A response to literature is, in many ways, the same as a response to a statement.
Think of a conversation or a discussion. One person says something, puts forward an argument or states a position, and the other responds by stating their position, opinion, or counterargument.
A response inherently draws from something else – it doesn’t and cannot stand alone. A response to literature, likewise, relies on a piece of literature to prop it up, to which it can act as a companion. It is drawn from this, and while it may not necessarily agree with the original text, without prior knowledge of the piece of literature it is removed from, it won’t make much sense to the reader.
In response to a literature essay, you give your opinion on a text through a reasoned argument.
What is the purpose of a response to a literature essay?
A response to a literature essay is to provide context on and criticism of the original text. You do this by proposing a theory about the original text your essay sets out to prove or disprove. You then detail why you believe this theory, using textual elements as evidence. If you’ve done it right, your argument should be proved or disproved at the end, just as you proposed.
Writing a response to a literature essay allows you to dive deeply into the original novel or poem. You can get to grips with the plot and characters, analyze the settings, and think about what messages the author wanted to convey; this helps you to gain a much better understanding of the text. It can also help others who read your essay because they should understand the text better.
Essentially, when you write a response to literature, you’re acting as a literary critic. You don’t have to like or dislike the text – you have to write about it in a way that demonstrates your understanding to the point where you can prove your theory.
What are the features of a response to a literature essay?
A response to a literature essay typically follows a particular structure like this:
You should start your response to the literature essay with a thesis statement, explaining the elements of the text you want to concentrate on and the points you wish to make about it; this may be a theory you want to prove or disprove based on the evidence provided in the text by the author.
There are numerous different elements you can choose from when you’re deciding what to concentrate on. These include:
- Themes or morals
- Background to the novel, such as contemporary social or political issues
- The author’s writing style
A good statement will propose a question or theory about one of these elements – or a different element of your choosing. It should simply explain what point you’re setting out to prove. Keep your statement short, as you’ll go on to present evidence and prove your point.
In this section of your response to the literature essay, you should talk about the elements of the original text that sparked your question or theory. For example, the characters and settings and how they relate to your view. What evidence do these elements provide that strengthens your case?
It is where you demonstrate your thorough understanding of the text by delving into the characters and settings. Explain why and how you believe the author has portrayed them in a certain way. These things all provide essential background information and give context to your argument.
Concrete details are facts about the text that can’t be argued with or interpreted differently. These are the actual events within the text and any background information the author has provided about social, economic, or political conditions at the time.
You should use these inarguable details as evidence to prove your argument. For example, suppose you’re arguing that a female character doesn’t deserve fate. In that case, you can use the way other characters treat her as evidence and any information the author has given you about what social conditions were like for women at the time.
Literary Styles and Devices
In this section, you should show how the author’s purpose coincides with your theory. Give examples of the way the text is written, and point out any literary devices the author has used which would back up your original argument. You can also demonstrate how the evidence you have already provided in your essay connects with what you believe to be the author’s intent. It would help if you used the author’s stylistic decisions to prove your point.
Your conclusion section is where you consolidate everything you’ve written so far. You should summarise precisely how each of your areas provides support for your argument and explain why you have reached the conclusion you have. Finally, tell your reader why the evidence you’ve supplied proves or disproves your initial theory about the novel, and wrap up satisfactorily.
How to write a response to literature
Writing a response to literature takes several steps:
Firstly, read the text. It’s impossible to respond appropriately to a piece of literature without understanding it. So ensure you pay close attention to what the writer is trying to say, the mechanics of how they do that, and what techniques and tricks they use. While you read, ask yourself why the writer might be trying to say something or using a particular image repeatedly. The writer may even be using a specific idea or technique for multiple purposes, all working to deepen the meaning behind the text.
For example, in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the image of nature is repeatedly evoked throughout the text. Shelley uses the character for various reasons, not only to underscore the unnatural nature of Victor’s monstrous creation but also to bring focus to the order and perfection of the natural world. The symbolic use of nature in the text also acts as a foreshadowing of something dreadful that is about to happen, which is an invocation in itself of classic Gothic writing.
The second step in writing a response to literature is to consider what you want to say. Just as the writer is free to write what they wish when they write a text, when you are writing a response, you are free to write whatever you like about it. Response to literature is about your opinion on that text, what you find interesting, or what you disagree with. You can discuss whatever you choose if you explain why you feel that way or hold that opinion.
The third and final part is to write your response. Again, be sure to draw plenty of examples from the text to support your arguments and to add weight to what you are trying to say.