Analysis Essays for AP English Language (page 3)
Are There Other Types of Analysis Questions on the Exam?
You bet. Another analysis prompt you can expect on the exam asks the student to analyze the author's intended effect on the reader and how the author re-creates an experience. Still another type is comparison and contrast. This prompt can be based on either a fiction or nonfiction passage.
What Am I Expected to Do When Asked to Identify the Author's Intended Effect on the Reader?
No one can ever know what an author intended, unless you could personally approach the writer and ask, "Tell me, just exactly what did you intend the effect to be on your reader when you wrote this passage?" And, we all know that this is not a possibility for 999 out of 1,000 authors. This said, keep the following in mind.
The AP Comp test makers obviously believe that there is a clear, definite effect on the reader; otherwise, they would not be asking you to identify it. When writing about effect, think about your personal reaction to the text. While reading it, or as a result of reading it, how do you feel (happy, sad, angry, amused, perplexed, uplifted, motivated, informed, inspired, "connected"? You get the idea.)
What Should I Try to Include in My Essay When I'm Asked to Analyze How an Author Re-creates an Experience?
Think about this. Have you ever tried to re-create your own personal experience for your friends, your family, or your teacher? Ask yourself what you did to ensure that your listeners would really feel as if they were actually there. Were you trying to be humorous or serious? You chose what you would say to introduce this experience, didn't you? Did you set up the scene with descriptions of the setting, the people? Did you tell them why you were there? What kind of details did you choose to include? Why those, and not others? What kind of language did you use? (You were quite aware that your audience responds to certain kinds of language manipulation.) Did you center the tale on yourself, the action, a person, or group of people? Did you emphasize actions, reactions, dialog? Did you tell the story in chronological order, or did you move back and forth in time? Did you interject personal comments? Did you tell the story so that the listeners felt a part of the experience or set apart from it? Did you emote or try to remain aloof?
Get the picture? This is the type of questioning that should be part of your process of analysis when asked how an author re-creates an experience.
What Do I Do About the Comparison and Contrast Essay?
The comparison and contrast essay is not difficult, but it demands that you have organizational control over your material. First, carefully read the prompt and understand what you are being asked to compare and contrast. With this in mind, carefully read and annotate each of the given texts, looking for major points to support and illustrate your thesis. Next, decide on the structure you want to use to present your points:
- Point by point
- Subject by subject
- A combination of both of the preceding
"Working the Prompt"
As you did with the previous essay, the very first thing you must do is to read and deconstruct the prompt carefully. What follows is a sample prompt that you could find in the essay section of the exam.
- Plan to spend 1–3 minutes carefully reading the question.
- After this initial reading, highlight the essential terms and elements of the prompt.
Carefully read the following excerpt from Louisa May Alcott's nonfiction narrative Hospital Sketches (1863). In a carefully constructed essay, identify the author's intended effect on the reader and the ways in which the author re-creates her experience as a nurse in a U.S. Army hospital during the Civil War. Consider such elements as pacing, diction, imagery, selection of detail, and tone.
- Time yourself. How long did it take you? _____
- Compare your highlighting of the prompt with ours.
Carefully read the following excerpt from Louisa May Alcott's nonfiction narrative Hospital Sketches (1863). In a carefully constructed essay identify the author's intended effect on the reader and the ways in which the author re-creates her experience as a nurse in a U.S. Army hospital during the Civil War. Consider such elements as pacing, diction, imagery, selection of detail, and tone.
As before, anything else you may have highlighted is extraneous. Notice that the prompt asks you to do TWO things. You must both identify the effect on the audience and analyze how the author re-creates her experience. If you only address one of these areas, your essay will be incomplete, no matter how well written it is.
Review terms and strategies related to purpose, effect, organization.
Follow the process for reading the passage we illustrated for you in the first section of this chapter. Remember, you are going to do a close reading that requires you to highlight and make marginal notes (glosses) that refer you to the section of the prompt that this citation illustrates.
DO THIS NOW.
Spend between 8 and 10 minutes "working the material."
- Do not skip this step. It is key to scoring well on the essay.
"Death of a Soldier"
As I went on my hospital rounds with Dr. P., I happened to ask which man in the room suffered most. He glanced at John. "Every breath he draws is like a stab; for the ball pierced the left lung and broke a rib. The poor lad must lie on his wounded back or suffocate."
"You don't mean he must die, doctor?"
"There's not the slightest hope for him."
I could have sat down on the spot and cried heartily, if I had not learned the wisdom of bottling up one's tears for leisure moments. The army needed men like John, earnest, brave, and faithful; fighting for liberty and justice with both heart and hand.
John sat with bent head, hands folded on his knee, and no outward sign of suffering, till, looking nearer, I saw great tears roll down and drop upon the floor. It was a new sight there; for, though I had seen many suffer, some swore, some groaned, most endured silently, but none wept. Yet it did not seem weak, only very touching, and straightway my fear vanished, my heart opened wide and took him in. Gathering the bent head in my arms, as freely as if he had been a little child, I said, "Let me help you bear it, John."
Never, on any human countenance, have I seen so swift and beautiful a look of gratitude, surprise and comfort. He whispered, "Thank you, m'am, this is right good! I didn't like to be a trouble; you seemed so busy …"
I bathed his face, brushed his bonny brown hair, set all things smooth about him. While doing this, he watched me with the satisfied expression I so liked to see. He spoke so hopefully when there was no hope. "This is my first battle; do they think it's going to be my last?"
It was the hardest question I had ever been called upon to answer; doubly hard with those clear eyes fixed upon mine. "I'm afraid they do, John."
He seemed a little startled at first, pondered over the fateful fact a moment, then shook his head. "I'm afraid, but it's difficult to believe all at once. I'm so strong it don't seem possible for such a little wound to kill me." And then he said, "I'm a little sorry I wasn't wounded in front; it looks cowardly to be hit in the back, but I obeyed orders."
John was dying. Even while he spoke, over his face I saw a gray veil falling that no human hand can lift. I sat down by him, wiped drops from his forehead, stirred the air about him with a slow wave of a fan, and waited to help him die. For hours he suffered dumbly, without a moment's murmuring: his limbs grew cold, his face damp, his lips white, and again and again he tore the covering off his breast, as if the lightest weight added to his agony.
One by one, the other men woke, and round the room appeared a circle of pale faces and watchful eyes, full of awe and pity; for, though a stranger, John was beloved by all. "Old boy, how are you?" faltered one. "Can I say or do anything for you anywheres?" whispered another.
"Take my things home, and tell them that I did my best."
He died then; though the heavy breaths still tore their way up for a little longer, short they were but the waves of an ebbing tide that beat unfelt against the wreck. He never spoke again, but to the end held my hand close, so close that when he was asleep at last, I could not draw it away. Dan, another patient, helped me, warning me as he did so that it was unsafe for dead and living flesh to lie so long together. But though my hand was strangely cold and stiff, and four white marks remained across its back, even when warmth and color had returned elsewhere, I could not but be glad that, through its touch, the presence of human sympathy, perhaps had lightened that hard hour.
When they had made him ready for the grave, I stood looking at him. The lovely expression which so often beautifies dead faces soon replaced marks of pain. The ward master handed me a letter, saying it had come the night before but was forgot. It was John's letter, come just an hour too late to gladden the eyes that had longed for it so eagerly.
After I had cut some brown locks for his mother, and taken off the ring to send her, I kissed this good son for her sake, and laid the letter in his hand. Then I left him, glad to have known so genuine a man, and carrying with me an enduring memory of a brave Virginia blacksmith, as he lay serenely waiting for the dawn of that long day which knows no night.
Now, compare your reading notes with ours. As we said earlier, your notes may vary from ours, but the results should be similar in scope.
The Opening Paragraph
Remember, your opening paragraph is going to set the subject and tone of your entire essay. Make certain that your reader knows precisely where you intend to take him or her. This clarity of purpose will give your reader confidence in what you have to present. Some of the questions you should ask yourself about your opening paragraph include.
- Have you cited the author and title?
- Have you identified the author's intended effect on the reader?
- Have you specifically mentioned which strategies, devices, or elements you will consider in your analysis of Alcott's re-creation of her experience?
Remember, this information can be provided to your reader in may different ways.
You can be direct or inventive. Whatever you choose to do, be confident and clear.
Below are four sample opening paragraphs that address the prompt for the Louisa May Alcott analysis essay.
We recognized many areas we could develop in this analysis essay. Pacing is obvious in this brief narrative. Alcott tells of her experience in chronological order and uses a combination of short, direct sentences to balance longer, figurative ones. We could have just concentrated on dialog, but we chose to include it with our discussion of selection of detail, diction, imagery, and tone.
In Hospital Sketches, Louisa May Alcott presents a sentimental retelling of an episode she experienced as a Civil War nurse. As she tells of her encounter with a dying soldier, Alcott uses details, imagery and diction to make her reader emotionally identify with her and her subject. These strategies and devices evoke a sentimental and sorrowful response in the reader.
"John was dying." Such a direct statement for such a tragic and moving event. But, Louisa May Alcott does more than just objectively present a medical report of the death of a Civil War soldier in Hospital Sketches. Rather, through diction, selection of details, imagery and tone, Alcott emotionally involves her reader in this sentimental re-creation of one young blacksmith's death.
War is hell. But, occasionally an angel of mercy on a mission braves the horror to save a lost soul. Louisa May Alcott, a Civil War nurse, was such an angel—and perhaps her presence helped the troubled soul of a dying blacksmith reach the rewards of heaven he so deserved. Through imagery, diction, selection of detail and tone, Alcott allows her readers to join her in this sentimental and awe-inspiring narrative from Hospital Sketches.
My only previous connection with Louisa May Alcott was with Little Women. What a very different scene she presents in her story from Hospital Sketches. The reader is made to come face to face with the death of a wounded Civil War soldier as he is tended by a most caring nurse. This moving and sentimental narrative is developed through imagery, diction, selection of detail and tone.
Although each of these opening paragraphs is different, each does the expected job of an introductory AP Comp essay of analysis.
- Each cites the author and title.
- Each identifies the author's intended effect on the reader.
- Each states which strategies/devices will be discussed in the analysis of Alcott's narrative.
- Sample A restates the prompt directly. It is to the point without elaboration, but it enables the reader to immediately know the focus of the essay.
- Sample B uses a direct quotation from the text to grab the reader's attention. It is obvious that this is a writer who understands how language operates.
- Sample C imposes a personal viewpoint immediately and establishes a metaphor that will most likely be the unifying structure of the essay.
- Sample D makes reference to one of Alcott's other works as the scene is being set. The writer does not spend any additional time referring to the other work. It merely provides a kind of "stepping-stone" for both the writer and reader.
Let's take a look at what is different about each of these introductory paragraphs.
Into which of the above samples could your opening paragraph be classified?
Writing the Body of the Essay
What Should I Include in the Body of This Analysis Essay?
Your strategy here should be the same as on the previous essay:
- Present your analysis and your prompt-related points.
- Adhere to the question.
- Use specific references and details from the passage.
- Use connective tissue—repetition, "echo words," and transitions—to establish coherence.
For more detail, refer back to the first discussion of this subject, earlier in this chapter.
To understand the process, carefully read the sample paragraphs below. Each develops one of the elements asked for in the prompt and cited in the introductory paragraph. Notice the specific references and the "connective tissue." Also notice that details that do not apply to the Alcott prompt are ignored.
This Paragraph Develops Diction
Throughout her account, Alcott's diction manipulates emotional responses in her readers. Words such as "earnest," "brave" and "faithful" establish John as a soldier worthy of sympathy, while "liberty and justice" rally the reader to his side with their patriotic connotations. Once the reader is involved, Alcott directs the tragic scene with words intended to bring forth more negative emotional responses: "suffering, tears, groans, and wept" emphasize John's pain. Yet, when the author says, "very touching," "fear vanished," and "my heart opened wide," the reader also wants to help John bear his pain. Alcott balances the negative side of death by using words that will make the reader more at ease during this uncomfortable passage. "Beautiful, gratitude and comfort" relax the reader and allow him to feel good about Alcott and her caregiving. Then, her direction changes as the young man is dying. He is now "cold, damp, white, and in agony." When the reader's heart is breaking, Alcott chooses words to lift the moment. The other men are "full of awe and pity," like the reader. In this way, the diction unites the reader, John, and Alcott. She makes certain that her concluding choices are comforting and positive. The "hard hour" has been "lightened." His expression is now "lovely and beautiful."
This Paragraph Develops Selection of Details
Louisa May Alcott chooses very special details to include in her development of scene and character. Dialog is one of these details which provides tangible insights into the character of John. The immediacy and reality of John's inevitable death is brought straightforwardly home to the reader in paragraphs 2 and 3. "You don't mean he must die, doctor?" "There's not the slightest hope for him." John's politeness and unassuming personality are observed when we hear him respond to the nurse in paragraph 6. And, his youth and sense of honor are heartbreakingly presented in the dialog in paragraph 7 and the end of paragraph 9. This sense of duty and honor is reinforced with his last words, "… tell them I did my best." Selection of details also help the reader to understand and feel the horror of war and its casualties. The pain and coldness of death is almost brutally punctuated in paragraph 5 where Alcott chooses to emphasize others not crying while John does. Alcott chooses to tell us about the letter from John's mother that was not delivered until after his death to add more pathos and irony to an already tragic scene. And, to select the detail of her placing this letter into the dead soldier's hands prior to his burial heightens the reader's emotional involvement.
This Paragraph Develops Imagery
It might be easy to become dulled to pain in a war hospital filled with dying men. To prevent this and to personalize the experience, Alcott uses imagery to re-create the events of John's death. The reader can feel that "every breath he draws is like a stab." The image of suffocation tightens our throats as we read about his pain, but we, like Alcott, must learn to "bottle up our tears" as we envision through her simile the nurse as mother and soldier as child. The metaphor of "a grey veil falling that no human hand can lift" softens the death of the soldier while heightening the finality. The concluding metaphor reassures the reader of salvation as she, the writer, allows John into the "dawn of that very long day which knows no night."
This Paragraph Develops Tone
As a result of her selection of details, diction, and imagery, Louisa May Alcott creates a scene with a predominant tone of sorrow. Re-creating the death scene of this young soldier, the author chooses those details that emphasize that pain and sorrow, both in herself and in her patient. She chooses to tell of the undelivered letter prior to the soldier's death, which further reinforces the reader's sense of sorrow and pity. Words like "suffering," "wept," "cold," "white," "in agony," help to convey and evoke sadness in the reader. And, the piteous situation is further developed when John's face is described as "lovely and beautiful" after his death. Imagery is also employed to create this tone of sorrow or sadness. Images of suffering, loss, and grief throughout, together with the final metaphor of "a grey veil falling that no human hand can lift," sadly portray the passing of this young Virginian blacksmith into eternity.
DO THIS NOW.
- Write the body of your essay. Time yourself.
- Allow 15–20 minutes to write your body paragraphs.
Here are two actual student essays with comments on each.
Louisa May Alcott experiences the worst part of war—suffering. Each day brings her in contact with new bloodied men brought in on stretchers, and only a few walk out. She has to live with their souls on her mind. One soldier, John, is described as a "brave" young man who fought for "liberty and justice." But, he is suffering. Alcott writes with an emotional tone about this soldier whom she helps "live" through his final moments. She obviously retells this story so that her readers can begin to understand the anguish of war.
This chronologically organized story spans two hours, from life to the end of life. It is said that no man should die alone, and Alcott helps this young man to die with the comfort of one who cares for him. Alcott's diction includes adjectives to describe his slow drift towards heaven with words like "his limbs grew cold, his face damp, his lips white …" These characteristics added together with the metaphorically imposed "grey veil" all lead up to his death. John's last words, "tell them that I did my best," symbolize both his life and his death. From then on, he said nothing and waited to enter his next life. Though he dies, Alcott hangs on as if trying to keep him from leaving. When she finally lets him go, four white marks stay on her hand, symbolizing John's lasting presence.
"… Many suffered, some swore, some groaned, most endured silently, but none wept." However, John was the exception. He let his emotions go, and his pain was answered by a caring nurse. Alcott appeals to the reader's emotions with such words as "crying," "suffering," "pity," and "awe," that express the extremes of feeling present in the hospital ward. A man in pain, about to die, should be pitied, especially when his life is about to be cut short. All his childhood dreams are to go unfulfilled. It is a waste of a "genuine man." Alcott uses this not only to tell of her experiences in war, but also to clarify for her reader the devastation of war. Alcott's balanced sentences enhance her story. In paragraph 7, John says, "This is my first battle; do they think it will be my last?" Alcott uses this question to illustrate the shock soldiers feel when faced with death. How can anyone believe a doctor who tells him he is dying. This shock, on the part of the soldier illustrates the human horror of war—people die!
Alcott also uses irony to emphasize the sadness of this boy's death. Just an hour after he passes on, another doctor brings in a letter for John. It is just too late. If he had seen it, maybe it would have put one last sparkle in his eyes before he shut them forever.
The ending of the passage summarizes the entire experience of so many of those who fought in the Civil War. Here was a young man who was very human. He was an average boy from Virginia who worked as a blacksmith. He had had a regular life and a regular job until this terrible war. That was when this regular life ceased to exist: John's and pre–Civil War America.
Having witnessed this young soldier waiting for the "dawn of that long day which knows no night," people should cry and be awe struck at the consequences of war.
In this excerpt from Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott, she constructs her story to deeply move the reader by re-creating her personal experience as a nurse. Alcott's rhetorical strategies, including diction, imagery and selection of details, help to emphasize the pain and the sorrow which filled the U.S. Army hospital.
A reason why Alcott's excerpt was very successful in helping the reader understand the atmosphere during the Civil War is through her choice of words. The repetition of "hope," reveals that although she and John hoped that he would survive, it was inevitable that he would die, for he had been deeply hurt. Alcott reveals her sympathy and care for this man named John by asking the doctor how long he has to live. She also helps us understand that during the war precious lives were taken away. "The army needed men like John, earnest, brave and faithful." Alcott even reveals to her readers that having this companionship with John wasn't an easy job. She would have to answer heartbreaking questions, such as "Do they think it's going to be my last?" Telling a person that they won't live for long may be one of the hardest jobs Alcott may have had.
In addition to Alcott's diction, the details which she presents for her readers give the story an even more melancholy effect. She doesn't simply just state how many men were injured or how they were injured. Rather, she writes about her short encounter with the man named John. "John sat with head bent … and no outward sign of suffering, till … I saw great tears roll down and drop upon the floor." It's like this simple example shows the sadness and grief felt by this young man who was brave and fought for liberty. She reveals the soft side of a soldier. Alcott re-creates her experience by presenting the details of her relationship with John. "I sat down by him, wiped drops from his forehead, stirred air … waited to help him die." She even displays the gradual physical change of the dying human body. "His limbs grew cold, his face damp, his lips white …" She also includes a small conversation between John and an other injured man who, although a stranger, still had pity and sympathy for him. She also appeals to emotion by adding his mother in the story. She, as a friend, cuts his hair and kisses him for her instead at the grave.
Furthermore, the use of imagery also added to the re-creation of the Civil War scene. She describes John's pain as "every breath he draws is like a stab; for the ball pierced the right lung and broke a rib." With this quotation, it is evident that his pain was great. Alcott also shows the slow deterioration of John. "I saw a gray veil falling that no human hand can lift." This reveals that John's death is inevitable and there was nothing any human could do, but she could play the role of a friend. Alcott also displays the strength of John, how he wished to live, as "heavy breaths still tore their way up for a little longer."
Alcott describes her experience of the Civil War by telling a personal story. She reveals great love and generosity for John. Through this, it helps us understand the true power of human companionship.
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