Writing a Critical Analysis of a Short Story

To write an effective critical analysis, you must first be sure that you understand the question that has been posed, and all literary terms that you have been asked to address. Once you feel you understand the question, reread the piece of literature, making notes. Then look at the notes you've made, consider what connections you can make between observations, and reconsider the question. Try to formulate a rough thesis statement (your "claim"). Now try to select those pieces of evidence that you feel you can most convincingly use to support the claim you made. Next, try to formulate a good introduction, that

  • names the work discussed and the author.
  • provides a very brief plot summary.
  • relates some aspect of that plot to the topic you have chosen to address.
  • provides a thesis statement.
  • indicates the way you plan to develop your argument (support your claim).

Now proceed to introduce and discuss the evidence you mentioned in your introduction, in the order in which you mentioned it. Ensure that you deal with each kind of evidence in a paragraph of its own, and that you introduce the topic of each paragraph with a carefully-focused topic sentence. Also ensure that you end each paragraph with a concluding sentence that sums up the thrust of that paragraph's argument and possibly paves the way for the next piece of evidence to be discussed. (Alternatively, you can begin the next paragraph with a transitional phrase that links the new piece of evidence with the one you have just summarized.)

Finally, write a conclusion that restates your thesis (but using different words), incorporates a brief restatement of your key evidence, and provides a sense of closure. A good closing technique is to somehow link the claim you have made about this particular piece of literature with the author's general style or preoccupations, or to suggest some way in which the topic you have just discussed relates more generally to some aspect of human existence.

Model Essay

What follows is the sample essay analysing the use of setting in the short story "The Cask of Amontillado." Both "good" and "poor" examples of the essay's first and second body paragraphs are included. As you read each paragraph of the essay, beginning with its introduction, clicking on the "continue" arrow at the bottom of the paragraph will permit you to see commentary on particular features of the essay-writing process. To see all the commentary, you may need to click the arrow multiple times.


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