Analytical Essay Assignment
In his 1802 Preface to Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth defines poetry as
“the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion
recollected in tranquility” (273). Those last words are important: emotion recollected in
tranquility. He suggests that the language of a successful poem—for a successful and
attentive reader of poetry—can create an emotional state in the otherwise peaceful reader
that is as passionate and powerful as the experience of an event in real life.
How is this possible? For Wordsworth, it begins in well-chosen language.
Readers of literature—not only poetry, but prose and drama—are often mystified by the
ways that a work of literature makes meaning. This is often because we are looking at the
big picture only, at the whole novel or poem or play, hoping that a simple moral to the
story will jump out and give us the “right” answer. But interpreting literature is really
about the details and moments that can create emotion recollected in tranquility.
To achieve that understanding, we’ll look closely at the language and choices of
the author, and we’ll apply the most appropriate interpretive tools to our work of
knowing. Trying to interpret the whole of Garcia Marquez’s Memories of My Melancholy
Whores or Byatt’s Angels and Insects only confuses the reader. But when she begins to
examine the individual words, the descriptive details, the figurative language that makes
a strong impact, and when she begins to make connections between those moments, a
reaction begins: she begins to recognize patterns, ask questions, and experience moments
of emotion that illustrate the spark of knowing that literature ignites. Our goal in this
essay: how is your spark of knowing ignited in the reading of a literary text?
In a 7-10 page essay, analyze the meaning, themes, or experience of a literary text
from any one or two of our class readings. You may choose one text as your focus, or you
may choose to compare and contrast two texts that share a common theme. The goal is to
show not only what the text means to you, but how the text means through
1. direct quotations and your analyses
2. outside research (3-5 authoritative sources) that support your analyses
3. literary tools that we are practicing this semester (realism; modernism; reader
response, psychoanalytic, feminist, new historical criticisms; carnival; and
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