Fairy Tale Literary Critique

For centuries, human beings have written critically about art, dissecting, evaluating and analyzing music, poetry, stories, theater, film, and other forms of art beautifully and with great meaning, and yet so often when students are asked to analyze, critique and respond to a story in writing, much of what makes the literary critique something worth reading for enjoyment is removed. Often, this is the result of removing the personal response and reflection from the critique. Michael Robbins, author of Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music (2017) explains that all criticism is personal and that literary criticism is often, in part, a memoir. For the Fairy Tale Literary Critique Essay, you will pick one fairy tale to analyze and critique, drawing on your personal insights into the story as well as looking at larger connections between the message of the story and the world.

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Read entries in the series “By Heart,” in which authors discuss their favorite stories, including both “Writing is the Process of Abandoning the Familiar” by Anna North, online at https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/05/by-heart-writing-means-wandering-into-the-unknown/393602/

And “What Writers Can Learn from Goodnight Moon” by Celeste Ng, online at https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/09/celeste-ng-on-learning-from-goodnight-moon/541128/

As you read these sample essays, take note of what stands out to you as most interesting. The reason that these essays are likely interesting to you, as they are readers of The New York Times, The Atlantic, and other publications where real people read them out of genuine interest (and not because their English teachers are forcing them too), is because these literary analysis essays don’t actually feel like literary analysis. Rather, they tell a story about the author and what he or she thinks of the reading they are analyzing. The writing is personal, includes anecdotes, discussion of the lesson (or lessons) that were derived from the reading and often the lesson has a larger connection as well, beyond just the story being analyzed and the life of the reviewer but a connection to a larger issue. These analysis essays have distinct voice and it feels, as we read, as if the author is sitting across from us at the table over coffee, telling us about what they just read and what it made them feel and think and, most importantly, why it did this. These essays include a claim, where the author explains some aspect of larger significance that the text includes, and evidence is provided by the inclusion of quotes from the text that is being analyzed. The introduction is engaging, the conclusion pulls the ideas together and brings closure and, overall, these essays are really the story of both the person writing the critique and their thoughts on the story they are analyzing.

The Assignment

The assignment is to read one of the following fairy tales and to write a literary critique in response. Pick one of the following to read and analyze:

The Frog King, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, online at: https://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm001.html

The Six Swans, online at: https://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm049.html

The Little Mermaid by Hans Cristian Andersen, online at: http://www.online-literature.com/hans_christian_andersen/2084/

Using the techniques identified in the course lectures and the model critique essays, write your own analysis essay in response to the fairy tale you chose from the list above. Your essay should be at least 4 full pages in length, double-spaced and written in Candara font.


Your essay will be assessed on the qualities that set the autobiographical literary critique apart from its dull counterpart, the normal literary critique, which no one reads and no one wants to write. Thus, it is imperative that you take the time to read some (or, preferably, all) of the examples listed above in the resources, as well as the lectures available in our course, so that you are familiar with these criteria, which are:

Essay includes a short summary of the story being analyzed, including both the title and the name of the author. A general rule of thumb is that the autobiographical literary critique should be about 10% summary and 90% analysis.

The analysis is personal and includes anecdotes and discussion of the lesson (or lessons) that were derived from the story being analyzed.

The analysis includes a claim and evidence from the text through quotes from the story.

The writing conforms to MLA documentation, including a works cited page that identifies the fairytale and any other sources you include.

The writing engages readers through an interesting introduction, engaging details, distinct voice, and a conclusion that pulls the ideas together to bring closure to the writing.

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