Close Reading Assignment

Essay 1: Argument and Analysis—Close Reading

Thus far this semester, we have discussed the value of “close reading” when reading literature. By “close reading” we have meant taking a small portion of text and breaking it apart—to see what it does, how it does it, and what it says. In short, we have been engaging in analysis of literature. You have practiced this in group and class discussions.

Your first essay for this course asks you to do just this—analyze a piece of literature by really breaking apart a small chunk of text. This essay must make an argument—that is, it must be driven by a thesis statement. In short, you must make an argument about a text—and this argument can be whatever you want to say, be it about character, theme, literary devices, etc.—and prove your argument through a close reading of the text itself.

For the purposes of this assignment, your close reading must focus on no more than one scene—that is, a specific moment in the text, a specific instance of dialogue exchange, a single passage, etc. The more focused you are, the more successful you will be. You must choose one of the three short stories we’ve read.

To complete this assignment you will need to:

1) Give a brief synopsis of what occurs in the scene. This will be a maximum of 2-3 sentences. This is to ensure that you understood what happened in the scene on the surface level. You cannot begin to dig deeper unless you have an understanding of what is actually taking place.

2) You will briefly describe what happens immediately before and after the scene. Think 1 sentence for each. The purpose for this is to contextualize the scene within the text. This is important because it gives the scene a space to exist. It can also give glimpses into potential cause-and-effect relationships.

3) You will present a thesis statement about the scene itself. Remember, a thesis statement is neither a statement of fact (“Sleep” involves a woman with insomnia), nor is it a statement of opinion (“Sleep” was a confusing story). In order to make an argument, you must say something that someone else could logically disagree with.

4) Here’s where the close reading comes in. You will, essentially, interpret the scene. You will dig below the surface, and construct an argumentative interpretation of the scene that proves your thesis. While you should use the text to back up your claims, excessive quotations will not win you points.

Putting it together:

This is a short assignment—only 750 words. Thus, you may only focus on ONE text, with NO outside sources. Organization is up to you, but an introduction is necessary, in which you will introduce the scene, contextualize the scene, and provide your thesis statement. How you organize the rest of the paper is up to you. You should also have a conclusion in which you restate your main point(s), but also wrap things up nicely for your reader.


  • Introduction of scene and contextualization of scene
  • Thesis statement
  • Close reading
  • Use of quotes (though not excessive)
  • Proper MLA citation—author’s last name and page number (Chaon 1)
  • Works Cited Page
  • At least 750 words, Times New Roman, 12 pt. font, double spaced, with word count posted at the end of the essay
  • Upload to turnitin the day it is due, and turn in a hard copy in class

DUE February 20TH


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