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Lit Papers: The Beginning

Assuming that a work (or works, as the case may be) has already been chosen, a literature paper usually begins by introducing the work(s) to be discussed. A good place to start is generally the title of the work and the author. Some background information and the significance of the work will follow. What makes this particular work important? Is it historically significant in some way? Was it revolutionary in style or subject matter? Give the reader a reason to care about the short story, poem, novel, etc.

Kate Chopin’s classic novel The Awakening represents the perfect example of an author who was truly ahead of her time. With its themes of infidelity and parental neglect written largely in homoerotic overtones, The Awakening was, for decades, misunderstood and the recipient of much caustic criticism. It was not until the 1950s and 60s that The Awakening garnered any significant amount of its much-deserved critical acclaim, when it was thrust back into the spotlight via the growing feminist movement.

Your next step in the introduction will be the thesis. Thesis can be a scary word. You can call it your assertion of brilliance or your epiphany or something else if that makes the ordeal seem less repulsive. The assertion is essentially the central theme or main idea of your paper.

Your assertion should state something about the work(s) that you find interesting or unusual, something deeper than "John Lydon's Rotten is a good book because it is well-written, funny, and stuff."  It should be something that you think is probably not obvious to most people, even if it might seem obvious to you.

With the Wife of Bath, the central female character in The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer has created a character that will serve as the vehicle for his deviant psychosexual fantasy, while at the same time brilliantly disguising her to his readers as merely the portrait of the morally reprehensible female. He has done this through the narrator's description of her physical appearance, her descriptions of herself, her “airheadedness,” her insatiable need to quench men’s sexual thirsts, and her sadomasochistic relationship with her fifth, and favorite, husband.

Generally, the more interesting and unique your assertion of brilliance seems to you, the less the paper will seem much less like a daunting task. However, try not to become so abstract that you have a hard time supporting your assertion.

Next, learn how to organize literature papers.


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