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Short Story Analysis Paper

Word version


Draft Workshop: November 5th and 7th (schedule times during class to meet with me one-on-one). The paper must be complete and typed for our meeting or you will take a zero for the assignment.

Paper Due: November 19th (at beginning of class)
Minimum Length: 2 pages, double-spaced, typed (@ 650 words)

Points:  100


Assignment: For this paper, you should make use only of the story and your own imagination. Do not consult secondary sources for ideas or theories. You may, though, refer to other stories we have read to provide a contrast or comparison. You can also refer to a dictionary or the information about short stories in our textbook and handouts I’ve given you.


1.  Select a theme you wish to explore, such as family, marriage, quest, betrayal, supernatural, sin, death, love, the relationship between men and women, appearance versus reality.  


2.  Choose a short story, or stories, from our anthology/reading list that deal with this theme. You may need to read each story several times, taking notes as you go.


3.  Go through each story and mark how the author uses narrative, character, setting, symbolism, etc., to convey that theme. Then, write an analysis of the short story/stories; employ as many of the literary terms that we have studied as you legitimately can to present a thorough literary analysis of how the theme “works” in the story/stories you have selected (as if to enlighten an educated reader about the important aspects of this particular short story.)  You must select AT LEAST TWO of these techniques. Some of those literary terms are:







point of view





rising action

falling action






4. Construct a thesis that indicates a) your focus, and b) the relation of that focus to the story as a whole. For example, a thesis for “A Good Man is Hard to Find” might be: Characterization and irony help convey O’Connor’s theme that perhaps we should first be good men ourselves rather than judging others.  For “The Cask of the Amontillado,” a thesis might be: The narrator’s revelations of his own vices as well as the actions of Fortunato underscore the lesson in this short story: overwhelming pride leads to ruin. Though not as obvious as the first thesis, the second thesis will focus on narrative/POV and characterization. To use more than one story, you might argue: Lack of communication can lead to disaster in marriage, as it does in the stories “The Yellow Wallpaper,” “Story of an Hour,” and “The Jewelry.” Another one might be: “The use of foreshadowing in the stories “A Cask of Amontillado” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find” helps create tension and interest. Also note that there is some latitude in assigning meaning to a short story.  What I see as the major theme may be different than what you see. The important criterion to keep in mind is: can you prove it? Therefore, you need a thesis because you are arguing for your interpretation of the story. The thesis should not be so obvious that your reader will say “so what?” Don’t settle for trite generalizations. Instead, make a statement which indicates thought and depth, and which requires support and proof. Your goal should be to illuminate for the readers some point that they might not have noticed upon first reading the story.


5. Find evidence in the text to support your thesis, and organize the rest of your essay around these quotations and examples. Don’t rely on generalizations about or paraphrases of the story to convince your reader, but provide specific evidence and discuss the importance of that evidence for your thesis. Please note: you should not insert huge chunks of quotes in your paper and count that against your minimum page length. Roughly 70% of the paper should be your own words and thoughts.

6. Conclude your paper by summing up your argument so that the readers see that your evidence does support your thesis.


Format and Conventions:

   1) Put quotation marks around story titles.

   2) Follow direct quotations with the author’s name (not the editors’ name or the title) and page numbers from your text, in parentheses. Close the quotation marks before the citation; put the end punctuation after it. For example: “Thus she passed from generation to generation—dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, perverse” (Faulkner 31).

   3) Always write about literature in the present tense.

   4) Your essay should be analytical, thus you should not waste your (or your reader’s) time with plot summary.

   5) Your paper should be typed, double–spaced, on 8 1/2" by 11" white paper. In the upper left-hand corner of your first page, include:

Your name
Ms. McBride: ENG/HUM 2413
The date
Assignment (Short Story Analysis)

Below this block of information, center your title; begin your text below that. Use an interesting, informative title—“Paper #1” is mildly informative, but completely uninteresting. Number your pages (after the first) in the top right-hand corner, with your last name and the page number.


It is important to write succinctly.  DO NOT JUST RE-TELL THE STORY.  DO NOT risk plagiarism – if you use information from our textbook, then you must cite that information correctly – the Norton Anthology discusses how to write a paper, including how to document outside sources; DO NOT write a plot outline—this assignment is to analyze: what is the author “saying” to the reader.  What literary techniques and conventions does he or she use to say it?  What is the “point” of the story?  Does it show us anything worthwhile about people or about life?  Keep your discussion focused on analyzing how the THEME works within the short story.


Sample body paragraph:

Of all the characters in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, the grandmother is the worst at judging others for poor behavior without any recognition of her own failings.  [insert examples from story, using transitions to link them together and build to conclusion] Ultimately, Grandmother’s lies lead the family to this dirt road where they cross the path of the Misfit. Had she been more concerned about being a good “man” herself rather than judging others, the tragedy would have been avoided.