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Short Story Analysis Essay Format

Description:The purpose of a literary analysis essay is to very closely examine a work of literature. Your central idea in this essay will focus on the work of literature as a whole or focus on one particular element in a longer text. Some common types of literary analysis essay focus on analyzing a theme, a character or a symbol. You may analyze a poem, a short story or a novel.

Topic: The Symbolism of the Shell in Lord of the Flies.

Literary Analysis Example

For centuries, philosophers have grappled with the question of whether mankind is inherently good or evil. In his novel Lord of the Flies, William Golding examines this question through a story about what happens after a small plane carrying British schoolboys crashes on a desert island. Because no adults survived the crash, the boys were on their own to govern themselves and await a rescue. As the story unfolds, the boys are forced to organize themselves outside of civilized society. Throughout the story, Golding uses the symbol of the conch shell to represent civilization and democracy.

From the beginning, the conch shell functions as a tool for establishing a civil order. When Ralph, a character who would become a leader among the boys, first finds the conch shell, he blows it like a horn to gather all the boys together. Once the boys emerged from the tropical jungle to gather near Ralph, he ?smiled and held up the conch for silence." At that moment, the attempt at creating an orderly civilization begins. The conch shell is initially used as a tool for both gathering together and establishing leadership.

Another symbolic use for the conch shell occurs during the scenes involving the boys' assembly. The intention of the assembly is to form a governing body. Ralph is chosen as a leader in part because he found and used the conch shell first. When the boys vote for a leader, they exclaim ?Him with the shell. Ralph! Ralph! Let him be chief with the trumpet-thing." Here, the conch shell represents the power vested in ralph as the decision-maker among the boys. The shell is an image of the fair, democratic microcosm of civilization that the boys hoped to invoke.

Gradually, however, the boys lose their connection with the conch shell, signifying their momentum towards giving in to disorder and chaos. Both Piggy and Ralph use the conch shell as a horn any time they feel that their makeshift civilization is falling apart, in an effort to gather the boys. When some of the boys start a fire on the island and Piggy attempts to use the conch to stop them, he is rebuked by Jack who is beginning to express rebellion and evil. The conch doesn't count up on top of the mountain," said Jack. When such limitations are placed on the power of the conch, the boys begin to lose respect for the established civil order.

Further, as the island civilization degenerates, so does the conch shell itself. Jack diminishes the power of the conch when he proclaims that "we don't need the conch anymore." At this point, Jack's assertion links the demise of the conch's power with a dramatic shift in the civil order. Golding's descriptions of the conch shell also show that it has literally lost its color and luster over time, physically mirroring the eroding social situation. Additionally, the scene where Jack steals Piggy's glasses instead of stealing the conch shell shows how the shell was no longer valued.

Finally, the conch shell is literally crushed by a boulder. This occurs when Piggy was holding the shell and was intentionally murdered by the boys pushing rocks upon him. The complete destruction of the conch, a symbol of fair and just civilization, corresponds with this deliberately evil act. The conch shell was the ultimate civilizing influence on the island. With its destruction, the group was given license to slide into savagery, evil and disorder. Through the symbol of the conch shell, Golding communicated that evil is an inevitable aspect of man if the conditions arise for its expression.

To write an effective critical analysis, you must first be sure that you understand the question that has been posed, and all literary terms that you have been asked to address. Once you feel you understand the question, reread the piece of literature, making notes. Then look at the notes you've made, consider what connections you can make between observations, and reconsider the question. Try to formulate a rough thesis statement (your "claim"). Now try to select those pieces of evidence that you feel you can most convincingly use to support the claim you made. Next, try to formulate a good introduction, that

  • names the work discussed and the author.
  • provides a very brief plot summary.
  • relates some aspect of that plot to the topic you have chosen to address.
  • provides a thesis statement.
  • indicates the way you plan to develop your argument (support your claim).

Now proceed to introduce and discuss the evidence you mentioned in your introduction, in the order in which you mentioned it. Ensure that you deal with each kind of evidence in a paragraph of its own, and that you introduce the topic of each paragraph with a carefully-focused topic sentence. Also ensure that you end each paragraph with a concluding sentence that sums up the thrust of that paragraph's argument and possibly paves the way for the next piece of evidence to be discussed. (Alternatively, you can begin the next paragraph with a transitional phrase that links the new piece of evidence with the one you have just summarized.)

Finally, write a conclusion that restates your thesis (but using different words), incorporates a brief restatement of your key evidence, and provides a sense of closure. A good closing technique is to somehow link the claim you have made about this particular piece of literature with the author's general style or preoccupations, or to suggest some way in which the topic you have just discussed relates more generally to some aspect of human existence.

Model Essay

What follows is the sample essay analysing the use of setting in the short story "The Cask of Amontillado." Both "good" and "poor" examples of the essay's first and second body paragraphs are included. As you read each paragraph of the essay, beginning with its introduction, clicking on the "continue" arrow at the bottom of the paragraph will permit you to see commentary on particular features of the essay-writing process. To see all the commentary, you may need to click the arrow multiple times.