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The Elements of Argument

• Something about which people disagree or might disagree.
• If parts of you disagree about points of the work, these are issues for you.
• A question with no obvious or immediate answer.
• Identify questions as you read.
• Value of literature may lie in complexities, which force readers to examine their own values in
perceiving the world. Contribute by bringing up questions that occurred to you as you read. Especially
those questions that continue to haunt you.
• Formulate questions and bring them to class.

Issues of Fact
• “Rarely does a work of literature provide complete information about its characters or events.” (p. 25)
• Marked by “gaps”: moments when certain facts are omitted or obscured.
• Readers can various answers to “What happened in the text?”
• These are instances where “Issues of Fact” are good discussion items – when you may have to use
conjucture or imagination to fill in some of these gaps.

Issues of Theme
• Theme: “the main claim [or central idea] that an author seems to be working with in the text.”
• Sometimes a single word: Work or Love (but these are just topics) – Identifying these may be a useful
way to start out (to analyze the text)
• Best seen as an “Assertion that you need at least one whole sentence to express”
• Many literary works express their themes indirectly
• May allow for several interpretations of the theme
• In these instances, the class may disagree on the theme, and the disagreement may lead to good
topics as you present and defend your interpretation.
• Stanton’s poem: “When people do wrong out of desperation, we may sympathize with them, but our
compassion may leave us feeling conflicted rather than purely angelic.” (p. 26)
o Room for disagreement
o Present another alternative, or:
o Be prepared to defend.
• Identifying a theme is one thing; evaluating it is another.
• Caution: You could focus on one line that seems thematic and ignore the other parts of the piece.
Consider as a whole.
• Ways of stating theme:
o Observation: Psychologist, philosopher, analyst of human nature
o Recommendation: Teacher, preacher, manager or coach.
• You may obscure (reduce) the possibilities and richness of the text if you insist on reducing it to a single
• May try stating the theme as a problem for which there is no easy solution. Example: “Our compassion
may leave us feeling conflicted.” (27)
• Possibility that the text can have more than one theme.
• May use term “a theme” or “one of the major points of …”
o Show how the point you have identified is central to the text.

Issues of Definition
• Arise when readers try to decide what the author meant by a particular word.
• Word or phrase may appear to shift meaning as the text progresses. (27)

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Issues of Symbolism
• Often a question about the meaning or purpose of a particular image. (27)
• May be involved when the piece leaves you wondering whether some element of text is symbolic in the
first place.

Issues of Pattern
• Observe how the text is organized.
• May need to Keep in mind (or look for) meaning and purpose of any pattern.
• Notice disruptions of any pattern that may have been started.
• In poems, see patterns in rhymes and stanza lengths.
• Why have they changed if they are irregular.
• Repetition:
o Issue may become not so much whether the author is repeating words, but how this repetition
contributes to the work as a whole.
o Example: References and touching (Laux?) p. 28
• Opposition may also be of interest. Example: Laux’s poem talks about most and least favorite jobs.
Both de-emphasize the human touch.

Issues of Evaluation
• Plays a central role in reading
• You evaluate the ideas and actions of characters
• You also judge the views the author is promoting.
• You gauge the artistic quality of the piece.
• Three kinds of evaluation:
o Philosophical: Judge whether an idea or action is wise.
o Ethical: Is it morally good?
o Aesthetic: Does the work succeed as art?
• No right or wrong answers to these questions. Can you support your view?
• You can admire aspects of a literary work, even if you disagree with certain ideas the author is

Issues of Historical and Cultural Context

• Works of literature are written by people living in particular times and places.
• These can be issues of relevance in studying the work.
• What facts about a work’s creation are important for readers to know?
• How would awareness of these facts help readers better understand the work?
• Of Historical significance:
o Life of the Work’s author
o Time period in which it was written
o Time period mentioned within the text
o Subsequent reception, including responses to it by later generations
o Form in which the work has been published, which may involve changes in its spelling,
punctuation, wording, and overall appearance.

Issues of Genre
• Short Story, Poem, Play
• Types of Poem:
o Social Criticism, Sermon,
• Can argue about which classification of genre is best for the work

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Issues of Social Policy
• Many works of literature are attempts at social reform, exposing defects of their cultures and
encouraging specific cures.
• May make you aware of your own society’s problems and possible solutions to them
• Classmates may propose different solutions and even disagree about what is a problem in the first
• Your position may affect how you read a certain work.

Issues of Cause and Effect

• Present different explanations for a character’s behavior
• Analyze the character’s motives

• A Claim is a statement that is spoken or written in the hope that it will be considered true.
• Most of our claims are accepted as true to the people to whom we make them.
• Imagine how difficult life would be if the opposite were true.
• However, claims, as we use the term, could be thought of as the debatable answers to questions.
• May use the following words to qualify a claim:
o Perhaps, maybe, seems, appears, probably, and most likely
• Two types of claims are common:
o Evaluation: To criticize Laux’s choice of images is to engage in evaluation.
o Interpretation: To identify the main idea of her poem is to engage in interpretation.
• When you attempt to interpret a work, you are mostly analyzing it; when you attempt to evaluate the
work, you are mostly judging it.
• Through the course, remain open to the possibility of changing your mind as you make and argue a
• Entertain the possibility that a view different from yours is just as reasonable, even if you do not share
• In much of your writing for the course, you will be identifying an issue and making one main claim about
it, which can be called your thesis. (p. 33)
• Review your claims with classmates to help you determine how persuasive your thinking is.

• Argument involves careful efforts to persuade.
• Indicate that you believe your claims, even if you remain open to revising them.
• Also indicate that you would like other to agree with you.
• When you attempt persuasion, you must support your claims if others are to value them.
• Need to convince readers that your claims are at least reasonable.
• The process of trying to persuade others will force you to:
o Clarify your ideas
o Review why you hold them.
o Analyze the people you aim to affect.

• Try to persuade the audience to accept whatever claims you have.
• Identify some of their common values, experiences, and assumptions.
• Compare reactions to your classmates.

• Support your claims so that others will accept them.
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• What does your audience require to be persuaded?
• Arguments about literature: (Ways to Support)
o Details of the work itself
o Direct quotations
o Quoting from various parts of the text
o Facts about circumstances if arguing about the historical significance of the work.
o Author’s own experiences and statements
• Ethos: Image of you that your audience gets as you attempt to persuade

• Making concessions to views different from yours is a good strategy to show that you aim to be fair.

• Beliefs that lead people to call certain things evidence for their claims.
• Assumptions that make you think that the information you have given reinforces your case.
• Use the words assumptions and warrants interchangeably.

Literature is an Argument
Arguments within literature can help you see how you might persuade others.

Topics of Literary Criticism (See page 39)

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