English 271 Critical Essay Assignment
(25 pts. or 25% of final grade


Instructions, Audience, and Purpose


Write a 4-6 page literary analysis, applying any choice of critical lens to any literary work. Imagine you are writing this essay for an undergraduate casebook (critical anthology) on the work in question.


Your purpose is to illuminate the work in question, help a college-level reader get more out it, and convince such a reader that your analysis of the work in question is valid.  The purpose of the assignment itself is to give you practice applying at least one of the critical lenses we’ve worked with this semester. You should also write with an audience of college instructors in mind.


Follow these steps:

  1. After selecting the critical lens you'd like to use, look at Tyson's "critic's questions" and select the question you'd like to apply and answer.
  2. Analyze the work you've chosen with that question in mind.
  3. Answer the question, and from that answer formulate a thesis.

Provide an especially focused INTRODUCTION which clearly states your thesis, and a similarly focused CONCLUSION which reaffirms that idea. Note: I don't normally insist on a formulaic three-part-essay, but given the difficulty of these theories and your content, a firm and simple structure will help to clarify and ground your thinking.

You will need to:


  1. Research what other critics have said about the same work.
  2. Include a title which identifies the critical approach you are taking.
  3. Write the question you are answering somewhere under the title.
  4. Develop your argument fully, with focused paragraphs and good supporting evidence (reasons, examples, details, quotations, paraphrases) for your claims.
  5. Acknowledge and refute counter-views. (This might be a good place to discuss other critic's views a bit.)
  6. Keep your audience clearly in mind.
  7. Write engagingly. Write with imagination, insight, and, more than anything, clarity.
  8. Document any sources using MLA format.
  9. Format your manuscript according to MLA guidelines.
  10. Avoid all types of plagiarism. (See our Power Point document in Blackboard on this subject.)
  11. Carefully edit and proofread your work for lapses in clarity, stylistic problems, and mechanical errors. Sources must be properly credited using MLA format.
  12. Include any drafts with instructor comments, and staple all hardcopy materials.






  1. An easy way to come up with a topic and approach is to review Tyson's listing of questions typically asked for each kind of criticism. You can simply ask one of those representative questions about a text of your choice, and your answer to the question becomes your thesis statement.
    For example, on p. 38, item #7, Tyson says that some of the questions a Lacanian Psychoanalytic theorist might ask are, "In what ways does the text seem to reveal characters' emotional investments in the Symbolic Order, the Imaginary Order, the Mirror Stage, or what Lacan calls objet petit a? Does any part of the text seem to represent Lacan's notion of the Real?" For your own essay, you would simply apply one or more of these questions to your choice of text. The questions, for instance, are highly applicable to The Great Gatsby, and a good paper could come from a Lacanian analysis of that novel. In fact, Gatsby might present itself as a nearly perfect story for this approach! Your essay's introduction then might pose such a question as: "What is Jay Gatsby's relationship to the Symbolic Order and objet petit a? In what specific ways is he invested in both, and to what end?"

  2. Also helpful would be to research essays which others have written about your particular topic or idea. Your own essay can react and respond to these other pieces, either using them to help support your thesis, or to provide positions you'd like to argue against. Either way, they can add complexity, scope, and interest to your essay.

Evaluation Criteria

Your essay should be focused, organized, and well-developed, with clear, explicit, accurate application of the critical theory in question. Any sources must be documented properly and your essay manuscript formatted according to MLA guidelines. For formatting review, CLICK HERE.

I first assign a grade to your essay where:

A = Outstanding

B = Very Good

C = Fair

D = Poor

F = Unacceptable

I then fine-tune that grade with points:


A = 22.5-25

B = 19.5-22

C = 16.5-19

D = 13.5-16

Below 13 = F

Late Drafts

I'll accept late drafts for feedback, provided there is time for you to use my feedback before you hand in the final version. If you give me a late draft, I will provide feedback as soon as my schedule allows. This may be immediately or it may be several days or more.

Late Final Versions

No final versions will be accepted after the hand-in date, except with documented evidence of serious hardship or illness. (See online schedule for due date.)


Turning in Your Essay

  • Post your essay in our Blackboard "Discussion Board." You'll find a Forum for the essays at the very top of the Forum list, titled, "CRTICAL ESSAY—FINAL VERSION."
  • Do not use Works, WordPerfect, or anything but Word. The extension on the file name should be ".doc," not "wps" or other.
  • If you have trouble posting, do not contact me. Contact the Technology Learning Center in IACC.
  • Give yourself enough time to allow for possible tech glitches.
  • Put the following on the subject line: "Your Name English 271 Critical Essay."


No coursework accepted after 12 AM on the hand-in date, except with documented evidence of severe hardship.




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