Short Story Essay

Objective: Choose a story you have read for this class (excluding “The Story of an Hour”). In 750-1000 words (excluding Work[s] Cited), explain the significance of some element(s) of the text – how this/these element(s) contribute/s to the story’s thematic development. It’s not enough to claim that “man v. nature” is a theme – you must also explain what the author is saying about the theme.

Put another way, write an essay analyzing how the author of your chosen short story uses the text to comment on one of its themes. Argue about how his/her decisions about literary elements and use of literary devices communicate the author’s stance regarding one of the story’s themes or a couple of closely related themes. This is how you generate an interpretive, analytical claim.


Point of View









Figurative Language


Flashbacks/narrative structure

A good place to start is to look to quotes from the text that seem profound or symbolic or that concern you. Also trace motifs, recurring symbols, or patterns in the text. Group like or linked observations together to see how these items might contribute to what the author wants to tell us about the theme(s). If the pattern breaks or changes, that will be significant, too. Review the “Intro to Literary Interpretation” PowerPoint on Blackboard.

Thesis Examples:

• The pattern of flashbacks interrupting “This Is What It Means” mirrors Thomas’ story-telling and allows Alexie to model the double-consciousness of Native American identity in a society assimilated with modern American culture. (This essay would then go on to comment on the other literary elements within the narrative structure: character, setting, symbolism, etc.)

• Chopin’s juxtaposition of Mrs. Mallard’s enclosed environment with its open features reflects the conflict between the constraint of social expectations for a wife and grieving widow and the implicit freedom that release from marriage presents.


Make a list of observations, and look for connections. Form an outline then a draft. Please consider taking your ideas, outline, or draft to the Writing Center. Please review API Chapter 15 for guidelines and advice and Chapter 21 for a sample essay.


Summarize your chosen text briefly – just the most essential plot points. Discuss major theme(s) and the work’s contribution to society/literature and/or the social/cultural circumstances of the time. A good introduction tactic is to introduce how the text could be interpreted differently – show how you are offering a unique reading. Develop a thesis statement – a disputable claim, something it is possible to disagree with, that addresses the prompt. Your entire essay, following the introduction, should aim to prove your thesis statement. Your thesis should be the last sentence of the introduction.


Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence, a thesis statement for that particular paragraph. Each sentence in the paragraph that follows should work to prove that topic sentence. Each sentence should build logically upon the one before it, just as each paragraph should build logically upon the preceding paragraph. (Ex. You must demonstrate that “The Swimmer” is set in Suburban America before discussing why it is set there.)

Each paragraph must include a main idea (topic sentence), citation (textual evidence – usually a quote, though paraphrases and summaries may sometimes suffice), and explanation of how the evidence supports the claim. Don’t forget to end each paragraph with a transition into the next.


Please refrain from merely summarizing your essay. It is short enough that I have not forgotten what you wrote on page 1. Do restate your thesis (in different words), and then try answering the “So what” question: why does your interpretation of the text matter? What does the text offer to its contemporary society and/or to ours? What should other scholars investigate about the text? Try to leave your readers with food for thought, not just with a recap of an already short essay. But do avoid making new interpretations/claims in the conclusion. You should have proven your claims in the body of the essay.

Notes: Keep plot summary throughout the essay to a minimum. Assume I am familiar with your chosen story. You are writing a literary analysis, not a book report, so you only need to provide brief summary when necessary to making a point (e.g. when you are using a plot event as evidence of a claim).

Always write about literature in present tense; the story happens anew each time you read it. Keep the tone formal: avoid personal pronouns (e.g. I, you, we, etc.), contractions, and slang.

You are creating an original piece of analysis. Do not use Sparknotes, Cliff Notes, Shmoop, Grade Saver, etc. Do not look to literary criticism for interpretations of your chosen text. You are not required to use any secondary sources, but you must cite any you do consult. You must cite your primary text using in-text citations and a Work(s) Cited page.


• TNR, 12 pt. font, double-spaced

• 1 in. margins on each side

• No extra spaces between sentences or paragraphs

• Use an MLA style header and page numbers

• Create MLA style citations (in-text and Work[s] Cited)

• Format entire paper according to MLA 9 guidelines:

• Use standard written English to govern grammar and mechanics

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