How do I organize a critical essay about literature?

Focus on a Major Issue

For unity and coherence, work toward an interpretation that adds up and that is systematically supported; ask "What question am I trying to answer? What is the issue that I'm going to solve or focus on?" Narrow down a large, sprawling subject.

Follow a Logical Order

Avoid a chronological order; avoid a thinly disguised plot summary; restrict your use of chronological order to situations where it serves a definite purpose. When you do present material in chronological order, make your reader see that this is the most effective procedure for getting a view of the whole. When you trace the spiritual growth of a major character, for example, you may have to follow the major stage presented in the work, but, in general, try to abandon chronological order. Instead, focus on given points of evidence from different parts of the same work. Arrange your material under several logical headings and supporting evidence should be brought in from different parts of the work for each heading.

Comparison and Contrast

Consider other works by the author, or by other authors that point out dramatic similarities or differences.

Work toward Synthesis

Experiment with patterns of organization that allow you to work conflicting elements into a more comprehensive perspective. Try to find different versions of the same idea, several ways of looking at the same thing. Work in a dialectical fashion, from thesis through antithesis to a hoped-for synthesis.


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