneers of historical criticism as applied to the Bible include the Dutch scholars Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) and Benedict Spinoza (1632–1677). When it is applied to the Bible, the historical-critical method is distinct from the traditional, devotional approach.

Questions for analyzing a text using Historical Approach:
A. How does it reflect the time in which it was written?
B. How accurately does the story depict the time in which it is set?
C. How does the story reflect the attitudes and beliefs of the time in which it was written or set?
D. How would characters and events in this story have been viewed by the writer’s contemporaries?
E. What historical events or movements might have influenced this writer?

Psychological Approach: This approach deals with a work of literature primarily as it is an expression – in fictional form – of the author’s personality, mindset, feelings and desires. It also requires that we investigate the psychology of the characters and their motives in order to figure out the work’s meanings.

This school of criticism got its start with the work of Sigmund Freud, which incorporated the importance of the unconscious or sub-conscious in human behavior. Some typical “archetypal” Freudian interpretations include: rebellion against a father, id versus superego, death-wish forces, or sexual repression. Dreams, visualizations, and fantasies of characters in modern works usually stem from Freudian concepts.

Questions for analyzing a text using Psychological Approach:
A. What forces are motivating the characters?
B. Which behaviors of the characters are conscious ones?
C. Which are unconscious?
D. Are the theories of Freud or other psychologists applicable to this work?
To what degree?
E. Do any of the characters correspond to the parts of the tripartite self? (Id,
ego, superego)

Sociological/Marxist Approach: This approach focuses on man’s relationship to others in society, politics, religion, and business. According to Marxists, and to other scholars in fact, literature reflects those social institutions out of which it emerges and is itself a social institution with a particular ideological function. Literature reflects class struggle and materialism: think how often the quest for wealth traditionally defines characters.

Marxism is the movement founded by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels which fights for the self-emancipation of the working class, subjecting all forms of domination by the bourgeoisie, its institutions and its ideology, to theoretical and practical critique.

Questions for analyzing a text using Marxism/Sociological Approach:
A. What is the relationship between the characters and their society?
B. Does the story address societal issues, such as race, gender, and class?
C. How does the story reflect urban, rural, or suburban values?
D. What does the work say about economic or social power? Who has it and
who doesn’t? Any Marxist leanings evident?
E. Does the work challenge or affirm the social order it depicts?

Archetypal Approach: This approach focuses on connections to other literature, mythological/biblical allusions, archetypal images, symbols, characters, and themes.

Archetypal literary criticism’s origins are rooted in two other academic disciplines, social anthropology and psychoanalysis; each contributed to literary criticism in separate ways, with the latter being a sub-branch of critical theory. Archetypal criticism was at its most popular in the 1940s and 1950s, largely due to the work of Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye.

Questions for analyzing a text using Archetypal Approach:
A. How does this story resemble other stories in plot, character, setting, or
B. What universal experiences are depicted?
C. Are the names significant?
D. Is there a Christ-like figure in the work?
E. How does the work reflect the hopes, fears, and expectations of entire
F. What common human concerns are revealed in the story?
G. How does the story reflect the experiences of death and rebirth?

Feminist Criticism: This approach examines images of women and concepts of the feminine in myth and literature; uses the psychological, archetypal, and sociological approaches; often focuses on female characters who have been neglected in previous criticism. Feminist critics attempt to correct or supplement what they regard as a predominantly male-dominated critical perspective.

Questions for analyzing a text using Feminist Approach:
A. How are women’s lives portrayed in the work?
B. Is the form and content of the work influenced by the writer’s gender?
C. How do male and female characters relate to one another? Are these
relationships sources of conflict? Are these conflicts resolved?
D. Does the work challenge or affirm traditional views of women?
E. If a female character were male, how would the story be different (and
vice versa)?

Reader Response Criticism. This approach focuses on what is going on in the reader’s mind during the process of reading a text. The critic attempts to read the reader by exploring how reader’s expectations and assumptions are met or not met. Reader-response critics believe that readers create rather than discover meaning and that a literary work evolves as a reader processes characters, plots, images, and other elements while reading.

The theory is popular in both the United States and Germany; its main theorists include Stanley Fish, David Bleich, and Wolfgang Iser.

Questions for analyzing a text using Reader’s Response Approach:
A. How does the meaning of a text change as you reread it?
B. How do your values alter your perceptions of the text?
C. How is the informed reader’s response to the text shaped by the reader
and the text?
D. Which of your personal experiences or memories is affecting your
perceptions of the story?
E. What was the work’s original intended audience?

Analysis of ‘Romeo and Juliet Act 1-5’ by W. Shakespeare from a Reader’s Response Perspective
(Sampson, n.d.)

Romeo and Juliet is an excellent introduction to tragedy because, as befits a tale of calamity in which youth perishes trough the stupidities of the old, it is swift, simple, complete and lovely. My personal opinion of this play was not as enthusiastic as it could have been. I think the personalities just weren`t interesting. In most books I can put myself in the characters` places, and really see what they`re thinking. But here, I found that I didn`t particularly care what they were thinking. I agree that this is a classic of English literature, but I think I liked it more for its storyline than for its characters.

If we read the book, we will be shocked and moved by the faithful love between Romeo and Juliet, especially the everlasting spirit of humanism in them, as well as the artistic charm of spoken and written languages. That kind of humanistic spirit filling the Romeo and Juliet is what many works lack or don’t have, which shows the high degree of thinking of this work. Humanism is a value of life, thinking and values and a lofty spiritual realm. It is worthy of following and practicing no matter when and what happened for its everlasting. Romeo and Juliet’s pursuit of humanistic spirit shows more their dignity and values as human beings, which is why this play can touch human hearts. I will recommend this book to the others especially for younger readers who will study about Shakespeare play.

Structuralism. It is used in literary theory, for example, …if you examine the structure of a large number of short stories to discover the underlying principles that govern their composition…principles of narrative progression…or of characterization…you are also engaged in structuralism activity if you describe the structure of a single literary work to discover how its composition demonstrates the underlying principles of a given structural system” (Tyson 197-198).

Two important theorists form the framework of structuralism: Charles Sanders Peirce and Ferdinand de Saussure. Peirce were the founders or originators of structuralism perspective in literary criticism.

Questions for analyzing a text using Structuralism Approach:
A.How should the text be classified in terms of its genre? In other words, what patterns exist within the text that makes it a part of other works like it?
B. Can you speculate about the relationship between the…text… and the culture from which the text emerged? In other words, what patterns exist within the text that makes it a product of a larger culture?
C. What patterns exist within the text that connects it to the larger “human” experience? In other words, can we connect patterns and elements within the text to other texts from other cultures to map similarities that tell us more about the common human experience?
D. What rules or codes of interpretation must be internalized in order to ‘make sense’ of the text?
E. What are the semiotics of a given category of cultural phenomena, or ‘text,’ such as high school football games, television and/or magazine ads for a particular brand of perfume…or even media coverage of an historical event?

Mimetic. The mimetic theories judge a literary work of art in terms of imitation. This is the earliest way of judging any work of art in relation to reality whether the representation is accurate (verisimilitude) or not. For this purpose, all these theories treat a work of art as photographic reproduction i.e. art’s truth to life, poetic truth and so forth.

Mimetic Theory originated with Rene Girard, a French polymath whose seminal insights into the nature of human desire bridges diverse fields such as anthropology, literary criticism, religious studies, psychology, ethnology, sociology, philosophy, and others.

Questions for analyzing a text using Mimetic Approach:
A. Is it accurate?
B. Is it correct?
C. Is it moral?
D. Does it show how people really act?

Deconstructionist Approach. Deconstruction involves the close reading of texts in order to demonstrate that any given text has irreconcilably contradictory meanings, rather than being a unified, logical whole.

It was originated by the philosopher Jacques Derrida. Derrida’s approach consisted in conducting readings of texts with an ear to what runs counter to the intended meaning or structural unity of a particular text.

Questions for analyzing a text using Deconstructionist Approach:
A. How does this text or artifact gather meaning from the field of other signs or other texts that it is a part of?
B. How does this text or object assume meaning from what is temporally before it, which is historically defined by what is before it?
C. What are the historical, cultural, social, and political processes that have brought this text into being?
D. What is the relationship of the title to the rest of the work?
E. What words need to be defined?
F. What relationships or patterns do you see among any words in the text?

Analysis of ‘Limitless’ by Neil Burger from a Deconstructionist Perspective:
(Rabu, 2016)

The story is an action thriller about the writer who takes an experimental drug which is the drug can make him use 100 percent of his brain. I found two binary opposition from watching this movie. First, the limit and the limitless and second cleverness and money. First, it will be analyzed by explaining the construction meaning of the binary opposition through the story of film. Second, the deconstruction meaning of the binary opposition will be tackled.

However, if we take a look of this binary opposition carefully, there is unstable meaning in here. This is how deconstruction theory work, to seek the problem in a meaning which means that it is possible that there is unstable meaning in the binary opposition. In deconstruction, ‘inferior’ as the supplement can occur if there is a lack in ‘superior’. It means the ‘inferior’ exist with the purpose to fill a lack in ‘superior’. Deconstruction not means to make ‘inferior’ take a place the ‘superior’. Deconstruction just wants to show that there is unstable meaning in ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’.

In conclusion, the two binary opposition that I find are first between the limitless and the limit, second between cleverness and money. After applying the deconstruction theory in the two binary opposition can be seen that there is unstable meaning in the two of them. The ‘inferior’ have a great role too but it doesn’t mean to take a place the ‘superior’.

Queer Approach: This approach “examines how sexual identity influences the creation and reception of literary works.” Originally an offshoot of feminist movements, gender criticism today includes a number of approaches, including the so-called “masculinist” approach recently advocated by poet Robert Bly.

The term queer theory was introduced in 1990, with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Judith Butler, Adrienne Rich and Diana Fuss (all largely following the work of Michel Foucault) being among its foundational proponents.

Questions for analyzing a text using Queer Approach:
A. How are binaries male/female and masculine/feminine being defined?
B. How is gender being ascribed?
C. How are the characters’ sexual identities shaped and formed?
D. What is queer about the text?
E. Is any character in crisis concerning his or her sexual identity?

Analysis of ‘Death of a Salesman’ from a Queer Theory Perspective:
Judith Jack Halberstam (2015)

This is the kind of sweet failure that the piece addresses: the failure of living up to the ideals that others in society set for you. Here, Biff asks: “Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be?”

Biff just wants “work” and “food” and “time to sit and smoke.” Sounds a bit like Huck Finn, don’t you think? Biff’s farm out west also sounds like that perfect life you imagine when you’re a kid, what Halberstam calls “the wonderful anarchy of childhood.”

In Halberstam’s words, his failure “allows us to escape the punishing norms that discipline behavior.” That means that whenever a character in Death of a Salesman challenges the gender roles that seem so apparent and proper, they exhibit a type of queer behavior.

Biff the quarterback, Biff the ladies’ man, Biff the successful man of business; the dude is never going to become any of these things his dad wants of him. In sum: Biff can be read as queer. No, not because of his sexuality. Because of his honesty regarding his failure to become a “real man.”

“…all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am!” And in his failing, Biff finds hope, not emptiness. This is a key component of

Halberstam’s version of queer theory; Biff has blue sky, farm work, and some “time to smoke” waiting for him. In other words, he has freedom waiting for him.
His desires kill his father, but Biff’s failures liberate him from making a “contemptuous, begging fool” of himself at an office desk. Just as in Halberstam’s queer world of failure, Biff’s refusal to “be a man” is painful for his father, but it is redemptive for him. He’s relieved to admit what he can’t or won’t become so he can find out who he really is.

Unit III. The Literary Analysis Essay

Students are asked to write literary analysis essays because this type of assignment encourages you to think about how and why a poem, short story, novel, or play was written. To successfully analyze literature, you’ll need to remember that authors make specific choices for particular reasons. Your essay should point out the author’s choices and attempt to explain their significance.

Discusses a writer’s interpretation of a text through careful examination of the author’s choices within the text: word choice, themes, motifs, as well as many other literary devices. The writer uses portions of the text, as well as his or her reasoning, to demonstrate how the evidence supports the interpretation.

Why practice literary analysis at all?

It’s interesting, and opens the door to a wider appreciation of poetry, particularly that in other languages.

It’s also unavoidable. Good writing needs continual appraisal and improvement, and both are better done by the author, before the work is set in print. Most academics write articles rather than poems, but there seems no reason why their skills should not deployed in creating things which by their own submission are among the most demanding and worthwhile of human creations. Nor should poets despise professional literary criticism. In short, the approaches of this section should give poets some of the tools needed to assess their work, and to learn from the successful creations of others.
The Steps in Writing a Literary Analysis Essay
No one is born knowing how to analyze literature; it’s a skill you learn and a process you can master. As you gain more practice with this kind of thinking and writing, you’ll be able to craft a method that works best for you. But until then, here are basic steps to writing a well-constructed literary essay:

(Given the Literary Piece: “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost)

Method 1: Developing your Thesis Statement

1 Formulate a thesis statement. This is a sentence (or sentences) that expresses the main ideas of your paper and answers the question or questions posed by your paper. Usually appears at the first paragraph. To form a solid thesis, think about the following:
• What am I arguing?
• What is my reasoning?
• How should I organize my reasons/evidence?

2 Construct a concise thesis statement.
A good thesis statement should:

• Allude to the 3 main points you wish to address in the main body of the essay.
• Touch on the organization of your argument
• Explain what significance your argument has.
• Appear in the first paragraph, as it serves as an introduction to your approach to the literary work. Generally, a thesis appears at the end of the first paragraph — letting the reader know what to expect for the body of the work.

3 Refine your thesis statement. Often, as the paper evolves, the thesis evolves with it. Don’t hesitate to revamp your thesis to accurately summarize your paper, after you’ve written it.

Method 2: Supporting Your Argument: Introductory Paragraph

1 Build a strong, intriguing introduction. This is where your paper starts — the first impression needs to be assertive, interesting, and encourage the reader to continue on. A few ideas to start with:
• A relevant quotation or anecdote. This could be lines or dialogue, depending on the text you’re analyzing
• An interesting fact or question.
• An acknowledgment of the counterargument.
• Irony, paradox, or analogy

2 End your introduction with your thesis statement. It should seem to usher in the rest of the paper.

Method 3: Supporting Your Argument: Body Paragraphs
1 Develop convincing body paragraphs. This will be where you give evidence for your argument. A standard body has three paragraphs, though a longer essay might require more.
• In answering questions posed, think about what evidence you have to make your assertion. How does it relate to the overall theme? Are you leaving anything out?
• Perform a close reading and analyze multiple factors in your literary analysis. You might discuss a character’s development — how the individual changes from the beginning to the end of the work. You could focus on a character’s fatal flaw and examine the person’s mistakes.
• Consider focusing on the setting and theme of the literary work you’re analyzing. Emphasize the ways in which these elements contribute to the overall quality of the work.
• A paper fails when the writer chooses to ignore elements that don’t fit his or her thesis. Make sure your argument doesn’t pick and choose which parts of the text to address and which parts to ignore.
• Emphasize one major point per paragraph in this section. No need to rush all of your evidence into one idea.

2 Consider context. If your author writes heavily in symbolism and other literary devices, obscuring the true intent of their work, research his/her experiences. What was going on in the world or in his/her life? Does your argument fit these circumstances?

• This should advance a specific point of view about the text. You could argue that a given story is the product of the culture and time period from which it sprang. To follow up, provide details about the historical aspects of the literary work within the text and outside of it.

• Don’t hesitate to use secondary sources (texts from other authors).
• A book or article discussing the same text
• A book or article discussing a theory related to the text
• A book or article discussing the historical or social context of the text

Method 4: Supporting Your Argument: Conclusions

1 End with a firm conclusion. Sum up your overall paper in the last paragraph. It should drive home all the major points you have made in the foregoing elements of your literary analysis, but also touch on the implications of your argument.
• Do not reiterate points repetitively
• Restate the thesis statement
• Suggest the next step
• Summarize main points
• Identify different perspective
• Draw connections between genre and context

Method 5: General Guidelines

1 Pick a captivating title. You may want to hold this off till the end, when your paper is fully formed and your argument is clear.

2 Write in the present tense. Regardless of the time your text was written, voice it in present-day terms: “The orange peels float away in the water, along with his innocence.”

3 Write in the third person. Avoid using “I” or “you”. Some teachers may allow first or second person. If so, you can express the level of enjoyment you experienced while reading the text (if this is within the scope of your assignment and your teacher will allow it). You can discuss the qualities of the text that most impressed you or the reasons you found or did not find the main characters believable.
4 Use literary terms. They will make your paper sound well-informed, balanced, and thought out. A few examples include:
• Allusion: Indirect or brief references to well-known characters or events.

• Hyperbole: Exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally, used for emphasis or effect.

• Irony: A reference to how a person, situation, statement, or circumstance is not as it would actually seem.

• Metaphor: A type of figurative language in which a statement is made that says that one thing is something else but, literally, it is not.

• Simile: A comparison in which one thing is likened to another.

5 Use secondary sources. They can be great for supporting your argument. Keep in mind, though, that secondary sources should be secondary. It is your paper — use other authors’ opinions as padding for your argument — not doing the work for you. They can be found a number of ways.

Tips in Making the Literary Analysis Essay

Whether literary analysis is easy or hard, often, it depends on the topic or literary work you choose to analyze. The process does not have to be nerve-wracking or take forever. Here are some tips regarding topic selection to help make the literary analysis process stress-free:
1 It is easier to find criticism on works of authors from the past than on works by contemporary authors. It takes time for a body of critical writing about an author or literary work to grow.
2 It is easier, obviously, to find criticism on works by well-known authors than on works by those not so famous.
3 Larger works, like novels and plays, seem to attract more critical attention than individual short stories, essays, or poems.
4 Don’t finalize your topic too soon. Consider two or three works of literature, do some quick, preliminary searching for each title in the tools introduced in this research guide, and choose the one on which you can find the most information most quickly.
5 Unless, of course, an obscure work or work by a contemporary author is something you are passionately interested in. Then ignore Tips One through four, and choose it.

Method 6: What to Avoid?
1 Do not summarize the plot. Your paper is for analysis, not summarization.
2 Do not confuse a character’s words with an author’s viewpoint. These are two mutually exclusive things — make sure your argument addresses only one.
3 Do not plagiarize. This will esult in an automatic fail.

The Importance of a Literary Analysis

The purpose of a literary analysis essay is to carefully examine and sometimes evaluate a work of literature or an aspect of a work of literature. As with any analysis, this requires you to break the subject down into its component parts. Examining the different elements of a piece of literature is not an end in itself but rather a process to help you better appreciate and understand the work of literature as a whole.

REMEMBER: Writing is the sharpened, focused expression of thought and study. As you develop your writing skills, you will also improve your perceptions and increase your critical abilities. Writing ultimately boils down to the development of an idea. Your objective in writing a literary analysis essay is to convince the person reading your essay that you have supported the idea you are developing.

Sample Literary Piece and its Analysis
(Moral-Philosophical and Reader’s Response Approach were used in this analysis by the Author)

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(Introduction with its Thesis Statement)

Literary pieces are writings in prose or poetry having excellence in form and expression. These can express ideas which mirror the life or experiences. They possess elements to connect the reader to the text. In his poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Frost lets his readers to create meaning and to get views about the piece through the characters, theme, images and other elements which give connection to the reader to the text. He also lets readers to focus on theme, vies about world which make the poem valuable in gaining moral statements in his literary piece.

(Body Paragraphs)

In his poem, Frost develops the character by stopping in the woods to have rest which the readers can create meaning by determining the reason by themselves. He unfolds the theme through the characters and the images in the poem. In his first stanza, the main character is a man who wanted to rest but the horse believes that it is not normal.

The theme is unfolded in the last stanza that the character needs to move forward no matter what rests he needs. The use of images such as the wood gives values and perception to the readers affecting their personal experiences. For instance, the reader had experienced that he would like to stop in his journey but thought that he has more journeys to go, the reader will basically be affected and create a response. The connection to the reader by the text is evident through the given elements.

As the theme arises in the poem, readers can create meaning by themselves. This is manifested by the readers’ different perspective. If a reader thinks that the character should do differently in the poem, he will never be compared to a reader who sees and believes the other way around because of different responses.

In the poem, there are many views about the world that readers can get. Through the characters and images, a viewpoint can be articulated that there will be journeys in life that a person would like to stay and that a person wants to leave.

Through these images and views, moral statements can be stated such as readers may see the beauty of an experience but they should continue their journey. Another, life is dark, deep and lovely, but it should continue. These moral statements are created based on the theme and images found in the story.


As a conclusion, the poem creates a connection to the readers through the use of elements such as characters, imagery, theme and others. It also gives viewpoints which moral statements can be developed and unfolded. These elements are important to understand the literary piece. Readers can also create connection through their responses towards the poem.

*The Analysis was created using a primary source only.

Sample Literary Piece and its Analysis
(Structuralism Approach was used in this Analysis)

Edgar Allan Poe

TRUE! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.
It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees –very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.
Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded –with what caution –with what foresight –with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it –oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly –very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! Would a madman have been so wise as this, And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously-oh, so cautiously –cautiously (for the hinges creaked) –I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights –every night just at midnight –but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.
Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers –of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back –but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.
I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out –“Who’s there?”
I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening; –just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.
Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief –oh, no! –it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself –“It is nothing but the wind in the chimney –it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel –although he neither saw nor heard –to feel the presence of my head within the room.
When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little –a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it –you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily –until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.
It was open –wide, wide open –and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness –all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.
And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the sense? –now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.
But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eve. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! –do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me –the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once –once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eve would trouble me no more.
If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.
I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye –not even his –could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out –no stain of any kind –no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all –ha! ha!
When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock –still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, –for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.
I smiled, –for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search –search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.
The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: –It continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness –until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.
No doubt I now grew very pale; –but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased –and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound –much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath –and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly –more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men –but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed –I raved –I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder –louder –louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! –no, no! They heard! –they suspected! –they knew! –they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now –again! –hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!
“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! –tear up the planks! here, here! –It is the beating of his hideous heart!”
(Introduction with its Thesis Statement)

There are two physical settings in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”: the house the narrator shares with the old man where the murder takes place and the location from which the narrator tells his story, presumably a prison or an asylum for the criminally insane. However, the most important setting for the story is within the obsessed mind of the narrator. The old man is hardly more than the evil eye that so infuriates the narrator, the source of his mysterious obsession.

(Body paragraphs)

The central question on which the story depends is, why does the narrator kill the old man? He says he has no personal animosity toward him, that he does not want his money, that the old man has not injured him in any way. In fact, he says he loves the old man. The only reason he can give is the evilness of the old man’s eye. Although some critics have suggested that the eye is the “evil eye” of superstition, which the narrator feels threatens him, there is no way to understand his motivation except to say the narrator must be mad. Still, the reader feels compelled to try to understand the method and meaning of the madness. For Poe, there is no meaningless madness in a short story.

The key to understanding the mysterious motivation in the story is Poe’s concept of a central idea or effect around which everything else coheres, like an obsession that can be identified on the principle of repetition. Thus, if the reader is alert to repetitions in the story, these repeated themes become the clues to the mystery. Determining motifs foregrounded by repetition helps the reader distinguish between details that are relevant to the central theme and those that merely provide an illusion of reality. Poe, the creator of the detective story, was well aware of the importance of discovering all those details that matter in a case and then constructing a theory based on their relationship to each other.

To understand what the eye means in the story, the reader must take Poe’s advice in his essays and reviews on short fiction and determine how all the various details in the story seem bound together to create one unified theme and effect. In addition to the details about the eye, there are two other sets of details repeated throughout the story: the narrator’s identification with the old man and the idea of time. When the narrator sticks his head in the old man’s chamber at night and hears him groan, he says he knows what he is feeling, for he, himself has felt the same terror many times himself. At the moment the narrator kills the old man, as well as the moment when he confesses the crime, he thinks he hears the beating of the old man’s heart; however, of course, what he hears is the beating of his own heart. When the police question him about the old man’s scream in the night, he says it was his own in a bad dream.

The narrator makes several references to time. The beating of the old man’s heart sounds like the ticking of a watch wrapped in cotton; the old man is said to listen to death watches (a kind of beetle that makes a ticking sound) in the wall; time seems to slow down and almost stop when he sticks his head in the old man’s chamber. To understand this obsession with time and its association with the beating of a heart, the reader must relate it to the title and ask, what tale does a heart tell? The answer is that the tale every heart tells is that of time—time inevitably passing, every beat of one’s heart bringing one closer to death. As in many other Poe stories, “The Tell-Tale Heart” suggests that when one becomes aware of the ultimate destiny of all living things—that humans are born only to die—time becomes the enemy that must be defeated at all costs.

By connecting the repeated theme of the narrator’s identification with the old man to the obsession with the eye, the reader can conclude that what the narrator wishes to destroy is not the eye but that which sounds like “eye” (after all, he says that his sense of sound especially has been heightened). That is, the word “eye” sounds like the word “I,” the self. This connection relates in turn to the theme of time. The only way one can escape the inevitability of time is to destroy that which time would destroy—the self. However, to save the self from time by destroying the self is a paradox that the narrator can only deal with by displacing his need to destroy himself (the I) to a need to destroy the eye of the old man. By destroying the old man’s eye, the narrator indirectly does succeed in destroying himself—ultimately by exposing himself as a murderer. Of course, one could say, this is madness; indeed it is. However, it is madness and motivation with meaning, a meaning that Poe wishes us to discover by careful reading of the story.


One of Poe’s major contributions to the development of the short story was his conception of plot not merely as a series of events, one thing after another, but as the calculated organization of all those details in the story that relate to and revolve around a central theme. It is no wonder that his own obsession with this aesthetic principle would lead him to create that great “reader” of hidden plot or pattern, Auguste Dupin, who would later become the model for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective Sherlock Holmes. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is indeed a murder mystery in which the narrator concocts a plot to kill the old man. However, the real plot of the story is Poe’s elaborate pattern of psychological obsession and displacement, as one man tries to accomplish what all human beings wish to do—defeat the ticking of the clock that marks one’s inevitable movement toward death.

*The analysis was created using a primary source only.

How to Check Literary Analysis Essay?

As a teacher of Literary Approaches and Criticism, you can use this rubric. The organization, elements of literary analysis/interpretation writing, grammar, usage, mechanics and spelling.

Scoring Rubric: Literary Analysis/Interpretation

Name: _________________________________________ Date: ___________

4 3 2 1
Organization The analysis begins with a clear thesis statement that identifies the work by title, author, and genre and succinctly states the meaning of the whole work or some part of it. The body expertly explains and develops the thesis and provides supporting examples from the work itself or from related works that back up the thesis. The conclusion leaves the reader with a question, a quotation, a fresh insight, or another memorable impression. The analysis begins with a thesis statement that identifies the work by title and author and states the meaning of the whole work or some part of it. The body explains and develops the thesis and provides supporting examples from the work. The conclusion brings the analysis to a satisfactory close. The analysis begins with a thesis statement that identifies the work by title and author, but it may not address the meaning of the whole work or some part of it. The body only partially explains or develops the thesis; few supporting examples from the work are given. The conclusion may be weak, repetitive, or missing. The analysis does not begin with a thesis statement, and the writer fails to identify the work by title, author, and genre. No organizational plan is evident.
Elements of Literary Analyses/ Interpretations The purpose of explaining meaning is achieved, thereby deepening the reader’s understanding of the work or related works. The analysis summarizes the work to the extent needed to clarify main points but does not retell the work. Word choice is consistently precise, vivid, or powerful. The writing offers some new insight into the work or related works, but the analysis may not consistently summarize the work to the extent needed to clarify main points, or it may unnecessarily retell the work. Word choice is generally precise. The writing does little to deepen the reader’s understanding of the work or related works. The analysis may summarize instead of analyze, or fail to summarize as needed to explain points. Word choice is generally imprecise and may be misleading. The writing does not deepen the reader’s understanding of the work or related works. Summary may be substituted for analysis. Word choice is incorrect or confusing.
Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, and Spelling There are few or no errors in mechanics, usage, grammar, or spelling. The title of the work and evidence from the work are correctly capitalized and punctuated throughout.
There are some errors in mechanics, usage, grammar, or spelling. Most conventions related to capitalizing and punctuating the title of the work and supplying evidence from the work are followed. There are several errors in mechanics, usage, grammar, or spelling. Only some of the conventions related to capitalizing and punctuating the title of the work and supplying evidence from the work are followed. There are many serious errors in mechanics, usage, grammar, and spelling. Few or none of the conventions related to capitalizing and punctuating the title of the work and supplying evidence from the work are followed.

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