Close Reading / Interpretive Argument

5-page essay. Draft due Wednesday, February 20; revision due Wednesday, February 27

For your second graded essay, you’ll write a 5-page interpretive argument grounded in a close reading of one of the fictions we’re reading or watching this unit: George Bernard Shaw and Anthony Asquith’s film Pygmalion, Stacey Richter’s short story “Twin Study,” or an episode of Justin Simien’s television series Dear White People.

Take a scholarly approach, and explore in depth a striking detail or pattern you’ve spotted, noting what you find interesting about that element, what questions it raises or speaks to, and how this aspect of the work contributes to the broader meaning of the movie, short story, or TV episode.

Below are some guidelines/suggestions. Note that you’re not required to relate your analysis of the movie, story, or TV episode to a question of identity.



  • Audience
    • Write for readers who may be unfamiliar with the work you’re writing about
    • Orient your readers to the work by providing any basic plot information they might need in order to follow your discussion.
      • Early in the essay, briefly summarize the work you’re writing about.
      • As your essay unfolds, keep your readers’ needs in mind. So when you refer to a plot detail or character you haven’t yet mentioned, briefly introduce it
  • Motive: In your introduction, establish a focus and motive for your essay
    1. Describe the pattern or detail you seek to decipher or elucidate the significance of
    2. Explain why this element is surprising or puzzling, why it requires interpretation, or why it’s more significant than it might at first appear
    3. Implicitly or explicitly articulate the question your essay will address—a question that is not a matter of fact, but a matter of interpretation
    4. End your introduction by summing up your answer to the question you’ve raised, your claim about the pattern or element you’ve chosen to explore—in short, your thesis
      • A strong thesis will make a claim that is arguable and plausible but not irrefutably true—a claim you yourself find convincing based on your assessment of the evidence, but one about which reasonable people might disagree.
      • The idea here is not to provide the single right answer to a cut-and-dried question, but to contribute your best insight to an ongoing debate about a matter of interpretation.
  • Conclusion
    • In the last paragraph or two, zoom out and connect your narrowly focused, in-depth analysis to the bigger picture by explaining how your close reading of a detail shapes your understanding of the work as a whole
    • If you’d like (and if appropriate), you can link your discussion of the fiction to an idea about identity (for instance, by suggesting what the work seems to imply about identity)

Evidence and Analysis

  • In the course of your essay, analyze in depth three or four passages or scenes that exemplify a pattern you consider central to the work’s impact or meaning.
  • In interpreting a passage or scene, support your interpretive claims by pointing to concrete details that help account for your take on the passage or scene—details that contribute to the impression that passage or scene makes
  • Conversely, when presenting evidence, be sure to spell out how you’re interpreting that evidence. Don’t assume the evidence can speak for itself
  • In addition to citing evidence and articulating an interpretive claim, be sure to “connect the dots” by analyzing the evidence, explaining step by step how you arrive at your interpretation of it


  • You are not required to cite secondary sources.
  • If you wish to cite a source not linked to the course website, please clear it with me ahead of time.
  • Cite sources using MLA documentation style (parenthetical page references), and provide a list of works cited at the end of the essay.

Formatting and Turning in Your Essay

  • Essays should be typewritten and double spaced, with a 1-inch or 1.25-inch margin.
  • Submit electronic copies of your drafts and revision through our canvas website
  • Hand in a hard copy of your revised essay in class