Analyze This

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Analysis vs. Plot Summary)

It is never enough to incorporate a quote. Professors aren’t impressed that you know how to insert a quote within one of your body paragraphs. They want you to analyze the quote. In addition, as professors highlight recurring events and categorize them as themes, they want you to evaluate how those themes affect your understanding about the literary work. The author never writes, “This is a theme in my work.” He just writes. It is up to the professor to point out events, problems, and relationships, which may represent recurring issues or themes in the author’s work.

Therefore, your job is to examine, evaluate, and apply what your professor labels as a theme from all sides. Answer this question: How many sides does this theme have? In reference to sides, we mean corresponding examples. If Male Character A constantly struggles with Issue A, then what does the character’s struggle represent to you?

You must first answer this question, because your answer will represent the introductory statement for your analysis. Now determine if the character’s Issue A is prevalent throughout the work. This is not a recurring theme, but the character’s issue will take you to other areas in the work that affect the character’s views about himself and the world. One or more themes surface when the main character interacts with other characters and causes or is the subject of multiple fictional events. Consider the following scenario:

For example, you may believe that the theme of jealousy is present in Literary Work A. In this literary work, Female Character A constantly struggles with jealousy from beginning to end. From the time the story begins, she is jealous of Female Character B. A hates B and A does everything to try to hinder the progress of B. We see in the work multiple areas where A tries to hurt B. Event A is a great example. Because of her jealousy, Female Character A decides to lie about B so B can’t get the job she wants. B is upset, but perseveres and continues to seek employment later in the story. However, A shows up again and causes Event B.

The theme of jealousy in the literary work is present throughout the work. In other words, it is a recurring theme where every character must confront it. One character causes a problem and the other characters must live with it or adopt a strategy for dealing with it.

Your job as the student writer is to use what the professor highlights as a theme within your analysis, apply the theme, and analyze it from all directions. All directions (sides) refer to characters, events, impact and context. How does the main character’s jealousy affect other characters, their actions and views about the problem?

With this in mind, the best method for developing an analysis is to answer who, what, where, why, when, how, in what way, and to whom. Who does what to whom, why, for what reason; in what way does he or she do this? How does the other person react? This is analysis: 1) breaking down one huge pie into smaller pieces, 2) analyzing each piece, 3) examining similarities and differences, 4) determining if one is greater in value to the others, and 5) providing in detail your thoughts on each piece.

When applying a theme within your analysis, think of the theme as a huge pie. All of the pieces represent the protagonist, supporting characters, corresponding themes, context and location, and author’s intent (purpose). In analyzing a passage within your paper, dare to examine the relationship between all of these characteristics of the work you are discussing. The following is a sample excerpt from a student paper. The student incorporates a useful quote, but fails to address its qualities within the analysis of the paper.

Sample Excerpt

De Quincey resolves his nightmares by offering the reader a slight abstraction of the Oriental dreams.  Before, the dreams had been moral and spiritual terrors, but now the main agents were ugly birds, or snakes or crocodiles, especially the last; “The cursed crocodile became to me the object of more horror than almost all the rest” (457).  The reptile continues to haunt him as he is awakened by small gentle voices speaking to him.  It was his children standing before him showing how well they looked for their outing; because he was able to make the transition from the crocodile to the sight of “human natures and of infancy,” he wept (457).

Figure 30: Essay Excerpt on De Quincey, “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater,” Thomas De Quincey


1) What is the meaning of “slight abstraction”? Analyze this: slight abstraction.

2) How does De Quincey change from being horrified by his nightmares to being fascinated with the innocence of the smallest “human nature”?

3) Why does he weep?

Revision Consideration

Analyze your use of the quote within the context of the work. What is significant about the quote? Why do you place it at the end of your analysis? What does “human natures and of infancy” mean? Ask and answer as many questions as you can to develop your analysis.

In addition, analyze the keywords you use within the work. What does “slight abstraction” mean within the context of your essay as the term relates to the context of the work.

For an extended explanation, see also the comments “Elaborate” and “Not a Theme In.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

  1. Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: