Writing About Literature by Edgar V. RobertsWriting About Literature by Edgar V. Roberts

Writing About Literature

byEdgar V. Roberts

Paperback | October 24, 2011

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Wr iting about Literature serves as a hands-on guide for writing about literature, thus reinforcing the integration of literature and composition.  Reading literature encourages students to think and using literary topics gives instructors an effective way to combine writing and literary study.

Edgar V. Roberts, Emeritus Professor of English at Lehman College of The City University of New York, is a native of Minnesota. He graduated from the Minneapolis public schools in 1946, and received his Doctorate from the University of Minnesota in 1960. He taught English at Minnesota, the University of Maryland Overseas Division, Wayn...
Title:Writing About LiteratureFormat:PaperbackDimensions:400 pages, 8.9 × 6 × 0.8 inPublished:October 24, 2011Publisher:Pearson EducationLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0205230318

ISBN - 13:9780205230310


Table of Contents

T o the I nstructor xv


Part I Introduction


C hapter 1 T he P rocess of R eading , R esponding to , and W riting

A bout L iterature 1

What Is Literature, and Why Do We Study It? 1

Types of Literature: The Genres 2

Reading Literature and Responding to It Actively 4

Alice Walker, Everyday Use 5

Reading and Responding in a Computer File or Notebook 14

Major Stages in Thinking and Writing About Literary Topics: Discovering Ideas,

Preparing to Write, Making an Initial Draft of Your Essay, and Completing the

Essay 17

Discovering Ideas (“Brainstorming”) 19

Box: Essays and Paragraphs—Foundation Stones of Writing 24

Preparing to Write 25

Box: The Need for the Actual Physical Process of Writing 27

Making an Initial Draft of Your Assignment 30

Box: The Need for a Sound Argument in Writing About Literature 31

Box: Referring to the Names of Authors 33

Box: The Use of Verb Tenses in the Discussion of Literary Works 34

Illustrative Paragraph 35

Commentary on the Paragraph 38

Illustrative Essay: Mrs. Johnson’s Overly Self-Assured Daughter, Dee, in Walker’s

“Everyday Use” 39

Completing the Essay: Developing and Strengthening Your Essay Through

Revision 41

Illustrative Student Essay (Revised and Improved Draft) 48

Illustrative Essay (Revised and Improved Draft): Mrs. Johnson’s Overly Self-Assured

Daughter, Dee, in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” 49

Commentary on the Essay 52

Essay Commentaries 52

A Summary of Guidelines 52

Writing Topics About the Writing Process 53

A Short Guide to Using Quotations and Making References in Essays About

Literature 53


Part II Writing Essays on Designated Literary Topics


C hapter 2 W riting A bout P lot : T he D evelopment of C onflict and

T ension in L iterature 58

Plot: The Motivation and Causality of Literature 58

Determining the Conflicts in a Story, Drama, or Narrative Poem 58

Writing About the Plot of a Particular Work 60

Organize Your Essay About Plot 60

Illustrative Essay: The Plot of Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” 61

Commentary on the Essay 63

Writing Topics About Plot 63


C hapter 3 W riting A bout P oint of V iew : T he P osition or S tance

of the W ork s N arrator or S peaker 65

An Exercise in Point of View: Reporting an Accident 66

Conditions That Affect Point of View 67

Box: Point of View and Opinions 68

Determining a Work’s Point of View 68

Box: Point of View and Verb Tense 72

Summary: Guidelines for Point of View 73

Writing About Point of View 74

Illustrative Essay: Shirley Jackson’s Dramatic Point of View in “The Lottery” 77

Commentary on the Essay 80

Writing Topics About Point of View 80


C hapter 4 W riting A bout C haracter : T he P eople in L iterature 82

Character Traits 82

How Authors Disclose Character in Literature 83

Types of Characters: Round and Flat 85

Reality and Probability: Verisimilitude 87

Writing About Character 88

Illustrative Essay: The Character of Minnie Wright of Glaspell’s “Trifles” 90

Commentary on the Essay 93

Writing Topics About Character 93


C hapter 5 W riting A bout a C lose R eading : A nalyzing E ntire S hort

P oems or S elected S hort P assages from F iction , L onger

P oems , and P lays 95

The Purpose and Requirements of a Close-Reading Essay 95

The Location of the Passage in a Longer Work 96

Writing About the Close Reading of a Passage in Prose Work, Drama,

or Longer Poem 97

Box: Number the Passage for Easy Reference 98

Illustrative Essay: A Close Reading of a Paragraph from Frank O’Connor’s

Story “First Confession” 98

Commentary on the Essay 101

Writing an Essay on the Close Reading of a Poem 101

Illustrative Essay: A Close Reading of Thomas Hardy’s “The Man He Killed” 103

Commentary on the Essay 106

Writing Topics for a Close-Reading Essay 106


C hapter 6 W riting A bout S tructure : T he O rganization of

L iterature 107

Formal Categories of Structure 107

Formal and Actual Structure 108

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 73: That Time of Year Thou Mayst

in Me Behold 110

Writing About Structure in Fiction, Poetry, and Drama 112

Organize Your Essay About Structure 113

Illustrative Essay: The Structure of Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” 113

Commentary on the Essay 116

Writing Topics About Structure 116


C hapter 7 W riting A bout S etting : T he B ackground of P lace ,

O bjects , and C ult ure in L iterature 118

What Is Setting? 118

The Importance of Setting in Literature 119

Writing About Setting 122

Organize Your Essay About Setting 122

Illustrative Essay: Maupassant’s Use of Setting in “The Necklace” to Show the

Character of Mathilde 124

Commentary on the Essay 126

Writing Topics About Setting 127


C hapter 8 W riting A bout an I dea or T heme : T he M eaning and the

“M essage in L iterature 128

Ideas and Assertions 128

Ideas and Values 129

The Place of Ideas in Literature 129

How to Locate Ideas 130

Writing About a Major Idea in Literature 133

Organize Your Essay on a Major Idea or Theme 134

Illustrative Essay: The Idea of the Importance of Minor and “Trifling” Details

in Susan Glaspell’s Trifles 135

Commentary on the Essay 139

Special Topics for Studying and Discussing Ideas 140


C hapter 9 W riting A bout I magery : T he L iterary W ork s L ink

to the S enses 141

Responses and the Writer’s Use of Detail 141

The Relationship of Imagery to Ideas and Attitudes 142

Types of Imagery 142

Writing About Imagery 144

Organize Your Essay About Imagery 145

Illustrative Essay: The Images of Masefield’s “Cargoes” 146

Commentary on the Essay 148

Writing Topics About Imagery 149


C hapter 10 W riting A bout M etaphor and S imile : A S ource of D epth

and R ange in L iterature 151

Metaphors and Similes: The Major Figures of Speech 151

Characteristics of Metaphors and Similes 153

John Keats, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer 153

Box: Vehicle and Tenor 155

Writing About Metaphors and Similes 155

Organize Your Essay About Metaphors and Similes 156

Illustrative Essay: Shakespeare’s Metaphors in “Sonnet 30:

When to the Sessions of Sweet Silent Thought” 157

Commentary on the Essay 160

Writing Topics About Metaphors and Similes 161


C hapter 11 W riting A bout S ymbolism and A llegory : K eys to

E xtended M eaning 162

Symbolism and Meaning 162

Allegory 164

Fable, Parable, and Myth 166

Allusion in Symbolism and Allegory 166

Writing About Symbolism and Allegory 167

Organize Your Essay About Symbolism or Allegory 168

Illustrative Essay (Symbolism in a Poem): Symbolism in William Butler Yeats’s

“The Second Coming” 170

Commentary on the Essay 172

Illustrative Essay (Allegory in a Story): The Allegory of

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” 173

Commentary on the Essay 177

Writing Topics About Symbolism and Allegory 177


C hapter 12 W riting A bout T one : T he W riter s C ontrol

over A ttitudes and F eelings 179

Tone and Attitudes 180

Tone and Humor 181

Tone and Irony 182

Writing About Tone 184

Organize Your Essay about Tone 185

Illustrative Essay: Kate Chopin’s Irony in “The Story of an Hour” 186

Commentary on the Essay 190

Writing Topics About Tone 190


C hapter 13 W riting A bout R hyme in P oetry :

T he R epetition of I dentical S ounds to

E mphasize I deas 192

The Nature and Function of Rhyme 192

Writing About Rhyme 196

Organize Your Essay About Rhyme 196

Illustrative Essay: The Rhymes in Christina Rossetti’s “Echo” 197

Commentary on the Essay 200

Writing Topics About Rhyme in Poetry 201


Part III Writing About More General Literary Topics


C hapter 14 W riting A bout a L iterary P roblem : C hallenges to

O vercome in R eading 202

Strategies for Developing an Essay About a Problem 203

Writing About a Problem 205

Organize Your Essay About a Problem 205

Illustrative Essay: The Problem of Robert Frost’s Use of the Term

“Desert Places” in the Poem “Desert Places”


Commentary on the Essay 208

Writing Topics About Studying Problems in Literature 209


C hapter 15 W riting E ssays of C omparison -C ontrast and

E xtended C omparison -C ontrast : L earning by

S eeing L iterary W orks T ogether 210

Guidelines for the Comparison-Contrast Essay 211

The Extended Comparison-Contrast Essay 214

Box: Citing References in a Longer Comparison-Contrast Essay 215

Writing a Comparison-Contrast Essay 215

Organize Your Comparison-Contrast Essay 215

Illustrative Essay (Comparing and Contrasting Two Works): The Views

of War in Amy Lowell’s “Patterns” and Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for

Doomed Youth” 216

Commentary on the Essay 220

Illustrative Essay (Extended Comparison-Contrast): Literary Treatments

of the Tension Between Private and Public Life 220

Commentary on the Essay 225

Writing Topics About Comparison and Contrast 226


C hapter 16 W riting A bout a W ork in I ts H istorical ,

I ntellectual , and C ult ural C ontext 228

History, Culture, and Multiculturalism 229

Literature in Its Time and Place 230

Writing About a Work in Its Historical and Cultural Context 230

Organize Your Essay About a Work and Its Context 232

Illustrative Essay: Langston Hughes’s References to Black Servitude and

Black Pride in “

Negro” 234

Commentary on the Essay 237

Writing Topics About Works in Their Historical, Intellectual, and

Cultural Context 237


C hapter 17 W riting a R eview E ssay : D eveloping I deas and E valuating

L iterary W orks for S pecial or

G eneral A udiences 239

Writing a Review Essay 240

Organize Your Review Essay 240

First Illustrative Essay (A Review for General Readers): Nathaniel

Hawthorne’s Story “Young Goodman Brown”: A View of Mistaken

Zeal 242

Commentary on the Essay 244

Second Illustrative Essay (Designed for a Particular Group—Here, a

Religious Group): Religious Intolerance and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Story

“Young Goodman Brown” 244

Commentary on the Essay 246

Third Illustrative Essay (A Personal Review for a General Audience):

Security and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Story “Young Goodman Brown,” 247

Commentary on the Essay 249

Topics for Studying and Discussing the Writing of Reviews 250


C hapter 18 W riting E xaminations on L iterature 251

Answer the Questions That Are Asked 251

Systematic Preparation 253

Two Basic Types of Questions About Literature 256


C hapter 19 W riting and D ocumenting the R esearch E ssay ; U sing

E xtra R esources for U nderstanding 262

Selecting a Topic 262

Setting Up a Working Bibliography 264

Locating Sources 264

Box: Evaluating Sources 265

Box: Important Considerations About Computer-Aided Research 267

Taking Notes and Paraphrasing Material 270

Box: Plagiarism: An Embarrassing But Vital

Subject—and a Danger to Be Overcome 273

Classify Your Cards and Group Them Accordingly 277

Documenting Your Work 280

Organize Your Research Essay 283

Illustrative Research Essay: The Structure of Katherine Mansfield’s

“Miss Brill” 284

Commentary on the Essay 290

Writing Topics for Research Essays 292


Part IV Appendixes

A ppendix A

C ritical A pproaches I mportant in the S tudy

of L iterature  293

Moral / Intellectual 294

Topical/Historical 295

New Critical/Formalist 296

Structuralist 297

Feminist Criticism, Gender Studies, and Queer Theory 299

Economic Determinist/Marxist 300

Psychological/Psychoanalytic 301

Archetypal/Symbolic/Mythic 302

Deconstructionist 303

Reader-Response 305


A ppendix B 

MLA R ecommendations for D ocumenting

S ources 307

(Nonelectronic) Books, Articles, Poems, Letters, Reviews, Recordings,

Programs 307

The Citation of Electronic Sources 312


A ppendix C

W orks U sed in the T ext for I llustrative E ssays

and R eferences 315



Kate Chopin, The Story of an Hour 316

A woman is shocked by news of her husband’s death, but there is still a greater shock in

store for her.


Nathaniel Hawthorne, Young Goodman Brown 317

Living in colonial Salem, Young Goodman Brown has a bewildering encounter that

affects his outlook on life and his attitudes towards people.


Shirley Jackson, The Lottery 327

Why does the prize-winner of a community-sponsored lottery make the claim that the

drawing was not fair?


Frank O’Connor, First Confession 332

Jackie as a young man recalls his mixed memories of the events surrounding his first

childhood experience with confession.


Mark Twain, Luck 338

A follower of a famous British general tells what really happened.


Eudora Welty, A Worn Path 341

Phoenix Jackson, a devoted grandmother, walks a well-worn path on a mission of great




Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach 347

When you lose certainty, what remains for you?


William Blake, The Tyger 348

What mysterious force creates evil as well as good?


Gwendolyn Brooks, We Real Cool 348

Just how cool are they, really? How successful are they going to be?


Robert Browning, My Last Duchess 349

An arrogant duke shows his dead wife’s portrait to the envoy of the count.


Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Khan 350

What does Kubla Khan create to give himself the greatest joy?


John Donne, Holy Sonnet 10: Death Be Not Proud 352

How does eternal life put down death?


Robert Frost, Desert Places 352

What is more frightening than the emptiness of outer space?


Thomas Hardy, Channel Firing 353

What is loud enough to waken the dead, and then, what do the dead say about it?


Thomas Hardy, The Man He Killed 354

A combat soldier muses about the irony of battlefield conflict.


Langston Hughes, Negro 354

What are some of the outrages experienced throughout history by blacks?


John Keats, Bright Star 355

The speaker dedicates himself to constancy and steadfastness.


John Keats, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer 356

How can reading a translation be as exciting as discovering a new planet or a new



Irving Layton, Rhine Boat Trip 356

What terrible memory counterbalances the beauty of German castles, fields, and



Amy Lowell, Patterns 357

What does a woman think when she learns that her fiancé will never return from

overseas battle?


John Masefield, Cargoes 360

How do modern cargo ships differ from those of the past?


Wilfred Owen, Anthem for Doomed Youth 360

War forces poignant changes in normally peaceful ceremonies.


Christina Rossetti, Echo 361

A love from the distant past still lingers in memory.


William Shakespeare, Sonnet 30: When to the Sessions of Sweet

Silent Thought 361

The speaker remembers his past, judges his life , and finds great value in the present.


William Shakespeare, Sonnet 73: That Time of Year Thou May’st

in Me Behold 362

Even though age is closing in, the speaker finds his reason for dedication to the past.


Walt Whitman, Reconciliation 362

In what way is the speaker reconciled to his former enemy?


William Wordsworth, Lines Written in Early Spring 363

The songs of woodland birds lead the speaker to moral thoughts.


William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming 364

What new and dangerous forces are being turned loose in our modern world?


NOTE—The following selections are referenced throughout Writing About Literature ,

but do not physically appear in the text:


Guy de Maupassant, “The Necklace”

Edgar Allan Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado”

Katharine Mansfield, “Miss Brill”

Robert Browning, “My Last Duchess”

Susan Glaspell, Trifles

William Shakespeare, Hamlet


However, these selections are available in the eAnthology featured in

MyLiteratureLab (www.myliteraturelab.com), along with more than 200

additional literary works. Please refer to the inside front and back cover

for a complete listing of available selections. For more information on

packaging this text with MyLiteratureLab at no additional cost, refer to page xvi.



A G lossary of I mportant L iterary T erms 365

C redits 377

I ndex of T itles , A uthors , and F irst L ines of P oetry 379