Critical Response Essay – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

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Critical Response Essay – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Critical Response Essay – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

In this class, you will produce a short critical essay on each of the literary works we explore; the first will be on the novel: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

An essay performing literary criticism is one which argues for interpretation of a text. If you are writing a short essay on a long work (as we are doing here), this inevitably means picking only specific sections in the text to discuss. You should assume that your reader has already read the literature and knows the basics, allowing you to skip a lot of summary and get to the business of talking about meaning. Essays which simply summarize the plot will not be considered passing work.

A strong essay will include the following elements:
An introduction which establishes the text that you are writing about and the key question about the text that you’ll be trying to answer with your essay. Every introduction should FINISH with a clear thesis statement that answers your key question. A thesis in a literary analysis is a statement of meaning, interpreting the point of the text.
A series of body paragraphs which point out specific details from the text, incorporating quotes from the text, and discuss what those details mean in a way that helps prove the thesis. It is wise to begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that indicates a particular section of the book and how it helps prove the thesis. Then, discuss that section in a bit more detail, using quotations, and follow up by explaining what you see as the meaning of those details in terms of how they prove your thesis. Be very careful about over-summarizing. Remember, your reader is familiar with the book; you are trying to impress the reader by noticing things that they might have missed and understanding meanings/messages that they might have failed to grasp.
A conclusion which restates the thesis and offers some closing thoughts about the significance of the work.

MLA format is expected for in text citation of quotes and bibliography.

While I want you to feel free to take up any topic you want with this essay, if you struggle to come up with an idea, consider these questions/prompts:
HP is a coming-of-age story and a fairly traditional hero’s journey. In what ways does Harry change over the course of the narrative, how does he do so, and what does this say about human development and transition into adulthood?
What social systems and frameworks exist within the world of the novel, implicit or explicit (consider the sorting hat, but also consider the trio of heroes and the roles they take on). How does one arrive into their role? What is the message implied in these systems?
Identify an important symbolic image or object within the story – it may be frequently recurring (such as Harry’s scar) or merely appearing in one or two scenes (such as the Mirror of Erised). What does it mean? What ideas/values are associated with it, and how do you know? Use the symbol and your interpretation of it to branch off into a greater discussion of the theme/message of the literature.
Choose an underlying theme that you see in the novel (qualities being hidden within, how our personal history shapes our experience, class politics, etc) and argue for what meaning/message the text has about that theme.

General tips
1. Mention the author, title, general themes, and thesis in your intro statement, but don’t use examples in it.
2. Explain how the literary techniques convey ideas, but don’t define literary terms in your essay. (i.e. you can talk about symbols or metaphors, but don’t define the words “symbol” or “metaphor” – I already know what they mean).
3. Work all quotes smoothly into grammatical sentences that explain how and why the quote supports your thesis. Don’t begin paragraphs with quotes.
4. Don’t discuss the fact that you are writing a paper. Just state your points and prove them.
5. Don’t repeat "in the story" over and over. Your professor knows the context already.
6. Use topic sentences in each paragraph. The topic sentence should link the examples in the paragraph to your general thesis/point.
7. Write in the present tense, even if the literature was written in the past tense.
8. Print out your paper and read it slowly before handing it in. Read it out loud if possible.
9. Don’t say "I" in the essay, and say "the reader" or "the audience" instead of "you."

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