Comparative Analysis of Two Texts

Write an essay in which you trace a significant question, theme, or literary devices in two (2) of the works we have read so far and select a small handful of passages (from fiction) or stanzas (from poetry) for close analysis.

Tips for Writing a Good Comparative Analysis

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  • Choose any 2 of the literary works we have studied so far, including the poems assigned in this unit.  
  • Read selected passages/stanzas and underline important sections, words, and the like. Consider the authors’ use of language (word choice, word order, figures of speech, tone, style, etc.) and how it relates both to the text as a whole and to what you claim the passage/stanza demonstrates.
  • Ask yourself, “What are the authors saying in common? Are there recurring themes, ideas, forms of language?  What are they? How does each author have his/her own take on that common ground? What sets them apart in terms of stance, nuance, and/or the literary devices they use? How do these elements function in the context of the works as a whole?”
  • Select a thematic or formal element that unites the two texts. This should be clearly stated in the introduction of your essay, allowing you to set up your argument and establish your reason(s) for comparison.
    • For instance, in putting Angelou’s poem and Dunbar’s side by side, you might point out that they both use the symbol of the “caged bird” to stand for racial oppression.
    • If you select “Barbie Doll” and “Girl,” you could explore the impact of gender roles and expectations upon girls growing up in two different cultural contexts, the 1970s America and colonial Antigua.
    • Another possible issue to consider is the complex relationship between fathers and children in the poetry of Robert Hayden and Lucille Clifton. Alternatively, you may want to explore the tensions between mothers and daughters in “Two Kinds” and “Everyday Use.”
    • Notice that the tension between tradition and modernity drives the plot in both “Everyday Use” and “Dead Men’s Path.”
    • The following title sums up yet another possible topic: “What Is It to Be a Woman: The Special Knowledge of Kate Chopin and Adrienne Rich.”
    • Starting from this title, “Defying Death,” you may want to compare John Donne’s sonnet “Death Be Not Proud” and Dylan Thomas’s villanelle, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.”
    • Other possible topics: the multifaceted nature of American identity in “Theme for English B,” “right on: white America,” and/or “A New Day Dawns”; the function of war imagery in “Snow,” “The End and the Beginning,” and/or “Buffalo Soldiers”; the role of irony in “Story of an Hour” and “The Necklace”; the theme of innocence and experience in “Kansas” and “Araby”; the critique of materialism in “A Supermarket in California” and “The World Is Too Much with Us.”
    • Notice also that Oliver and Smith use the same controlling metaphor—of life as a journey—but to different ends.
    • See the “Related Works” suggestions at the end of most texts included in LIT.


  • Your paper must have a clear claim. Make sure that you do not simply list similarities and differences between the two texts. Instead, construct a meaningful argument about what those relationships signify, and how they might help a reader to understand or discover something significant about your chosen texts.


Remember that “Poet A is similar to Poet B, but they are also different” is NOT a thesis statement.  In that sentence, you could put any author; it’s empty and says nothing.  However, you could devise a decent thesis by using this kind of formula:


Poet A and Poet B both explore the theme of ______________________________

____________________ in order to _____________________________________. 

However, Poet A focuses more on ______________________________________

because_____________________________, while Poet B uses _______________

to demonstrate ______________________________________________________.


Notice, for example, how the following sample thesis statements point out both the similarities and the difference without stating—quite redundantly—the words “similar” or “different.”  Words such as “while,” “whereas,” “but,” “however,” “nevertheless,” and the like allow writers to establish common ground and signal shifts in thought so that readers can understand why and how two more subjects are brought together.  Also remark how the following sample comparative statements justify the arguments that the writers will develop and defend:


Derek Walcott and Lillian Allen focus on the ghost of slavery to feature its continued ramifications, but whereas Walcott’s “Ruins of a Great House” (1962) ambivalently looks back to the voices and their diseased influence over him as a poet, Allen’s “Rub a Dub Inna Regent Park” (1993) poeticizes Creole expression to give voice to those victims of unjust poverty.


While William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge both desired to express the everyday language of mankind, Wordsworth saw himself as escalating the common to a higher realm, whereas Coleridge set out to bring abstract thinking down to the level of common humanity.


  • Use evidence from the texts (and, optionally, from your research) to support your thesis. Closely analyze the details of the passages or stanzas you select and compare the authors’ approaches and strategies. Consider how these details illustrate your interpretation of the work as a whole. You must include a minimum of four (4) short, but significant, carefully selected details (key words or phrases—not long lines) from each primary source. Therefore, you’ll be citing at least eight (8) snippets.  In-text citations should follow MLA formatting to make close reading and attribution easier. *If you research your topic, make sure you draw on a scholarly source that you cite and document correctly both in the text and at the end. 
  • Decide on your strategy.  Ask yourself, “Do I want to have an introduction followed by a text-by-text or point-by-point format?”  Text-by-text format investigates each author separately (after the introduction) and has a solid well-developed synthesis paragraph to bring the two authors back together.  A point-by-point format compares the authors together: “Whereas author 1 demonstrates X, author 2 questions the extent to which X is important.”   
  • Write with your thesis and audience in mind at all times. How does each paragraph hark back to your thesis about what the author is doing in the selected passage and for what effect?  What does an educated reader who may not be familiar with the text need to know to remain engage and follow your argument? 
  • Use comparative language, both in your thesis and when transitioning from one text or point to another. Some words which convey comparison are: likewise, similarly, also and moreover; words that convey a contrast include: conversely, rather and however.
  • See also “How to Write a Comparative Analysis” handout from the Harvard Writing Center Resources page:
  • Proofread and ensure that everything is as it should be: writing, format, et cetera. Document all sources with 100% accuracy. 
  • The References section should follow APA, which is the desired format for your discipline.  Use the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) for assistance with proper documentation.  Also see resources in our Help folder and use Smarthinking.
  • Your essay must be 4+ pages (1100+ words) and follow APA format.  Submit your essay in Turnitin by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday. See syllabus for our course ID and password.



Maya Angelou, “Caged Bird”

Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”

Lucille Clifton, “forgiving my father”

John Donne, “Death Be Not Proud,” p. 503 Paul Lawrence Dunbar, “Sympathy”

Robert Hayden, “Those Winter Sundays,” p. 482

Langston Hughes, “Theme for English B,” p. 510

Nikki Giovanni, “Poetry,” p. 345 Pablo Neruda, “If You Forget Me” Octavio Paz, “The Bridge”

temp636309636973939375.docx Page 9 of 17 Mary Oliver, “The Journey” Adrienne Rich, “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,” p. 433

Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Panther”

Sonia Sanchez, “right on: white America,” p. 517

Maggie Smith, “Good Bones” Wisława Szymborska, “The End and the Beginning” Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” 484

William Wordsworth, “The World Is Too Much with Us,” p. 373 

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