Analyzing Textual Echoes in Literature

Professor David Zimmerman, Introductory Literature

This course requires that you write three “echo” analyses in addition to the two major essays. Each analysis should be typed, single-spaced, and 1-2 pages (that means over 1 page, or 500-1000 words). The aim of this assignment is to give you practice making observations and claims about ideas and arguments embedded in literary texts. These papers allow you to gain analytical traction with a text by discerning textual “echoes” around which to build a focused analysis, and to participate with confidence in class discussion.

First, some definitions:

A textual echo is a sequence of details, passages, textual features, or moments that the author invites us to compare and contrast. Every text is laced with dozens, if not hundreds, of echoes. Some are obvious—the author may actually repeat a specific phrase or image—and some are subtle, requiring a more patient, attentive eye to notice. The component “parts” of an echo may be far apart in a text (for example, in the opening and concluding scenes of a novel). What is echoed may be an image (e.g., a sunset, a wall, a sound), a phrase, a plot point, a reference, a way a scene is structured, a stylistic feature, or some other feature that signals a purposeful likeness to (and difference from) an earlier or later moment.

A keyword is a topic (e.g., “sexual violence”), concept (e.g., “selfhood”), or literary or aesthetic feature (e.g., narrative structure) that the text seems to be studying or saying something about. A keyword might also name an issue (“the right to privacy”), theme (“imperialism”), problem (“class conflict”), or question (“how far does moral responsibility extend across time?”) studied by the text. Keywords offer a conceptual lens or frame through which to read and analyze a text. They allow us to link textual details, passages, and moments, and they allow us to understand how particular features of a text serve to clarify what an author is saying or showing about a particular topic, problem, or question. Every literary text offers many keywords for analysis.

This paper requires you to analyze the significance of a textual echo that you find particularly interesting or important. Your task is to analyze how it serves the author’s argument (what the author is saying or showing) about a particular keyword or intersection of keywords. In your analysis, think about the following questions: What evidence suggests that these details, passages, or moments are connected, and that we are meant to think of them in connection with each other? What is interesting or important about each of these details, passages, or moments—and what is interesting or important about their connection? How does seeing them as connected open up new ways to read them? In other words, how do their similarities and differences help us to understand their significance in and for the text? How does comparing these details, passages, or moments—and, especially, thinking about the movement and change from one to the next—serve to illuminate what the author is saying or showing about a particular keyword (or the relation between two keywords)?

This paper is neither a formal essay nor an open-ended free-write. You do not need to produce a logical, flowing argument. Your paragraphs do not need topic sentences. However, you do need to frame your analysis using ONE specific keyword or ONE intersection of keywords (e.g., “debt” and “memory”), and you should try to develop a thesis or claim, however tentative, about what the text is saying or showing by deploying the textual echo in the way it does. Ideally, literature helps make us think in new ways about concepts, questions, and problems. In your paper, try to show how the text enables us to think about your keyword or intersection of keywords in a new way, or how it advances our understanding of that keyword or intersection of keywords.


  1. When quoting a passage from a text, always include a page reference (and, in the case of poetry, line numbers). Do this by putting the page (or line) number in parentheses at the end of your sentence, after the final quotation mark and before the period. If the quotation comes in the middle of your sentence, put the reference at the end of the sentence. If it’s obvious what text you’re quoting from (as is likely to be the case in your keyword paper), you don’t need to include the author or title.
  2. Do the same whenever you refer to specific details, moments, or passages, even if you don’t quote from the text.
  3. Punctuate quotations correctly. Unless you’ve included a page reference, commas and periods always go INSIDE quotation marks.
  4. Avoid unnecessary plot summary. Only include what is necessary to advance your analysis (that is, your insights, observations, claims, and argument).
  5. Be sure to identify the textual echo that anchors your analysis. Use page numbers, if appropriate, to signal where in the text the two details, scenes, moments, or passages appear.
  6. Underline your main claim(s) about what the author is saying or showing about a central problem, question, or issue—usually a sentence or two.

7. Eliminate phrases such as “I feel” and “in my opinion.” Just state your case or make your analysis.