A critical analysis (sometimes called a critique, critical summary, or book review) is a systematic analysis of an idea, text, or piece of literature that discusses its validity and evaluates its worth. A critical analysis usually includes a summary–a concise restatement of what a text says–and an evaluation–how well it says it. A critical analysis in literature, for example, might examine the style, tone, or rhetorical appeals of a text, while an analysis of a scientific paper might examine the methodology, accuracy, and relevance of the research.
A good critique will consider the following questions
- Who is the author, and what are his/her qualifications?
- What is the nature of the work (type, purpose, intended audience)?
- What is its significance? How does it compare to other material on the same subject? By the same author?
- What is the author's thesis?
- What is the organizational plan or method? Is it well conceived? Does it achieve the author's objectives?
- What are the underlying assumptions? Are they stated or do they lurk behind a stance of neutrality and objectivity?
- How do assumptions and biases affect the validity of the piece?
- Are arguments/statements supported by evidence? Is the evidence relevant? Sufficient?
- Is the author's methodology sound?
- What evidence or ideas has the author failed to consider?
- Are the author's judgments and conclusions valid?
- What rhetorical strategies does the author use? Are they effective?
A word about the thesis statement
Remember that no matter what format you follow in writing your critical analysis, it should have a thesis statement that establishes your approach to or opinion about the piece. Your thesis statement will not be the same as the original author's thesis statement. For example, say that the original author's thesis statement is “the moon is made of green cheese.” Your own thesis might be “the author's assertion that the moon is made of green cheese is ill-founded and is not supported with adequate evidence.”
Organizing the Critical Analysis
There are many models for writing a critical analysis. Some disciplines recommend breaking an analysis into two sections: The first section provides a summary of the content of the work, while the second section analyzes and evaluates the work. Other disciplines, in contrast, favor a model in which the summary and analysis are smoothly integrated. See the reverse side for two serviceable (if unembellished) formats for a critical analysis. Also, remember that length can vary from a paragraph to several pages.
Sample Critical Analysis — Two-Part Structure
In “Nature Cannot be Fooled,” [title] originally published in 1998 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, [date and source] Washington University Professor Jonathan Katz[author name and descriptor] contends [active verb] that American Society denies reality, living instead as if its “wished-for fictions” were “true” [paraphrase (and partial quotation) of author's thesis]. Katz further [transition] argues[active verb] that this distorted view of reality manifests itself in many negative ways—from public health policy to education. [list of key ideas]
(Note that the evaluative terms are bold-faced for the purposes of illustration only.)
Unfortunately, Katz fails to support his argument. His commentary relies onfallacies, unsupported claims, and opinions rather than on logical statements, supported claims, and facts. Therefore, even though Katz expresses much passion, he fails to offer a persuasive argument. [Use your own thesis statement to provide an organizational plan for the paper.]
The body paragraphs should analyze particular components of the work. For instance, in an analysis of the Katz commentary, the body would offer specific illustrations of the flawed passages in Katz's commentary; these illustrations would support the analytical claims that you are making about the work. The focus, then, is objective analysis, not subjective response.
The conclusion may restate the author's thesis, but the main purpose of the conclusion should be to emphasize your assessment of the writer's work.
Sample Critical Analysis — Integrated Model
One technique for integrating a summary and an evaluation is simply to merge the two separate sections (like the examples above) into a single introductory paragraph. Another technique is to synthesize the summary and evaluative comments, as in the following sample introduction:
In 1936, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” for an audience of literary scholars of his own day. Thus, the essay can pose some difficulties for modern readers, who may not be familiar with literary history or the specific critics to whom Tolkien refers. In addition, Tolkien's diction is formal and quite dense. Nevertheless, he offers a persuasive and masterful defense of Beowulf, one of England's most beloved works. [Our thesis] Tolkien argues that Beowulf scholars are wrong to mine the poem solely for historic evidence about the Anglo-Saxon period, rather than reading it as a great and inspiring work of literature. [Tolkien's thesis] Although he agrees that its historical value is high, he shows that Beowulf is so powerful as a poem that its literary qualities far outshine its historical value.
Teresa Sweeney & Fran Hooker Webster University Writing Center, 2005
Do you love a good monster movie? Do you enjoy a gruesome fight between the hero of the story and the evil nemesis? If you do, I bet you’d love to read an epic poem translated from Old English about monsters and a hero, right?
Okay, so epic poetry translated from Old English may not seem as exciting as the latest Hollywood blockbuster.
But if you need to write an essay about Beowulf, then you’ll need to manage to drum up at least a little interest in the story. (And if you can get past the idea that you’re reading a poem, rather than watching a movie, the story is actually pretty cool.)
If you’ve mustered all the interest you can but you’re still struggling to figure out what to write about, here’s how to survive your Beowulf essay.
How to Survive Writing Your Beowulf Essay
In order to write a literary analysis worthy of a passing grade, you need to first figure out what you want to write about.
Yeah, I know, this seems like basic advice, but without a solid start to your paper, you’ll likely end up with a paper about Beowulf that lacks a clear thesis or focus.
Need a few broad topics to help you focus your thoughts? Here are five ideas to get you started.
1. Examine Beowulf as part of the epic poem genre
An epic poem is a long poem that tells the story of a hero’s journey, generally through battles with supernatural beings.
Most agree that Beowulf is an epic poem because it contains the key components:
- A tale told in the form of a lengthy poem.Beowulf is certainly a long poem that tells the journey of its main characters.
- A hero. The protagonist, Beowulf, is a traditional heroic figure, full of honor and courage.
- A supernatural being (usually the antagonist). Grendel, the supernatural being (sometimes seen as a monster or dragon) is the antagonist who battles Beowulf.
Writer’s survival tip: When demonstrating how Beowulf fits into the genre of epic poetry, you may also consider comparing and contrasting Beowulf to other epic poems, such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid. Using additional examples helps readers see how this poem compares to other well-known epic poems.
2. Compare the poem Beowulf to other interpretations
Beowulf has been interpreted in countless ways, including films, novels, graphic novels, plays, novels, and video games.
Writing a compare and contrast essay about Beowulf means you will compare at least two interpretations. But depending on the length and of scope of your paper, you might want to include three or four interpretations.
Writer’s survival tip: Before you start writing a compare and contrast essay, make sure you establish a few key points of comparison.
For instance, you might compare:
- How the characters of Beowulf and Grendel are developed in different interpretations.
- The varied storylines in different interpretations.
- Visual interpretations of characters or scenes.
If you want help outlining your ideas, read This Compare and Contrast Essay Outline Will Help You Beat Writer’s Block.
3. Importance of point of view
Beowulf is told by a partially omniscient, third-person narrator. This means that the narrator isn’t part of the story.
He (or she) is looking in from an objective viewpoint and telling the story to readers. The narrator knows what the characters are thinking and feeling, and presents this information to readers through the telling of the story.
Writer’s survival tip: If you’re writing about point of view, consider why this point of view is important. How would the story look if it were told from Beowulf’s point of view or Grendel’s point of view? What information would readers not understand if the poem was written through another type of narration?
The theme is essentially an underlying meaning of a piece of literature.
There are a number of themes in Beowulf, so it’s probably not a smart idea to try to write about all of them in one essay (unless you’re writing a really looong essay, of course).
If you’re writing about a theme, here are a few options:
- Good vs. evil. This one is pretty obvious. Beowulf is the good guy fighting against evil (represented by Grendel). You might also want to note that Beowulf isn’t just one person fighting against the evils of the world. In many cases, he’s fighting for humanity.
- Courage. Beowulf is the hero of this story, so it only makes sense that he shows amazing courage in battle and is willing to die for his convictions.
- Identity. From Beowulf to Grendel to kings, spouses, and children, almost all of the characters are continually attempting to prove themselves and establish their identities through contests, fights, and a general bragging about how great they are and what great things they’ve done. (You know, kind of like that annoying classmate who does nothing but brag on every social media website known to humankind.)
Writer’s survival tip: Remember, in order to write a strong literary analysis, you need to include sufficient evidence to support your claims. Include specific scenes, examples, and dialogue in your paper to support your thesis.
In literature (as in life) things aren’t always what they seem. Literature often uses symbols (objects or actions that represent or mean something else). For instance, a dove generally symbolizes peace.
If you’re writing about symbolism in your Beowulf essay, you probably won’t write about all of the symbols in the poem, but you might include a few key symbols as you discuss their importance.
Here are a two symbols you might consider:
- The mead hall. The mead hall is a place for warriors to gather, to share friendship, and to brag about themselves. (Kind of like hanging out at a club or posting on social media.) The mead hall symbolizes community.
- The cave. The cave provides shelter for Grendel and his mother. It’s a place for them to hide and to feel safe from the world. The cave symbolizes the monsters and their lives as pariahs. (They are excluded from the community.)
Writer’s survival tip: If you’re writing about both the mead hall and the cave, take note that these two symbols are polar opposites, one symbolizing community and the other symbolizing isolation.
A Little (More) Help
If writing about literature isn’t your strong point (or your most favorite way to spend an evening) and you’d like a little more help with putting your paper together, check out these resources:
Need to write a character analysis on Beowulf? Read these resources:
Whatever type of Beowulf essay you’re writing, explore these sample essays about Beowulf for added inspiration.
Have you written your Beowulf essay and feel like you barely survived? Let a Kibin editor throw you a lifeline!
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.