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Using Textual Evidence: A Lit Crit Toolbox

Examples of quotations used as textual evidence by type of literature paper:
1. Classic Literature Paper

When Wright becomes interested in books, he describes struggling to fully concentrate due to the hunger gnawing at him. However, Wright also gains from his reading a new type of hunger; he describes, "But to feel that there were feelings denied me, that the very breath of life itself was beyond my reach, that more than anything else hurt, wounded me. I had a new hunger" (250). Similar to the limitations whites placed on black's education, hunger impedes Wright's intellectual capabilities. However, the knowledge Wright gains from his reading provides him with a drive for something more-a hunger to right wrongs. Thus, hunger challenges Wright's capability to read, but also encourages him to strive for something more.

Annotation: Be sure to explicate the quote, which means to reference back to it in the sentences following. Explain the quote's significance, its meaning, and how it ties into your argument. It may strengthen your paper to re-quote specific words or phrases out of the initial quotation as they pertain to your paper.

2. Comparative

Faulkner portrays age in both pieces of work in a similar way. As Faulkner displays both Emily and the woman from the sketch, he alienates them from the rest of his characters and makes them appear lonely. In A Rose for Emily, Faulkner describes, "When we next saw Miss Emily, she had grown fat and her hair was turning gray. During the next few years it grew grayer and grayer until it attained an even pepper-and-salt iron-gray…from that time on her front door remained closed" (319). Faulkner assigns a negative connotation with Emily's aging, making her appear less physically attractive. By having Emily become reclusive from the neighborhood, Faulkner also makes her appear unfriendly and antisocial. In New Orleans Sketches, as Faulkner describes the woman appearing young then suddenly old again, he says, "…her face became the face of a woman of sixty, toothless and merry as a gnome's. Her eyes were contemplative, yet personal-it was as if someone had whispered a sublime and colossal joke in the ear of an idol." Faulkner makes the woman's elderly face appear comical, clearly revealing his attitude towards women of an older age. Therefore, Faulkner keeps a consistently negative attitude towards women of an older age, as he portrays their aging physical features as exaggerated and comical.

Annotation: For comparative papers, it's important to directly relate the two quotes and interpret them individually. The purpose of such a paper is to create an essay comparing and/or contrasting two (or more) works of literature. Try drawing similarities in tone, style, or meaning. Relay to the reader the significance of these connections-what do they suggest about the author, message of the book, or general context?

3. Historical/Contextual Essay

In the collection of short stories Lost in the City, Jones uses D.C. to provide context for the reader. The first story in the collection, The Girl Who Raised Pigeons, is the account of a young girl, Betsy Ann, who raises pigeons with her father. As the story progresses, Betsy Ann describes feeling ostracized from her friends as they move to the other side of the city due to the building of a railroad track. Jones writes, "Gradually, as more people moved out of Myrtle Street, the room became less attractive for Betsey Ann to visit" (18)1. Jones uses the changing neighborhoods of D.C. to reflect a change in his characters. Through the shifting demographics of D.C., the reader gains insight into the feelings of Betsy Ann.

Annotation: In English classes, students are often asked to write research papers that consider the historical context of a given piece of literature. When writing such historical essays, look for quotations that reflect cultural/historical changes or events. When explicating your support, remember to remark upon the literary and historical significance of the quote. Elaborate on how the quotation ties in with the historical context of the book, and what it suggests about the dynamics of the time.

4. Personal Response Essay

In Sula, Morrison still holds the responsibility of speaking for a marginalized group as she did in her earlier novels. The story revolves around female black characters, and largely focuses on the dynamics of the relationship between two women: Sula and Nel. Morrison describes that the two girls discover, "that they were neither white nor male, and that all the freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they had to set about creating something else to be" (52). I found this statement to be "touching" as it made me realize the limitations race forced on these girls. However, despite these constraints, both Sula and Nel had a rebellious nature-something that also "touched" and inspired me. I was interested in understanding the motives behind the women's angst, such as why Sula was driven to cut off her finger; however I struggled to do so. I think this is due to the fact that Morrison gives very little context, thus making the reader struggle to grasp at a central meaning to the novel. I felt as though my role as a reader in Sula was to be an observer, rather than partake in any emotion. This feeling was actually articulated in the book, when Sula watched her mother burn. Morrison describes, "Sula had watched Hannah burn not because she was paralyzed, but because she was interested" (78). Thus, I was interested in the course of the events in the novel, but like Sula, I wasn't "moved" to spring into action.

Annotation: When supporting a personal response to a piece of literature, look for quotes that you can relate to. Think about your initial reaction to the quote, and then why you chose it. In your explication, explain your connection to the quote and its significance to you. Perhaps include personal anecdotes to support your point, or refer to your emotional connection to the piece.

1 Jones, Edward P. Lost in The City. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992. Print.