Literary Analysis Papers:

Understanding a Story by Viewing It Through a Field of Study


  • These papers should amount to about 4-5 pages (250 wds/pg) following general MLA format guidelines.

  • These papers are NOT reviews, summaries, or retelling of the story, but they explain your understanding of the theme or some aspect of the writing in light of another field of study. (More on this below& )

  • Papers will include a 2-part title (topic and position, can use a colon to join the parts) and use standard (parenthetical) current MLA documentation style.

  • Each paper should credit information from the writing under consideration, from at least 3-5 separate sources (two sources must be peer reviewed .) and have a balance of summary, paraphrase and personal comment. Direct quotation should not constitute more than 10-15% of the total word count.

  • Source material in the Works Cited should include the writing being studied AND all other sources: peer reviewed articles from online databases, other articles or print publications.

These papers use one field of study or knowledge as a "lens" to understand some aspect of a particular essay, story, play, etc.  For example, to better relate to and understand the play, Hamlet, we might think about the ways the issues Hamlet is faced with seem to imply what we now call family "dysfunction." Or we could examine how Hamlet's behavior, as the play presents it, might suggest something like bipolar disorder. Or from an historical perspective, how the personal lives of government leaders affect historical events. Or from a criminology approach, a writer might focus on how evidence in the play suggests what happened to Hamlet's father. A title for a psychological approach might be: Hamlet: Some Results of Family Dysfunction (uses psychology to understand this story).

Or to understand an aspect of Native American culture, a title for a paper dealing with a certain traditional story could be: Pueblo Creation Myth: A Map for Human Social Organization (uses sociology to examine the meaning and "application" of this myth). 

Such traditional accounts can also be seen as examples of philosophy, theology, or other fields of study. We can also "approach" the understanding of a text (story, book, play, essay, etc.) by analyzing some internal artistic, stylistic, literary or symbolic aspects of the piece itself, which is called the "intrinsic" approach.

Some other approaches, or "lenses" might be: biographical, how the author's own life is reflected in the work, archetypal how certain "universal" symbols (the Father, the Healer, etc.) guide the work, the feminist, how the role of women affects the work, and virtually any topic or field of study that a student feels is central to the work, can be used. List of fields of study

Here is a short "Story of an Hour" and an approach analysis peer reviewed paper  about it that illustrates this kind of paper. Though it is a bit longer than a paper for this class, it clearly shows how to view the key ideas and events in this story from a specific perspective, or "lens," in this case the psychological quality of "emotion."  


  1. Read or reread the text you choose until you have an understanding of it.

2.    Do a Story Chart  and a Basic Topic Exp. to find your personal thinking and ideas about the story or essay.

3.   Decide on the "theme/meaning/value" (Topic Exp. part 6 and #4 in story chart) of the story. The meaning that you identify, may be the element that stands out most (for you) in a story or essay. The theme/meaning might be one word, e.g. "justice" or several "childhood development."

4.     A theme/meaning will usually fall under one of the disciplines/fields of study: List of fields of study. So, a theme of "honesty" might be explored through the study/field of philosophy and what it "says" about being honest. A theme of "loss/grief" might be explored through psychology; "revenge" through theology, philosophy, etc., self-knowledge through psychology, stealing/murder >criminology, a child's behavior>child development, etc.

5.    Do a brief investigation of the field of study. Find what that field is concerned with--what it   actually studies. Example: Just Google, "What does psychology study?"

6.    List all the qualities/elements of the story that seem to relate to that field of study.

7.    Using all the pre-writing material, make notes that sketch out a general layout of the paper:

o   7.1. intro. and thesis. A working thesis should link the story to the field of study (Example: "Hamlet faces family problems of dysfunction and dishonesty.")

o   7.2. Write 3-5 reasons for that claim and make notes about how the sources can support them.

o   7.3. Write notes for a conclusion that re-explains your thinking and restates the thesis.

8.    Begin writing in sentences and paragraphs.

o   8.1. as part of the introduction, BRIEFLY summarize the story and what you think is the theme

o   8.2. how that theme is part of the field of study you chose.

o   8.3. add paragraph(s) for each reason and the evidence to support it.

9.    Be careful not to simply RE-TELL the story. Add only the parts of the story that connect to your thesis and field of study, as the story reveals those connections for you.

10. Please use clear, accurate word choice, complete and correct sentences--of course.

OTHER PUBLISHED EXAMPLES OF THIS KIND OF PAPER:  Models of Literary analysis papers

Constructing the Paper

  1. Start with 2-part thematic title, then under that:
    1. an epigraph (saying/aphorism, quote, etc. that relates to your thesis).

                                               i.  The Devil's Dictionary--word humor, or Bartlett's Quotations for titles/epigraphs, or just google for sayings about honesty or whatever your focus idea is.

  1. I. Introduction--1-2 paragraphs: might start with a paragraph like the opening one in Emotions in Story of an Hour
    1. identification of writing to be analyzed and very brief comment about the point/idea of the writing. Example: In Annie Dillard's essay "Lenses" she explores her experience of human memory.
    2. brief statement about the field of study that you have identified, and what it studies.
      • Example: "memory" is part of the field of psychology which studies human behavior
    3. Dictionary definitions of key terms, field of study and how all that relates to your understanding of the writing. Example: Medlineplus defines memory as: "... the process of storing and then remembering this information" ("memory").
    4. your thesis sentence (underlined) expressing your topic and position/claim + reasoning about what you are presenting.
      • Example Thesis: Annie Dillard's "Lenses" shows how understanding can change from childhood to adulthood.
  1. II. Body More deeply explains the thesis including a for each of the main reasons (at least 3-5).  
    1. use Signal phrases to introduce/identify all outside sources to prove the reasons. Use "I" to be sure your own explaining or thinking, in the writing, is clearly yours, not a source's.
  2. III. Conclusion-1-2 s:
    1. restates the idea in the thesis, key reasoning and maybe reference to title, epigraph and "larger" social value.
  3. Works Cited = lists all publishing information of sources used in the paper including definitions, illustrations, videos and (of course) the writing being analyzed.

Sample of a general MLA paper with Works Cited in MLA8 format.   

The possibilities are really endless; the task is to get into--engage--the text in thoughtful, critical investigation. This is a process of discovery, so being open to how your thinking develops is very important.  Writing in a project like this is part of finding and sharing our experiences and ideas!

 copyright 2018 : Jane Thielsen : all rights reserved