Incorporating Summary

In any literary analysis paper, you run the risk of summarizing too much and leaving too little space for your own ideas. Here are some guidelines to determining how much summary is appropriate.

1. Ask the instructor.

This is of course the best way to be sure.

2. Consider the syllabus and prompt.

If your assignment is a book review, you should probably aim at an audience that has not read the book, and therefore summarize the plot. If, on the other hand, your intended audience consists of classmates who have read the book, then a plot summary won't be necessary.

3. Provide enough summary to make your argument comprehensible.

Even readers familiar with a literary work may need to be reminded of the context for a particular speech or image. At one point in Hamlet, for instance, Polonius says, "Very like a whale" (III.ii, 399). Before you analyze such a remark, you should recall the occasion for it. What did Hamlet say to elicit these words from Polonius? You may be prepared to offer a brilliant interpretation of "Very like a whale." But you will lose your audience if you haven't given them the information they need to make basic sense of the line.

Literary Analysis

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