Critical Analysis in your English Essay
As you move forward in English classes, you will be constantly asked to critically analyze works. What exactly does this mean? Well, essentially teachers want to be able to see that you can think about what you’ve read. It is no longer good enough to summarize and tell us what happened in the book, you now have to go further and say why did that happen, or what caused it to happen, or what effects does that action have. This is where students have a lot of trouble. Where do you start? Critical analysis is definitely not the easiest thing to do.
What do you need?
Firstly, you will need creativity. The best essays not only have good technical aspects, but demonstrate unique thinking, allowing the teacher something different and new to read. Think about it from the teacher’s point of view: if you’ve read 26 essays on why love in Romeo and Juliet is real, beautiful, and emotional, you’re going to be bored out of your mind by the end. All the marks are going to be based off of spelling and grammar then, because there is nothing new to think about in the play. However, if you write about how love in Romeo and Juliet is caused by Romeo’s homophobic friends, then you’ve got something to wake the teacher up! Creativity will be your best friend in analyzing topics.
Creativity is a great help, but keep in mind that if you come up with something extremely farfetchd, it is also your responsibility to make sure that you can defend it. Sure, you can say that Romeo and Juliet only worked out because he was a pedophile and Juliet had some kinky fetishes, but how exactly can you find proof for that and defend it? Remember, as a writer, you can manipulate information, but if you twist the author’s words too far, you’re in trouble. Let me give you an example. Say in the text you’re reading, they have this sentence: “Joe loves to watch his trained hunting dog rip apart squirrels.” You might manipulate this and cite it in your essay as: Joe is a man of violence as he, “loves to watch his trained hunting dog rip apart squirrels.” However, you can in no way manipulate the author’s words and say: the text proves that Joe loves nature.
So remember, be creative, but try to limit your creativity to something that can be defended well. Armed with these two ideas, we can now look at the steps we might take.
Whether or not you have a topic provided to you, you need to write about something that interests you. You will always write better when you are passionate about the topic. Understandably, most people aren’t very passionate about the books they read,
but try to find something in the text that you can talk about. Look for your interests. Maybe in Orwell’s 1984, you like the pigs, and you think that we should be ruled through dictatorship. That’s perfectly fine. Perhaps you enjoy movies? Maybe you actually think that Romeo and Juliet are actually the reason for Cameron’s roles of Jack and Rose in Titanic. Great! If this is what interests you, go for it. You will have the motivation to look for proof and defend your argument. Think of ways in which you can see your passions and interests in the text. As a side note, universities love to see your interests and passions in your writing, so think of essays as practice to get into post-secondary education, if that motivates you.
This is where it helps to be a well rounded individual. If your whole life has been spent under the proverbial rock, you’re going to have trouble with analysis. What you’re doing in critical analysis is trying to see the text from another perspective. Studies have shown that people in different streams and fields actually think differently. Accountants think differently from athletes who think differently from doctors. For you, you’ll be bringing your expertise from your passions into your writing. Are you good with numbers? Then you’ll probably pull in something from the text that shows logic (i.e. Zeus is a god, gods are worshipped, therefore Zeus is worshipped). Maybe you’re good with video games – then you’ll maybe look at strategy (i.e. Zeus was wrong to punish Prometheus, because Prometheus actually helped him spread the word of gods). Teacher’s are always looking for personal links into your essays. It’s actually a section in the English curriculum. Everyone has experience with life outside of school – find out what you like to do and bring your own perspective into your writing.
The last step is to prove the importance of what you’re saying. This is what will take up the most space in your essay, and also does the bulk of the work in your defense. Remember, you’re now bringing your own perspectives and passions into the topic – you cannot expect everyone to see things through your eyes. Let’s say that you have found a unique twist on what you want to say regarding Frankenstein. If you say that the monster was totally justified in murdering William, your next step is to ask yourself, why? Continue to ask yourself until you cannot go any further – that is when you know is explained far enough.
You need to make your unique thoughts relevant to the essay. If you’re provided with a topic, is what you’re saying relevant to it? You might be spouting off paragraphs of things that interest you, but if it doesn’t prove the essay topic, why are you saying it? Everything needs to be related and relevant, all while explaining the topic. Let’s use the Ugly Duckling as an example. Say your teacher gives you the topic of beauty in the story. You’re interested in fashion. So you decide to say that the lack of fashion is what makes the Ugly Duckling isolated. Ok, why? Well, fashion is what dictates trends and beauty in society. Ok, how does that related to the story? Well, beauty allows us to judge and discriminate against others. Ok, so what? Therefore, in the story, the Ugly Duckling is ostracized due to his lack of beauty, found in his poor fashion sense.
You have to push yourself to the point where you imagine yourself arguing with a five year old that constantly asks you, “why?”. If you manage to shut that annoying voice up, you have successfully succeeded in thinking critically!
To illustrate what we’ve discussed, here’s a running example of the steps we looked at.
Case: The topic is not provided, but the text is Romeo and Juliet.
First, what interests me about the text? I am interested in the relationships between parents and children, so maybe i can work with that. How do the Montagues and Capulets deal with their children? Well, from personal experience, I know the way that parents interact with children is that they suppress what their children want. They don’t often let kids do what they desire. In the play, they (the parents) mostly discount them and act as if they don’t exsist…alright, maybe I can say that Romeo and Juliet’s behaviour is based off of the way they were raised by their parents!
So why is this important to the play? Well, it identifies the root of the problem being the parents. So what? Now we can look at Romeo and Juliet’s actions as consequential to the parenting they received, which means that Romeo and Juliet are not to blame for the deaths in the play. So what? Well, now we can say that the real culprits of the play are the parents. What does this mean? Therefore, the parents of the two young lovers are the whole reason for the actions of their children and ultimately, their deaths.
You’ll notice that critically analyzing a certain topic eventually leads to a thesis. This is no coincidence. When you analyze something, you are essentially coming up with an argument for it, which is all a thesis and essay really is.