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13.3: Formatting a Literature Essay (MLA)

  • Page ID
    40523
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    Formatting Your Essay

    The first step towards starting your essay, or putting on the finishing touch, is formatting. This helps give your essay a professional appearance. It also serves a practical purpose: instructors are better able to keep track of student essays with clear identifying information.

    There are several ways to achieve the MLA essay format.

    1. The simplest way is to use an MLA template provided by your Word processor. For example, Google docs, Pages, and Microsoft Word all have preset templates for MLA Essays. Use the search bar in the program to find "MLA" templates.
    2. If your Word processor does not have an MLA template, or the MLA template is out of date, or you already wrote your essay, use the following parameters to manually format your essay.

    Formatting Requirements

    • 8 1/2 x 11" white paper (standard printer paper)
    • 1-inch margins (most word processors do this automatically)
    • 12 font Times New Roman (or any legible font -- no comic sans or symbols!)
    • Left-aligned header including, on four separate lines, your
      • First name and last name
      • Professor name (i.e. Professor Juanita Robledo)
      • Class name (i.e. ENGL 1)
      • Date of writing (i.e. 22 September 2019)
      • Centered title

    Formatting Your Essay Slideshow

    MLA Essay Formatting Template

    Studentfirstname Studentlastname

    Professor Firstname Lastname

    Class Title (i.e. English 110)

    Day Month Year

    Title of Essay

    This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.This is the body of the essay.

    Works Cited

    Authorlastname, Firstname. "Title of Poem or Short Work." Container Title. Date published.

    Authorlastname, Firstname. Book Title. City of publication: Publisher, Date published.

    Sample MLA Formatted Essay

    Goodwin 1

    Todd Goodwin

    Professor Stan Matyshak

    English 110

    17 September 2019

    Poe’s “Usher”: A Mirror of the Fall of the House of Humanity

    Right from the outset of the grim story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe enmeshes us in a dark, gloomy, hopeless world, alienating his characters and the reader from any sort of physical or psychological norm where such values as hope and happiness could possibly exist. He fatalistically tells the story of how a man (the narrator) comes from the outside world of hope, religion, and everyday society and tries to bring some kind of redeeming happiness to his boyhood friend, Roderick Usher, who not only has physically and psychologically wasted away, but is entrapped in a dilapidated house of ever-looming terror with an emaciated and deranged twin sister. Roderick Usher embodies the wasting away of what once was vibrant and alive, and his house of “insufferable gloom” (273), which contains his morbid sister, seems to mirror or reflect this fear of death and annihilation that he most horribly endures. A close reading of the story reveals that Poe uses mirror images, or reflections, to contribute to the fatalistic theme of “Usher”: each reflection serves to intensify an already prevalent tone of hopelessness, darkness, and fatalism. It could be argued that the house of Roderick Usher is a “house of mirrors,” whose unpleasant and grim reflections create a dark and hopeless setting. For example, the narrator first approaches “the melancholy house of Usher on a dark and soundless day,” and finds a building which causes him a “sense of insufferable gloom” which “pervades his spirit and causes an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart, an undiscerned dreariness of thought” (273). The narrator then optimistically states: “I reflected that a mere different arrangement of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression” (274). But the narrator then sees the reflection of the house in the tarn and experiences a “shudder even more thrilling than before” (274). Thus the reader begins to realize that the narrator cannot change or stop the impending doom that will befall the house of Usher, and maybe humanity. The story cleverly plays with the word reflection: the narrator sees a physical reflection that leads him to a mental reflection about Usher’s surroundings.

    The narrator’s disillusionment by such grim reflection continues in the story. For example, he describes Roderick Usher’s face as distinct with signs of old strength but lost vigor: the remains of what used to be. He describes the house as a once happy and vibrant place which, like Roderick, lost its vitality. Also, the narrator describes Usher’s hair as growing wild on his rather obtrusive head, which directly mirrors the eerie moss and straw which cover the outside of the house. The narrator continually longs to see these bleak reflections as a dream, for he states: “Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building” (276, emphasis in original). He does not want to face the reality that Usher and his home are doomed to fall, regardless of what he does.

    Although there are almost countless examples of these mirror images, two others stand out as important. First, Roderick and his sister, Madeline, are twins. The narrator aptly states just as he and Roderick are entombing Madeline that there is “a striking similitude between brother and sister” (288). Indeed, they are mirror images of each other. Madeline is fading away psychologically and physically, and Roderick is not too far behind! The reflection of “doom” that these two share helps intensify and symbolize the hopelessness of the entire situation; thus, they further develop the fatalistic theme. Second, in the climactic scene where Madeline has been mistakenly entombed alive, there is a pairing of images and sounds as the narrator tries to calm Roderick by reading him a romance story. Events in the story simultaneously unfold with events of the sister escaping her tomb. In the story, the hero breaks out of the coffin. Then in the story, the dragon’s shriek as he is slain parallels Madeline’s shriek. Finally, the story tells of the clangor of a shield, matched by the sister’s clanging along a metal passageway. As the suspense reaches its climax, Roderick shrieks his last words to his “friend” the narrator: “Madman! I tell you that she now stands without the door” (296).

    Roderick, who slowly falls into insanity, ironically calls the narrator the “Madman.” We are left to reflect on what Poe means by this ironic twist. Poe’s bleak and dark imagery, and his use of mirror reflections, seem only to intensify the hopelessness of “Usher.” We can plausibly conclude that indeed the narrator is the “Madman,” for he comes from everyday society, which is a place where hope and faith exist. Poe would probably argue that such a place is opposite to the world of Usher because a world where death is inevitable could not possibly hold such positive values. Therefore, just as Roderick mirrors his sister, the reflection in the tarn mirrors the dilapidation of the house, and the story mirrors the final actions before the death of Usher. “The Fall of the House of Usher” reflects Poe’s view that humanity is hopelessly doomed.

    Work Cited

    Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Fall of the House of Usher.” 1839. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library. 1995. Web. 1 July 2012. <http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/PoeFall.html>.

    Contributors and Attributions


    This page titled 13.3: Formatting a Literature Essay (MLA) is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .