Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How to Write an Interpretive Essay

What it's NOT

An interpretive essay is NOT a book report. It does NOT summarize the story or just list facts or details. As you write, you assume that the reader is already familiar with the story and does not need a re-hash.

What it IS 

"What I like in a good writer is not what he says, but what he whispers."
-Logan Pearsall Smith 

To discover hidden truths in literature, we must go beyond the obvious to find deeper meanings. An interpretive essay or literary analysis, is an essay that shows your understanding or interpretation of a novel, short story, or poem.  It attempts to clearly explain this understanding using examples from the book.

What it Looks Like

The Introduction must introduce the literary work, capture the reader's attention, and include a clearly written thesis statement that contains the literary interpretation.
For example: "The sea imagery in Oedipus Rex, contributes to the plot by using metaphors that make the reader feel unsettled, off balance, and powerless."

The Body of the essay must support the thesis statement through evidence--facts, examples, summaries--and commentary--opinions, analysis, interpretation, insight. This will be the majority of your essay. You should shoot for at least 3 claims or proofs from the book that give evidence for your thesis.

The Conclusion summarizes the interpretation and allows the writer to draw attention to the most important aspects of the analysis.

Drafting and Revising

  1. Reread the literary work several times (if possible). Read through the first time to get a feel for the work. Reread and look for passages and ideas that stand out or have special meaning.
  2. Before drafting, brainstorm possible interpretations. A good strategy is to write annotations as you read.
  3. Discuss the interpretation with others who have read the work.
  4. Make sure you have a clear answer to the following questions as you write or revise:
    • What is the main point of the essay? This main point should be clearly identified in the thesis statement.
    • What evidence best supports the interpretation?
    • Are there any points that should be added to clarify the interpretation?
    • Is there any superfluous evidence that could be deleted?