How to Write the Critical Essay

Professors and instructors across America ask students to write critical essays on various topics. The list of topics is endless, and so are the possibilities. However, the literary critical essay is the most common. This essay type requires a specific thought process-one that helps you understand and evaluate the subject without allowing your personal prejudices to impinge upon it. A critical essay does not criticize in a negative manner, as is often presumed. The essay requires you to explain and analyze the given material and present your thoughts in an unbiased and logical manner.
The Thought Process: The first requirement while writing the critical essay is to understand the material well.
• What is it about?
• Who is the writer?
• What does the writer want to say about the subject?
• How has the writer presented the ideas?
• What are the strengths and weaknesses?
• How successful is the writer in presenting the ideas?
• What are the loopholes in the material?
• What aspects do I want to evaluate-why, how?
Thesis: Now, it’s time to concentrate on the focus of your essay. For example, if you want to critique D.H Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, what is the basis of your critique? Which aspects do you want to consider? Is it the language, the images, the theme, the psychological aspect, the inter relationships, the position of women, or is it about social structure as reflected in the novel, or a combination of some of these factors? You need to capture this focus in a thesis statement. This statement forms the soul of the essay and guides its development and structure. Consider this: “In Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence creates a fascinating and intricate picture of the equations of power between men and women through subtle play of language, heavy symbolism, and crafty plot.” This thesis reflects the analysis of what Lawrence does and how he does it.
Summary: With the thesis in place, it is time to summarize the text (first body paragraph). This helps readers relate to the subject better, and thus, in turn, convince them more effectively.
Analysis: The analysis paragraphs follow close upon the summary. An analysis tells us what, when, how, and why of a matter. It is not enough to say D.H Lawrence uses symbolism. You need to say what type of symbolism, how it works in the text, and whether and how it is effective within the text. This also requires the writer to substantiate his/her ideas. Can you prove that Lawrence’s use of subtle language highlights the intricacies of power equations? How? Give examples from the text so the reader is convinced that you know your stuff. Each paragraph should deal with a different, though related aspect of the analysis. Therefore, you could have symbolism in one paragraph, language in another and psychological insight in a third.
The aim of the critical essay is thus to review and present it in a systematic and unbiased manner. This essay type hones a writer’s ability to evaluate, think logically, and remain unbiased.