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– Please read the chapter about Analyzing Stories- Then, write at least 500 words in your reflecting on the reading
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10
Analyzing Stories
Stories have a special place in most cultures. Sharing stories strengthens the bonds of
family and community: Elders relate family and cultural history through stories; children
learn lessons through fables and parables; people of all ages use stories to express feelings, work out conflicts, and entertain themselves and others. Reading stories stimulates
our feelings and imagination, allowing us to escape our everyday routine and become
aware of the wider world around us. Stories can lead us to look at others with sensitivity
and, for a brief time, to see the world through another person’s eyes. They can also lead
us to see ourselves differently, to gain insight into our innermost feelings and thoughts.
The short stories presented in this chapter may in some respects remind you of
the essays about remembered events you read and wrote in Chapter 2. As you may
recall, essays about remembered events convey significance primarily through vivid
descriptive detail showing people in particular places engaged in some kind of dramatic
action. Fictional stories work the same way, except that the people in them are called
characters, places are called setting, the dramatic action is called plot, and the significance is called theme or meaning.
Good stories tend to be enigmatic in that they usually do not reveal themselves
fully on first reading. That is why it can be so enjoyable and enlightening to analyze
stories and discuss them with other readers. Even very short stories can elicit fascinating
analyses. For example, Ernest Hemingway wrote this six-word story, which he reportedly claimed was his best work:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Upon first reading, you might think you have gotten everything there is to get from
the story. But consider the following questions:
It looks like an ad, but who would try to sell baby shoes, and why? What is the
relationship between the person trying to sell the shoes and the baby for whom
the shoes were originally bought?
If the person is a parent, what does selling the shoes suggest?
If the person is someone unrelated to the baby, how did that person get the shoes,
and why is he or she selling them?
Could the person selling the shoes be someone who wanted a baby but lost or
never had one? Or is he or she more likely to be someone who simply bought the
wrong size shoes and didn’t return them?
Who would be a potential buyer for the shoes?
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CHAPTER 10 Analyzing Stories
If the story is about the death of a child, how old was the child, and what were the
circumstances of his or her death? If there is no death involved, what are the circumstances: Is the baby unable to walk or wear shoes? Was he or she taken away
from the person who placed the ad? Or were the shoes simply a bad purchase?
Where and when was the ad written? (In a country where there are land mines?
In a time of severe economic depression?)
Why is the story so short? Could the brevity say something about emotion?
Could the fact that the story is written in the form of an advertisement suggest
something about commercialism?
As these questions imply, even the shortest story can be analyzed and discussed in
ways that enhance its possible meanings and enrich your reading experience.
In this chapter, we ask you to write an analysis of a story. Analyzing the selections in
the Guide to Reading that follows will help you learn the basic features and strategies
writers typically use when writing about stories. The readings, as well as the questions and
discussion surrounding them, will help you consider strategies you might want to try out
when writing your own analysis.
PRACTICING THE GENRE
Analyzing a Story Collaboratively
Although writing about stories is an important academic kind of discourse, many people
who are not in school enjoy discussing stories and writing about how a story resonates in
their lives. That is why book clubs, reading groups, and online discussion forums are so
popular. Talking and writing about stories we have read and seen can help us understand
why a particular story may be moving or thought-provoking. Sharing the experience with
others exposes us to different ways of interpreting and responding to stories — expanding our
openness to new perspectives, deepening our insight, and enhancing our pleasure.
To benefit from this kind of discussion with others, work together on an analysis of one
story with two or three other students. Here are some guidelines to follow:
Part 1.
Get together with students who have read the same story from An Anthology of Short
Stories that begins on p. 495.
Begin by discussing one question from the Analyze & Write section following the
story your group read. (During the discussion, you may go on to answer other
questions as well.)
Part 2. After you have discussed the story for half of the time allotted for this activity,
reflect on the process of analyzing the story in your group:
Before you began, what were your expectations of how the group would work
together? For example, did you think your group should or would agree on one
“right answer” to the questions, or did you expect significant disagreement? What
actually happened once you began to discuss the story?
How did the discussion affect your attitude about the story or about the process of
analyzing stories? What, if anything, did you learn?
Your instructor may ask you to write about what you learned and to present your conclusions to the rest of the class.
GUIDE TO READING
Analyzing Essays That Analyze Stories
In the Readings section of this chapter, you will see how different authors analyze
the same short story: “The Use of Force” by William Carlos Williams (pp. 501–3).
Examining how these writers present an arguable thesis about the story, support this
thesis, and guide readers through their argument will help you write an insightful
literary analysis of your own.
Determine the writer’s purpose and audience.
When reading the short story analysis essays that appear in this chapter, ask yourself
the following questions:
What seems to be the writer’s main purpose — for example, to illuminate the story;
to change or expand the way readers understand the story; or to impress readers
with the writer’s insight and close reading?
What does the writer assume about the audience? The short story analyses from
this chapter were written by students in a college course in which the entire class
had read the same story. These writers assumed that their primary reader, the
instructor, not only had read the story but also knew a fair amount about its con
text and the conversation surrounding it — enough, at least, to be able to judge
whether the essayist had read the story with sufficient care and thought. In cases
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story and its author are not necessary.
Assess the genre’s basic features.
As you read the essays that analyze stories in this chapter, you will see how different
writers incorporate the basic features of the genre. The following discussions of these
features include examples from the essays as well as sentence strategies you can
experiment with later, as you write your own analysis of a story.
Basic Features
A Clear, Arguable Thesis
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A CLEAR, ARGUABLE THESIS
Read fi rst to fi nd thethesis statement, which is often one or two sentences long but that may
run to several paragraphs. A good thesis statement in an essay analyzing a story
asserts the main idea or claim;
is arguable, not a simple statement of fact (for example, “ ‘The Use of Force’ tells
the story of a doctor’s visit to a sick little girl”) or an obvious conclusion (for
example, “The doctor grows frustrated by the little girl’s behavior”);
is appropriately qualified, not overgeneralized or exaggerated (for example, “The
behavior of the doctor at the center of ‘The Use of Force’ shows that no medical
professional can be trusted”);
is clearly stated, not vague or ambiguous.
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CHAPTER 10 Analyzing Stories
Often, the thesis is part of an introduction that is at least a paragraph in length. In
most cases, this introduction identifies the story being analyzed by giving the title and
author, and it may also provide some historical, biographical, or cultural context. In
effective writing, the thesis and other sentences in the opening paragraph (or paragraphs) introduce key terms for ideas that are echoed and further developed later in
the essay. In this way, the introductory sentences and thesis forecast how the argument
will be developed.
Inexperienced writers are sometimes afraid to ruin the surprise by forecasting
their argument at the beginning of their essays. But explicit forecasting is a convention of literary analysis, similar in purpose to the abstract that precedes many articles
in academic journals.
Take a look at Iris Lee’s lead-up to the thesis in her essay on “The Use of Force.”
In it, she introduces key terms that are repeated (exactly, closely, or through synonyms)
and underscored in her thesis:
Key terms
Thesis
The Hippocratic Oath binds doctors to practice ethically and, above all, to “do no
harm. ” The doctor narrating William Carlos Williams’s short story “The Use of
Force” comes dangerously close to breaking that oath, yet ironically is able to justify
his actions by invoking his professional image and the pretense of preserving his
patient’s well-being. As an account of a professional doing harm under the pretense of healing, the story uncovers how a doctor can take advantage of the intimate
nature of his work and his professional status to overstep common forms of
conduct, to the extent that his actions actually hurt rather than help a patient. In
this way, the doctor-narrator actually performs a valuable service by warning readers,
indirectly through his story, that blindly trusting members of his profession can have
negative consequences. (par. 1)
Sometimes, the thesis of a literary analysis contradicts or complicates a surface
reading of a work. Look for sentence strategies like this one:
A [common/superficial] reading of
[title by author] is that
[insert your own interpretation].
reading], but in fact
[surface
In Isabella Wright’s essay on “The Use of Force,” the surface reading actually appears in the sentences leading up to the thesis. A transitional sentence and a transitional word introduce the contradiction/complication that constitutes the thesis:
Surface reading
Transitional sentence
Transitional word
Contradiction/
complication
460
By any reasonable standards, the story of a doctor prying a little girl’s mouth open
as she screams in pain and fear should leave readers feeling nothing but horror and
disgust at the doctor’s actions. William Carlos Williams’s story “The Use of Force”
is surprising in that it does not completely condemn the doctor for doing just that.
Instead, through his actions and words (uttered or thought), readers are able to see
the freeing, transformative power of breaking with social conventions. (par. 1)
Analyzing Essays That Analyze Stories
GUIDE TO READING
GUIDE TO WRITING
A WRITER AT WORK
THINKING CRITICALLY
A WELL-SUPPORTED ARGUMENT
Consider how the writer provides support for the argument. Because essays analyzing stories
usually present new ideas that are not obvious and that readers may disagree with,
writers need to make an argument that includes
reasons — the supporting ideas or points that develop the essay’s thesis or main
claim;
evidence or examples from the story;
explanations or analyses showing how the examples support the argument.
In addition, writers may provide other kinds of support — for example, quotations from
experts or historical, biographical, or cultural evidence. But textual evidence from the
work of literature is the primary support readers expect in literary analysis essays.
Evidence from the text often takes the form of quotation of words, phrases, sentences, and, occasionally, even paragraphs. Quoting is the most important method of
providing support for essays that analyze short stories, but effective writers do not
expect a quotation to do the work by itself. Instead, they analyze the language of the
story to show how particular words’ connotations, their figurative use in images and
metaphors, or their symbolism enrich the story’s meanings.
When reading a literary analysis, look for sentence strategies like this one:
[type of evidence from the text], such as “
[quotations] [illustrates/demonstrates/shows]
” and “
[analysis].

Now look at the extended example from paragraph 4 of Iris Lee’s essay. In this
excerpt, Lee supports an assertion about the author’s use of “militaristic diction” by
quoting from several parts of the story:
Examples of militaristic diction include calling his struggle with the girl a
“battle” (502), the tongue depressor a “wooden blade” (503), his bodily
effort an “assault” (503). She too is a party in this war, moving from fighting
“on the defensive” to surging forward in an attack (503). Such metaphors of
fighting and warfare, especially those associated with the doctor and his actions,
figuratively convey that his character crosses a crucial boundary. They present the
argument that, despite his honorable pretentions, his actions — at least during the
height of his conflict with the girl — align more with violence than with healing. The
doctor’s thoughts even turn more obviously (and more consciously) violent at times,
such as when, in a bout of frustration, he wants “to kill” the girl’s father, (502)
or when he says, “I could have torn the child apart in my own fury and enjoyed it”
(503). Although these statements are arguably exaggerated, they, like the metaphors
of war, imply a tendency to do harm that goes directly against the narrator’s duty as a
doctor. While the story’s opening introduces him as a person whose occupation is
reason to overcome the parents’ distrust, by the end of the story he leaves his readers
thoroughly horrified by his forceful handling of the little girl. By investigating the
calculated artifice and military metaphors, we might conclude that the narrator is conscious
both of his deceptive rhetoric and of the harm it allows him to inflict upon his patient.
Supporting
quotations
Description of evidence
Analysis
Writer’s
conclusions
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CHAPTER 10 Analyzing Stories
In addition to quoting, evidence can also take the form of summary or paraphrase.
Writers can use this type of evidence to set up an extended close textual analysis like
that shown on the preceding page. Or they might use summary or paraphrase in brief
snippets of analysis, as in sentence strategies like the following:
When [summarize what happens or paraphrase what is said in the story], readers can
.
readily see
For more on quotation,
summary, and paraphrase,
see Chapter 26, pp. 701–8.
Key terms
Summary
For example, to support her thesis, Isabella Wright summarizes the doctor’s
conflict with the girl instead of describing it in detail. The summary is introduced
by repeating key terms from the thesis statement:
The doctor also breaks with social conventions by willingly engaging in a physical
struggle with the little girl. (par. 5)
A CLEAR, LOGICAL ORGANIZATION
To make the argument in a literary analysis easy to follow, writers usually include
some or all of the following:
Topic sentences introducing paragraphs or groups of paragraphs (often using key
terms from the thesis statement)
Key terms — words or phrases — introduced in the thesis or other introductory
text as a way of forecasting the development of the argument (see the previous
section); these key terms are repeated strategically throughout the essay
Clear transitional words and phrases (such as “although,” “in addition,” and “at
the story’s beginning”)
Writers tend to place topic sentences at or near the beginning of a paragraph because
these sentences help readers make sense of the details, examples, and explanations
that follow. Often, topic sentences repeat key terms from the thesis or other introductory text. Look, for example, at the first topic sentence of Iris Lee’s essay, which
repeats key terms from the introduction in paragraph 1.
Key terms
In the way the story and its characters introduce us to the narrator, we see how
people automatically grant a doctor status and privilege based on his profession
alone, creating an odd sort of intimacy that is uncommon in ordinary social
relations. (par. 2)
The paragraph then gives examples of the extreme politeness the young patient’s
parents show to the doctor, and in describing and analyzing the scene, Lee repeats the
words “privilege” and “intimacy.”
Topic sentences can also serve as transitions from one paragraph to the next. In
reading literary analyses, look for sentence strategies like the following:
[In comparison with/in contrast to/in addition to/because of]
[subject
[subject B (discussed in this
A (discussed in the previous paragraph)],
paragraph)].
Lee
Performing a Doctor’s Duty
GUIDE TO READING
GUIDE TO WRITING
A WRITER AT WORK
THINKING CRITICALLY
463
In her analysis of “The Use of Force,” Isabella Wright uses this strategy:
EXAMPLE
In contrast to the little girl’s parents, the doctor breaks social conventions in
his interactions with the family and in doing so highlights the absurdity of
these rules. (par. 3)
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Notice that Wright repeats the phrase “social conventions,” which she introduces
in her thesis.
Readings
The following essays by students Iris Lee and Isabella Wright analyze the short story
“The Use of Force,” by William Carlos Williams (pp. 501–3). As you will see, both Lee
and Wright attempt to answer questions that many readers have asked of this story:
What is the purpose — aside from vividly describing his anger and frustration — of
portraying a doctor’s use of force on an uncooperative patient? What larger points are
being made? Lee and Wright arrive at different answers to these questions. By reading
their essays, you will learn a great deal about how writers argue for their own analysis
of a story.
Iris Lee
Performing a Doctor’s Duty
WRITTEN FOR A FIRST:EAR COMPOSITION COURSE, this essay by Iris Lee em
phasizes the “doctor’s duty.” As you read, consider the following:
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Also consider the questions in the margin. :our instructor may ask you to post your answers
to a class blog or discussion board or to bring them to class.
Basic Features
1
The Hippocratic Oath binds doctors to practice ethically and, above all, to “do no
A Clear, Arguable Thesis
harm. ” The doctor narrating William Carlos Williams’s short story “The Use of Force”
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actions by invoking his professional image and the pretense of preserving his patient’s
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the story uncovers how a doctor can take advantage of the intimate nature of his work
and his professional status to overstep common forms of conduct, to the extent that
464
CHAPTER 10 Analyzing Stories
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