skip to main content
Search
Search Button

ENGLISH 152 LITERATURE WRITING GUIDELINES

These guidelines for writing papers about literature are organized into four sections: general guidelines, fiction guidelines, poetry guidelines, and drama guidelines. To view each section, click on the links at the left of your screen. You may also click on the links to read the primary sources (the literature featured in the examples.)

Writing a Literary Essay

A literary essay is an essay in which you will interpret and analyze a literary text: a fictional work, such as a short story or novel; a poem; or a dramatic work, informally called a play. To write a competent literary essay, you will need to read and study the literary work (known as a primary text) carefully. Then, considering your class assignment carefully, you should choose a topic and focus for your essay. An early step in drafting your essay will be to create a suitable thesis statement.

Thesis Statement (Fiction, Poetry, and Drama)

A thesis is a precisely worded statement that summarizes the main idea to be presented in an essay. In order to direct and control the development of the essay, a thesis should specify the limited aspects of the topic that will be included in the discussion. The thesis statement of a literary essay is the sentence that outlines the analysis the essay will present. A good literary thesis is specific, concise, and purposeful. Study the models below for illustrations of weak and improved thesis statements. For additional models from each genre, visit the fiction, poetry, and drama sections of this web site.

First Draft: “The Story of an Hour tells about a woman’s reaction to her husband’s death.

Revised Thesis: Louise Mallard’s reaction to the news of her husband’s death reflects her changing attitude about her role as a proper wife.

Explanation: The first draft thesis shown above is only a plot summary. The improved version makes a thematic assertion that the writer can explain and support in the essay.

Example 1:

First Draft: “Richard Cory” tells about a wealthy man who lives in a small town and commits suicide.

Revised Thesis: Edward Arlington Robinson contrasts the apparent glitter of Richard Cory’s social status with the reality of his troubled existence.

Explanation: Although the draft thesis provides some information about Richard Cory, it lacks specific direction for the essay’s development. The revised thesis contrasts Richard Cory’s outward appearance with his inner conflicts.

Example 2:

First Draft (Poetry): In this essay, I will analyze the poem “Richard Cory” for its interesting images and characterization.

Revised Thesis: Robinson’s “Richard Cory” presents a series of memorable images that contrast the affluence of Cory with the poverty of his envious audience.

Explanation: The draft thesis shown above begins with an unnecessary “I will analyze” statement and concludes with a vague statement of the essay’s goals. The improved thesis offers a more direct and concise opening, followed by specific goals for the essay’s development.

Example 1:

First Draft (from Ibsen’s drama, A Doll’s House): Nora must leave Torvald and the children to become independent and find herself.

Revised Draft: Although Nora Helmer suffers severe emotional turmoil and financial deprivation by leaving her husband Torvald and their children, she must separate herself from them in order to become a mature, independent woman.

Explanation: The first draft of the thesis is stated too broadly and does not present specific aspects of the topic. By specifying Nora’s problems – emotional and financial – the thesis now provides more direction and control for the development of the essay.

Example 2:

First Draft: In Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” Norma leaves her husband and children to find herself.

Revised Thesis: Although Nora Helmer, the heroine of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, suffers severe emotional turmoil and financial deprivation by leaving Torvald and her children, she must separate herself from them in order to become a mature, independent woman.

Explanation: The first draft thesis is stated too broadly. The revised thesis presents a precisely worded statement about the effects of Nora’s leaving Torvald and the children, and it clearly identifies her goals for the future. The improved version provides direction and control for the development of the essay.

Quoting from Primary Sources (Literary Texts)

In a direct quotation, a passage from a text is inserted verbatim (i.e., word for word) in an essay. Be sure to enclose direct quotations within a double quotation mark. The only changes that are permitted in direct quotations are the following:

  • Adding a brief explanatory word or phrase enclosed in brackets. (See examples below.)
  • Omitting a portion of text, indicated with an ellipsis (i.e., three dots). (See examples below.)
  • Changing a lower case letter to a capital to a lower case letter. (See examples below.)
1. Whenever possible, introduce the quotation with a coherent introductory phrase.

Example: Chopin’s opening sentence announces that “Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble” (265).

Explanation: This introductory phrase includes the author’s name and identifies the section of the story from which the quotation is taken.  In general, an introductory phrase (also known as a lead-in phrase) serves to connect a quoted passage to the ongoing literary analysis in your essay.  Note that when the author’s name is included in the introductory phrase, it does not need to be repeated in the parenthetical citation; only the specific page number is shown.

2. Enclose the quotation in quotation marks.  A brief explanatory word or phrase may be enclosed in brackets.

Example: “Now her [Mrs. Mallard’s] bosom rose and fell tumultuously” (Chopin 265).

Explanation: The addition of Mrs. Mallard’s name explains the pronoun “her.”  Note that the period at the end of the sentence follows the parenthetical citation, which includes both the author’s last name and the specific page reference for the quoted passage.

3. Follow the quotation with a parenthetical citation identifying the author (if his or her name is not included in the introductory phrase) and  the exact page location of the quotation.

Example: The author describes the scene Mrs. Mallard views from her bedroom window: “She could see in the open square before her house the tops of trees that were all aquiver with the new spring life” (Chopin 265).

Explanation: Note that the period at the end of the sentence follows the parenthetical citation.

4. If you omit a portion of the original text, use an ellipsis (i.e., three dots) to indicate the omission.

Example: When Mrs. Mallard begins to change her attitude, she realizes that “there would be no one to live for during those coming years…” (Chopin 266).

Explanation: Be sure that the words you have retained from the author’s original sentence read coherently and create a complete and grammatical sentence.  Note that if the text omission occurs at the end of a sentence, as shown here, the period is placed in its standard position—after the parenthetical citation.

5. If an error exists in the quoted text, you must still quote accurately, but you should indicate the error with the Latin word “sic” in brackets immediately after the error.

Example: “Now her bosom rose and fell tumulltuously [sic]” (Chopin 266).

Explanation: The bracketed “sic” (a word that means “thus”) indicates that “tumultuously” is misspelled.

6. Short quotations can be incorporated into the text of your essay.  However, long quotations (i.e., quotations that are more than three or four lines long) should be presented in the indented form.

Example: Chopin vividly describes Mrs. Mallard’s reaction to the news of her husband’s death:
She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance.  She wept at once, with sudden wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her. (265)

Explanation: Note that the final period in an indented quotation precedes the parenthetical citation.

1. Copy quotations from poems exactly; poetic language often uses unexpected turns of phrase.

Example: “In fine, we thought that he was everything / To make us wish that we were in his place” (Robinson, lines 11-12).

Explanation: In the quotation above, for example, the phrase, “In fine,” is not an ordinary or expected word choice and might easily be misread as “In find” or “I’m fine,” if you are not concentrating. Be sure to reread quotations, matching what you’ve written against the poet’s original text for accuracy.

2. When quoting two or three consecutive lines of poetry, place the lines within the paragraph you are writing, but use a right slash [/] to indicate the poet’s original line ending(s).

Example: Robinson’s initial description of Richard Cory focuses on his aristocratic status and appearance: “He was a gentleman from sole to crown, / Clean favored and imperially slim” (lines 3-4).

Explanation: When quoting lines of poetry, be sure to punctuate and capitalize the lines as in the original poem format.

3. Introduce a quotation from a poem with a coherent lead-in phrase or sentence to connect the poem’s language to your own text. If the lead-in does not include the author’s name, the name must be shown immediately afterward in the parenthetical citation.

Example: The initial description of Richard Cory focuses on his aristocratic status and appearance: “He was a gentleman from to sole to crown, / Clean favored and imperially slim” (lines 3-4).

Explanation: Note that the author’s name should always be apparent to the reader, in this case by placing it first in the parenthetical citation after the quotation.

4. Often your lead-in phrase may include the author’s last name. If so, do not include the author’s name in the parenthetical citation.

Example: Robin’s initial description of Richard Cory focuses on his aristocratic status and appearance: “He was a gentleman from sole to crown, / Clean favored and imperially slim” (lines 3-4).

Explanation: The author’s name needs to be shown only once, either before the quotation or afterward, in the parenthetical citation. Choose the format that works best in your essay context.

5. Place a parenthetical line citation immediately after a quotation from a poem. The citation includes the author’s name and the word “line(s).”

Example: The initial description of Richard Cory focuses on his aristocratic status and appearance: “He was a gentleman from sole to crown, / Clean favored and imperially slim” (Robinson, lines 3-4).

Explanation: Note the use of the comma in the citation above.

6. Quoted passages from poems may be of any length, from a single striking image to several key lines.

Examples:

Short Quotation — Single Image: Edwin Arlington Robinson describes Richard Cory as “imperially slim” (line 4), a man whose kingly appearance does much to make him the center of attention in his town.

Short Quotation — Two Lines: Robinson’s initial description of Richard Cory focuses on his aristocratic status and appearance: “He was a gentleman from sole to crown, / Clean favored and imperially slim” (lines 3-4).

Long Quotation: Quotations of four lines or longer are seldom needed; however, if you decide to use a long quotation, present the quoted lines in the poem’s original format. Double indent and single space this text, if possible. If your word processor will not permit single spacing, simply double indent and double-space.

In the opening lines of “Richard Cory,” Edward Arlington Robinson demonstrates the town’s reaction to Richard Cory:

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,

We people on the pavement looked at him:

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored and imperially slim. (lines 1-4)

Explanation: Relatively brief quotations of one to three lines may be presented within the body of your essay. Quotations of four lines or longer are seldom needed; however, if you decide to use a long quotation, present the quoted lines in the poem’s original format. Double indent and double space this text. Note also that the final period in an indented quotation precedes the parenthetical citation.

7. When quoting two or more non-sequential images or lines, use an ellipsis between them to indicate that some portion of the original text has been left out.

Example: For example, Robinson’s initial description of Richard Cory states: “He was a gentleman from sole to crown, / Clean favored and imperially slim” (lines 3-4).

Explanation: Be sure your resultant sentence is not a fragment and that it reads coherently.

1. Whenever possible, introduce the quotation with a coherent introductory phrase.

Example: Nora explains to Christine that eventually she may tell Helmer about the money she borrowed from Krogstad: “Yes – some time, perhaps. Years from now, when I am no longer pretty” (Ibsen 1305). Note: Quotations from “A Doll’s House” and from critic Michael Meyer can be found in An Introduction to Literature (Twelfth Edition) by Sylvia Barnet et al., published by Longman, New York, 2001.

Explanation: The introductory phrase describes the context for a particular line of dialogue.

2. Enclose the quotation in quotation marks. A brief explanatory word or phrase may be enclosed in brackets.

Example: Nora: “When a wife leaves her husband’s house, as I’m doing now, I’m told that according to the law [in nineteenth-century Denmark] he is freed of any obligations towards her” (Ibsen 1347).

Explanation: The explanatory phrase shown in brackets briefly clarifies Nora’s reference to laws of nineteenth-century Denmark. Note that squared brackets, not parentheses, are used to enclose the added information.

3. Follow the quotation with a parenthetical citation identifying the author, if his or her name is not included in the introductory phrase, and the exact page location of the quotation.

Example: The author emphasizes Dr. Rank’s desire to live despite his deteriorating health: “However miserable I sometimes feel, I still want to go on being tortured for as long as possible” (Ibsen 1307).

Explanation: Note that the period at the end of the sentence follows the parenthetical citation.

4. If you omit a portion of the original text, use an ellipsis (i.e., three dots) to indicate the omission.

Example: Nora explains to Christine that because Helmer is jealous of her mentioning “any of my old friends back home…” (Ibsen 1319).

Explanation: Be sure that the words you retain from the author’s original sentence read coherently and help create a complete and grammatical sentence. Note that if the text omission occurs at the end of the sentence, as shown here, the final period is placed in its standard end position – after the parenthetical citation.

5. If an error exists in the quoted text, you must still quote accurately, but you should indicate the error with the Latin word “sic” (thus) in brackets immediately after the error.

Example: Krogstad: “Are you aware that this is a dangrous [sic] confession?” (Ibsen 1347).

Explanation: The bracketed “sic” indicates that “dangerous” is misspelled.

6. Short quotations can be incorporated into the text of your essay.

Example: Nora: “When a wife leaves her husband’s house, as I’m doing now, I’m told that according to the law he is freed of any obligations towards her” (Ibsen 1347).

Explanation: When a quoted passage involves one character’s relatively brief dialogue, there is no need to separate the quotation from the normal paragraph structure of your essay.

7. Long quotations (i.e., quotations that are more than three or four lines long) should be presented in the indented form.

Example:

Nora’s husband chastises her for suggesting that they borrow money:

Helmer: Oh, Nora, Nora, how like a woman! No but seriously, Nora, you know how I feel about this. No debts! Never borrow! A home that is founded on debts can never be a place of freedom and beauty. We two have stuck it out bravely up to now; and we shall continue to do so for the short time we still have to. (Ibsen 1298)

Explanation: Note that the final period in an indented quotation precedes the parenthetical citation.

8. Quotations from poetic dramas should be presented in a slightly different format from the format shown above. Some dramas, particularly those of ancient Greece (e.g., Oedipus the King) and medieval or Renaissance Europe (e.g., Hamlet) are written in poetic format. Like all plays, poetic dramas present characters speaking and interacting; however, the dialogue is shaped into poetic lines that contain figurative and metrical devices. When quoting lines from poetic dramas, follow the principles for quoting from dramatic literature shown above; however, in the parenthetical citation, instead of a page number, show the play section (act and/or scene number, if shown in the text) and the line number(s) for each quoted passage.

Example 1: When Oedipus discovers his true identity, he laments, “I stand revealed at last/cursed in my birth, cursed in marriage,/cursed in the lives I cut down with these hands!” (Sophocles, lines 1308-10).

Explanation: In this passage from Sophocles’ tragedy, Oedipus the King, cite the line numbers in Arabic numerals. Note that when a play contains no sections and you cite only line numbers, in the first such citation, use the word line(s) to define the meaning of the numbers. Punctuate with a comma, as shown. In subsequent citations, you can omit both the name of the author and the word line(s), showing only the line numbers themselves, e.g. (1316-20), if you are certain that there would be no confusion with nearby citations for other sources.

Example 2: The ghost addresses Hamlet with immediate assurance of its identity: “I am thy father’s spirit/Doomed for a certain term to walk the night…” (Shakespeare 1.5.9-10).

Explanation: In this passage from Shakespeare’s Renaissance tragedy, Hamlet, the act number (1), the scene number (5), and the line numbers (9-10) are shown. Note that when you include standard items, such as these, in the citation, periods, not commas, are used to separate the items.

Quoting from Secondary Sources (Critical or Biographical Works)

1. Limit the use of verbatim quotations when you are using secondary sources.  In general, only ten to fifteen percent of your secondary source references should be in the form of direct quotations.The subsequent secondary source citations are from an article by Daniel Deneau.

Explanation: Use direct quotation of secondary sources only for a few exceptionally well-phrased critical statements.  Use summary or paraphrase for most references to critical or biographical sources. (See “Paraphrasing from Secondary Sources” below.)

2. Just as with a primary source quotation, introduce a secondary source quotation with a coherent introductory phrase, and enclose the quotation in quotation marks.

Critical or Biographical Works
Example: Daniel P. Deneau points out that Mrs. Mallard emerges from her bedroom “with a totally new perspective on… her place in the scheme of things” (2).

Exaplanation: In this introductory phrase, the author’s name and a specific connection of the quoted passage to the story are provided. The ellipsis (i.e., three dots) indicates that some words from the original text have been omitted because they are not essential to the meaning of the passage. Be sure that when you omit words from a quotation, the remaining text reads coherently and creates a complete and grammatical sentence.

Example: In Louise Dauner’s reconsideration of Robinson’s poetic reputation, she notes that Richard Cory’s “value lies in the fact that he is a prototype… for those protagonists in the long poems [Robinson’s] who come to tragedy because of spiritual blindness…” (7).

Explanation: This important quotation from Dauner’ critical article focuses on Robinson’s innovative psychological portrayal of his character, Richard Cory.

Example: In a biography of Ibsen, Michael Meyer notes that “the play is not so much about women’s rights as about the need of every individual to find out the kind of person he or she really is, and to strive to become that person” (qtd. in Barnet et al 1348).

3. Identify the author in your parenthetical citation if his or her name is not included in the introductory phrase.

Example: One critic emphasizes that Mrs. Mallard is affected “with a totally new perspective on… her place in the scheme of things” (Deneau 2).

Explanation: Even when the author’s name is shown in the parenthetical citation, it’s very helpful to have an introductory phrase that signals the beginning of the source information.

Paraphrasing from Secondary Sources (Critical or Biographical Sources)

While verbatim quotations are important in a literary essay, students should take care not to quote excessively.  In general, not more than ten to fifteen percent of a research essay should be presented in the form of verbatim quotations from secondary sources.  Another useful method for bringing secondary sources into a literary essay is to use paraphrased ideas. A paraphrase is a restatement in your own words of a secondary source. Up to forty or fifty percent of your research essay may be based on information obtained from critical sources in the form of paraphrased ideas.

1. Introduce any paraphrased ideas that you obtain from secondary sources with an appropriate and coherent introductory phrase, and follow each paraphrased idea with a parenthetical citation. Do not use quotation marks for paraphrased information.

Example: One critic emphasizes that Mrs. Mallard develops a new attitude about her changed status (Deneau 2).

Explanation: The introductory phrase and the parenthetical citation show your reader where the paraphrased information begins and ends. Without this framework, paraphrased ideas will be difficult for your reader to identify. Note that paraphrased passages are note enclosed in quotation marks; only word-for-word quotations are placed in quotation marks.

Example: Louise Dauner explains that the importance of Richard Cory comes from innovative characterization, not from the poem’s ” ‘shock’ ending” (7).

Explanation:The introductory phrase and the parenthetical citation show your reader where the paraphrased informaiton begins and ends. Without this framework, paraphrased ideas will be difficult for your reader to identify. Not that paraphrased passages are note enclosed in quotation marks; only word-forword quotations are placed in quotation marks.

Example: Michael Meyer emphasizes that Ibsen is primarily concerned about the rights of each person to find his or her individuality, rather than about faminist issues (1348).

Explanation: The introductory phrase and the parenthetical citation show your reader where the paraphrased information begins and ends. Without this framework, paraphrased ideas will be difficult for your reader to identify. Note that paraphrased passages are not enclosed in quotation marks; only word-forword quotations are placed in quotation marks.

2. Identify the author in your parenthetical citation if his or her name is not included in the introductory phrase.

Example: One critic emphasizes that Robinson’s reputation as a major poet can be established by a careful study of characterizations in several key poems, including “Richard Cory” (Dauner 7).

Explanation: Note that even though Dauner’s name is not shown until the parenthetical citation, there is an appropriate lead-in phrase, “One critic emphasizes that…” to mark the beginning of the paraphrase.

Example: One critic emphasizes that in A Doll’s House, Ibsen is primarily concerned about the rights of each person to find his or her individuality, rather than about feminist issues (Meyer 1348).

Explanation: Note that even though Meyer’s name is not shown until the parenthetical citation, there is an appropriate lead-in phrase, “One critic emphasizes that…” to mark the beginning of the paraphrase.

3. Be sure to paraphrase secondary sources accurately; never misrepresent a critic’s ideas.

Example: Critic Daniel Deneau traces Louise Mallard’s transformation from bereaved widow to liberated woman to a precise moment in Chopin’s story (2).

Explanation: Although Deneau pinpoints the exact time of Mrs. Mallard’s transformation, he does not take a position on her new situation. To say that he “celebrates” her change would misrepresent Deneau’s perspective; the verb “traces” in the example above offers a more neutral assessment of Deneau’s statement about Mrs. Mallard’s development.

Example: Critic Louise Dauner steers us away from focusing single-mindedly on the dramatic ending of “Richard Cory” (7).

Explanation: In a summary of Dauner’s idea, it’s important to convey the author’s neutral tone. Offering a summary in which we say that Dauner asks us to “ignore” the ending would be a distortion of her critical analysis of the poem.

Example: One critic emphasizes that in A Doll’s House, Ibsen is primarily concerned with human rights, rather than strictly feminist issues (Meyer 1348).

Explanation: In a summary of Meyer’s idea, it’s important to convey the author’s neutral tone. Offering a summary that implies that Meyer is making an anti-feminist statement (“One critic emphasizes that in A Doll’s House, Ibsen rejects Nora’s feminist actions but applauds her human rights struggle” would be a distortion of both his words and intentions.

4. Be sure to introduce every paraphrased idea, and follow it with a parenthetical citation.  Adding a parenthetical citation at the conclusion of several paraphrased sentences is not adequate because you must acknowledge every idea that you obtain from a source.

Example: One critic emphasizes that Mrs. Mallard’s new attitude about her changed status overtakes her with little warning (Deneau 2). Although she seems unlikely to recover easily from the shock of her husband’s untimely death, in less than an hour an unidentified “something” envelops her, transforming grief into joy. Deneau not only describes Louise Mallard’s transformation from bereaved widow to liberated woman but also connects it to a precise moment in Chopin’s story (2).

Explanation: In this example of a paraphrase, related points from Deneau’s article are connected by an interpretive statement. Note that each paraphrased idea requires a separate parenthetical citation, as shown above.

Example: According to Louise Dauner, the “shock” ending of “Richard Cory” possesses minimal long-term literary significance (7). The critic focuses instead on Robinson’s psychological profile of the poem’s mysteriously trouble protagonist (Dauner 7).

Explanation: Even though the two paraphrased ideas from Dauner are presented consecutively, for the sake of clarity, it is best to cite each one separately, as shown.

Example: According to Michael Meyer, Nora should be perceived not as a feminist but rather as a human being searching for her identity (1348). Thus, her decision to leave her husband and family becomes a fundamental human rights issue instead of a somewhat focused gender struggle (Meyer 1348).

Explanation: Even though the two paraphrased ideas from Meyer are presented consecutively, for the sake of clarity, it is best to cite each one separately, as shown.

Drafting the Literary Analysis Essay

1. Draft a literary analysis (as you would draft any other type of essay) by identifying your working thesis and informally outlining your main sub-topics.

2. Begin your first draft with your own ideas about the literary selection that you are analyzing.

3. After you have drafted your own ideas, support those ideas with specific details from the text of the selection—details about characters, setting, images, symbols, plot, or other relevant information. (DO NOT JUST SUMMARIZE THE PLOT, HOWEVER!) You should also support your ideas with specific quotations from the text of the selection.  See specific directions for “Quoting from Primary Sources” above.

4. Once you have provided your own analysis, add supporting information from the critical or biographical sources that you have consulted.  See specific directions for “Quoting from Secondary Sources” and “Paraphrasing from Secondary Sources” above.

5. Revise and edit the first draft of your essay before you write the final draft.

Drafting the Essay Introduction

After you formulate your essay’s thesis, develop your introductory paragraph.  You may capture the reader’s interest in a variety of ways, for example, by writing a provocative question, using a quotation from the text of the literary selection, or discussing a major theme of the selection.

For “The Story of an Hour”:

How much change can actually be depicted in a very brief story about only one hour in the life of the protagonist? Surprisingly, Kate Chopin reveals a great deal about the inner psychological life of the protagonist, Louise Mallard, in “The Story of an Hour.” Louise Mallard’s reaction to the news of her husband’s accident reflects her changing attitude about her role as a proper wife.

Explanation: The introduction begins with a provocative question for capturing the reader’s interest, followed with a general overview of the essay’s content in the second sentence. The thesis statement, which is effectively placed at the end of this introductory paragraph, suggests that the essay will develop a comparison/contrast emotions she experiences as she begins to appreciate her new social status.

For “Richard Cory”:

In “Richard Cory,” his narrative poem about an affluent citizen of a small town, Edward Arlington Robinson describes Cory’s appearance and explains the role that this wealthy man plays in the community. Of course, there is dramatic irony in the difference between the truth of Cory’s existence and the town’s attitude toward that existence. The thesis emphasizes this contrast and suggests the troubling aspects of the contrast.

Explanation: The introduction begins with an overview of the poem’s content and theme — the dramatic difference between Richard Cory’s existence and the town’s attitude toward that existence. The thesis emphasizes the contrast and suggests the emotionally troubling aspects of the contrast.

From A Doll’s House:

How can a young wife and mother possibly consider abandoningher husband and children in order to find herself? Surely, nothing could be more important to her than her responsibility to her family. Yet, in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, that is precisely what the heroine must do. (Thesis) Although Nora Helmer suffers severe emotional turmoil and financial deprivation by leaving Torvald and the children, she must separate herself from them in order to become a mature, independent woman.

Explanation: The introduction begins with a provocative question to stimulate the reader’s interest about what is to follow. In addition, in order to interest the reader even further, it presents a contrast between Nora’s actual behavior and the expectations of scoiety. The two openting sentences of the introduction lead naturally to a statement of the thesis, the main idea to be developed in the body of the essay.

Drafting and Revising Body Paragraphs Using Both Primary and Secondary Source Synthesis

After the opening paragraph, including the thesis statement, has been presented, body paragraphs, such as the ones below, develop the essay’s argument.

After the opening paragraph, including the thesis statement, has been presented, body paragraphs, such as the ones below, develop the essay’s argument that Louise Mallard’s attitude about her role as a woman changes in the course of the story. Note how quotations from the primary source, Chopin’s story, and from a critical source, Deneau’s article, are both synthesized into the paragraph.

First Draft: At the beginning of the story, Chopin says, “Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death” (265). When she is told her husband is dead, she reacts tight away and weeps with “sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms” (265). Later, she goes to her room, and Daniel P Deneau, a critic, says that she is affected “with a totally new perspective on… her place in the scheme of things” (265). His analysis helps explain the sudden change in Mrs. Mallard.

Revision: As the story opens, the reader learns that Louise Mallard is “afflicted with a heart trouble” (Chopin 265). Chopin’s choice of detail implies that, except for her illness, Louise Mallard is a typical nineteenth-centur wife. Thus, when her husband, Brently, is reported dead in a train disaster, the news is conveyed to Louise gently, “in broken sentences; veiled hints that revealed in half concealing” (265). Louise reacts immediately and openly, weeping with “sudden, wild abandonment, in her sister’s arms” (265). Later, she retires to her room, to mourn her husband’s death in seclusion. At this moment of social disengagement, according to critic Daniel P. Deneau, an idea suddenly occurs to her, one that “oddly arrives from the sky, [to] exert a powerful physical influence on Louise and leave her with a totally new perspective on… her place in the scheme of things” (2). Through Deneau’s perceptive analysis, the reader watches Mrs. Mallard’s transformation from bereaved nineteenth-century widow to liberated modern woman.

Explanation: The first draft demonstrates that the writer has assembled all the necessary evidence from the text. In the revision, the writer has added the following information:

  1. An explanation of the significance of the story’s first line.
  2. Two additional quoted passages from the primary text to depict the situation and highlight Mrs. Mallard’s strong response.
  3. A quoted passage from a secondary source, followed by an interpretation of the quotation, to introduce the story’s main conflict: Mrs. Mallard’s transformation.
After the opening paragraph, including the thesis statement, has been presented, body paragraphs, such as the ones below, develop the essay’s thesis about the contrast between Richard Cory’s appearance and the reality of his life. Note how quotations from Robinson’s poem (the primary source) and Dauner’s critical information (the secondary source) are both synthesized into this body’s paragraph.

Example: According to critic Louise Dauner, the settling for “Richard Cory,” a late nineteenth-century New England town, is modeled on Gardiner, Maine, where Edward Arlingotn Robinson actually lived for almost thirty years (1). Thus, even though relatively brief, the poet provides the reader with a realistic picture of a notable citizen, one who is admired and, indeed, envied by the ordinary people of the town. Although the townspeople believed he “glittered when he walked” (line 8), his superficial glitter concealed a troubled human being who ultimately took his own life. Dauner emphasizes that “we can only surmise that whatever Cory had, it was not enough to compensate him for what he did not have” (7).

Explanation: This body paragraph begins to develop the thesis about the difference between the reality of Richard Cory’s life and the town’s view of his life. The quotation from the primary source highlights his admirable appearance, and the information from the secondary source provides information about the town itself.

Example: In the nineteenth-century, strict social codes prohibited women from voicing their opinions, instructing them instead to defer to the “superior” intellectual abilities of their husbands and fathers. Early in the play, Torvald Helmer scolds his wife Nora when she presumes to suggest that borrowing money may provide a way out of debt: “Oh Nora, Nora, how like a woman! No, but seriously, Nora, you know how I feel about this. No debt, no borrowing” (Ibsen 1298). Torvald’s strong words echo the Victorian belief that, because women were intellectually inferior to men, a husband’s judgements were to be obeyed without question. Although Nora’s desperate struggle to free herself of such restrictive ideas often is seen as a feminist statement, critic Michael Meyer asserts that Nora’s behaviors are not as much “about women’s rights as about the need of every individual to find out the kind of person he or she really is, and to strive to become that person” (Qtd. in Barnet et al 1348). Ultimately, Meyer’s representation of Nora’s actions as a universal quest for human rights authenticates her decision to abandon home and family in search of self.

Explanation: This body paragraph begins to develop the thesis that Nora Helmer has no viable chance at self-realization unless she leaves her home and family to establish an independent personality. The paragraph’s development opens with cultural and historical information to demonstrate the position of women in Victorian society, continues with a quotation from the primary source to illustrate the presence of that historical context in the play, and concludes with a quotation from a secondary source (a critical biography) to guide readers in responding to Nora’s motives and behaviors.

Preparing theWorks Cited Page

1. Begin a new page that you name Works Cited.

2. In alphabetical order, list all of the sources that you have quoted or paraphrased, using the author’s last name or the first important word of the title (if no author is listed).  Do not number the entries on the Works Cited page.

3. Provide all of the required publication information about each source , whether the publication is a book, a periodical, or an electronic source. (Example: Deneau, Daniel. Explicator, Summer 2003, Vol. 61.)

4. Use correct MLA form for each entry.  Follow the models given in your MLA handbook or use the library site.

5. Double space all lines on the Works Cited page.

Text Link