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THE ANALYSIS OF ESSAYS
To master the thoughts of others is the one business of the college student. From the moment he enters his first classroom with his text-book, until he goes out from his last lecture with his completed notes, he is continually trying to assimilate the ideas of teachers and of writers. The ability to master these thoughts easily and quickly makes him a leader - its lack, a dullard.
The difficulty with most inexperienced students is that they read only sentences, and are unable to grasp the thought of an entire piece of writing. Their eyes race along the lines and they read statement after statement until, at the end of fifteen or twenty pages, their minds are so depressed with a vast number of unrelated ideas that, when asked to explain the meaning of the essay or of the chapter, they become confused and finally give up in despair.
The remedy for this sort of confusion is the careful analysis of long essays. This may prove a bit tedious at first, but soon the student will realize that every careful author proceeds according to some definite plan. He will then try to grasp this plan and the point that the author is attempting to enforce by its use. Gradually he will begin to read for ideas, and will come to assimilate thoughts. Analysis, then, is not merely an exercise in English - it is
a training in careful thinking. Whether the student is asked to study an article in a magazine or a chapter in a book, he will be able to do it the better, the easier, and the quicker for having analyzed a number of representative essays. Analysis is also of the greatest aid to the student in writing long themes.
Not until he fully understands, through analysis, the care with which trained writers order their thought, is he ready to undertake the writing of long themes for himself. Not until he has mastered their methods will he find that he is able to express his own thoughts clearly and compactly.
In analyzing an essay, the most important problem is to grasp the one particular point which the author wishes to impress. If the reader understands this, he is at the very heart of the mystery, but if he misses it — regardless of how many other minor ideas he may grasp -- he is merely groping about in uncertainty. The first question, then, to ask is, “What point is the author trying to make?”
In order to find it, the reader should know that the careful author hints at this point in his title. In the first few paragraphs he attempts to interest the reader in the point and to prepare him to take a sympathetic attitude toward it. As soon as he has done this, — and he seldom uses more than half a dozen paragraphs even in an essay of twenty or thirty pages,
he states the point as clearly and concisely as possible. In order that the reader may more easily find it, he places this statement at the beginning of a paragraph or in a short paragraph by itself. Having presented the point, he is in duty bound to impress its truth upon the reader. Where it is possible, he presents in chronological order the facts which will do this; otherwise, he leads the reader from what is generally known to be true about the point, to what is not generally known. He is sure to arrange these facts in some logical order, so that when the reader recognizes what the order is, he can more easily hold the entire essay in mind. The author guides the reader, in passing from the discussion of one of these facts to the next, by the use of transitional sentences and brief summaries. Near the end of the essay he restates his point and quickly reiterates the main facts which he has used to impress its truth. In concluding the essay, he gives his final judgment regarding the point.
Once the reader has found the point of the essay and has discovered the main ideas by which its truth is impressed, he is ready to ask a second important question, “Does the author really make his point?” Many students take it for granted that, once a thing gets itself into print, it is necessarily true. Such an attitude bewilders the mind with a mass of undigested and conflicting statements. If the reader is ever to master knowledge, he must pause and question each new thought that is presented to him.
How is the reader to answer intelligently whether or not the writer has made his point? He may reach his conclusion through a series of tests. The first is to ascertain whether the author sticks to his point throughout his entire essay. Sometimes a careless writer aims at nothing in particular, and in this case, is sure to shoot wide of the mark. But if he finds that the author has the point in mind in his title and has arranged every idea from the first paragraph to the last so that it contributes to the point that he is trying to make, the reader may feel satisfied with the first test. He should then make a second test. After summarizing the main ideas which the author has used to impress his point, the reader should examine these separately to see that the author has shown each to be true. If he finds any idea the truth of which has not been established, he should discard it; he should then take the remaining facts and ask, if these are granted true, whether it necessarily follows that the main point is true. If he can answer these questions in the affirmative, he may be fairly certain that the author has not failed to make his point.
Then there is a third question that the student should ask concerning every essay that he reads, "Has the author made his point in the most effective manner?” Much slovenly thinking and writing grow out of the attitude that it matters not in what manner the author proceeds, so long as he makes his point. Just as efficiency demands that a man examine every detail of his business to see which contribute to his