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What Is a Critical Lens Essay?

A critical lens essay is an analytical piece where you interpret and evaluate a piece of literature through a specific perspective or "lens." It requires a deep understanding of the text, as well as the ability to apply literary theories to unlock new meanings. How might viewing your favorite book through a different lens alter your perception? Join the conversation and find out.
R. Stamm
R. Stamm

A critical lens essay is a form of narrative essay containing five paragraphs covering a certain opinion of a direct quote. The standard five-paragraph format includes an introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. Each of the paragraphs examines critically the main point presented by the writer. Paragraphs in the critical lens essay are extremely structured and must adhere to certain guidelines in order to be written correctly.

In the first sentence of the introduction paragraph, the writer of the essay takes a direct quote from one of the pieces of literature and copies it. Then, the writer reinterprets that quote using original words and thoughts which are directly related. In the third sentence of the introduction, the writer states either agreement or disagreement with the opinion and gives reasons for support. The writer states which two literary works will be examined throughout the remainder of the essay.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The second and third paragraphs follow a different format as the introduction, but are written in the same way. The first sentence includes a literary element taken from one of the books, such as theme, characterization or the setting, and proves the point. Next, the writer shows how that point was proven and follows up with one more supporting sentence. The last sentence in the paragraph summarizes the thoughts presented.

In a critical lens essay, the fourth paragraph is based on the writer’s personal experiences. The paragraph should be written using the standard four-sentence structure. It either proves or disproves the point of view presented in the preceding two paragraphs.

After all ideas are presented using the outlined format, the writer concludes the essay by restating the original quote in the first sentence. The next sentence is a summary of why the quote is true or false followed by a prediction about future events in the next sentence. The individual should use another quote from one of the chosen works to further support the writer’s ideas to tie up the critical lens essay.

These types of essays are written for a variety of reasons. One reason is to sway the reader's point of view on a particular famous quote or to offer fresh insight into the meaning of the quote. In addition to that, the critical lens essay is assigned to assess the student’s skills in reading, writing and critical thinking. They are used to narrow the scope of a specific piece of literature.

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Discussion Comments


@Mammmood - What really makes this kind of essay unique in my opinion is that the writer invokes his personal experience to comment on the quote. That is rare in an essay of literary analysis, but I think it highlights the fact that this is really a persuasive essay more than it is one of literary criticism, at least in the usual sense that we understand it.


@NathanG - You can find a sample critical lens essay example online if you’ve never read (or written) these kinds of essays before.

One literary quote that is quite famous is Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be, that is the question.” I don’t know if the quote in its entirety is appropriate for a critical lens essay but it is certainly quite well known and gives you the opportunity to think about what you believe.

That quote is a little philosophical, of course, so it might be a little too abstract for your average high school student. I do suspect that one or two AP English students might tackle it, though.


@everetra - I haven’t written these critical lens essays either, but I can see how they would be quite useful. As a teacher one of the most important qualities that I wanted to instill in my students was the ability to develop critical thinking skills.

Too often students just take things in literature at face value without asking themselves if they agree or disagree, and if so, why. By forcing students to evaluate quotations and compare them with other quotations, they start developing their ability to analyze and evaluate, which are two important skills in literature.

They learn to marshal evidence together, like any good lawyer would, to support their arguments.


I can’t say that I’ve ever written a critical lens essay. While I have written essays where I invoke direct quotes from literature, and interpret those quotes, I have never written an essay the sole purpose of which was to expound on a single quote.

One thing that surprises me about this essay format is how precise the requirements are. Everything from the amount of paragraphs, the sentences per paragraphs, and which sentence is to say what – that is the most restrictive example of requirements for an essay that I’ve ever come across.

At the very least this type of essay will test your ability to follow precise instructions in writing your essay.

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      Woman holding a book