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A Guide to Writing a Literary Analysis Essay on American Literature: Tips and Examples


Example of Essay in American Literature




An essay is a form of writing that expresses the author's personal thoughts, opinions, or arguments on a specific topic. Essays are usually short, informal, and flexible in style and structure. They can be written for various purposes, such as to inform, persuade, entertain, or analyze. In this article, we will explore what an essay is, why American literature is important, and how to write a literary analysis essay on American literature.




example of essay in american literature



What is an essay?




An essay is a type of nonfiction prose that can be defined as "a short piece of writing on a particular subject" (Oxford English Dictionary). However, this definition is too broad and vague to capture the essence and diversity of essays. Therefore, we need to look at some characteristics and features that distinguish essays from other forms of writing.


Definition and characteristics of an essay




According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, an essay is "an analytic, interpretative, or critical literary composition usually much shorter and less systematic and formal than a dissertation or thesis and usually dealing with its subject from a limited and often personal point of view" (Britannica). This definition highlights some key aspects of an essay:


  • An essay is a literary composition that uses language creatively and effectively to convey meaning and create effects.



  • An essay is usually shorter than a dissertation or thesis, which are long and detailed academic papers that require extensive research and analysis.



  • An essay is less systematic and formal than a dissertation or thesis, which follow strict rules and conventions for organization and presentation.



  • An essay deals with its subject from a limited and often personal point of view, which means that the author can express their own opinions, feelings, experiences, or perspectives on the topic.



These characteristics make an essay a flexible and versatile form of writing that can adapt to different purposes, audiences, and contexts.


Types and genres of essays




There are many types and genres of essays that can be classified according to different criteria, such as purpose, mode, tone, or subject matter. Some common types and genres of essays are:


  • Argumentative or persuasive essays: These essays aim to convince the reader to accept the author's point of view or course of action on a controversial issue.



  • Expository or informative essays: These essays aim to explain or inform the reader about a topic by providing facts, examples, definitions, or instructions.



  • Narrative or descriptive essays: These essays aim to tell a story or describe a person, place, event, or object by using sensory details, imagery, dialogue, or figurative language.



  • Reflective or personal essays: These essays aim to explore the author's thoughts, feelings, experiences, or learning process on a topic by using introspection, self-analysis, or anecdote.



  • Literary analysis or criticism essays: These essays aim to analyze, interpret, or evaluate a literary work or its elements, such as the language, structure, theme, or style.



These types and genres of essays are not mutually exclusive and can overlap or combine in different ways. For example, an argumentative essay can also be informative, a narrative essay can also be reflective, and a literary analysis essay can also be persuasive.


History and development of essays




The word "essay" comes from the French word "essayer", which means "to try" or "to attempt". This reflects the origin and nature of essays as experiments or attempts to express the author's thoughts and experiences. The first person to use the term "essay" to describe his writings was the French writer Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), who published his collection of personal and philosophical essays called Essais in 1580. Montaigne is considered the father of the essay, as he pioneered the form and tone of the essay as a flexible and personal way of exploring various topics.


After Montaigne, the essay became a popular and influential form of writing in Europe and America. Some notable essayists who contributed to the development and diversity of essays are:


  • Francis Bacon (1561-1626): An English philosopher and statesman who wrote concise and aphoristic essays on various subjects, such as truth, death, love, and friendship.



  • Jonathan Swift (1667-1745): An Irish satirist and clergyman who wrote witty and ironic essays on social and political issues, such as A Modest Proposal (1729), in which he mockingly suggests that poor Irish children should be sold as food to rich Englishmen.



  • Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882): An American philosopher and poet who wrote influential essays on transcendentalism, a movement that emphasized individualism, nature, and spirituality, such as Nature (1836) and Self-Reliance (1841).



  • Virginia Woolf (1882-1941): An English novelist and critic who wrote innovative and experimental essays on literature, art, culture, and feminism, such as A Room of One's Own (1929), in which she argues that women need a space and income to write.



These are just a few examples of the many essayists who have shaped the history and development of essays. Today, essays are still widely read and written for various purposes, such as education, journalism, blogging, or creative writing.


Why is American literature important?




American literature is the literature produced by writers who live in or are associated with the United States of America. American literature is important because it reflects the cultural and historical context of America, expresses the themes and styles of American writers, and influences the legacy of American literature.


Cultural and historical context of American literature




American literature is shaped by the diverse and dynamic cultural and historical context of America. America is a nation of immigrants, colonists, slaves, natives, rebels, pioneers, explorers, innovators, dreamers, and visionaries. America is also a nation of conflicts, contradictions, challenges, changes, movements, and revolutions. These factors have influenced the development and diversity of American literature over time.


Some examples of how cultural and historical context have affected American literature are:


  • The colonial period (1607-1776): This period was marked by the arrival of European settlers in North America and their encounters with Native Americans. The literature of this period was mostly religious, political, or practical in nature. Some notable writers of this period are John Smith, William Bradford, Anne Bradstreet, Edward Taylor, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Paine.



  • The romantic period (1800-1860): This period was marked by the rise of nationalism, individualism, imagination, emotion, and nature in American culture. The literature of this period was mostly influenced by romanticism, transcendentalism, gothic fiction, or regionalism. Some notable writers of this period are Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.



  • The realism period (1860-1914): This period was marked by the aftermath of the Civil War, the industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and social reform in America. The literature of this period was mostly influenced by realism, naturalism, or local color. Some notable writers of this period are Mark Twain, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Kate Chopin, Stephen Crane, London, Theodore Dreiser, and Upton Sinclair.



  • The modernism period (1914-1945): This period was marked by the impact of World War I and II, the Great Depression, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Jazz Age in America. The literature of this period was mostly influenced by modernism, which experimented with new forms, techniques, and themes. Some notable writers of this period are F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and E.E. Cummings.



  • The postmodernism period (1945-present): This period was marked by the emergence of the Cold War, the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the Vietnam War, the counterculture, and the digital age in America. The literature of this period was mostly influenced by postmodernism, which challenged the conventions and assumptions of previous periods. Some notable writers of this period are J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, and David Foster Wallace.



These are just a few examples of how cultural and historical context have shaped American literature over time. By reading and studying American literature, we can learn more about the diverse and dynamic aspects of American culture and history.


Themes and styles of American literature




American literature is also characterized by the themes and styles that express the ideas and values of American writers. Themes are the central topics or messages that a writer explores in their work. Styles are the ways that a writer uses language to create effects and convey meaning. Themes and styles can vary depending on the type, genre, period, or purpose of the literature.


Some examples of themes and styles in American literature are:


  • The American dream: This theme refers to the belief that anyone can achieve success and happiness in America through hard work and determination. This theme is often explored in relation to the reality and challenges of American society. Some examples of works that deal with this theme are The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.



  • The frontier: This theme refers to the concept of the wilderness or the unknown territory that lies beyond civilization. This theme is often explored in relation to the adventure, freedom, or danger that the frontier offers. Some examples of works that deal with this theme are The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and The Call of the Wild by Jack London.



  • The individual: This theme refers to the idea of self-reliance, independence, or uniqueness that defines one's identity or character. This theme is often explored in relation to the society, community, or tradition that influences or constrains one's choices. Some examples of works that deal with this theme are Walden by Henry David Thoreau, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.



  • Symbolism: This style refers to the use of symbols or images that represent something else or have a deeper meaning than their literal definition. Symbols can be used to enhance or emphasize a theme, mood, or message in a work. Some examples of works that use symbolism are The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.



  • Realism: This style refers to the attempt to depict life or reality as it is, without idealizing or romanticizing it. Realism can be used to portray or criticize a social or political issue, a historical event, or a personal experience in a work. Some examples of works that use realism are Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.



  • Stream of consciousness: This style refers to the technique of writing from the perspective of a character's thoughts or feelings as they flow spontaneously and randomly in their mind. Stream of consciousness can be used to create a sense of intimacy or confusion in a work. Some examples of works that use stream of consciousness are As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, and On the Road by Jack Kerouac.



These are just a few examples of themes and styles in American literature. By reading and studying American literature, we can appreciate the creativity and diversity of American writers.


Influence and legacy of American literature




American literature is not only important for its own sake, but also for its influence and legacy on other literature and culture. American literature has inspired and influenced writers from other countries and regions, such as Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. American literature has also contributed to the development and innovation of various literary forms, genres, and movements, such as the novel, the short story, the essay, the poetry, the drama, the satire, the science fiction, the detective fiction, the beat generation, the postmodernism, and the multiculturalism.


Some examples of how American literature has influenced and left a legacy on other literature and culture are:


  • Mark Twain: He is widely regarded as the father of American literature and one of the greatest humorists and storytellers of all time. His works, such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), have influenced many writers around the world, such as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Gabriel García Márquez, and Salman Rushdie.



  • Edgar Allan Poe: He is widely regarded as the master of horror and mystery and one of the pioneers of science fiction and detective fiction. His works, such as The Raven (1845) and The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), have influenced many writers around the world, such as Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, and Jorge Luis Borges.



  • Emily Dickinson: She is widely regarded as one of the greatest poets of all time and one of the founders of modern poetry. Her works, such as Because I could not stop for Death (1890) and I heard a Fly buzz - when I died (1896), have influenced many poets around the world, such as Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, and Pablo Neruda.



  • Toni Morrison: She is widely regarded as one of the most influential and Nobel Prize-winning writers of the 20th century and one of the leaders of multiculturalism. Her works, such as Beloved (1987) and Song of Solomon (1977), have influenced many writers around the world, such as Alice Walker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Zadie Smith.



These are just a few examples of how American literature has influenced and left a legacy on other literature and culture. By reading and studying American literature, we can understand its impact and significance on the world.


How to write a literary analysis essay on American literature




A literary analysis essay is a type of essay that analyzes, interprets, or evaluates a literary work or its elements, such as the language, structure, theme, or style. A literary analysis essay can be written on any type or genre of literature, such as a novel, a short story, a poem, a play, or an essay. In this section, we will focus on how to write a literary analysis essay on American literature.


Steps and tips for writing a literary analysis essay




Writing a literary analysis essay can be divided into five steps: reading the text, identifying literary devices, coming up with a thesis statement, writing a title and introduction, and writing the body and conclusion. Here are some tips for each step:


  • Reading the text: The first step is to carefully read the text that you are going to analyze. As you read, pay attention to the things that are most intriguing, surprising, or confusing in the writingthese are things you can dig into in your analysis. You can use highlights or notes to keep track of important passages and quotes.



  • Identifying literary devices: The second step is to identify the literary devices that the author uses to convey meaning and create effects. Literary devices are textual elements that writers use to enhance or emphasize a theme, mood, or message in a work. Some common literary devices are symbolism, metaphor, simile, personification, alliteration, irony, foreshadowing, and imagery. You can use annotations or diagrams to label or illustrate the literary devices in the text.



  • Coming up with a thesis statement: The third step is to come up with a thesis statement that summarizes your main argument or point of view on the text. A thesis statement is usually one or two sentences that state what you are going to analyze, and why it is important or relevant. A thesis statement should be specific, clear, and debatable. You can use evidence or examples from the text to support your thesis statement.



  • Writing a title and introduction: The fourth step is to write a title and an introduction for your essay. A title should be catchy, concise, and informative. It should indicate the topic and focus of your essay. An introduction should provide some background information on the text and the author, state your thesis statement, and outline the main points or arguments of your essay. An introduction should be engaging, informative, and brief.



  • Writing the body and conclusion: The fifth step is to write the body and the conclusion of your essay. The body should be divided into paragraphs, each with a topic sentence that relates to your thesis statement. Each paragraph should analyze one aspect or element of the text using evidence or examples from the text and commentary or explanation of how the evidence supports your analysis. The body should be coherent, logical, and detailed. The conclusion should restate your thesis statement, summarize your main points or arguments, and provide some implications or recommendations for further study or action. The conclusion should be concise, clear, and convincing.



These are some general steps and tips for writing a literary analysis essay. However, you may need to adapt them depending on the specific requirements or expectations of your assignment or instructor.


Examples of literary analysis essays on American literature




To illustrate how to write a literary analysis essay on American literature, we will look at three examples of literary analysis essays on three different works of American literature: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. These examples are not complete essays, but only excerpts that show the introduction and thesis statement of each essay.


The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne




The Scarlet Letter (1850) is a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne that tells the story of Hester Prynne, a woman who commits adultery in Puritan New England and is forced to wear a scarlet letter A on her chest as a symbol of her sin. The novel explores themes such as sin, guilt, redemption, identity, and society. In this essay, I will analyze how Hawthorne uses symbolism to convey these themes in the novel.


Thesis statement: Hawthorne uses various symbols, such as the scarlet letter A, the scaffold, the forest, and the rosebush, to represent different aspects of sin, guilt, redemption, identity, and society in The Scarlet Letter.


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain




The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) is a novel by Mark Twain that tells the story of Huckleberry Finn, a young boy who runs away from his abusive father and travels down the Mississippi River with Jim, a runaway slave. The novel explores themes such as race, freedom, friendship, and morality. In this essay, I will analyze how Twain uses satire to criticize the hypocrisy and


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