Key Features of a Textual Analysis Essay
A summary of the text.
Your readers may not know the text you are analyzing, so you need to include it or tell them about it before you can analyze it. Because Safire’s text is so well-known, he describes it only briefly as “Abraham Lincoln’s words at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery.” Texts that are not so well-known require a more detailed summary. Berry include the texts—and images—she analyzes and also describes them in detail.
Attention to the context.
Texts don’t exist in isolation: they are influenced by and contribute to ongoing conversations, controversies, or debates, so to understand the text, you need to understand the larger context. Berry explains that beauty and fashion products have “for decades…established a sort of misplaced control over our lives.” Safire notes the source of the phrase “of the people, by the people, for the people” and is clearly writing in the context of the United States after 9/11. A clear interpretation or judgment.
Your goal in analyzing a text is to lead readers through careful examination of the text to some kind of interpretation or reasoned judgment, generally announced clearly in a thesis statement. When you interpret something, you explain what you think it means, as Berry does when she argues that the “pioneering” shoe ads effectively tie their products to a woman’s “quest for confident individuality.” She might instead have chosen to judge the manipulation of the ads, explaining that no matter the message, beautiful models make it better. Reasonable support for your conclusions.
Written analysis of a text is generally supported by evidence from the text itself and sometimes from other sources. The writer might support his or her interpretation by quoting words or passages from a written text or referring to images in a visual text. Safire, for example, looks at Lincoln’s repetition of the word “dedicate” in the Gettysburg Address as a way of arguing that the speech was still relevant in 2002, on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Berry examines patterns of both character and setting in her analysis of the two ads. Note that the support you offer for your interpretation need only be “reasonable”—there is never any one way to interpret something.
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