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Anyone willing to share an excellent literary analysis essay?

rbk mama

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Well, this is an 8th grade assignment that had to include some summary of the story since the audience hadn't read it and had to include the mention of a certain number of literary techniques the author used. DD#2 had a lot more insight, but had to keep within the time limit. (It was what she wrote to 'speak off of' for a Powerpoint presentation, so she has slides to go with it.) The short story is available on the internet (free) if he wants to read it. So, make sure he understands it is not a high school level paper.


Bad Decisions
Is it better to be born blind and never see color, or is it better to see but then go blind, aware of what is gone? In Willa Cather’s “The Wagner Matinee,†the character of Aunt Georgiana experiences the latter, but for an afternoon, regains her sight and feels the enormity of her loss. She faces going back to blindness in the deprived wastelands of Nebraska after she leaves the beautiful world of Boston. As a result, going to the symphony forces Aunt Georgiana to confront the consequences of her marriage, realize anew all she has lost, and contrast the civilization of Boston to the undomesticated land of Nebraska.

Some people cautiously look before they leap, but others make the jump without a second glance; this story tells the sad results of not first considering the ramifications of a life-changing decision. Clark lives in Boston when his Aunt Georgiana, who helped raise him, returns to her hometown to collect a small inheritance. She “had been a good pianist in her day†(Cather 150), but elopes with Howard Carpenter, an “idle, shiftless boy†(146) thirty years before. Aunt Georgiana raises six children in primitive conditions on a Nebraska cattle farm, hard labor very different from her musical Boston life. Like an oyster protecting its soft body from pieces of sand or grit lodged in its shell by coating the grit with nacre, so, too, does Aunt Georgiana build up a protective wall around her heart to stop the cravings for her old life from distressing her. Her youthful infatuation sentences Aunt Georgiana to a life of hard labor and causes her to bury her love for music so that she survives, but just barely.


Aunt Georgiana’s cravings for her old life are like a crusted-over wound that has never fully healed, but that wound breaks open in Boston through Clark’s well-meaning but misguided decision to treat her to a symphony performance while she is in town. During Wagner’s Prize Song, “her eyes were closed, but the tears were glistening on her cheeks†(150), showing Clark that instead of giving her a reprieve from her drab life by putting salve on her injury, he reopens her wound, rekindling her grieving for her early, plush life. Willa Cather uses music as a symbol, pointing out its effect on the soul with a simile in Clark’s inner monologue, “[The soul] withers to the outward eye only; like that strange moss which can lie on a dusty shelf half a century and yet, if placed in water, grows green again†(151). While Aunt Georgiana’s outside will not ever grow young again, her spirit is briefly refreshed by the transformational gift of music. It is a reawakening, a remembrance of her youth, and the melodies take her on their own journey. A part of her which has been buried is alive again, making Aunt Georgiana deal with going back to the soul-dead conditions which she has fleetingly escaped. It would have been better for Aunt Georgiana if this wound had never been reopened.

In another literary technique, Willa Cather uses color or lack of color to symbolize the different lives which people live on the frontier versus high income society in an established east coast city like Boston. She contrasts Aunt Georgiana in “her linen duster [that] had become black with soot†(145) to the ladies at the matinee with their outfits that display “all the colours that an impressionist finds in a sunlit landscape†(148-49). On the prairie, the first settlers find bleak conditions; their focus is on survival, and there is no time for dainty decorations or the production of fine arts. Aunt Georgiana discovers this out the hard way, grasping at those small opportunities for musical enrichment like listening to church service hymns or a cowherd singing. On the contrary, the upper class in Boston have time to spare to attend concerts and shop for new dresses. Although Aunt Georgiana “regard them as though they [are] so many daubs of tube-paint on a palette†(149), she had been born to a high class family and regrets losing the privileges of luxury, most notably the ability to listen to beautiful music. She looks down upon these debutantes because they do not realize the riches they take for granted. Life on the primitive farm is like existing in black and white, Cather alludes; Boston is the essence of civilization, shown in high-definition and full-color.

Aunt Georgiana and Clark both make hasty decisions which lead to pain and hardship. Although Aunt Georgiana enjoys the symphony performance, when she leaves, she will have to return to her uncomfortable Nebraska life, her punishment for the elopement thirty years prior. Clark should not have taken her to hear the orchestra because, even if it did give her a reprieve from her buried wound, it also gave her a glimpse of what she could have had; he unknowingly taunts her, dangling the riches of the music she could never have again in front of her. It would take years, if not the rest of her life to build up another wall around her wound. Decisions, whether large like who to marry or small like buying tickets for a musical performance, should always be carefully considered; their aftermath can have life-changing consequences.


Works Cited
Cather, Willa. “The Wagner Matinee.†Little Worlds: A Collection of Short Stories for the Middle School, compiled by Peter Guthrie and Mary Page, Wayside Pub., 1985, pp. 145-152.

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Thank you, both of you!  Wow, those are amazing essays from a 13 and 14 yo!!  I also appreciated reading the comments on Regentrude's DD's essays, especially those of Ester Maria.  Part of DS's frustration is the "formula" of these types of essays, so it was nice to hear another opinion about that.



(Edited because somehow I missed RootAnn's response initially.)

Edited by rbk mama
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Here is one I copied from an archive of my daughter's first literary analysis paper she wrote when she was 12. Hope this helps.



“The Most Dangerous Game,†by Richard Connell, is an outstanding example of the timeless good-against-evil plot. The reader is thrilled by the suspense, drawn in by the lucid descriptions, and stimulated by the excellent characters. In this brilliant work, the true beauty of literary techniques shines. The story exploits foreshadowing and expressive imagery to increase apprehension. 
The reader’s fear for Rainsford builds throughout the story with the clever use of foreshadowing. While Rainsford converses with his friend Whitney, he unconsciously leaves the reader slowly realizing something deplorable is happening. The reader learns Rainsford’s worldviews, “‘the world is made up of two groups [15]’,†and hears a curious statement, “Luckily you and I are the huntees [15],†making him ponder: if luck runs out, could man become hunted? When Whitney muses “…‘evil is a tangible thing, with wave lengths…’ [16]†the reader understands that the island is evil. He hopes Rainsford will sail away. And while Rainsford speaks with the general during dinner, when “‘he [finds] the general… appraising him’ [17],†the reader’s mind shrieks “Why? What is going on?†The statement, “‘we will have some excellent hunting –you and I’,†reveals the hideous truth that the general hunts man and wants to hunt Rainsford, leaving the reader in horrible tension. Suddenly the reader realizes: Rainsford is in imminent danger.
With the clever application of vivid imagery, the reader is able to “see†the story, thus making us relate to, and fear for, Rainsford. The first instance the reader sees this particular technique is when Rainsford is on the island and stumbles upon the general’s house, where the reader, “… [sees]… pointed towers… stone steps…massive door with a leering gargoyle for a knocker. [16]†The “pointed towers†and “stone steps†make the reader subconsciously think of castles and wonder why there would be such a structure on a deserted island. The “massive door†causes the reader to speculate that something might be forcibly held in the ‘castle’. Furthermore, the general’s description is extremely detailed and almost frightening. He has “hair [that is] vivid white… Thick eyebrows…and beard …as black as the night… [as were] his eyes. He had high cheekbones, a sparecut nose, a spare, dark face-the face of a man used to giving orders…â€It is described as dark, the reader thinks, to suggest that his deeds are ‘dark’, or evil? The “sharpcut nose†brings to mind a shark, ready to eat any animal in the sea. Could “…used to giving orders†mean he can order people to do anything…even kill each other? The possibilities loom before us and we fervently hope Rainsford will survive against the odds.

Through the clever use of foreshadowing and imagery, we are able to visualize the scene, figure out what will happen before it happens, and sympathize with Rainsford’s desperate plight. The story is more understandable through the clear, easy-to-understand descriptions; yet they are dark, giving the feeling of despair. Through this, we may confidently say that Richard Connell’s “Most Dangerous Game†indeed contains some of the best examples of literary techniques found anywhere. 

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