Section 5: Sample Literary Analysis Question English Language Arts and Reading 7–12 (231)
The first constructed-response question presents two thematically-related literary passages and asks you to identify the passages’ shared themes and analyze the literary devices and techniques used by the two authors to develop those themes. Although each Literary Analysis question presents a different pair of literary passages, the directions for each Literary Analysis question are the same.
Plan to use approximately 60–90 minutes to complete this question.
Read the constructed-response question carefully before you begin to write your response to ensure that you address all components. Think about how you will organize what you plan to write.
The final version of your response should conform to the conventions of standard English. Your written response should be your original work, written in your own words, and not copied or paraphrased from some other work. You may, however, use citations when appropriate.
Sample Literary Analysis Question
The passages below address similar topics. They convey themes that are related through their similarities and/or through their differences. In an essay to be read by an educator in the field of English, write an analysis of the two passages. Support your analysis with textual evidence. Your analysis should:
- identify and discuss themes that connect the two passages; and
- explain how the authors use literary elements and/or literary devices in each excerpt to develop and support these themes.
I. “Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper” (1993), a poem by Martín Espada
At sixteen, I worked after high school hours at a printing plant that manufactured legal pads: Yellow paper 5 stacked seven feet high and leaning as I slipped cardboard between the pages, then brushed red glue 10 up and down the stack. No gloves: fingertips required for the perfection of paper, smoothing the exact rectangle. Sluggish by 9 P.M., the hands 15 would slide along suddenly sharp paper, and gather slits thinner than the crevices of the skin, hidden. Then the glue would sting, hands oozing 20 till both palms burned at the punchclock. Ten years later, in law school, I knew that every legal pad was glued with the sting of hidden cuts, 25 that every open lawbook was a pair of hands upturned and burning.
Source: "Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper," from CITY OF COUGHING AND DEAD RADIATORS by Martin Espada. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Co, Inc.
II. Excerpt from Hard Times (1854), a novel by Charles Dickens
The excerpt below describes the fictitious setting of the novel, an industrial city called Coketown.
It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood it was a town of unnatural red and black. . . . It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves forever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of buildings full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam engine worked monotonously up and down like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and tomorrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.
These attributes of Coketown were in the main inseparable from the work by which it was sustained; against them were to be set off, comforts of life which found their way all over the world, and elegancies of life which made, we will not ask how much of the fine lady, who could scarcely bear to hear the place mentioned. The rest of its features were voluntary, and they were these. . . . Fact, fact, fact, everywhere in the material aspect of the town; . . . what you couldn't state in figures, or show to be purchasable in the cheapest market and salable in the dearest, was not, and never should be, world without end, Amen.
Literary Analysis Sample Responses and Rationales
Score Point 4
The common theme uniting the poem “Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper” by Martin Espada and the excerpt taken from Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times is that of the invisibility of labor that goes into the goods we take for granted. They differ greatly however in the perspective presented. Whereas Dickens’ omniscient narrator tends to reinforce the distance between work and the finished product — his “fine lady,” for instance, “could scarcely bear to hear… mentioned” a place like Coketown — Espada’s first person narrator uses metaphor to unite the pain of labor and the legal pads and law books that every law student makes use of. Dickens’ description of Coketown appears to be more concerned with emphasizing the dehumanizing nature of industrial toil, while Espada, by personifying the worker’s finished product as a pair of stinging hands, wants us to see the individual and his pain.
Dickens’ concern with the dehumanizing nature of industrial labor is evident in the following lines describing the Coketown streets: “inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and tomorrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.” The repetition and alliteration in Dicken’s prose in these lines helps to under-line the daily tedium and monotony of the lives lived in Coketown. Sameness is emphasized by the repeated use of the very word the “same” and the unchanging nature of life in Coketown is underlined by tying “every day” to “every year.” Espada, on the other hand, tends to individualize the worker in his pain in such lines as, “Then the glue would sting,/hands oozing/till both palms burned/at the punchclock.” When these palms are returned to in the poems final lines — “I knew …that every open lawbook/was a pair of hands/upturned and burning” — Espada is inviting us to contemplate the individual who suffers while providing us with the goods we enjoy. This is very different from the perspective presented by Dickens, who asks us to consider the devastating impact of industrial labor on the community as a whole, a community which is thoroughly lacking in any individuality at all.
Both author’s want us to see the distance between the privileged who enjoy the finished product and the workers. Dickens’ workers will never enjoy the “comforts” and “elegancies” which they help to create and the “fine” ladies who do enjoy them do not want to be disturbed by thoughts of the suffering and exploitation that make their luxuries possible. Espada’s narrator, however, does leave the factory and achieves a position which allows him to enjoy the luxuries of the modern world, as referenced by the legal pad and the law book. His first-hand experience on the factory floor enables him to make connections that others can’t or won’t. To others the law book is simply a law book; for Espada’s narrator it marks the distance between the uneducated who toil and suffer and the educated who take that suffering for granted. Despite his reformist bent, Dickens’ narrator seems to be much more pessimistic about the prospects of his workers. Unlike Espada’s narrator, they will not leave the factory or hold in their hands its products. They are victims of a market, comprising both the “cheapest” and the “dearest,” that keeps them imprisoned in the unchanging “material aspect” of the town, “a world without end.”
The simplicity of Espada’s poetry contrasts greatly with Dickens’ florid prose. Dickens use of simile and metaphor sets up Coketown as a kind of second nature created by humans. But this nature is unnatural, terrifying and ill. Colossal serpents writhe but are unable to uncoil, remaining turned in upon themselves. An elephant pounds it head in “melancholy madness.” These figures suggest a town that defies the laws of the natural world, a town that sickens itself through its unnatural creations. Dickens emphasizes this state elsewhere, as well. In the “unnatural red and black” of the buildings, in the “black canal,” in the purple river with the “ill-smelling dye,” in the “rattling and trembling” buildings, Dickens shows us a second nature that poisons and destroys all who come into contact with it. Dickens makes this all very vivid by evoking sights and scents and even action in the form of the trembling buildings and the mad elephant. Espada’s narrator, on the other, barely describes his work environment at all, aside from the seven foot high stack of yellow paper. He begins by giving us a brief account of his daily work, largely using simple language and, for the most part, eschewing figurative language. It is as if Espada wants to conjure the drudgery of his work by using plain, straightforward language and short, choppy lines. About midway through the first stanza, however, Espada suddenly shifts tone and his language becomes more figurative: “No gloves: fingertips required/for the perfection of paper,/smoothing the exact rectangle./Sluggish by 9 P.M., the hands/would slide along suddenly sharp paper,/and gather slits thinner than the crevices/ of the skin, hidden.” Espada’s first real use of figurative language — the “perfection of paper” — imparts central significance to the paper and the demands it makes on the narrator. From there we have hands that grow “sluggish” and paper that suddenly becomes sharp. Espada’s imagery here tends to crystallize the work as an encounter between hands and the exacting demands of the “perfection of paper.” Unlike Dickens’ sick and trembling second nature, this is a quiet environment, the paper silently but effectively assailing its victim, the stinging cuts accumulating along with the pain. These differences, I think, highlight the different approaches of the two authors to the theme of the invisibility of labor. Espada’s more individualized account is contemplative and asks us to contemplate as well. Dickens’ account of a community ensnared within a terrifying new nature is angrier and more fearful.
Rationale for the Score of 4
This outstanding response addresses the assigned task clearly and thoroughly. The opening paragraph sets up a nuanced discussion by identifying “the invisibility of labor that goes into the goods we take for granted” as a central, overarching theme connecting the two passages but then undercutting this connection by emphasizing that the passages “differ greatly . . . in the perspective presented.” Going well beyond simply identifying or describing the use of literary elements and devices, the response integrates its discussion of literary elements and devices into its larger discussion of theme, offering specific, well-chosen examples and well-reasoned analysis of the different ways particular elements and devices are used to explore the shared themes. This exemplary, well-written and well-developed response earns a score of 4 by demonstrating a comprehensive understanding of the assignment and accurate and effective application of appropriate content knowledge.
Score Point 3
Martin Espada’s poem “Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper” is a poem written in 1993 and Dickens’s Hard Times is a novel written in 1854, so they’re obviously pretty different in terms of literary devices but they do talk about similar topics. The two passages address similar topics and convey related themes about the suffering of factory workers.
In the Espada poem, he talks about working in a printing plant when he was 16. The poem is written in the past tense from the perspective of an older person who no longer works in a factory. In some ways this doesn’t seem much like a poem at all: instead of talking about love in flowery language, he’s talking about gluing legal pads together and getting really bad paper cuts. The poem’s lack of rhyme, its syntax, and its ordinary diction make it seem more like prose than poetry. In fact, if you remove the line breaks, much of the poem reads like prose. In the first stanza the author gives a lot of concrete details: “Yellow paper / stacked seven feet high / and leaning / as I slipped cardboard / between the pages / then brushed red glue / up and down the stack.” The diction here is very ordinary and realistic and objective like the writer is just reporting facts. Given the mundane setting and subject, the plain style and lack of figurative language seems fitting.
The second half of the first stanza describes his memories of the physical effects of the work. Small factual details like “red glue,” “No gloves,” and “Sluggish by 9 PM” suddenly seem important. Even though he’s only 16, he’s working late on a school night and he’s getting tired. Because he couldn’t wear gloves, “the hands / would slide along suddenly sharp paper, / and gather slits thinner than the crevices / of the skin, hidden. / Then the glue would sting, / hands oozing. . .” While the color of the glue seemed incidental before, the image of glue-covered “hands oozing” with “red glue” now evokes blood and helps the reader imagine his suffering. This part of the poem also uses alliteration to emphasize and link certain words. For example, the repetition of the “p” in “perfection,” “paper,” and “punchclock” links terms that represent things that the factory valued more than it valued him.
The second stanza takes place “ten years later, in law school.” The legal pads and law books he uses now are a daily reminder of the pain he suffered in the legal pad factory. This stanza seems more like a typical poem in that it uses metaphors and figurative language. He says that the legal pad “was glued with the sting of hidden cuts” which reminds us that, figuratively at least, they’re glued together with blood. He also uses a metaphor to compare “every open lawbook” to “a pair of hands / upturned and burning.” Even though he has escaped the factory, he can’t escape the memory of the pain he suffered.
While Espada’s poem is written from a first-person point of view, the excerpt from Dickens’s Hard Times has a third-person narrator who seems to be describing the setting of Coketown from a distance to an audience that has never seen a sight like this. Maybe that is why this piece of prose uses more poetic devices than Espada’s poem does. Dickens spends more of his time painting a picture of the sights, sounds and smells of the city than the people.
For example, the narrator’s use of the metaphor “serpents of smoke” helps outsiders visualize the smoke and adds a sinister quality to the smoke through snakes’ association with poison and Satan. The unnatural image of a “river that ran purple with ill-smelling die” also effectively emphasizes the extremity of the pollution here. He uses a simile to compare the motion of a steam engine to “the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.” The first paragraph uses really long sentences that all begin with the same way (“It was,” “It had,” “It contained”). This repetition along with the use of words like “interminable,” “forever and ever” emphasize the endless and unchanging misery that Coketown represents. All he says about the people is that they were “equally like one another” and that they led monotonous lives that never changed. However, given the smoky, smelly, noisy, noxious environment that Dickens has described, the fact that these nameless people are trapped there to suffer forever is reminiscent of Hell. In the next paragraph we’re presented with the irony that the factories and workers of this Hell produce the “comforts. . . and elegancies of life.” Although he sets up a juxtaposition between the squalor of Coketown and the luxuries it produces, he also firmly but indirectly links the “fine lady” who so enjoys the “elegancies of life” with the horror of Coketown. The fact that she “could scarcely bear to hear the place mentioned” suggests both guilt and indifference. Rather than directly accusing his audience of playing a role in the creation of Coketown, Dickens uses the anonymous “fine lady” to represent all the people who thoughtlessly contribute to the suffering of others.
Both Espada and Dickens draw our attention to the suffering of the working class and link that suffering to the goods these workers produce. In that way, both writers force their readers to confront their complicity in the suffering of others.
Rationale for the Score of 3
This response presents a generally competent analysis that identifies and discusses the theme of the suffering of factory workers conveyed in both passages and explains some of the literary elements and devices the writers use to develop and support this theme. While the theme presented is not discussed extensively in the introduction, the response continues to explore the theme throughout its discussion of the two passages and stays focused on this theme throughout the response. The response demonstrates the ability to apply content knowledge that is generally appropriate and accurate. For example, although the discussion of Espada’s style may suggest a somewhat narrow definition of poetry, it demonstrates knowledge of poetic elements and conventions and the ability to use literary terms appropriately. Although the Espada paragraph spends quite a bit of time describing the unpoetic style of Espada’s poetry, the significance of the style to the theme is eventually explained. The identification and discussion of literary devices and elements in both texts and the use of specific literary terms is generally accurate; however, not all points are precisely and effectively explained (e.g., “The first paragraph uses really long sentences that all begin with the same way” or the failure to discuss the significance of Dickens’ elephant simile). Thus, while the response generally provides sufficient support and reasoning for its analysis, there are some exceptions. Because the response generally demonstrates the ability to accurately and appropriately apply the content knowledge addressed in the question, it earns a score of 3.
Score Point 2
The Espada poem and the excerpt from Hard Times by Charles Dickens both use imagery, alliteration and other devices to describe life in and around factories.
Most of the Espada poem is set in a factory that makes legal pads. Two colons are used in the first stanza to prepare the reader for the list of images that will follow. The first list of images sets the basic scene of the narrator working in the factory: “Yellow paper stacked seven feet high and leaning as I slipped cardboard between the pages, then brushed the red glue up and down the stack.” Then the writer zooms in like a movie camera to focus just on the narrator’s bare hands: “No gloves: fingertips required.” Rather than just saying that the paper cut his hands, he uses a metaphor: “hands would slide along suddenly sharp paper, and gather slits.” Espada also uses alliteration and consonance of the “s” sound within these images, like the sound of paper being folded and sifted.
The second stanza is set ten years later in law school, but the legal pads he uses remind him of the factory and how his hands burned. For Espada, legal pads and law books symbolize pain: “every open lawbook was a pair of hands upturned and burning.”
Hard Times is set in an industrial city called Coketown. Where Espada’s description acts like a movie camera, Dickens is like a painter focused on the colors of his pallette. He describes “red brick,” “unnatural red and black,” and “a river that ran purple.” These colors paint a picture of the pollution in Coketown. Dickens also uses alliteration to imitate the hissing of smokestacks. He uses a simile when he says: “the piston of the steam engine worked monotonously up and down like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.”
Just like Espada, Dickens changes his focus in his second paragraph. He turns away from the ugly picture he has just painted and focuses instead on more pleasant images: “comforts of life,” “elegancies,” and a “fine lady.” By ending with “Amen,” the narrator seems to be showing relief and gratitude that he no longer has to think about something as unpleasant as Coketown.
Rationale for the Score of 2
This response demonstrates some relevant content knowledge in its discussion of the two passages, but it is limited overall in addressing the assigned task. The opening sentence recognizes that both passages “describe life in and around factories,” but the response makes little effort beyond this to identify or discuss thematic connections between the works. As such, the response focuses much more heavily on the shared setting than it does on theme. Despite this limitation, the response does demonstrate some relevant content knowledge in its discussion of setting. Several examples of each writer’s use of literary elements and devices to establish setting are provided, and literary terms (e.g., “stanza,” images,” “alliteration,” “simile”) are often used correctly. However, because these examples aren’t developed and connected to a discussion of theme, their effectiveness and relevance are limited. The response accurately points out literary devices, but it provides very little analysis of the purpose or effect of these devices or their relation to the writers’ themes. This weakness in support and analysis is particularly notable when the response attempts to move beyond identification and description. For example, the final paragraph misinterprets the tone of the passage and greatly misrepresents the narrator’s attitude toward Coketown. Despite the generally strong writing and accurate identification of literary devices, this response earns a score of 2 due to its limitations in addressing the components of the question.
Score Point 1
Both the poem and the excerpt give the reader a feeling for how people who worked in factories had pain and hard times.
Espada talks about how things are really bad for him when he worked in a factory and that it was worse than being in school. His hands would be burned and hurt by the glue and the cuts he would get on his hands at the factory. He also is a lawyer now and he has a much better life, one that also uses paper.
Dickens talks about a town with many factories and how it is sad and depressing on one end. Then he gives a clear picture about how there are riches and happiness on the other, and that it is possible that the two worlds never meet. He gives a lot of examples of how bad it is in the town and how good it is for the “elegant” people.
It’s not fair to have such a divided world between people who have to work and people who don’t. But these two writings show how both lives are there.
Rationale for the Score of 1
This response does attempt to identify a thematic connection between the two passages by stating that they both “give the reader a feeling for how people who worked in factories had pain and hard times,” but the discussion of theme is vague and limited. The brief discussion of the two passages suggests no more than a basic and superficial comprehension of the passages and provides little or no relevant support to develop a discussion of theme. The response also fails to provide any relevant discussion of literary elements or devices. Because the response demonstrates little or no knowledge or understanding of content knowledge addressed in the question as it relates to the test framework for TExES English Language Arts and Reading 7–12, the response earns a score of 1.
Performance Characteristics for the Literary Analysis Question
The rubrics created to evaluate your responses to the constructed-response questions are based on the following criteria:
|Purpose||The extent to which the candidate responds to the components of the question in relation to relevant content knowledge addressed in the test framework for TExES English Language Arts and Reading 7–12.|
|Demonstration of Knowledge||The extent to which the knowledge demonstrated is accurate and effectively applied in relation to relevant content knowledge addressed in the test framework for TExES English Language Arts and Reading 7–12.|
|Support||Quality and relevance of supporting details in relation to relevant content knowledge addressed in the test framework for TExES English Language Arts and Reading 7–12.|
|Rationale||Soundness of reasoning and depth of understanding demonstrated in relation to relevant content knowledge addressed in the test framework for TExES English Language Arts and Reading 7–12.|
|Written Expression||The extent to which the response is appropriate for the specified audience and conforms to conventions of standard English for paragraphing, sentence structure, usage and mechanical conventions in relation to relevant content knowledge addressed in the test framework for TExES English Language Arts and Reading 7–12.|
Score Scale for the Literary Analysis Question
Each rater will use the criteria described in the scoring rubric to assess the overall quality of the response and assign a score on a scale of 1–4. Each of the four score points on the scoring scale represents a different level of overall proficiency in demonstrating the content knowledge and skills required by the assigned question. The scoring rubric describes typical characteristics of responses at each score point. Although the score assigned corresponds to one of the score points, individual responses may include attributes of more than one score point.
|Score Point||Score Point Description|
|4||The “4” response demonstrates thorough knowledge and understanding of content knowledge addressed in the question as it relates to the test framework for TExES English Language Arts and Reading 7–12.
|3||The “3” response demonstrates general knowledge and understanding of content knowledge addressed in the question as it relates to the test framework for TExES English Language Arts and Reading 7–12.
The “2” response demonstrates limited knowledge and understanding of content knowledge addressed in the question as it relates to the test framework for TExES English Language Arts and Reading 7–12.
The “1” response demonstrates little or no knowledge or understanding of content knowledge addressed in the question as it relates to the test framework for TExES English Language Arts and Reading 7–12.
A score of 0 will be assigned to responses that are not scorable for any of the following reasons:
Note: Your written response should be your original work, written in your own words and not copied or paraphrased from some other work.
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