Due Date

  • Friday, November 18 by 10 pm to Blackboard


For the second paper in this class, you will write a close reading of any of the literary texts we have read since you turned in your first paper (Zone One, Oryx and Crake, “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned,” Safe Area Goražde). Close reading is a specific method of literary analysis. Doing a “close reading” means you will make an original argument about your interpretation of the text that is based in specific evidence from that text. In a close reading paper you are trying to answer the question: “so what?” So you’ve found a specific pattern in the text (as you have all done): so what? What does this pattern mean, in terms of the text as a whole? Why/how is it important to our understanding of the text as a whole?

Details & Requirements

The requirements for your close reading essay are minimal:

  • 5-6 pages double-spaced (1800-2200 words)
  • Citations and format according to some established citation style (MLA and Chicago style are generally the easiest for text. See the assignment page on our course site for links to online resources about how to format your paper using these styles).
  • Argue for your own original interpretation of one aspect of your chosen text using specific evidence from the text to build your case.


  • Writing a successful close reading paper takes time and practice. Doing it well is more difficult than it seems. If you’re asking the right kinds of questions of your chosen text, your analysis should – in a clear and structured way – bring out and emphasize the complexity of the text you are writing about, not “solve” or do away with this complexity. Our goal here is to invite complexity, NOT necessarily to make things simpler. If you do this, it will be difficult to stay within the word limit because you will have so much to say. Try to come as close as you can, however, because learning how to manage the scope of your argument is also an important skill. This may mean leaving some of your ideas out. Decide what you can reasonably tackle in 4-5 pages. On the other hand, if you find that you are struggling to write 1400 words about your text, that is likely an indication that you are not digging deep enough, that you need to ask different kinds of questions, or that you should shift the focus of your argument and/or idea. If you find yourself in this position, I strongly recommend you come talk to me. I can help you.

  • You should organize your essay around one central idea, as opposed to providing a list of claims and observations. Remain aware of the need to make specific claims rather than vague generalizations, building your argument around specific passages, pages, scenes, or other textual elements. I expect you to present an original thesis and to work closely through the text on your own, NOT to synthesize and then regurgitate interpretations we have worked through in class.

  • All of the texts we read in this course, as I try to emphasize in class, contain multitudes. This is especially true for Oscar Wao. If you choose to write about this novel, you will need to think hard about how to narrow your topic so that it’s manageable in 1400-1800 words. The more specific your topic, the better off you’ll be.


This paper is worth 30% of your final grade in this course. You will be graded on the complexity, originality, specificity, and overall success of your argument, as well as on the overall presentation and polish of your writing. Do you make a compelling and effective case for your interpretation of your chosen text? Does your argument invite and engage with complexity? Is it specific? Is it original to you, or have we already worked through it entirely together in class? Is it an argument about the text’s meaning (or one of its meanings), rather than a collection of loosely organized summaries or observations about the text? Is your writing clear, polished and effectively organized?