• Friday, March 9 by 10 pm to Blackboard

You will write a close reading of one of the literary texts we have read so far in class (please just choose one). This can be an expansion of one of your response papers if you choose, or you may choose to write about a different topic. As we will discuss in class, doing a “close reading” means you will make an original argument defending your interpretation of the text, based on specific evidence from that text. For this paper, you will make an argument about the significance of one specific pattern that you find in your chosen 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: 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?

The Process

  • Start by finding a pattern in your chosen text. One way to think about close reading papers is that they are attempts to argue for the significance of specific textual patterns that you discover in the text you are writing about. A pattern is simply a repeated textual element. Your pattern might be organized around repetition: repeated words, repeated symbols, repeated metaphors, repeated settings. It might also involve change: how the meaning of a specific image seems to change throughout the text, for example, or how a particular character changes, or how the style of narration changes at a particular point. It might also have to do with the structure and/or form of the text: you might notice that certain chapters are organized in a particular way, or that the plot is repetitive or otherwise structured in a different or unexpected way. There are endless possibilities. Choose one specific pattern to write about. IMPORTANT: You should not already know what this pattern means / why it exists in the text. This is what you should use your close reading paper to figure out!
  • The next step is harder: you need to interpret what this pattern means in terms of the text as a whole, and write a paper designed to convince your reader of the validity of this interpretation. In a close reading paper, you are trying to answer the question: “so what?” So you’ve found a specific pattern in the text: 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

  • 1700-2000 words (that’s about 5-6 pages double-spaced)
  • Citations and format according to some established citation style (MLA and Chicago style are generally the easiest for text).
  • Argue for your own original interpretation of your chosen text using specific evidence from the text to build your case.
  • I encourage you to incorporate some of the secondary sources we have read in class into your paper, although you are not required to do so.


  • 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. Decide what you can reasonably tackle in 5-6 pages. On the other hand, if you find that you are struggling to write 1700 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. You should NOT need to “vamp” or fill space in a close reading paper. Every sentence should have a purpose. If you find yourself in the position of feeling like you don’t have enough to say, 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.


This paper is worth 25% of your final grade in this course. It will be graded on an A-F scale. 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?

For more information on the rubric I will use to assess your graded assignments, see the relevant section in the course syllabus.

Because doing this kind of writing is difficult and takes practice to do well, you will have the chance to revise this paper for a potentially higher grade if you choose.