Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How To Write an Essay or Paper - Settings

The literary analysis is a type of essay or paper that every student will be asked to write at some point in their educational career. In fact, it is probably the most common type of assignment - at least in classes that involve literature.

Simply put, a literary analysis analyzes a piece of literature. Well, I suppose that is pretty obvious :)

But what types of things should you look at when writing a literary analysis? 

You've got your piece of literature, you know you are supposed to analyze it, but what in the world do you talk about?

While there are many ways of going about this, one of the best ways is to analyze different aspects of the book by looking at the literary tools the author has utilized.

What are these tools? 

They include things such as settings, characters, plot, imagery, symbolism and allegories, tone, point of view, and things like metaphors and similies (figurative language).

For today, we'll take a look at Settings. Now, some stories have more pronounced settings than others. In some books, the setting is more of a subtle background, the stage on which the actors play, while in others, the setting is almost a character in and of itself. Either way, the setting is a very important part of a story and as such, is a literary tool that is worthy of exploration.

Say you are asked to write a literary analysis of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Some questions you may want to consider when analyzing the setting of this book are:

  • What is the time period? Would this story have worked better set in a different time?
  • What is the location? Would the story have worked better elsewhere? Are several locations used in the story? Do they work? Would a specific scene have worked better in another setting? If all the scenes are set in the same location, would the story have worked better set in several different locations?
  • What season is the story set in? If it is set in winter, would it be better set in summer? Does the season echo what is happening in the story? (example: Do the love scenes occur in the summer while the trial occurs in the winter, or vice versa?)
  • What time of day is it when important events in the story take place? Do the sinister things happen at night while the happy things happen during the day? Why do you think this is? 
While the setting may seem like a simple part of the story, it can actually have a huge impact on what is going on. The events detailed in The Scarlet Letter either wouldn't have happened or would have happened in a very different way with a very different outcome if the story had been set someplace like the farthest frontier outpost or an indian village or in the southern states...even during the same time period.

The setting of a story, not just the physical location but everything about it (time of day, season, outside (forest or beach) or inside (and what type of building if inside)) can greatly impact the success of a story. Thoroughly exploring this literary tool can be a great start to your literary analysis.