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12.11: Essay Type - Comparing and Contrasting Literature

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    Compare and Contrast Essay Basics

    The Compare and Contrast Essay is a literary analysis essay, but, instead of examining one work, it examines two or more works. These works must be united by a common theme or thesis statement. For example, while a literary analysis essay might explore the significance of ghosts in William Shakespeare's Hamlet, a compare/contrast essay might explore the significance of the supernatural in Hamlet and Macbeth.

    Literary Analysis Thesis Statement:

    While Horatio seems to think the ghost of Old Hamlet is a demon trying to lead Hamlet to death, and Gertrude and Claudius think it is a figment of Hamlet's insanity, Hamlet's status as an unreliable narrator and the ghost actually symbolizes the oppression of Catholics during Shakespeare's time period.

    Compare and Contrast Thesis Statement:

    The unreliable narrators paired with the ghosts in both Hamlet and Macbeth symbolize the oppression of Catholics in Shakespeare's time period.

    Essay Genre Expectations

    • Tone: formal, scholarly
      • Use first-person pronouns sparingly (you, me, we, our)
      • Avoid colloquialisms
      • Spell out contractions
      • Use subject-specific terminology, such as naming literary devices
    • Texts: two or more
    • Avoid summary. Aim for analysis and interpretation
    • MLA formatting and citations


    While the literary analysis essay follows a fairly simple argumentative essay structure, the compare and contrast essay is slightly more complicated. It might be arranged by:

    • Literary Work
    • Alternating literary works
    • Topic/subtopics

    In general, ensure each paragraph works to support the thesis statement, and that both works receive equal attention.

    One Option for Organization

    1. Introduction
      1. Background of topic
      2. Background of works related to topic
      3. Thesis Statement
    2. Body paragraph 1
      1. Topic sentence
      2. Summary of Text 1
      3. Summary of Text 2
      4. Explanation of unifying theme for both texts
    3. Body paragraphs
      1. Topic sentence
      2. Introduction of evidence
      3. Evidence
      4. Explanation of evidence
      5. Analysis of evidence
    4. Conclusion
      1. Restatement of thesis in new words
      2. Summary of essay arguments
      3. Take-away

    This page titled 12.11: Essay Type - Comparing and Contrasting Literature is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .

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