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12.9: Essay Type - Literary Response

  • Page ID
    40509
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    The Response Essay

    The response essay is likely the most informal type of literary analysis essay students will encounter in a literature course. This essay simply asks the student to read the assigned text(s) and respond to said text(s). There are several purposes in writing such an essay. This kind of essay:

    1. helps students better understand the reading through informal analysis
    2. enables students to practice close-reading in a low-stakes, informal, and more comfortable way
    3. prepares students for writing a more formal essay by recording their initial impressions of a text

    book, pen, and journal full of reading notes

    "Fernando Pessoa" by Jennifer Fred Merchán, 2006. CC BY-SA 2.0

    Usually, the requirements for such an essay are more open-ended than what is expected on more formal essay assignments. For example, students are often allowed to use first-person "I" and colloquial (that is, spoken rather than academic) language. A thesis statement and formal organization are also usually not required.

    What is always required is a willingness to ask questions and engage with the text. The following are some questions students might respond to when writing a response essay:

    • First impressions: When reading the title and first lines, what impression did you get from the text? How did this impression change as you read the rest of the story or poem? What might the title indicate about the story or poem?
    • Characters: What kind of character is the main character of the story or poem? Are they likable? Trustworthy? Why? Which character do you like or relate to the most, and why? Which character do you dislike the most, and why? What kinds of characters (dynamic, round, flat, static) are featured in this story?
    • Tone: How would you describe the tone of the story? What words, phrases, images, or snippets of dialogue indicate this tone?
    • Figurative language: What figurative language or literary devices do you notice? Why do you think certain images appear? What kinds of patterns of language do you notice, and what significance might these patterns or literary devices have on the story or poem?

    In addition to these basic literary analysis questions, some helpful tips for writing this kind of essay:

    • Take notes as you read. Use highlighters to mark quotations or passages that jump out at you, along with post-it notes or page clips to mark those pages so you can find them again when writing the essay. Don't be afraid to write notes in the margins of the book. If you must sell back the book to the bookstore, or don't want to mark the book for other reasons, you can use post-it notes to write your responses. Essentially, effective note-taking is like having a conversation with the text.
    • Keep a document or journal open to record your ideas as you read. For example, refer to the image at the top of this page. This way, you can begin responding to the text as you read it, making efficient use of your time. You can then simply develop your reading notes in the essay.
    • Cite passages to support your analyses. Like in an argumentative or persuasive essay, be ready to drop quotations or paraphrase into the essay to support your analysis and show those reading your essay examples of what you are talking about. Be ready to provide page or line numbers to cite the source. For example, if you say Hamlet (the main character of Hamlet by William Shakespeare) comes across as whiny and egotistical, be prepared to quote or paraphrase the play and point readers to the act, scene, and line numbers which show your point.

    Example Student Response Essay Prompt

    Length requirement:

    750 words minimum (no maximum, but please keep it under 5 pages if possible)

    Essay type:

    Response

    Number of sources required:

    One: the primary text you are analyzing. Use MLA citations and formatting.

    Objective

    By the end of this assignment, students will be able to engage with a work of literature through analysis and response. They will be able to define and locate examples of at least three basic literary devices within a single literary text.

    Audience: instructor & classmates

    Purpose: practice analyzing literature in a less formal environment

    Content: literary analysis & response, practice for the upcoming literary analysis essay

    Directions

    Students will choose one work of literature to analyze (that is, pick apart, zooming in, and looking closely at the literary devices and narrative elements of the story). Students may choose any of the stories we have read so far in class. As you read the story, respond to anything interesting in the text you notice.

    • Focus on one story
    • Identify & analyze at least three literary devices such as character, plot, setting, metaphor, and so forth
    • Use either objective third-person or first-person “I”
    • Present tense verbs, informal tone
    • Quote & paraphrase the text using MLA Works Cited + In-Text citation
    • Do not to bring in any secondary sources yet: this should be your personal observations and analysis of the text. Avoid using Shmoop, Cliffnotes, or any other plot summary websites. These will tarnish your reading process. I am interested in YOUR thoughts, not Shmoop’s
    • Avoid plot summary, unless used briefly to contextualize analysis. I know what happens in the stories. This is NOT a “summarize the story in your own words” exercise, but a “what patterns or interesting devices did you notice? What stuck out to you? Why do you think the author made the choices they did? In what ways does the story’s form reflect its content?” exercise.



    This page titled 12.9: Essay Type - Literary Response is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .

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