For the strongest rhetorical effect in a deductive essay, you can follow certain conventions for arranging your evidence. Put the most convincing points in the most memorable positions: the beginning and the end of the argument. Less persuasive evidence can be "buried" in the middle of the paper's body. You have to consult your own conscience as to whether each piece of evidence is strong enough to be used at all.
Parallels are numerous and interesting: rather than following the Latin mass on the order of Mozart, Beethoven or even Schubert (who had written a German Requiem, the , for his brother's personal use in 1818), Brahms instead picks up on the Protestant German masses of Bach and Schütz.
This is not to say, however, that you shouldn't use the word "I." Not every professor would agree with me, but I think you should use it. Why pretend to be objective? Since your argument depends in every way on your selections-of a topic, of examples, of interpretive strategies-it has to reflect you, and it should be written in a voice that is recognizably yours. If you are making a statement that refers to your own experience, your own feeling, your own judgement, it only makes sense to attribute it to yourself. Remember, however, that (unless you are writing a particularly subjective kind of reader-response criticism) you are not the topic of the paper, even if you are its "subject": the poem, play, story, or novel is the object you have in view, and your essay should focus attention on the text, rather than on itself. And even if you can't be objective as you write about a text, you can and should be logical. Try, therefore, not to fall back on using "I" as an excuse for faulty reasoning: rather than using disclaimers such as "I'm not really sure, but I get the feeling that Fitzgerald is trying to say something about the American Dream. work on figuring out x; what you do think about the topic and presenting appropriate evidence to support your idea.
When you eventually do develop the thesis into an introduction for your essay, remember to phrase it in an arguable form. If you shrink from beginning an essay with a statement such as "In this essay I will argue that Fitzgerald uses the color green in to symbolize hope, envy, and the future." your instincts are good. Such a sentence is not a thesis: it is an announcement of the paper's topic. Instead, try to make a direct statement about how or why Fitzgerald uses the symbol, along the lines of the examples I proposed above. This would be a debatable statement, and therefore a thesis or an argument. But it doesn't need a label like, "My thesis is x" or "In this essay I will argue y." In a short critical paper, self-reference isn't necessary and can sometimes be too obvious.
SHAPE YOUR ARGUMENT. Decide now what rhetorical strategy you will use in the arrangement of your essay. Will it be deductive, that is, begin with a general statement of your point, then proceed to illustrate it with specific examples arranged around sub-points? Or will it be inductive, arguing through specific examples that "build" to a concluding statement?
Remember that no matter what format you follow in writing your critical analysis, it should have a thesis statement that establishes your approach to or opinion about the piece. Your thesis statement will not be the same as the original author's thesis statement. For example, say that the original author's thesis statement is “the moon is made of green cheese.” Your own thesis might be “the author's assertion that the moon is made of green cheese is ill-founded and is not supported with adequate evidence.”
You may find yourself a bit overcome at the prospect of coming up with something original to say about a work by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, or Faulkner: haven't professional scholars been writing everything that could possibly be said, for decades if not for centuries? Intimidated by this assumption, many students go to the library and look up what "the critics" have said before trying to work on criticism of their own. I don't think that's a good way to go about it. Even if you are assigned to write a "research paper" (which differs from a critical essay in that it requires you to consult and cite other scholars' work), you will find the writing less difficult if you work out your own critical position on a text before consulting other sources. You can always revise your ideas and your essay as your understanding of the text increases. For this, after all, is the purpose of writing critical essays: to come to a more complete understanding of a given work of literature and to communicate that understanding to another reader.
In literary study, critical essays usually have one of three main goals. They can aim primarily to describe, evaluate, or interpret a text. All essays will combine some elements of each activity. For instance, "evaluation" is implicit in every critical essay: even if you don't set out to prove how good a particular text is, you imply that it has value when you choose it as the subject for critical study. Still, every essay's main point, or thesis, should focus on one of these three main questions: "How does this text work?", "Is this text any good?", or "What does this text mean?".
When you write a descriptive critical essay, the main question you are trying to answer is: "How does this literary text work? How does it get its meaning across?" The broad term for this kind of study is "poetics," or-as Jonathan Culler has defined it-the study of the codes and conventions, th recurring patterns and familiar structures, that make it possible for literary texts to have "meaning" (37). In student writing, the descriptive critical essay usually focuses on specific features of one text, and sometimes compares a given text to a model of the genre, or type of literature, it belongs to.
For example, if you are writing about a Shakespearian sonnet, you may want to describe the ways it conforms to and deviates from the Elizabethan sonnet form. Does it have the proper number of lines, arranged in a typical sonnet rhyme-scheme? Does its meter conform strictly to iambic pentameter? Is its imagery limited to typical sonnet conventions? Does it follow a line of argument common to sonnets? Sometimes, the answer will be "no." It's in the nature of texts to deviate somewhat from their generic models: often, in understanding a poem's uniqueness, we can understand the poem itself more clearly. If an author is writing within a certain genre and he or she chooses to violate some of the "rules" of that genre, you can infer some significance from that choice.
Depending on how long the essay is to be, you may have to select a particular feature of the text to describe. Say you are writing about the formal features of . You might want to describe the way Mark Twain uses dialect to characterize the people in the novel. Or you might be interested in describing the effect that Huck's narration has on the perspective of the story. Or you might look at the placement of the chapter breaks and their impact on the novel's pace. Or you might want to examine the effect of Twain's juxtaposing scenes of humor with scenes of pathos. These are only a few of the possible topics you might develop for a descriptive critical essay on this novel-pursuing any one of them will bring you closer to an understanding of how works and, by extension, how novels work in general. Sometimes you can gain added insight by combining two descriptive approaches to one text: for instance, you could consider the role dialect plays in humorous scenes.