Critical Lens Essay Example English Regents

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A critical lens essay is a type of essay aimed at providing a personal interpretation and analysis of a certain quotation or statement, proving one's opinion with the help of literature references. Though it contains a word “critical” in its name, it is not meant to be a critical piece. As a matter of fact, a critical lens essay is focused on highlighting strong and weak points of a given quote. Thus, the word “critical” stands for the demonstration of critical thinking skills of the author by means of supporting his claim with certain arguments taken from literary works. Linking one's opinion to reputable sources makes a convincing effect on the reader, proving your ideas to be true.

How is a critical lens essay used?

Writing such type of essay appears to be quite a challenging assignment for students. First, while studying at high school, college, or university, one has to obtain and develop such essential skills as critical and analytical thinking; ability to compare facts, theses, quotes, and ideas, make one's own statements and prove them, draw right conclusions. Second, a profound research on the given topic should be done, as it determines the further direction of your writing. Finally, a student needs to have an excellent command of grammar, spelling, and punctuation in order to express his/her thoughts clearly and academically correctly.

Thus, critical lens essays are perfect opportunities for professors to check students' skills and abilities. No wonder this specific type of essay is often one of the tasks on the Regents, a New York State set of exams required for graduation. For this reason, one should know how to write a critical lens essay at the high academic level, because it reflects the general level of education of a student. Hence, the student is evaluated accordingly.

What is a critical lens essay format?

Typically, a critical lens essay follows a standard essay format pattern. Therefore, it consists of five paragraphs, including introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion, so it should not be long like a research paper. In order to develop the critical analysis, a student has to use examples from two literature pieces, each one discussed in a separate paragraph. The book titles need to be underlined and capitalized, written in accordance with the capitalization and punctuation rules. As for the language and general tone of writing, it should be objective, without revealing any of the author's personal beliefs. All the claims need to be referred to reputable literature sources that would support the author's thesis and present the evidence of its validation. In order for the tone to sound objective, one should avoid using personal pronouns, for example, "I", "me", "my", "you", "your", "we", "our". On the contrary, it is recommended to replace them with third person pronouns or general words like "people", "readers", "audience".

Tips to make a critical lens essay outline

As it was mentioned above, a critical lens essay template coincides with the fixed classic essay pattern.


The first part of an essay is the introduction. This is the first thing that makes an impression upon the reader. So, the intro part should be captivating enough to get the reader really interested in what you have to say. The introduction starts with the quote, which is not just an ordinary sentence from the text, but a significant statement that holds considerable value. It should be universally acknowledged and meaningful; the author's name should also be provided.

After introducing the quote, a writer has to interpret it in one sentence using his/her own words. Such an interpretation is called the thesis. It plays a role of the foundation of the entire essay, which makes it a crucial part of the paper. Therefore, a key to a high-quality critical lens essay is arranging the thesis in a wise and profound way, as it presents the criteria for the further analysis.

Having provided the thesis, the writer needs to support or refute it. Though, the decision whether to agree or disagree is based not on his personal opinion, but on two literature references related to the quote. Connecting the essay with relevant references affirms the objective approach. The titles and authors of the chosen literature works have to be underlined. The intro part ends with adding a few words about the chosen reference texts topics.

Body Paragraphs

There should be two body paragraphs introducing two literature works mentioned in the introduction. The writer needs to use the references as the means for supporting his thesis. Both topic and concluding sentences demonstrate and prove the connection between the reference examples and the thesis. There should not be any summarizing; just highlighting and analysis of the main points of both literary texts explaining their relevance to the core statement. Moreover, there is no need to retell the plot of the chosen texts. On the contrary, the writing should be laconic, but clear. To convey the arguments in the most appropriate way, some literary elements from the reference texts should be chosen, such as the following:

  • Characterization (direct or indirect way to describe the character);
  • Conflict (opposition of the ideas, forces, views);
  • Figurative language (metaphor, simile, hyperbole, alliteration, personification);
  • Flashback (describing the past event that is necessary to know at present);
  • Foreshadowing (hints on the events to come);
  • Setting (describing time and place of action);
  • Symbolism (representing something through another thing);
  • Theme (main idea, message of the text);
  • Tone (author's attitude towards the audience or subject).


The last essay part summarizes the arguments and proves the initial thesis right or wrong. The quote and the thesis should be restated here, but the thesis has to be rephrased, not taken from the intro part word by word. If the essay is written in a right manner, then the conclusion would follow in the most logical way and the readers would totally agree to it. While body paragraphs persuade the reader of the correctness of the thesis, the conclusion just states the fact: the thesis is true and it is absolutely confirmed. So, the reader is satisfied, though intrigued to investigate the topic more.

How to choose the right quote?

This is not an easy task to do. The quote determines the quality of the essay, depending on whether it's relevant or not. Below there is a list of possible quotes that are approved to be used for critical lens essays as they are widely applied at the English Regents.

English Regents critical lens quotes list:

  • “Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears” (Arthur Koestler);
  • “Individuality is freedom lived” (John Dos Passos);
  • “Obedience is the mother of success and is wedded to safety” (Aeschylus);
  • “Nobody can acquire honor by doing what is wrong” (Thomas Jefferson);
  • “Do what you can, with what you have, and where you are” (Theodore Roosevelt);
  • “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get” (Warren Buffet);
  • “Some books leave us free and some books make us free” (Ralph Waldo Emerson);
  • “The final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands” (Anne Frank);
  • “Prejudice is the child of ignorance” (William Hazlitt);
  • “If there is no struggle, there is no progress” (Frederick Douglas);
  • “It is impossible to go through life without trust” (Graham Green);
  • “Fear is simply the consequence of every lie” (Fyodor Dostoevsky);
  • “No two persons regard the world in exactly the same way” (J. W. von Goethe);
  • “We pay a price for everything we get or take in this world” (L. M. Montgomery);
  • “Men are at the mercy of events and cannot control them” (Herodotus);
  • “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it” (Helen Keller);
  • “Divide each difficulty into as many parts as is feasible and necessary to resolve it” (Rene Descartes);
  • “Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened” (Dr. Seuss);
  • “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough” (Mae West);
  • “In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on” (Robert Frost);
  • “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results” (Albert Einstein);
  • “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans” (John Lennon);
  • “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not” (André Gide);
  • “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” (Albert Einstein);
  • “The real hero is always a hero by mistake” (Umberto Eco);
  • “It is the human lot to try and fail” (David Mamet);
  • “You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it” (Yann Martel);
  • “The human heart has ever dreamed of a fairer world than the one it knows” (Carleton Noyes);
  • “To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else” (Bernadette Devlin);
  • “All that is literature seeks to communicate power” (Thomas De Quincey);
  • “It is not what an author says, but what he or she whispers, that is important” (Logan Pearsall Smith);
  • “What lasts is what is written. We look to literature to find the essence of an age” (Peter Brodie);
  • “Good people are good because they've come to wisdom through failure” (William Saroyan);
  • “All literature is protest. You can't name a single literary work that isn't protest” (Richard Wright);
  • “The bravest of individuals is the one who obeys his or her conscience” (J. F. Clarke);
  • “We do not read novels for improvement or instruction” (Oliver Wendell Holmes);
  • “In a dark time, the eye begins to see” (Theodore Roethke);
  • “A person is a person through other persons” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu);
  • The right good book is always a book of travel; it is about a life's journey” (H.M. Tomlinson).

The quotations listed above serve as appropriate examples of the NYS English Regents critical lens essay quotes. Thus, they might be widely used during the preparation for the Regents or any other type of exam where a critical lens essay is one of the tasks.

How to write a critical lens essay step by step?

Below there are detailed steps that may serve as an instruction for writing this type of essay. Each step will be followed by the relevant part of a critical lens essay example to make the guideline even more clear.

Step 1. Choose a meaningful quote and introduce it, indicating its author. Add a few sentences before it to get the readers involved and let them follow the logical flow of your thoughts.

Step 2. Interpret the quote, rewrite it using your own words. That would be your thesis.

Step 3. Agree or disagree with the thesis.

Step 4. Introduce two literary references that prove your thesis. Express in a few words how they support the thesis.

Step 5. Start writing the first body paragraph focusing on the first literary reference mentioned in the intro part. Choose the literary element, through which the text and thesis would be connected. Prove that the text example supports the quote.

Step 6. Do the same thing focusing on the other literary work while writing the second body paragraph.

Step 7. Summarize everything you have written. State the quote and thesis again, the latter should be rephrased, though. The conclusion has to prove the coherence between the thesis and arguments written above.

Below there is a sample of a critical lens essay that may be referred to during the preparation for the English Regents.

Critical lens essay example for English Regents

Human life is a constant alternating between success and failure. Today one may enjoy the abundance of money and opportunities, while tomorrow may bring something totally different. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, and where you are.” One's duty in life is to do one's best, strive to survive and get moving using all the skills and resources available, regardless of the circumstances. Life indeed often forces people to keep trying even in the most unfavorable conditions and teaches that doing this is the only key to win. Both Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and Love of Life by Jack London support the idea that all the problems can be solved if the person is well motivated and wise enough to direct all the efforts and chances towards one's goal.

The novel Robinson Crusoe illustrates a strong will of an ordinary man who faced unpredictable circumstances after a shipwreck. He has lost everything and everyone just in a moment. The fate left him alone on the desert island in total despair. Daniel Defoe uses the direct method of characterization showing main hero's desire to survive. He was not expecting such a fatal failure. Robinson got a tremendous challenge that let him acknowledge himself as a miserable creature but also created perfect conditions for self-discovery. On the unknown out-of-the-way patch of the Earth, he found himself completely helpless and alone in his struggle for life. Nevertheless, Crusoe realized the real value of human life and gathered all the possible means he could ever find on the island, which combined with his brilliant intellect and willpower saved him afterwards. The story is narrated in the form of his own diary, which pictures the hero in the most veritable way. He kept trying over and over again while building his refuge place, acquiring hunting and farming skills. The long twenty-eight years way through failures to victory taught him that the main thing in life is the ability to pull oneself together when there seems like nothing can be done. Robinson proved that it is not the setting and opportunities that matter, but a strong goal-oriented approach to the problem.

Love of Life demonstrates another example of overcoming hardships in life. Gold seekers are lost in the White Desert. While one of them leaves his comrade in trouble, he succeeded to survive. Through the tone of the novel, it is evident that Jack London supports his hero picturing him as a symbol of a victorious will power. Physical exhaustion, freezing cold of the White Desert, pain from the betrayal of the only friend, fear of loneliness, hunger, which is not eased with the miserable stuff that cannot even be called food. Moreover, he suffers from the pain in legs, being severely injured. Torturing body ache is combined with the despair of useless attempts to gain food and unbearable exhaustion, which leads to hallucinations. Yet, in spite of all he has encountered, despite being frightened and despaired, the man found enough courage not to give up but went on with a great passion for life, which helped him during struggles with a bear and a wolf. His irresistible desire to live, tranquility, and patience is what removed the fear and saved him from death. The hero was doing what he could: he was able to walk, he walked; he could only crawl, he crawled; he was obliged to fight with wild animals, so he did. As long as there were those primitive means for survival, no matter how adverse the setting, the man continued his difficult path and, finally, he succeeded.

All things considered, it seems sensible to assume that in order to lead the life to the full and survive despite all the troubles, one needs to use each little thing around, notwithstanding the limits. The core of success is human mind and will that dominates over poor conditions, situations that seem to be impossible, fears, and desperate obstacles. Thus, the saying “Do what you can, with what you have, and where you are” serves as the right motto for the general life philosophy.

Presentation on theme: "Regents Part 4 The Critical Lens Essay. What is a critical lens?? A “critical lens” is a critical quotation. It is much like the lens on a camera, in."— Presentation transcript:

1 Regents Part 4 The Critical Lens Essay

2 What is a critical lens?? A “critical lens” is a critical quotation. It is much like the lens on a camera, in that it provides a view or a focus for the analysis of two works of literature you have read. The “critical lens” is not a book report. The essay does not ask you to “retell” the story. Rather, you are to provide a thoughtful discussion of how the author uses specific literary methods to bring out a certain idea (the idea stated in the critical lens)

3 Why do I have to write one?? The critical lens essay is first and foremost an analytical essay. In other words, it requires you to think and write critically and analytically (a skill that will help you in places other than high school English!). It demonstrates your knowledge of the works of literature you have studied in high school and your understanding of how and why an author uses literary techniques/devices. It is a Regents Task – your only full essay.

4 How do I Write this Essay? I’m so glad you asked!! The essay, in many ways, is “formulaic.” That does not mean, however, that there is no room for individuality. The way you express your thoughts and ideas, your written voice, is very much a part of your writing. It is what makes your writing unique (more on this later). There are also different ways you can approach your discussions, depending on how strong a writer you are.

5 The Approach – The Introduction: 4 steps First, you give the actual critical lens. You must clearly explain what the lens means – Interpret it (thoroughly and using your own words) Agree or Disagree with the lens as you have interpreted it – do not use “I” (This statement is true, This is a valid statement...) and briefly explain why. Thesis statement : Give titles and authors, literary methods, and briefly connect each work back to the lens (all in one sentence!!)

6 Thesis “Format” You may use the following format to construct a clear thesis – just fill in the blanks: In ______________, ___________ uses _________ and __________ to show ________________.

7 Sample Introduction Step One : Give Critical lens: “All literature shows us the power of emotion. It is emotion, not reason, that motivates characters in literature.” -paraphrased from an interview with Duff Brenna Step Two: Interpretation: What do you think this means?

8 Sample Interpretation Like people, literary characters are driven to act not by what is in their heads but by what their hearts tell them to do. They do not always think and reason out what the best course of action is. Rather, they act on their feelings.

9 Step Three: Agree or Disagree : This statement is true because the characters that seem most real to readers are the ones who act most human. Very often, humans do not calmly and rationally think through a decision. Instead, they act on their instinct.

10 Step Four: Thesis Statement: In Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare uses characterization and conflict to show how Romeo and Juliet’s love overpowers their ability to reason and see all sides of their situation.

11 All together now... “All literature shows us the power of emotion. It is emotion, not reason, that motivates characters in literature.” Like people, literary characters are driven to act not by what is in their heads but by what their hearts tell them to do. They do not always think and reason out what the best course of action is. Rather, they act on their feelings. This statement is true because the characters that seem most real to readers are the ones who act most human. Very often, humans do not calmly and rationally think through a decision. Instead, they act on their instinct. In Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare uses characterization and conflict to show how Romeo and Juliet’s love overpowers their ability to reason and see all sides of their situation.

12 Other ways to word the same thesis: William Shakespeare uses characterization and conflict in Romeo and Juliet to demonstrate how love can overpower reason, and John Knowles uses conflict and characterization in A Separate Peace to show how Gene’s jealousy causes him to act irrationally and against his better judgment.

13 Body Paragraphs You are going to be discussing at least two literary methods that each author uses. There are two approaches to this: A) Four body paragraphs – each body paragraph focuses on developing/explaining how one literary method is used B) Two body paragraphs (this is more advanced) – within your discussion of the work (support paragraph) you discuss how the two literary methods are used

14 Body Paragraphs Regardless of which method of development you select, remember: Begin the paragraph with a topic sentence that will link the discussion back to the thesis and guide the content of that paragraph Give specific support/proof from the work to show/prove how the works support what the critical lens is saying - fully explain your ideas Be thorough in developing the paragraph with specific and relevant support from the work you are discussing.

15 Do NOT give a plot summary – always assume your reader is familiar with the work - Instead, you discuss how an author uses a particular literary method to help bring out the idea stated in the critical lens. The paragraph then becomes a blending of specific support from the text while discussing the usage of a particular literary method.

16 Develop the paragraph in a logical and coherent manner – one sentence needs to logically flow from the one before it.

17 Sample Body Paragraph Approach “A” Knowles characterizes his narrator and protagonist, Gene Forrester, as a very jealous and insecure young man who is ruled by his emotions. Gene’s jealousy of Finny gradually develop; it first becomes clear when Gene resents that Finny is able to talk his way out of all potential trouble. Because even Gene is disturbed by his feelings, he rationalizes that it’s natural to be jealous of your best friend just a little.

18 Gene also becomes so envious of his best friend Finny that he actually talks himself into believing that Finny is deliberately trying to ruin his studies, rather than simply trying to help Gene to have a good time. This jealousy overwhelms what Gene knows about Finny’s personality, that Finny is a truly good person who would never consider harming his best friend. When Gene does finally realize that Finny could never do the things that Gene, in his jealousy and insecurity, thought he was doing, Gene’s emotions again override his ability to

19 reason. He can’t stand the idea that Finny might be a better person than him and thus causes Finny to fall from the tree near the river.

20 Sample Body Paragraph Approach “B” Romeo and Juliet’s love for one another is so powerful that they are blinded by it. From the moment Romeo and Juliet meet at the Capulet ball, being with one another overrides the knowledge of the long-standing conflict that exists between their two families and that their relationship could cause bloodshed. While they both acknowledge the existence of the feud, it is their overwhelming desire to

21 be with each other that wins out. After the Capulet ball, Romeo sneaks into the Capulet garden to catch a glimpse of Juliet, though he knows the danger to himself. In her soliloquy, Juliet wishes that Romeo could have any other name so they could easily be together. Throughout the play, both Romeo and Juliet are motivated by their love for one another. For example, Romeo wishes to marry Juliet right away (dismissing his “false” love for Rosaline). The Friar recognizes the characteristic impulsiveness that

22 Romeo, being young, demonstrates and tries to talk him into slowing down, Romeo can not. This same sense of urgency is seen in Juliet. Driven by her intense feeling for Romeo and her youthful impatience, she scolds the Nurse when the Nurse does not immediately give Juliet the message from Romeo. Their impulsiveness carries through to the end of the play when Romeo ironically takes his own life in his belief that Juliet is dead, and Juliet, rather than listen to the Friar, then takes her own life. Interestingly, though, it is through the rash and

23 emotionally charged actions of these two characters that the conflict between the two families is resolved, that with their deaths they “bury their parents’ strife.”

24 Conclusion The conclusion is not simply a repeat of the introduction. Its purpose is to recap the key ideas that have been presented in the body so that your reader remembers all of the points that you made. The conclusion should include: Titles and authors Restatement of the critical lens (actual or interpretation) Summary of ideas brought out/developed in the body


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