Assignment Two—Passage Analysis

Due Dates: Requirements:
Working Draft—October 16th, 2014
Final Draft—October 23rd, 2014
  • 3-5 typed pages
  • MLA Format


To construct a persuasive argument about the meaning of a brief passage from The Scarlet Letter.


  1. Choose a passage from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and write an analysis of it.

  2. Take notes including specific details in the passage that explain its meaning and significance. Such details include word choice, comparison/contrast, punctuation, context in the larger work, critical approach and anything else the author has used in order to make his or her meaning clear to an audience. (It may not be possible to find an example of each of these elements.) Focus on those that are the most useful in explaining the meaning of the passage. Consider also what we have talked about in class regarding the critical approach of the chapter from which you have taken this passage.

  3. Formulate a thesis statement summing up the meaning and importance of the chosen passage. This thesis will undoubtedly change as you write your paper, but at least it will give you a starting point. A good thesis is arguable rather than obvious.

  4. Write a draft of your argument about the passage in question. Refer to specific words and phrases in the selected passage in order to support the points in your argument. You may also refer to other quotations in the larger work, as long as you maintain your focus on the passage in question. You may also refer to critical works on The Scarlet Letter contained in the Norton Critical Edition, but this is not a requirement. You are also welcome to cite other texts, such as Bressler's Literary Criticism.

  5. Bring a word-processed, correctly formatted draft of this paper to class on October 16th, 2014, for peer editing. Include the entire passage at the top of the first page.

  6. After considering feedback you received from peer editors and reconsidering your own argument, revise your paper.

  7. Proofread your draft to identify and correct spelling and grammatical errors.

  8. Turn in the completed final draft along with a peer-edited working draft in class on October 23rd, 2014.

Close Reading

Close reading means paying careful attention to details in a written work. It is an element in any literary analysis, regardless of your chosen critical approach. Since you will be looking more closely at this passage than most people who read it, your paper can offer perspectives on its meaning that will engage your audience and challenge its expectations. In analyzing a brief passage, you might ask yourself the following questions:

What, literally, does the passage attempt to describe and/or argue for?

Where in the larger work does the passage occur?

How is this passage different from other passages in the text? Why should your reader pay close attention to this passage?

What will make this paper interesting to an audience consisting of your classmates, your teacher and yourself? You will want to tell them something new—that would not otherwise have occurred to them after reading this passage.

Thesis Statement

This is a one-sentence version of the whole paper, and it should be in an arguable claim. It should not merely restate the passage in your own words. A good thesis statement refers directly to the chosen passage, saying something like, "In this passage, Hawthorne . . ."

Good thesis statements will challenge readers in some way to regard the text in a new light. They may make claim regarding the passage's importance to the overall text, or to a little-noticed sub-text contained within the passage.

Some possible thesis language:

This passage marks a turning point in the novel because . . .

This passage provides one of the clearest examples of Dimmesdale's mental illness by showing . . .

The dominant feature of this passage is a contradiction between . . . and . . . which Hawthorne must then reconcile by . . .

This passage may appear on its surface to be about . . . but it is actually describing . . .

These are just a few examples of thesis statement language that can lead to productive arguments about the text. Please adapt these to your needs or develop your own.

Writing Tips

  1. MLA format requires you to include a list of works cited at the end of your paper, even if it only includes one work. For example:

    Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter and Other Writings. Ed. Leland S. Person. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. Print.

  2. Some grammatical tips:

    1. Avoid using the passive voice whenever it is possible to do so. When writing in the passive voice, you remove the subject from the sentence or at least de-emphasize it. This makes writing less engaging to most readers.



      "Carried away by the grotesque horror of this picture, the minister, unawares, and to his own infinite alarm, burst into a great peal of laughter." (Hawthorne, 100)

      (Structure: object/"to be" verb/past participle)


      When the grotesque horror of this picture carried him away, the minister, unawares, and to his own infinite alarm, burst into a great peal of laughter.

      (Note structure: subject/verb/object)

    2. Avoid contractions when writing college papers. Replace they're with they are and replace don't with do not (these are just a few examples of the numerous possible contractions out there.

    3. Italicization is the best way to signal that you are referring to a word itself and not to the thing that the word represents. Notice how I am using italicization of the terms in the following section "d". You should also italicize titles of books (everywhere, including in parenthetical references and lists of works cited) and foreign-language words like Bildungsroman or sine qua non.

    4. The word it's (with an apostrophe) is a contraction of it is. The word its (without an apostrophe) is the possessive of it.