5.3: Writing about Novels
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Short stories and novels often follow the hill-curve narrative shape illustrated earlier in this chapter. As you may observe in the above examples, short stories must develop their effect and/or meaning in a much more limited space than novels. As a result, the plot elements of short stories must be chosen and crafted for efficiency, thus producing a narrow effect. A novel, on the other hand, provides room for more fully developed characters, setting details, and plot, which can include multiple threads following multiple characters. Whether about a short story or a novel, a literary analysis essay that argues for a particular perspective demands textual evidence, specific examples from the primary text itself employed to illustrate/prove an assertion. Bill’s argument on The Sun Also Rises, mentioned in Chapter 3, uses quotes from the novel, as well as summarized and paraphrased passages in order to illustrate particular points and, ultimately, to support Bill’s argument that “In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway presents Jake Barnes’s struggles to overcome the damage incurred during his service as a soldier in World War I as powerful evidence of the irreversible destruction of war.” To develop this argument, Bill could have explored Hemingway’s use of effective diction, the work’s unique dialogue, the metaphor of Jake’s wound, and/or point of view (Jake’s, first-person) to build the novel’s impression of war’s damage. He chose to examine the novel’s use of metaphor.
In chapters 8 and 9, we will elaborate on ways of incorporating literary analysis and secondary sources into your essays, and we will explore ways to structure this kind of argument. Bill’s and Katherine’s essays above will provide helpful examples as we move forward in our study of writing about literature. For more novels available free and online, visit the Gutenberg Project at gutenberg.org, where you can find such works as Charles A. Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Jack London’s The Sea-Wolf, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.