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- How to write a literary analysis essay | A step-by-step guide
How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay | A Step-by-Step Guide
Published on January 30, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on August 14, 2023.
Literary analysis means closely studying a text, interpreting its meanings, and exploring why the author made certain choices. It can be applied to novels, short stories, plays, poems, or any other form of literary writing.
A literary analysis essay is not a rhetorical analysis , nor is it just a summary of the plot or a book review. Instead, it is a type of argumentative essay where you need to analyze elements such as the language, perspective, and structure of the text, and explain how the author uses literary devices to create effects and convey ideas.
Before beginning a literary analysis essay, it’s essential to carefully read the text and c ome up with a thesis statement to keep your essay focused. As you write, follow the standard structure of an academic essay :
- An introduction that tells the reader what your essay will focus on.
- A main body, divided into paragraphs , that builds an argument using evidence from the text.
- A conclusion that clearly states the main point that you have shown with your analysis.
Table of contents
Step 1: reading the text and identifying literary devices, step 2: coming up with a thesis, step 3: writing a title and introduction, step 4: writing the body of the essay, step 5: writing a conclusion, other interesting articles.
The first step is to carefully read the text(s) and take initial notes. As you read, pay attention to the things that are most intriguing, surprising, or even confusing in the writing—these are things you can dig into in your analysis.
Your goal in literary analysis is not simply to explain the events described in the text, but to analyze the writing itself and discuss how the text works on a deeper level. Primarily, you’re looking out for literary devices —textual elements that writers use to convey meaning and create effects. If you’re comparing and contrasting multiple texts, you can also look for connections between different texts.
To get started with your analysis, there are several key areas that you can focus on. As you analyze each aspect of the text, try to think about how they all relate to each other. You can use highlights or notes to keep track of important passages and quotes.
Consider what style of language the author uses. Are the sentences short and simple or more complex and poetic?
What word choices stand out as interesting or unusual? Are words used figuratively to mean something other than their literal definition? Figurative language includes things like metaphor (e.g. “her eyes were oceans”) and simile (e.g. “her eyes were like oceans”).
Also keep an eye out for imagery in the text—recurring images that create a certain atmosphere or symbolize something important. Remember that language is used in literary texts to say more than it means on the surface.
- Who is telling the story?
- How are they telling it?
Is it a first-person narrator (“I”) who is personally involved in the story, or a third-person narrator who tells us about the characters from a distance?
Consider the narrator’s perspective . Is the narrator omniscient (where they know everything about all the characters and events), or do they only have partial knowledge? Are they an unreliable narrator who we are not supposed to take at face value? Authors often hint that their narrator might be giving us a distorted or dishonest version of events.
The tone of the text is also worth considering. Is the story intended to be comic, tragic, or something else? Are usually serious topics treated as funny, or vice versa ? Is the story realistic or fantastical (or somewhere in between)?
Consider how the text is structured, and how the structure relates to the story being told.
- Novels are often divided into chapters and parts.
- Poems are divided into lines, stanzas, and sometime cantos.
- Plays are divided into scenes and acts.
Think about why the author chose to divide the different parts of the text in the way they did.
There are also less formal structural elements to take into account. Does the story unfold in chronological order, or does it jump back and forth in time? Does it begin in medias res —in the middle of the action? Does the plot advance towards a clearly defined climax?
With poetry, consider how the rhyme and meter shape your understanding of the text and your impression of the tone. Try reading the poem aloud to get a sense of this.
In a play, you might consider how relationships between characters are built up through different scenes, and how the setting relates to the action. Watch out for dramatic irony , where the audience knows some detail that the characters don’t, creating a double meaning in their words, thoughts, or actions.
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Your thesis in a literary analysis essay is the point you want to make about the text. It’s the core argument that gives your essay direction and prevents it from just being a collection of random observations about a text.
If you’re given a prompt for your essay, your thesis must answer or relate to the prompt. For example:
Essay question example
Is Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” a religious parable?
Your thesis statement should be an answer to this question—not a simple yes or no, but a statement of why this is or isn’t the case:
Thesis statement example
Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” is not a religious parable, but a story about bureaucratic alienation.
Sometimes you’ll be given freedom to choose your own topic; in this case, you’ll have to come up with an original thesis. Consider what stood out to you in the text; ask yourself questions about the elements that interested you, and consider how you might answer them.
Your thesis should be something arguable—that is, something that you think is true about the text, but which is not a simple matter of fact. It must be complex enough to develop through evidence and arguments across the course of your essay.
Say you’re analyzing the novel Frankenstein . You could start by asking yourself:
Your initial answer might be a surface-level description:
The character Frankenstein is portrayed negatively in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein .
However, this statement is too simple to be an interesting thesis. After reading the text and analyzing its narrative voice and structure, you can develop the answer into a more nuanced and arguable thesis statement:
Mary Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as.
Remember that you can revise your thesis statement throughout the writing process , so it doesn’t need to be perfectly formulated at this stage. The aim is to keep you focused as you analyze the text.
Finding textual evidence
To support your thesis statement, your essay will build an argument using textual evidence —specific parts of the text that demonstrate your point. This evidence is quoted and analyzed throughout your essay to explain your argument to the reader.
It can be useful to comb through the text in search of relevant quotations before you start writing. You might not end up using everything you find, and you may have to return to the text for more evidence as you write, but collecting textual evidence from the beginning will help you to structure your arguments and assess whether they’re convincing.
To start your literary analysis paper, you’ll need two things: a good title, and an introduction.
Your title should clearly indicate what your analysis will focus on. It usually contains the name of the author and text(s) you’re analyzing. Keep it as concise and engaging as possible.
A common approach to the title is to use a relevant quote from the text, followed by a colon and then the rest of your title.
If you struggle to come up with a good title at first, don’t worry—this will be easier once you’ve begun writing the essay and have a better sense of your arguments.
“Fearful symmetry” : The violence of creation in William Blake’s “The Tyger”
The essay introduction provides a quick overview of where your argument is going. It should include your thesis statement and a summary of the essay’s structure.
A typical structure for an introduction is to begin with a general statement about the text and author, using this to lead into your thesis statement. You might refer to a commonly held idea about the text and show how your thesis will contradict it, or zoom in on a particular device you intend to focus on.
Then you can end with a brief indication of what’s coming up in the main body of the essay. This is called signposting. It will be more elaborate in longer essays, but in a short five-paragraph essay structure, it shouldn’t be more than one sentence.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, protagonist Victor Frankenstein is a stable representation of the callous ambition of modern science throughout the novel. This essay, however, argues that far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as. This essay begins by exploring the positive portrayal of Frankenstein in the first volume, then moves on to the creature’s perception of him, and finally discusses the third volume’s narrative shift toward viewing Frankenstein as the creature views him.
Some students prefer to write the introduction later in the process, and it’s not a bad idea. After all, you’ll have a clearer idea of the overall shape of your arguments once you’ve begun writing them!
If you do write the introduction first, you should still return to it later to make sure it lines up with what you ended up writing, and edit as necessary.
The body of your essay is everything between the introduction and conclusion. It contains your arguments and the textual evidence that supports them.
A typical structure for a high school literary analysis essay consists of five paragraphs : the three paragraphs of the body, plus the introduction and conclusion.
Each paragraph in the main body should focus on one topic. In the five-paragraph model, try to divide your argument into three main areas of analysis, all linked to your thesis. Don’t try to include everything you can think of to say about the text—only analysis that drives your argument.
In longer essays, the same principle applies on a broader scale. For example, you might have two or three sections in your main body, each with multiple paragraphs. Within these sections, you still want to begin new paragraphs at logical moments—a turn in the argument or the introduction of a new idea.
Robert’s first encounter with Gil-Martin suggests something of his sinister power. Robert feels “a sort of invisible power that drew me towards him.” He identifies the moment of their meeting as “the beginning of a series of adventures which has puzzled myself, and will puzzle the world when I am no more in it” (p. 89). Gil-Martin’s “invisible power” seems to be at work even at this distance from the moment described; before continuing the story, Robert feels compelled to anticipate at length what readers will make of his narrative after his approaching death. With this interjection, Hogg emphasizes the fatal influence Gil-Martin exercises from his first appearance.
To keep your points focused, it’s important to use a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph.
A good topic sentence allows a reader to see at a glance what the paragraph is about. It can introduce a new line of argument and connect or contrast it with the previous paragraph. Transition words like “however” or “moreover” are useful for creating smooth transitions:
… The story’s focus, therefore, is not upon the divine revelation that may be waiting beyond the door, but upon the mundane process of aging undergone by the man as he waits.
Nevertheless, the “radiance” that appears to stream from the door is typically treated as religious symbolism.
This topic sentence signals that the paragraph will address the question of religious symbolism, while the linking word “nevertheless” points out a contrast with the previous paragraph’s conclusion.
Using textual evidence
A key part of literary analysis is backing up your arguments with relevant evidence from the text. This involves introducing quotes from the text and explaining their significance to your point.
It’s important to contextualize quotes and explain why you’re using them; they should be properly introduced and analyzed, not treated as self-explanatory:
It isn’t always necessary to use a quote. Quoting is useful when you’re discussing the author’s language, but sometimes you’ll have to refer to plot points or structural elements that can’t be captured in a short quote.
In these cases, it’s more appropriate to paraphrase or summarize parts of the text—that is, to describe the relevant part in your own words:
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The conclusion of your analysis shouldn’t introduce any new quotations or arguments. Instead, it’s about wrapping up the essay. Here, you summarize your key points and try to emphasize their significance to the reader.
A good way to approach this is to briefly summarize your key arguments, and then stress the conclusion they’ve led you to, highlighting the new perspective your thesis provides on the text as a whole:
If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
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By tracing the depiction of Frankenstein through the novel’s three volumes, I have demonstrated how the narrative structure shifts our perception of the character. While the Frankenstein of the first volume is depicted as having innocent intentions, the second and third volumes—first in the creature’s accusatory voice, and then in his own voice—increasingly undermine him, causing him to appear alternately ridiculous and vindictive. Far from the one-dimensional villain he is often taken to be, the character of Frankenstein is compelling because of the dynamic narrative frame in which he is placed. In this frame, Frankenstein’s narrative self-presentation responds to the images of him we see from others’ perspectives. This conclusion sheds new light on the novel, foregrounding Shelley’s unique layering of narrative perspectives and its importance for the depiction of character.
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Literary Analysis Guide
In writing about literature or any specific text, you will strengthen your discussion if you offer specific passages from the text as evidence. Rather than simply dropping in quotations and expecting their significance and relevance to your argument to be self-evident, you need to provide sufficient analysis of the passage. Remember that your over-riding goal of analysis writing is to demonstrate some new understanding of the text.
How to analyze a text?
- Read or reread the text with specific questions in mind.
- Marshal basic ideas, events and names. Depending on the complexity of book, this requires additional review of the text.
- Think through your personal reaction to the book: identification, enjoyment, significance, application.
- Identify and consider most important ideas (importance will depend on context of class, assignment, study guide).
- Return to the text to locate specific evidence and passages related to the major ideas.
- Use your knowledge following the principles of analyzing a passage described below: test, essay, research, presentation, discussion, enjoyment.
Principles of analyzing a passage
- Offer a thesis or topic sentence indicating a basic observation or assertion about the text or passage.
- Offer a context for the passage without offering too much summary.
- Cite the passage (using correct format).
- Discuss what happens in the passage and why it is significant to the work as a whole.
- Consider what is said, particularly subtleties of the imagery and the ideas expressed.
- Assess how it is said, considering how the word choice, the ordering of ideas, sentence structure, etc., contribute to the meaning of the passage.
- Explain what it means, tying your analysis of the passage back to the significance of the text as a whole.
- Repeat the process of context, quotation and analysis with additional support for your thesis or topic sentence.
Sample analysis paragraphs
From james mcbride’s the color of water.
An important difference between James and his mother is their method of dealing with the pain they experience. While James turns inward, his mother Ruth turns outward, starting a new relationship, moving to a different place, keeping herself busy. Ruth herself describes that, even as a young girl, she had an urge to run, to feel the freedom and the movement of her legs pumping as fast as they can (42). As an adult, Ruth still feels the urge to run. Following her second husband’s death, James points out that, “while she weebled and wobbled and leaned, she did not fall. She responded with speed and motion. She would not stop moving” (163). As she biked, walked, rode the bus all over the city, “she kept moving as if her life depended on it, which in some ways it did. She ran, as she had done most of her life, but this time she was running for her own sanity” (164). Ruth’s motion is a pattern of responding to the tragedy in her life. As a girl, she did not sit and think about her abusive father and her trapped life in the Suffolk store. Instead she just left home, moved on, tried something different. She did not analyze the connections between pain and understanding, between action and response, even though she seems to understand them. As an adult, she continues this pattern, although her running is modified by her responsibilities to her children and home.
The image of running that McBride uses here and elsewhere supports his understanding of his mother as someone who does not stop and consider what is happening in her life yet is able to move ahead. Movement provides the solution, although a temporary one, and preserves her sanity. Discrete moments of action preserve her sense of her own strength and offer her new alternatives for the future. Even McBride’s sentence structure in the paragraph about his mother’s running supports the effectiveness of her spurts of action without reflection. Although varying in length, each of the last seven sentences of the paragraph begins with the subject “She” and an active verb such as “rode,” “walked,” “took,” “grasp” and “ran.” The section is choppy, repetitive and yet clear, as if to reinforce Ruth’s unconscious insistence on movement as a means of coping with the difficulties of her life.
from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye
#1 The negative effect the environment can have on the individual is shown in Morrison’s comparison of marigolds in the ground to people in the environment. Early in the novel, Claudia and Frieda are concerned that the marigold seeds they planted that spring never sprouted. At the end of the novel, Claudia reflects on the connection to Pecola’s failure:
I talk about how I did not plant the seeds too deeply, how it was the fault of the earth, our land, our town. I even think now that the land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. (206)
Morrison obviously views the environment as a powerful influence on the individual when she suggests that the earth itself is hostile to the growth of the marigold seeds. In a similar way, people cannot thrive in a hostile environment. Pecola Breedlove is a seed planted in the hostile environment, and, when she is not nurtured in any way, she cannot thrive.
#2 One effect of the belief that white skin, blonde hair and blue eyes are the most beautiful is evident in the characters who admire white film stars. Morrison shows an example of the destructive effect of this beauty standard on the character Pecola. When Pecola lives with Claudia and Frieda, the two sisters try to please their guest by giving her milk in a Shirley Temple mug. Claudia recalls, “She was a long time with the milk, and gazed fondly at the silhouette of Shirley Temple’s face” (19). This picture of two young African-American girls admiring the beauty of a white American film star is impossible for Claudia to comprehend. Another character who admires white beauty is Maureen Peale. As Pecola and the girls walk past a movie theater on their way home with Maureen, Maureen asks if the others “just love” Betty Grable, who smiles from a movie poster. When she later tells the others she is cute and they are ugly, Maureen reveals her belief that she is superior because she looks more like a Betty Grable image than the blacker girls do. Pecola’s and Maureen’s fascination with popular images is preceded by Pauline’s own belief in the possibility of movie images. She describes doing her hair like Jean Harlow’s and eating candy at a movie. Rather than being transported into the romantic heaven of Hollywood, she loses a tooth and ends in despair. “Everything went then. Look like I just didn’t care no more after that. I let my hair go back, plaited it up, and settled down to just being ugly” (123). Admiring beauty in another is one thing; transferring a sense of self-hatred when a person doesn’t measure is another. At that point, the power of white beauty standards becomes very destructive.
Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions
Although Tambu recognizes the injustices she and Nyasha endure as females, she hesitates to act on her suspicion because of fear. First of all, she is afraid that she might not recognize and feel comfortable with herself in a critical role. She hesitates to pursue her critique, noting to herself, “I was beginning to suspect that I was not the person I was expected to be, and took it as evidence that somewhere I had taken a wrong turning” (116). Using other people’s perceptions rather than her own, she judges her thoughts to be wrong. Although she senses that her behavior as the “grateful poor female relative” was insincere, she admitted it felt more comfortable. “It mapped clearly the ways I could or could not go, and by keeping within those boundaries I was able to avoid the mazes of self-confrontation” (116). While she is somewhat embarrassed that she lacks the intensity she had when fighting against Nhamo and her father over the maize, she is reluctant to lose Babamakuru’s protection and fears experiencing the same kind of trauma Nyasha does in her struggle. Although she says she feels “wise to be preserving [her] energy, unlike [her] cousin, who was burning herself out,” she reveals that she fears losing a familiar sense of herself in order to battle injustices.
Why study English at Goshen College?
21 Literary Analysis
When is the last time you read a book for fun? If you were to classify that book, would you call it fiction or literature? This is an interesting separation, with many possible reasons for it. One is that “fiction” and “literature” are regarded as quite different things. “Fiction,” for example, is what people read for enjoyment. “Literature” is what they read for school. Or “fiction” is what living people write and is about the present. “Literature” was written by people (often white males) who have since died and is about times and places that have nothing to do with us. Or “fiction” offers everyday pleasures, but “literature” is to be honored and respected, even though it is boring. Of course, when we put anything on a pedestal, we remove it from everyday life, so the corollary is that literature is to be honored and respected, but it is not to be read, certainly not by any normal person with normal interests.
What is Literature?
Some misconceptions about literature, why reading literature is important, how to read literature.
- The more you know about a story, the more pleasure your reading will provide as you uncover the hidden elements that create the theme of the piece.
- Address your own biases and compare your own experiences with those expressed in the piece.
- Test your positions and thoughts about the piece with what others think by doing research.
While you will have your own individual connection to a piece based on your life experiences, interpreting literature is not a willy nilly process. Each piece has an author who had a purpose in writing the piece–you want to uncover that purpose. As the speaker in the video you watched about how to read literature notes, you, as a reader, also have a role to play. Sometimes you may see something in the text that speaks to you–whether or not the author intended that piece to be there, it still matters to you. However, when writing about literature, it’s important that our observations can be supported by the text itself. Make sure you aren’t reading into the text something that isn’t there. Value the author for who he/she is and appreciate his/her experiences while attempting to create a connection with yourself and your experiences.
To analyze means to break something down into its parts and examine them. Analyzing is a vital skill for successful readers. Analyzing a text involves breaking down its ideas and structure to understand it better, think critically about it, and draw conclusions. In order to most efficiently analyze a fictional text, you can make use of a story map.
When you read a literary piece of work, one of the best ways to begin an analysis is to review the literary elements that are contained within that story. Several of these elements were mentioned in the previous section on writing a story map. Let’s look a little deeper.
A common approach to analyzing short fiction is to focus on five basic elements: plot , character , setting , conflict , and theme .The plot of a work of fiction is the series of events and character actions that relate to the central conflict. A character is a person, or perhaps an animal, who participates in the action of the story. The setting of a piece of fiction is the time and place in which the events happen, including the landscape, scenery, buildings, seasons, or weather. The conflict is a struggle between two people or things in a short story. The main character is usually on one side of the central conflict. The theme is the central idea or issue conveyed by the story. These five basic elements combine to form what might be called the overall narrative of story. In the next section, we will discuss the narrative arc of fiction in more detail.Below are the formal elements of fiction and questions that will help you to read texts actively.
Questions for Active Reading:
- How does the text present the passing of time?
- Does it present time in a chronological way?
- Or does it present the event in a non-chronological way?
- What verb tenses are used? (i.e. past, present, future)
- How are the characters described?
- Do the characters talk in unique or peculiar ways?
- Are the names of the characters important or meaningful?
- What kind of conflicts emerge between the characters?
- When and where does the story seem to take place?
- Is there anything important or meaningful in regards to the time of day or time of year the story seems to take place?
- Is there any significance to the atmospheric, environmental, or weather events that take place?
- What problem or issue serves as the story’s focus?
- Is the conflict an explicit one between the story’s characters?
- Or is there a larger question or concern that is implied through the story’s narration?
- What is the relationship between the title of the story and the text?
- What main issue or idea does the story address? (1)
The narrative arc — or dramatic structure — of a story may be divided into several phases of development. One traditional method of the analysis of fiction involves identifying five major stages of the development of the plot. The five major stages are known as the exposition (or introduction), the rising action (sometimes referred to as complicating action), the climax (or turning point), the falling action , and the denouement (or resolution).
The exposition of a story introduces characters’ backstory and key information about the setting. With this foundation laid, the dramatic tension then builds, thus creating the rising action of the story through a series of related events that complicate and exacerbate the major conflicts of the story. The turning point of the story occurs at the climax that typically changes the main character’s fate or reveals how the conflict will move toward resolution, either favorably or perhaps tragically. The falling action works to unravel the tension at the core of the major conflict or conflicts in the story and between the characters, although it may include one last twist that impacts the resolution of events. Denouement is derived from the Old French word desnouer (“to untie”); the term suggests that the knot of conflict generating the tension in the story at last is loosened. Of course, not every aspect of the conflict may be resolved or may be resolved to the satisfaction of the reader. Indeed, in some stories, the author may intend that the reader should be left to weigh the validity or even the morality of further outcomes.While these five stages of dramatic structure are very helpful in analyzing fiction, they can be applied too strictly making a story seem like one linear series of events in straight chronological order. Some of the most engaging and well-crafted works of fiction break or interrupt the linear structure of events, perhaps through the manipulation of time (as in the use of flashback or flash forward ) or through the inclusion of an extended interior monologue (a digression into the interior thoughts, memories, and/or feelings of a particular character). Therefore, readers should be careful not to simplify the plot of a story into an ordered, numerical list of events.The terms protagonist (main character, or hero/heroine) and antagonist (anti-hero/ine) can be helpful in highlighting the roles of the major characters in a story. The story also may unfold through a particular point-of-view , or even through alternating points-of-view. The two most utilized narrative perspectives to consider are first-person point-of-view where the protagonist narrates the story from the voice of “I,” and third-person point-of-view , or omniscient point-of-view, where the narrative refers to each character as “he,” “she,” or “it” thus offering a more distanced perspective on events.Readers may be persuaded, or not, of a narrative’s credibility through point-of-view(s) and/or the presentation of the persona of the narrator (if there is one). A persona is the role that one assumes or displays in public; in literature, it is the presented face or speaking voice of a character. Credibility is the quality of being believed, convincing, or trustworthy. When the credibility of a text is called into question, perhaps as a result of conflicting accounts of events, or detected bias in a point-of-view, the text is said to have an unreliable narrator . Sometimes authors choose to intentionally create an unreliable narrator either to raise suspense, obscure their own position on a subject, or as a means of critiquing a particular cultural or social perspective.Additionally, to analyze a short story more closely, as in poetry, students may also pay attention to the use of figurative language . Figurative language, such as the use of imagery and symbol can be especially significant in fiction. What brings value to one’s analysis is the critical thought that prioritizes which of these many formal elements is most significant to communicating the meaning of the story and connects how these formal elements work together to form the unique whole of a given fictional work.
Common Types of Figurative Language:
Apostrophe — A direct address to a person or object not literally listening; ex: “Oh, Great Mother Nature how you test our spirit…” Allusion — Reference to a well-known object, character, or event, sometimes from another literary work. Hyperbole — Exaggeration used for emphasis. Imagery — Words and phrases that appeal to the senses, particularly sight. Metaphor — A direct comparison of two seemingly dissimilar items (does not use the words like or as ). Onomatopoeia — A word that imitates the sound of the object the word represents. Personification — The attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman places or things. Simile — A comparison of two seemingly dissimilar items using like or as .While it is important to ground our analysis of literature in a close reading based on a detailed understanding of formal elements and structure, we should not become so carried away that we neglect the roles history and cultural circumstances can play in shaping a piece. Likewise, as Edward Hirsch suggests, it is also important to recognize the contribution that you make as a reader to the construction of a text’s meaning.Consider the poem “ Dulce et Decorum est ” by Wilfred Owen. The content of the text is moving enough, yet the added emotional weight of understanding the poem’s context — the mass casualties in Europe during World War I — lends a potent specificity to the imagery in Owen’s poem. The poem’s effect is made all the more palpable by the knowledge that he was killed in action one week before the Armistice that ended the fighting in Western Europe. With this historical context in mind, it might be possible then to consider what your own experience or views on war might be.The context of a text can play a major role in what gives it a lasting literary value. However, when a powerful historical context meets masterful formal execution, it can be tempting to assume everything in the piece is a direct line to the author’s heart and mind. But when analyzing a poem or story, the speaker , the narrator, the “I” voice, should not be conflated with the author of the poem. In the written analysis, we refer to “the author” when speaking of his or her craftsmanship and authorial choices, as in “the author repeats the symbol of the bird at the beginning and the end of the poem.” We use “the speaker” when discussing the point-of-view of the narrator of the story, or the “I” speaking in the poem, as in “the speaker longs to be free” or “the speaker bemoans the impending loss of her child.” In our analysis we can suggest that “the poet” is closely aligned with “the speaker,” but we should not assume they are one and the same.
Preparing for Research — Knowing Your Thesis
If we truly are engaged in writing and research as a process, then finding the thesis or purpose statement that will ground and drive your analysis essay will not be instant. Drafting different versions of what will be your thesis is advisable. Consider the preparation that would occur for other things you would place before an audience, like a business proposal or an invitation to a party; some refinement would be required.
For example, if your goal was to write an analysis of Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn , it is likely that several ideas for a thesis statement would come to mind.
The friendship between Huck and Jim reveals Twain’s commentary on the moral dilemma of slavery.
This is a fair enough focus. It is analytical; it does more than summarize. It places a proposition before the reader and upon consideration of that proposition would lead to a richer understanding of the novel. However, slight alterations in this thesis statement may offer improvements or interesting variations. For instance, an emphasis on the form could add to the analysis of the content of the novel.
The friendship of Huck and Jim reveals Twain’s commentary on the moral dilemma of slavery as revealed through the use of dialogue and interior monologue.
A further refinement might manage to incorporate form, content, AND context. Notice that a fully developed thesis may well require more than one long, run-on sentence.
Mark Twain encourages the reading audience of his day to question the moral dilemma of slavery through his portrayal of the friendship between Huck and Jim. By revealing differing social perspectives and moral positions through the dialogue between the characters and the interior monologues of Huck, Twain allows his readers to have multiple opinions while nudging their sympathies toward a critique of slavery.
The advantage of establishing your thesis before embarking upon outside research is that you are more likely to be focused on the kinds of sources that will be most useful and less likely to be overwhelmed or sidetracked by tangential information. You may want to look up general information, such as confirming historical dates or clarifying the use of certain vocabulary, but entering the process of looking for quality sources without a clear sense of the thesis you intend to place at the center of your analysis may muddle your thinking. Certainly, as you continue your research and draft and revise your essay, your thesis, and/or your supporting ideas may shift somewhat. That is a natural part of the writing process, but that kind of adjustment in thinking deepens or refines your analysis.
Time to Write
Purpose: This assignment will demonstrate the understanding of how to respond to a piece of literature you have read by evaluating it and making a claim or observation about the way it relates to a larger issue or idea.
Task: This assignment frames a single short story in which the student analyzes the significance of the elements in the text.
Write a Literary Analysis. Concentrating on the literary elements of the text, write a short essay in which you analyze the significance of specific literary elements with evidence from the text itself and from outside sources.
Key Features of a Literary Analysis:
Introduce an interpretation of the literary work
Present specific questions or ideas that need a response
Present a clear argument in your thesis
Use quotes from the literary text
Explain how the quotes support your thesis
If it is a long text, you may need to focus on a particular section such as a chapter
Key Grading Considerations
A clear focus on literary elements
Supporting points are credible, clear, and explained
3 solid, supporting points minimum
3 sources, used in an appropriate manner
All information is clear, appropriate, and correct.
Key Features of Analysis are included
Argumentative Thesis Statement
Clear introduction, body, and conclusion
Comprehension of the literary text
Language Use, Mechanics & Organization
Correct, appropriate, and varied integration of textual examples, including in-text citations
Limited errors in spelling, grammar, word order, word usage, sentence structure, and punctuation
Good use of academic English
Demonstrates cohesion and flow
Fully in MLA Format
“Introduction to Literature” by Dr. Karen Palmer adapted from Literature, the Humanities, and Humanity by Theodore L. Steinberg and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
“Approaches to Literary Analysis” by FSCJ found in Literature for the Humanities by Lumen Learning is licensed under CC-BY 4.0
Original Content “Time to Write” by Christine Jones is licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication
English 101: Journey Into Open Copyright © 2021 by Christine Jones is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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Appendix 5: Writing an Analysis of a Poem, Story, or Play
If you are taking a literature course, it is important that you know how to write an analysis—sometimes called an interpretation or a literary analysis or a critical reading or a critical analysis—of a story, a poem, and a play. Your instructor will probably assign such an analysis as part of the course assessment. On your mid-term or final exam, you might have to write an analysis of one or more of the poems and/or stories on your reading list. Or the dreaded “sight poem or story” might appear on an exam, a work that is not on the reading list, that you have not read before, but one your instructor includes on the exam to examine your ability to apply the active reading skills you have learned in class to produce, independently, an effective literary analysis.You might be asked to write instead or, or in addition to an analysis of a literary work, a more sophisticated essay in which you compare and contrast the protagonists of two stories, or the use of form and metaphor in two poems, or the tragic heroes in two plays.
You might learn some literary theory in your course and be asked to apply theory—feminist, Marxist, reader-response, psychoanalytic, new historicist, for example—to one or more of the works on your reading list. But the seminal assignment in a literature course is the analysis of the single poem, story, novel, or play, and, even if you do not have to complete this assignment specifically, it will form the basis of most of the other writing assignments you will be required to undertake in your literature class. There are several ways of structuring a literary analysis, and your instructor might issue specific instructions on how he or she wants this assignment done. The method presented here might not be identical to the one your instructor wants you to follow, but it will be easy enough to modify, if your instructor expects something a bit different, and it is a good default method, if your instructor does not issue more specific guidelines.You want to begin your analysis with a paragraph that provides the context of the work you are analyzing and a brief account of what you believe to be the poem or story or play’s main theme. At a minimum, your account of the work’s context will include the name of the author, the title of the work, its genre, and the date and place of publication. If there is an important biographical or historical context to the work, you should include that, as well.Try to express the work’s theme in one or two sentences. Theme, you will recall, is that insight into human experience the author offers to readers, usually revealed as the content, the drama, the plot of the poem, story, or play unfolds and the characters interact. Assessing theme can be a complex task. Authors usually show the theme; they don’t tell it. They rarely say, at the end of the story, words to this effect: “and the moral of my story is…” They tell their story, develop their characters, provide some kind of conflict—and from all of this theme emerges. Because identifying theme can be challenging and subjective, it is often a good idea to work through the rest of the analysis, then return to the beginning and assess theme in light of your analysis of the work’s other literary elements.Here is a good example of an introductory paragraph from Ben’s analysis of William Butler Yeats’ poem, “Among School Children.”
“Among School Children” was published in Yeats’ 1928 collection of poems The Tower . It was inspired by a visit Yeats made in 1926 to school in Waterford, an official visit in his capacity as a senator of the Irish Free State. In the course of the tour, Yeats reflects upon his own youth and the experiences that shaped the “sixty-year old, smiling public man” (line 8) he has become. Through his reflection, the theme of the poem emerges: a life has meaning when connections among apparently disparate experiences are forged into a unified whole.
In the body of your literature analysis, you want to guide your readers through a tour of the poem, story, or play, pausing along the way to comment on, analyze, interpret, and explain key incidents, descriptions, dialogue, symbols, the writer’s use of figurative language—any of the elements of literature that are relevant to a sound analysis of this particular work. Your main goal is to explain how the elements of literature work to elucidate, augment, and develop the theme. The elements of literature are common across genres: a story, a narrative poem, and a play all have a plot and characters. But certain genres privilege certain literary elements. In a poem, for example, form, imagery and metaphor might be especially important; in a story, setting and point-of-view might be more important than they are in a poem; in a play, dialogue, stage directions, lighting serve functions rarely relevant in the analysis of a story or poem.
The length of the body of an analysis of a literary work will usually depend upon the length of work being analyzed—the longer the work, the longer the analysis—though your instructor will likely establish a word limit for this assignment. Make certain that you do not simply paraphrase the plot of the story or play or the content of the poem. This is a common weakness in student literary analyses, especially when the analysis is of a poem or a play.
Here is a good example of two body paragraphs from Amelia’s analysis of “Araby” by James Joyce.
Within the story’s first few paragraphs occur several religious references which will accumulate as the story progresses. The narrator is a student at the Christian Brothers’ School; the former tenant of his house was a priest; he left behind books called The Abbot and The Devout Communicant . Near the end of the story’s second paragraph the narrator describes a “central apple tree” in the garden, under which is “the late tenant’s rusty bicycle pump.” We may begin to suspect the tree symbolizes the apple tree in the Garden of Eden and the bicycle pump, the snake which corrupted Eve, a stretch, perhaps, until Joyce’s fall-of-innocence theme becomes more apparent.
The narrator must continue to help his aunt with her errands, but, even when he is so occupied, his mind is on Mangan’s sister, as he tries to sort out his feelings for her. Here Joyce provides vivid insight into the mind of an adolescent boy at once elated and bewildered by his first crush. He wants to tell her of his “confused adoration,” but he does not know if he will ever have the chance. Joyce’s description of the pleasant tension consuming the narrator is conveyed in a striking simile, which continues to develop the narrator’s character, while echoing the religious imagery, so important to the story’s theme: “But my body was like a harp, and her words and gestures were like fingers, running along the wires.”
The concluding paragraph of your analysis should realize two goals. First, it should present your own opinion on the quality of the poem or story or play about which you have been writing. And, second, it should comment on the current relevance of the work. You should certainly comment on the enduring social relevance of the work you are explicating. You may comment, though you should never be obliged to do so, on the personal relevance of the work. Here is the concluding paragraph from Dao-Ming’s analysis of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest .
First performed in 1895, The Importance of Being Earnest has been made into a film, as recently as 2002 and is regularly revived by professional and amateur theatre companies. It endures not only because of the comic brilliance of its characters and their dialogue, but also because its satire still resonates with contemporary audiences. I am still amazed that I see in my own Asian mother a shadow of Lady Bracknell, with her obsession with finding for her daughter a husband who will maintain, if not, ideally, increase the family’s social status. We might like to think we are more liberated and socially sophisticated than our Victorian ancestors, but the starlets and eligible bachelors who star in current reality television programs illustrate the extent to which superficial concerns still influence decisions about love and even marriage. Even now, we can turn to Oscar Wilde to help us understand and laugh at those who are earnest in name only.
Dao-Ming’s conclusion is brief, but she does manage to praise the play, reaffirm its main theme, and explain its enduring appeal. And note how her last sentence cleverly establishes that sense of closure that is also a feature of an effective analysis.
You may, of course, modify the template that is presented here. Your instructor might favour a somewhat different approach to literary analysis. Its essence, though, will be your understanding and interpretation of the theme of the poem, story, or play and the skill with which the author shapes the elements of literature—plot, character, form, diction, setting, point of view—to support the theme.
[A Model Analysis ]
Now read the short poem by Siegfried Sassoon, “Base Details,” reprinted in Project Bartleby, and then read the sample essay with comments:
Let’s have a look at Sassoon’s poem of World War I: “Base Details” .
First let’s try to determine who is the speaker, the “I” of the poem. Notice that the speaker speculates: “If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath…” Might we assume he is none of the three adjectives? So how old would he be? Start with a hypothesis and stick with it unless further details make your guess seem untenable. Then try a different hypothesis. For now let’s assume that the speaker is young. What is his rank? Is he an officer? Unlikely, probably an unlisted man, since his tone toward the majors is angry and sarcastic.
He calls them “scarlet.” What is the denotation of “scarlet”? What are some connotations of “scarlet”? What does “petulant” mean? Why are the faces of the majors described as “puffy”? What is the main meaning here of “scrap”? Are other meanings intended?
What is the purpose of the poem? Look up the brief biographical details for Sassoon on the online “ Oxford World War I Poets ” website.
After reading the poem three times (you should print a copy of the poem from Project Bartleby), have a look at the following student essay on diction in “Base Details.”
The Diction of “Base Details” (Student Essay adapted from Edward J. Gordon, Writing About Imaginative Literature , Harbrace: 1973).
Old men make and run wars; young men fight and die in them. In “Base Details,” Siegfried Sassoon reveals through his diction a bitterness toward the fact that young men die in wars while the officers live safely behind the lines. The speaker in the poem is an ordinary soldier talking about the majors at the army base. By pretending what he would be like if he were an officer, he condemns war.
Through his choice of words, the soldier expresses an attitude of contempt for the officers behind the lines who “speed glum heroes up the line to death.” He speaks with sarcasm of their fierceness and goes on to describe them as “bald, and short of breath.” If he were a major, he, too, would have a “puffy petulant face,/Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel.” The connotations of these words suggest men who are overweight and out of shape from drinking and eating too much. The reference to “scarlet Majors” recalls the red dress uniforms of British officers and the colour of blood.
[Coherence would be even better here if the student could perhaps go on to point out explicitly how the majors figuratively have blood on their hands—the blood of the young soldiers under their command. One brief sentence would do. JS]
The speaker then goes on to describe the attitude toward soldiers that is held by the officers. One speaks of losing many men in “this last scrap.” The understatement of that last word contrasts sharply with the mention in the same line of a heavy loss in battle. [ Here the student should state the other meanings of “scrap” and point out their thematic significance. JS ] In the last two lines of the poem, a further contrast is set up between “youth stone dead” and the officer who will “toddle safely home and die—in bed.” [Here the student could improve the essay by discussing the connotations of the verb “toddle” and then relating the diction to theme. JS]
When the entire poem is read, the title becomes ambiguous. The apparent meaning refers to the details of a military base. But “base” can also mean low and contemptible. “Detail” also has two meanings. It can mean a detachment of men sent out on a particular mission—”speed glum heroes up the line”—but it can also mean a minor matter, as if sending people off to die is not important to the officers. So the apparent meaning that we see as we begin reading turns into a second meaning when we finish reading the poem.
The diction, then, makes a comment on the theme of the poem: old men who direct wars at a safe distance behind the lines seem to have little understanding of what it means to die in battle and appear on “the Roll of Honor.”
English Literature: Victorians and Moderns by James Sexton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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Literature analysis is the cornerstone of many college classes, in subjects ranging from English literature to history. Literature analysis papers as you to consider how and why a literary text was written and conveys some kind of message. The ability to take apart a text and break it down into its separate parts enables you to judge how effective an author’s argument is, what symbols or motifs are important throughout the novel, poem or other text, and ultimately, to understand the text in a more holistic way. Therefore, knowing how to craft a good argument and defend it well using textual evidence is an important skill to learn in preparing for your college career.
The most important things to consider when writing a literary analysis paper are: what is your argument? Are you expressing it correctly via a well-placed thesis statement ? Do you support your argument well throughout your essay? Support for an argument typically involves using lots of evidence from the text in the form of quotations from a close reading of a passage (for more on how to successfully use quotations, see our “Integrating Quotations” support guide). Often this also involves reading, analyzing, and using outside research to support what you are arguing. Learning the basic structure of literary analysis will be helpful for writing many different kinds of essays.
Here are a few links to get you started on writing your literature analysis paper:
What is literature analysis (including a glossary of literary terms)?
- Purdue Owl: What Makes a Good Literature Paper?
- Roan State: The Elements of Literature
Tips on writing effective literature analysis essays.
- How to Write a Literature Analysis Essay Handout (from Bucks County Community College)
- Writing a Paper on Fiction in 9 Steps (from UNC Chapel Hill)
How do I support my argument?
- Using Evidence (from UNC Chapel Hill)
- How to do a Close Reading (from Carson-Newman University)
- Skip to content
- Accessibility Help
Analysis: what it is and how to do it
Did you know.
The word ‘analysis’ literally means to loosen something up. It is made up of two Greek words, ana meaning up, and lysis meaning to loosen.
Introduction to analysis
Analysis is an important skill to learn and practise in English – it helps you to explore and understand the writer’s craft.
Key learning points
- What is analysis and where would we use it?
- How do I analyse a fiction text and write about it?
- Which literary terms could I use in my analysis and how do I use them?
Video about analysis
When we analyse a text, we are trying to understand how it works. We can look at the overall structure, the individual sentences and the writer’s word choices to find different possible meanings. Think about what you’d like to explore. For example, it might be interesting to understand how the characters are portrayed.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
How does Dickens present the character of Scrooge?
Start your analysis by finding a relevant or interesting section of text.
'Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint … secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.'
What does Dickens’s language choice tell you about Scrooge?
Dickens presents Scrooge as a character isolated from society.
But how has Dickens achieved this? Take the simile: “solitary as an oyster”. What effect does this comparison have?
Oysters have hard shells that protect themselves from predators. This simile suggests that Scrooge could be isolating himself from the people around him as a defence mechanism.
Try to explore additional connotations and further layers of meaning.
Oysters only come out to feed. So perhaps Scrooge only interacts with people when it benefits him.
And you can add depth to your analysis by exploring the context in which the text was produced.
Most rich members of Victorian society only interacted with their social inferiors when it was necessary. Dickens would have experienced this first-hand from when he was a boy working in Warren’s Blacking factory.
To summarise your analysis, articulate your personal opinion with authority.
I believe Dickens compared Scrooge to an oyster to illustrate his isolation from society. The simile alludes to his relationship with others and hints that he doesn't want to be hurt..
Use the tools of analysis to explore how a text works: start by looking at a short section; make an observation on the language choice, explain the effect or meaning, explore further layers of meaning and context – then summarise with authority!
Who knows what you might discover in your favourite texts.
What is analysis?
Analysis allows us to see the smaller parts of something and understand more about them.
Think about a woollen scarf. If you pull it apart, the strands become looser and you can start to see how it is made – the weave, the threads, the pattern etc.
When asked to analyse a piece of writing, you need to look in detail at what the writer has done. Instead of weave, threads and pattern, look for words, techniques, and the structure of the writing. This can help you understand how the piece of writing was created and the effect the writing has on the reader.
Analysis in non-fiction contexts
Analysis is a skill that is used in many different areas of life. Right now, there are millions of people all over the world completing some sort of analysis to find out the answer to something or explain how something works. Often this is based on something they have to read.
Scientific analysis might involve looking at evidence in studies and reports and picking out what is needed to support a hypothesis or a decision.
Forensic analysis might involve looking over emails to find specific patterns or searching social media to find key words to aid an investigation.
Journalistic analysis might involve reading the testimonies of witnesses to an event and piecing together a narrative about that event.
How to analyse a fiction text
Analysing language is about unpicking the words and structure of a text to see its smaller, simpler elements.
You could focus your analysis of a text on one the following areas:
- Words – adjectives, adverbs, verbs, etc
- Sentences – simple, compound, complex
- Paragraphs – structure, length
- Literary techniques – metaphor , simile , repetition , imagery etc
- Characters – appearance, mannerisms, motivations, dialogue
- Themes – where a theme appears, which characters represent the theme
- Plot – what happens and when, and to whom
- Symbols – links to character, links to themes
How to analyse character
When you are analysing a character in a fiction text, make sure to focus on these six areas:
- actions taken by the character
- the character's physical appearance
- how other characters behave around the character
- dialogue spoken by the character
- explore the journey a character takes in the text, do they change?
- how the character behaves
How to analyse a theme
A theme is an idea that runs through a text and can be linked to characters or moments. To analyse a theme it’s useful to look for points in the text where that theme ‘thread’ appears in the story.
- Which events link to this theme?
- Who is affected by the theme and when?
- What images or symbols are linked to the theme?
Examples of analytical paragraphs
An analytical paragraph needs to do three main things:
- Identify what the writer has done
- Consider how the writer’s choice affects the reader
Consider why the writer made that choice
Read the extract below.
The door swung open with force, sending papers flying off the desk at the back onto the floor. As Charlie hastily picked them up, he felt an icy breeze on his neck as the cover teacher strode past him into the classroom. The teacher’s head was bowed and a frown brewed on his stormy face. Charlie sat up straighter in his chair; this was going to be a difficult lesson.
Question: How does the writer use language to present the cover teacher?
Step 1: Identify what the writer has done
Look at the techniques used by the writer. In this case, the writer has used verbs and adjectives that share a sense of foreboding eg swung, flying, strode, brewed, stormy, icy.
Step 2: Answer the question in a sentence
Now you have chosen your technique, you can start writing your paragraph. Start by answering the question in a single sentence:
The writer uses verbs and adjectives that create a sense of foreboding to present the cover teacher as an angry, tense, and quite unpleasant person.
Step 3: Explain the effect of the writer’s choice on the reader
The description of his face as ‘stormy’ makes the reader feel the teacher is annoyed. The reader might question if something has happened before he came in the classroom. Either way, the reader starts to sympathise with Charlie who is stuck in the classroom with him.
Step 4: Explain the writer’s intention
I think the writer wanted to imply that this cover teacher is someone to be wary of; he is liable to get angry at any moment. The writer may have wanted to emphasise this because maybe later in the text he does get annoyed and maybe this has an effect on Charlie later in the story.
Using literary terms
For a writer, literary terms are like tools in a toolkit. Instead of actual tools like a hammer, a wrench or a spanner, a writer uses tools such as onomatopoeia , repetition, an extended metaphor .
If you see the literary terms as tools, it enables you to write about them. There are verbs you can use to help you to write about a writer’s tools:
Add in adverbs and adjectives to be more precise:
'The writer skilfully creates a harsh sound using onomatopoeia’ or ‘the writer carefully employs a fragile simile to help the reader understand the character’s innocence.'
Glossary of literary terms
Figurative language techniques:
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Mr Smedjeback's English Class
How to analyze a novel.
Here is a description of the different elements that you should analyse in your novel assignment. You don’t have to write about the elements in a specific order, but you it should be clear what element you are writing about. You could for example write: ”There are many conflicts in the story, both external and internal.” Write the analysis as a coherent (sammanhållen) text without subheadings.
Setting Setting is a description of where and when the story takes place.
- Describe the setting and reflect on the role it plays in the story? Is it an important part of the plot or theme?
- If the setting is unclear you guess the setting and argue for your choice with examples from the novel.
- How does the time period affect the language, atmosphere or social circumstances of the short story?
Suggestion how you could start the paragraph about the setting: ”I believe that the novel is set during the second world war in Germany because it’s about a Jewish family who are persecuted by Nazi soldiers”.
- Has the author described the characters by physical appearance, thoughts and feelings, and interaction (the way they act towards others)?
- Are they static/flat characters who do not change?
- Are they dynamic/round characters who DO change?
- Are the characters believable?
Suggestion how you could start the paragraph about the characters: ”The most important character in this novel is Henry who looks back at his life as a physician during the American Civil War. You understand that he is a very selfless person through the way he interacts with his patients. One example is when he is sacrificing his only holiday in two years to operate a young woman who would otherwise have died (page 71)”.
Plot The plot is the main sequence of events that make up the story. One usual mistake is to write too much of the plot so that you don’t have space to write about the other elements. Only describe the most important events. Writing about the plot could be combined with writing about the characters.
- What is the most important event?
- How is the plot structured? Is it linear (from begining to end) or is it non-linear (jumps back and forth in time)?
- Is the plot believable?
Conflict The conflict is a something that causes a problem for the main character or someone else in the story. Conflict or tension is usually the heart of the short story.
- How would you describe the main conflict?
- Is it an internal conflict within the character?
- Is it an external conflict caused by the surroundings or environment the main character finds himself/herself in?
- Examples of conflicts could be: 1. The character has an internal conflict where she can’t decide if she is going to stay faithful to her friend or just think of herself. 2. There is an external conflict where the white students in the school are harassing a group of black students.
Remember that there are often many conflicts in a story.
Climax The climax is the point of greatest tension or intensity in the short story. It can also be the turning point where events take a major turn as the story races towards its conclusion.
- Describe what you think is the climax in the story and explain why.
Theme The theme is the main idea, lesson or message in the short story. It is usually an abstract idea about the human condition, society or life. This is one of the most challenging elements and if you want a good grade you have to do a good job on this one.
Examples of themes could be: revenge, duty for your country, infidelity, life is too short to be wasted, betrayal, racism, gender inequality etc. There could be many themes in the same novel.
- Describe the theme or themes in the novel and argue why you have chosen it/them.
Suggestion how you could start the paragraph about the theme: ”There are many themes in this novel and the most important of these is betrayal. The author wants the reader to reflect on ….”
End your analysis by writing what you thought of the novel. Did you like the novel? Why? Why not? Instead of offering general comments only (‘I loved this book’), offer some detail, e.g. the plot was very exciting, the character descriptions were really believable.
What to think about when writing
- Write in the present tense.
YES: In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” the townspeople visit Emily Grierson’s house because it smells bad.
NO: In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” the townspeople visited Emily Grierson’s house because it smelled bad.
- In a formal analysis you should keep yourself out of the analysis, in other words – use the third person (no I or you). However, some instructors may require or allow the first or second person in an informal analysis.
FIRST PERSON: I believe that the narrator in “Sonny’s Blues” is a dynamic character because I read many details about the changes in his attitude.
THIRD PERSON: The narrator in “Sonny’s Blues” is a dynamic character who changes his attitude.
SECOND PERSON: At the end of “Everyday Use,” Mama realizes that Maggie is like her but has not received the attention you should give your daughter to help her attain self-esteem.
THIRD PERSON: At the end of “Everyday Use,” Mama realizes that Maggie is like her but has not received enough attention to build self-esteem.
- Do not confuse characters’ or speakers’ viewpoints with authors’ viewpoints.
- Support your points with many quotations and paraphrases, but write the majority of your paper in your own words with your own ideas.
- Avoid summarizing the plot or retelling the story literally. Explain the context briefly and implement your analytical view.
- Use linking words and transition sentences that guide the reader from one point to the next in your analysis.
Look at this video for more tips!
One thought on “ how to analyze a novel ”.
The piece of fantasy literature called: Does God Wear Dark Glasses? by Maurice G. Dantec, a Franco-Canadian writer, born June 12, 1959 and died June 25, 2016 in Montreal. This book published in 2003 contains other short stories featured in this publication. For one who is fan of science fiction the plot, in this case, is not linked with space or other worlds, how ones I like the most. In the plot, where the settings are absolutely credible, the main character, Frank Borlard, who is visited by the traveler Trans-Quantic sees the possibility of changing the course of history. Thanks to a pair of glasses, he is tele-transported to the time of Hitler as a baby in 1889. Having given the opportunity of removing the future “führer” and preventing one of the worst abominations of the 20th century from happening because of him, he chose: “We must be absolutely sure that our act does not cause more disastrous consequences than what happened between 1933 and 1945. Struggle between opposing forces, he is absolutely sure that one cannot do it … that’s why the story turns out not killing him in the end. The question of glasses if God wears dark glasses is nothing other than a question about the determinism and the nature of evil. The style uses for the author seems to be a little bit poetic, even more, the author introduces small verses throughout history. Although he uses a smarter-complex vocabulary the writing can be understood without difficulty. The book is thoroughly recommendable to whom that loves science-fiction and human being history.
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Close your eyes for a second and imagine unpacking a bag. As you take out each item, you see the inside of the bag more clearly. Eventually, when you have taken out and examined each item, the bag is crystal clear. Readers can unpack literature in a similar manner. Analyzing…
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Save the explanation now and read when you’ve got time to spare.
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Close your eyes for a second and imagine unpacking a bag. As you take out each item, you see the inside of the bag more clearly. Eventually, when you have taken out and examined each item, the bag is crystal clear. Readers can unpack literature in a similar manner. Analyzing literature is the process of examining the text in detail to interpret it thoroughly. When readers examine various literary elements in a story, they reveal deep meaning in the text.
Literary Analysis Definition
Literary analysis is the examination and evaluation of a literary work. When people analyze literature, they consider how the author used literary techniques to create meaning. Readers first critically read the text and examine elements like figurative language, syntax, diction, and structure. When looking at these elements, readers consider how the author used them to create meaning. They then make analytical claims about the text they can support by discussing specific evidence from the work.
- Literary analysis is the examination and evaluation of a literary work.
Analyzing literature allows readers to articulate their interpretation of a text. To interpret literature, readers should consider elements like the following:
Analyzing literature is a key task of l iterary criticism , which is the study and interpretation of literature. Literary critics conduct literary analyses that consider historical and sociocultural contexts and apply theoretical lenses to literary works. For example, critics in the field of feminist literary criticism analyze literary works through a feminist lens, meaning they investigate notions like gender inequality and the social construction of gender as they appear and operate in literature. Other famous types of literary criticism include Marxist criticism, postcolonial criticism, and deconstructionism.
Literary Analysis Essay
Students often have to write literary analysis essays. These are essays in which a writer evaluates a literary text. For example, the following prompt asks the writer to craft a literary analysis essay:
In the second chapter of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), the protagonist Janie has a meaningful experience under a pear tree. Write an essay analyzing how Hurston uses literary elements and techniques in this scene to convey Janie's dreams for her future.
The above prompt evaluates the writer's knowledge of literary devices and how authors use them. It also tests the writer's ability to analyze the passage from Their Eyes Were Watching God, so it partly depends on the writer's interpretation of the book.
Writing a Literary Analysis Essay
To write a literary analysis essay, readers should follow the following steps.
Read and Understand the Prompt
First, writers should read the prompt several times and ask themselves the following questions:
What is this prompt asking writers to write about?
Does the prompt specify any literary elements that should be considered?
Does the prompt articulate more than one task for writers?
Is this prompt asking about the text as a whole or a specific part of the text?
Use a pen or pencil to highlight keywords in the prompt. This will help you remember the main objective of the literary analysis essay.
Critically Read the Text
Once writers understand the task they must complete for the literary analysis essay, they should carefully read the text they must write about. If the prompt is on an exam, they might have to consult a short passage of text. If the prompt is for an English class, they might have to turn to a book they have already read and review relevant parts.
While reading a text, make notes of essential literary elements. For instance, if you notice that an author consistently uses the same symbol, note all the places in the text where you see that symbol. This will make writing an analysis of the text easier because you will easily find evidence of how the author uses literary elements to create meaning.
Craft a Thesis Statement
Next, writers should construct a thesis statement that addresses all aspects of the prompt. A thesis statement is a defensible claim about the topic that can be supported with evidence. When writing a literary analysis essay, the thesis statement should be about the author's use of literary techniques in the text. You can find an example of a quality thesis statement related to the above prompt on Their Eyes Were Watching God further down.
A strong thesis stands alone as a summary of the whole argument. Readers should be able to read the thesis statement by itself and understand the main point of the essay. The above thesis statement is effective because the writer mentions the title and author of the text, the literary elements they will analyze in the essay, and a claim about the impact of those literary elements on the author's message.
Outline the Essay
Once writers establish their main claim, they can begin outlining how they will support their argument. If they are writing a five-paragraph essay, they should strive to find three distinct supporting points for their thesis and devote body paragraphs to each point. They should then try to find at least two pieces of evidence from the text to support each point.
Choosing short, significant pieces of evidence allows for more in-depth analysis than including long quotes. If you are running low on time when writing a literary analysis essay for an exam, skip the second piece of evidence in a body paragraph and move on to the next paragraph. That way, you at least have at least three supporting points.
Write the Essay
Writers can then begin writing their analytical essays. They should use a formal academic tone and avoid slang, conjunctions, and colloquialisms. The focus should be on their unique analysis of the evidence they include.
If you are writing a literary analysis essay for a timed exam, you likely won't have time to create a detailed outline. Instead, once you have your thesis, quickly identify three supporting points. Jot them down on scratch paper, followed by page numbers or some keywords from relevant evidence. This will give you a loose idea of the flow of the essay without wasting too much time.
Literary Analysis Example
Imagine you are writing a literary analysis essay on the prompt about Their Eyes Were Watching God .
First, you should identify what this prompt is asking. The prompt asks writers to focus on a specific scene in the second chapter. You should underline that part of the prompt to remember the focus. The prompt also asks the writer to focus on the use of literary elements to comment on the protagonist's dreams. This tells you that your thesis should make a statement about specific literary elements and make a claim about Janie's dreams.
Next, you should turn to the text and identify the scene the prompt is referring to. You should closely read the text to unpack the meaning of individual literary elements. To do this, annotate the text, underlining key terms and literary techniques. Also, jot down notes about what you think the literary elements mean and how the scene connects to larger ideas in the text, such as Janie's character development or the themes of love and identity.
Consult your notes from the previous step to construct your thesis. What literary elements stuck out to you when you read the text? What do they seem to be suggesting about Janie's dreams? For instance, a strong thesis statement that addresses this prompt would look something like this:
In Chapter 2 of Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston uses vivid imagery, symbolism, and personification to portray Janie's idealistic dreams of a loving marriage.
Why is this a strong thesis? What does the writer do to make it stand alone as a summary of the argument and outline distinct supporting points?
Once you have your thesis statement, you can quickly arrange an outline to follow when writing. For instance, an outline based on the above would include a body paragraph for imagery, one for symbolism, and one for personification.
Finally, you can start writing. Select small pieces of relevant evidence and extract as much meaning as possible from each piece. For example, an excerpt would look like this:
In Chapter 2, the narrator explains that Janie spends all her time under the pear tree. She felt "called" to watch it turn "from barren brown stems to glistening leaf buds; from lead-buds to snowy virginity of bloom. It stirred her tremendously" (42). The imagery of the tree turning from barren to in bloom connects the pear tree to Janie's emerging sexuality. Hurston's choice to use words associated with sex in her description, like "virginity" and "stirred," reinforces that the tree symbolizes Janie's womanhood and reminds the reader of Janie's naivete and inexperience at this point in the novel. The way the tree and the intimate bees under it captivate Janie also suggests that at this point in her life, she has an optimistic viewpoint that marriage guarantees a tender, genuine connection.
Note how the above writer used short quotes and focused on the meaning surrounding specific words. This allows them to connect various literary elements and unpack how these literary choices create a specific meaning.
Literary Analysis - Key Takeaways
- When analyzing literature, readers should note how different literary elements create meaning.
- Writers should consider elements like theme, structure, tone, and figurative language when analyzing literature.
- When writing a literary analysis essay, writers should read the prompt, critically read the text, craft a thesis, draft an outline, and then write the essay.
- Readers should extract meaning from short but significant pieces of evidence when analyzing literature.
Frequently Asked Questions about Literary Analysis
--> what does a literary analysis look like.
Literary analysis involves critically reading and annotating a text and reflecting on how authors used literary elements to create meaning.
--> What is good literary analysis?
Good literary analysis involves interpreting the meaning of short, significant pieces of evidence from a literary text.
--> How do you write a literary analysis example?
To write a literary analysis, critically read the text and examine the meaning of literary elements setting, structure, and figurative language.
--> How do you start a literary analysis essay?
To start a literary analysis essay, critically read the text and note the potential meaning of literary elements. Then construct a defensible claim that addresses the prompt.
--> How do you start an analysis?
To start an analysis, identify literary elements like setting, text structure, and imagery.
Final Literary Analysis Quiz
Literary analysis quiz - teste dein wissen.
True or False? When a reader analyzes literature it means they explain the plot.
False. While reflection on the plot can be an aspect of literary analysis, analyzing literature involves a thorough examination of literary elements like theme and structure.
Deconstructionism is an example of what?
A literary element
What is tone in writing?
The attitude the author expresses through writing
Rachel is analyzing her favorite book and asks herself: “Is the narrative linear or non-linear?” What literary element is she analyzing?
What is the first step when writing a literary analysis essay for an exam?
Read and understand the prompt
What is a thesis statement?
The first sentence of a paragraph that states the topic of the paragraph
What type of language should writers use when writing a literary analysis essay?
Formal academic language
Simile, metaphor, and personification are all examples of what?
What is theme in literature?
The universal idea
Strong literary analysis involves interpreting the meaning of _, significant pieces of evidence from a text.
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An A to Z Guide to Writing a Perfect Literary Analysis Essay
- Essay Writing Guides
Literary Analysis Essay
Most times, when people pick up a book to read, it’s solely about getting entertainment (or acting like they are book lovers). Most times, you may find yourself reading to gain knowledge or something deeper from the story.
However, in a literature class, you would most likely be asked to read a book in a very special way. Usually, you may be asked to perform a literary analysis of the novel or text.
But how do you do that if you don’t even know what a literary analysis essay is all about? Well, in the article prepeared by our essay service , you will find out everything you need to know about literary analysis and how to write a winning essay.
Let’s begin, shall we?
What Is a Literary Analysis Essay?
For high-school or college students, reading, assimilating, and critiquing texts are all core aspects of the learning process. As such, it is important to learn the basics and intricacies of literary analysis. But first things first. What is a literary analysis essay ?
Literary Analysis Essay Definition
Wondering what the perfect literary analysis essay definition is? It’s simple.
A literary analysis essay is any type of essay that comprises an in-depth, argumentative analysis of a given novel or literary work. It involves studying a text closely, interpreting its deeper meanings, and exploring the author’s choices. This kind of essay may examine novels, poems, plays, and any form of literature at all.
A literary analysis is not the same thing as a book review or summary. Your teacher or professor isn’t asking you whether you enjoyed the book or not. Rather, the literary analysis essay typically explores hidden themes and involves answering questions about the language, style, elements, and literary devices employed by the author in the text.
Before you dive into the world of analysis, it’s important to understand the purpose of this kind of essay and how it works. Only then can you start the writing process.
What Is the Purpose of a Literary Analysis Essay?
A literary analysis essay has one major purpose: to show that you understand and have carefully examined a literary work or text from several perspectives. It entails breaking down the text into the smallest core components and then analyzing each component to paint a bigger picture.
For instance, let’s assume you’ve been asked to analyze George Orwell’s Animal Farm . For any student, the first point of action might be to look up reviews of the book online. However, even though reviews may offer you a slightly deeper insight into the book’s message, they are completely different from a literary analysis essay.
In this essay, you are not supposed to simply plaster your opinions all over a document and click “send”. Rather, you should focus mainly on the analysis of all the components of the book. Express your studious approach to the text, rather than just your personal thoughts and opinions.
Sure, you could sneak in your opinions but keep them limited. Your writing should be clear, focused, and objective. The main goal is to prove to the reader that you have a strong point or case regarding the literary work in question.
How to Start a Literary Analysis Essay
Writing a literary analysis essay is quite simple once you start off on the right path. If you’re looking to write this type of essay for a class project or assignment, here’s how to start:
1. Read the book
If you’re trying to write a literary analysis essay, an obvious first step would be to read the book before penning down your points. Reading to analyze a literary text is quite different from reading for entertainment.
Here, you have to read closely to pick up any hidden details or themes that the ordinary reader may have missed. It is advisable to have a pencil when reading the text. This way, you can easily make notes, underline important words or point out confusing details.
Study the subject and form of the text and then write down your observations in a small note.
2. Ask the necessary questions
Starting a literary analysis essay may seem confusing at first, especially when you have multiple ideas rushing at you simultaneously. However, you could always start by asking yourself several pertinent questions such as:
What part of the text had a striking effect on you?
Did any scene, line or event strike you? If it did, you can always expand on the scene to draft a great essay. For instance, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm , many readers were struck by the “Battle of the Cowshed” scene where the animals bravely fought off an attempt to retake the farm by humans.
What confused you?
In some cases, you may stumble upon a confusing character, theme or event in the book. Explore these confusing elements and try to get to the root of their presence in the text.
Were there any noticeable patterns?
Is there a pattern to be noticed in the text? If there is, follow the pattern closely to find out its significance and thematic implications. For instance, in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus , there was a pattern of abuse in the Achike family. This pattern was linked to Eugene’s religious fanaticism and his inherent need to control his family members.
Did you notice any contradictions?
In some cases, complex novels may contain several contradictory themes or events that you would need to explore. For instance, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm , the mantra, “All animals are equal” is contradicted by Napoleon’s treatment of Boxer after the latter’s usefulness has elapsed.
Examples of good questions
Some examples of good questions to explore in your essay include:
- What does Boxer’s death represent?
- Who is the real Lord of the flies?
- What does the conch symbolize?
3. Collect evidence
Once you have outlined the questions you want your essay to answer, you can then go through the book to find evidence that will help you answer the questions. Pay close attention to certain symbols and images that correlate with your topic.
The evidence for your literary analysis essay often lies in the elements of the text which you will need to analyze. Here are some of the core elements to look out for:
Elements of the story
This involves the major framework of the text – the plot, major characters, and other supporting elements. They include:
- Plot: This is the narration of events in the text. What happened? How did it happen?
- Characters: This involves the people around whom the plot is centred. The main character is known as the protagonist while their opponent is known as the antagonist.
- Setting: This refers to the time, place and conditions where the literary text took place. Did the actions take place in 18th century London?
- Conflict: This refers to the major tension or bone of contention in the text. In most cases, the protagonist may be trying to achieve a goal while the antagonist stands in their way.
- Themes: The theme is the main idea or message that the text is trying to pass across. Usually, there may be one or two central themes and several supporting or underlying themes.
- Narrator: The narrator is the person telling the story or reporting events that took place in the text. The narrator may be one of the characters or the author.
Literary elements of style
The elements of style refer to all other elements that the author used to create the story. Think of it as the colors or spice of the story.
The elements of style in any literary text include:
- Point of view
- Structure and organization
- Figures of speech
4 Construct a solid thesis statement
After collecting and examining all relevant evidence, the next step will be to create a solid thesis statement that will shape the direction of your essay. The thesis is a claim about the literary text and should be supported by sufficient facts, evidence and arguments in order to convince your readers.
Your thesis statement should be:
- Provable: You should be able to prove your thesis statement through evidence from the text itself. This explains why you should never frame your personal opinion as a thesis statement. For instance, a thesis like “ Arms and the Man is Bernard Shaw’s greatest play ” is weak because it can’t be proven by any evidence or facts from the text.
- Arguable: Readers should be able to argue your thesis statement if they wish to do so. As such, avoid using facts like “ Animal Farm is a critique of the Russian Revolution and Soviet Union ” as a thesis statement. Instead, you could say something like: “ Even though Snowball was painted as a traitor by Napoleon and Squealer, he displayed several heroic qualities at the Battle of the Cowshed, proving himself to be a hero with higher leadership capabilities than the two of them “.
- Specific: Resist the temptation to draft a vague thesis statement that points in no particular direction. Be as specific as possible and leave no room for assumptions or misinterpretations on the part of your readers.
- Surprising: Your thesis statement should not state the obvious. Rather, it should point at hidden themes or interpretations within the text.
5 Develop and organize arguments
Once you have formed your thesis statement, you can then begin to organize the examples and arguments that will back it up. These examples will form the middle of your essay and convince the reader that your thesis is credible and believable.
It is important to note that there is no clear-cut way of forming and organizing your arguments. It all depends on the essay prompt and what it asks you to do. Some essay prompts may require you to compare and contrast certain characters or elements in the text while others may ask you to debate a certain statement.
Literary Analysis Essay Outline
Typically, a literary analysis essay outline is divided into three major parts namely:
- Concluding paragraphs
When drafting your essay outline, it is important to pay close attention to each part and ensure that you don’t write the introductory paragraph at the end of the essay and vice-versa.
Here is a break down of what each part of the essay entails:
The introduction is the first part of the essay where you present your thesis, address the issue at hand and establish yourself as a credible, authoritative analyst. This part of the essay may vary in length but if you’re writing a high school assignment, it’s advisable to keep it to one or two paragraphs.
Your introduction is meant to ease your readers into the rest of the essay. As such, you should pique the reader’s interest and give them a hint of the direction the essay will take.
In your introduction, try to avoid overly praising the work or the author. Statements like “ Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man is the greatest play ever, surpassing all Shakespeare’s works ” may cause your readers to believe you’re biased and this would affect your essay’s credibility.
Be specific in your introduction without making any overbearing assertions or claims.
Pro Tip : When drafting your introduction, keep it simple and straight to the point. Avoid throwing in unnecessary puns, details or comparisons just to impress your readers. They will appreciate a concise and straightforward introduction.
The body paragraphs come right after the introduction. Here, you present facts, evidence and arguments to support your thesis statement. In this section, how you organize your points depend mainly on the essay prompt or question.
When drafting the body of your essay, it is important to always begin with a strong topic sentence. A strong topic sentence gives the reader a hint of what issues will be addressed in the paragraph. For instance, a topic sentence like: “ Domestic violence and fanaticism are major themes in Purple Hibiscus ” is very weak and vague. However, you could go for a stronger topic sentence such as: “ Eugene’s penchant for abuse and indoctrination stems from the traumatic childhood experiences he went through at the hands of the Catholic priests .”
When writing your body paragraphs, you should make use of effective transitions to link paragraphs and lines of thoughts. Some transition words or phrases you could use include: in contrast, in comparison, however, similarly, furthermore, etc.
The conclusion is basically a summary of all the points you have stated in your essay so far. In this section, you could also hint at a significant point or lesson to be learned. However, your conclusion shouldn’t just end at restating or summarizing your thesis statement. Rather, it should go on to prove why your stance is relevant to the literary society.
In your conclusion, you could suggest a new perspective to the subject matter. However, don’t overdo it by adding too many extra or irrelevant details. You’d only end up writing an entirely new essay in the conclusion.
Literary Analysis Essay Examples
Writing a literary analysis essay is quite simple once you have been armed with the right tips and guidelines. However, it can be hard to get the hang of it at first.
If you still aren’t sure how to write a literary analysis essay , you can always refer to any good literary analysis essay example . Here are some samples of well-written essays:
20 Literary Analysis Essay Topics
Here are some sample literary analysis essay topics:
- Discuss the intertwining of fate and love in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
- The significance of poverty, institutions and class in 19th century England as portrayed by Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist
- How did Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man explore the realities of war?
- Explore the clash of knowledge vs ignorance in Arms and the Man .
- Explore the theme of revenge and its implications in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
- How did George Orwell’s Animal Farm address the corruption of socialist ideals in the Soviet Union?
- How did Oliver Twist inquire into the nature of individualism and social bonds in 1830s England?
- Compare and contrast the characters of Snowball and Napoleon in Animal Farm.
- The role of women in society as portrayed in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
- The significance of omens in old Roman society as portrayed in Julius Caesar.
- Tyranny and power in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
- Power and exploitation in The Tempest
- Compare and contrast the characters of Prospero and Alonso in The Tempest.
- Is the British society represented in Oliver Twist a true reflection of today’s society?
- The illusion of justice in Shakespeare’s The Tempest .
- Irony and satire in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband
- The use of disguise in Shakespeare’s Hamlet
- Allegory and literary devices in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels
- The use of biblical themes and allusions in Beowulf
- How Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice addresses feminine stereotypes and the role of women.
Useful Tips for Literary Analysis Essay
If you’re looking to write a great literary analysis essay, here are some tips that you may find useful:
Write in the present tense
When writing a literary analysis essay, it is important to avoid using the past tense. Instead, use the present tense throughout the essay. Here is a quick example of how to use your tenses in this kind of essay:
SAY : Eugene slaps his wife hard when he realizes that she is still holding the broken figurine pieces.
DON’T SAY : Eugene slapped his wife hard when he realized that she was still holding the broken figurine pieces.
Even though the past tense may sound more correct or appealing, literary conventions demand that you discuss the actions presented in any text in the present tense. This is because literature constantly exists as a present phenomenon, rather than a past one.
Use the third person pronoun
Typically, you should not involve yourself in the analysis by using first person pronouns such as I, me, we and so on. Most professors or teachers find the use of first or second pronouns too informal or laid back for an analysis essay.
The third person pronoun is the most widely accepted form for a literary analysis essay. As such, you should employ this in your work and stay consistent. For example,
SAY : Kambili is a naive young girl who soon realizes that pleasing her father is an impossible feat .
DON’T SAY : I think Kambili is a naive young girl because in most of the chapters I read, she seemed too eager to please her father.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. Your professor may prefer that you write in the first person to add an unconventional twist to the analysis.
Do not summarize the plot
When it comes to writing literary analysis essays, most students often end up writing a summary of the plot. You should not summarize or retell the plot. Rather, analyze the story in concise, literary terms. For instance,
PLOT SUMMARY : In Adichie’s “Purple Hibiscus”, the protagonist, Kambili, tries hard to please her abusive father who is deeply entrenched in religious fanaticism and hate. She, alongside her brother and mother, is constantly punished for minor misgivings such as eating during the Eucharistic fast. However, Kambili and her brother, Jaja undergo a reawakening and reconditioning when they visit their paternal aunt. After their visit, they begin to stand up to their father who is eventually poisoned to death by his wife, Beatrice. Jaja covers up for his mother by taking the blame for the murder and goes to jail.
ANALYSIS : Although Kambili is initially portrayed in “Purple Hibiscus” as a quiet, withdrawn girl, the story explains how a change in environment can trigger a reconditioning in young children. For instance, after she visits Aunty Ifeoma’s house, Kambili becomes more carefree and extroverted. She makes new friends at school and even falls in love with a young priest.
The peak of Kambili’s character progression occurs when she stands up to her father and prevents him from destroying her grandfather’s portrait, despite being beaten to a coma.
Support your points with several quotations
Your literary analysis essay should be supported with sufficient quotations and paraphrases from the text or famous scholars. However, you should also ensure that a majority of the essay is written in your own words in order to give it credibility and authenticity.
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The 100 best novels written in English: the full list
After two years of careful consideration, Robert McCrum has reached a verdict on his selection of the 100 greatest novels written in English. Take a look at his list
- Robert McCrum reflects on his choices
- One in five doesn’t represent over 300 years of women in literature: a response
- What is missing: readers’ alternative list
- The world’s 100 greatest novels of all time (2003)
1. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)
A story of a man in search of truth told with the simple clarity and beauty of Bunyan’s prose make this the ultimate English classic.
2. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)
By the end of the 19th century, no book in English literary history had enjoyed more editions, spin-offs and translations. Crusoe’s world-famous novel is a complex literary confection, and it’s irresistible.
3. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)
A satirical masterpiece that’s never been out of print, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels comes third in our list of the best novels written in English
4. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (1748)
Clarissa is a tragic heroine, pressured by her unscrupulous nouveau-riche family to marry a wealthy man she detests, in the book that Samuel Johnson described as “the first book in the world for the knowledge it displays of the human heart.”
5. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749)
Tom Jones is a classic English novel that captures the spirit of its age and whose famous characters have come to represent Augustan society in all its loquacious, turbulent, comic variety.
6. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759)
Laurence Sterne’s vivid novel caused delight and consternation when it first appeared and has lost little of its original bite.
7. Emma by Jane Austen (1816)
Jane Austen’s Emma is her masterpiece, mixing the sparkle of her early books with a deep sensibility.
8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
Mary Shelley’s first novel has been hailed as a masterpiece of horror and the macabre.
9. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock (1818)
The great pleasure of Nightmare Abbey, which was inspired by Thomas Love Peacock ’s friendship with Shelley , lies in the delight the author takes in poking fun at the romantic movement.
10. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (1838)
Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel – a classic adventure story with supernatural elements – has fascinated and influenced generations of writers.
11. Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli (1845)
The future prime minister displayed flashes of brilliance that equalled the greatest Victorian novelists.
12. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
Charlotte Brontë’s erotic, gothic masterpiece became the sensation of Victorian England. Its great breakthrough was its intimate dialogue with the reader.
13. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)
Emily Brontë’s windswept masterpiece is notable not just for its wild beauty but for its daring reinvention of the novel form itself.
14. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray (1848)
William Thackeray’s masterpiece, set in Regency England, is a bravura performance by a writer at the top of his game.
15. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)
David Copperfield marked the point at which Dickens became the great entertainer and also laid the foundations for his later, darker masterpieces.
16. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s astounding book is full of intense symbolism and as haunting as anything by Edgar Allan Poe.
17. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
Wise, funny and gripping, Melville’s epic work continues to cast a long shadow over American literature.
18. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
Lewis Carroll’s brilliant nonsense tale is one of the most influential and best loved in the English canon.
19. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)
Wilkie Collins’s masterpiece, hailed by many as the greatest English detective novel, is a brilliant marriage of the sensational and the realistic.
20. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-9)
Louisa May Alcott’s highly original tale aimed at a young female market has iconic status in America and never been out of print.
21. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-2)
This cathedral of words stands today as perhaps the greatest of the great Victorian fictions.
22. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)
Inspired by the author’s fury at the corrupt state of England, and dismissed by critics at the time, The Way We Live Now is recognised as Trollope’s masterpiece.
23. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884/5)
Mark Twain’s tale of a rebel boy and a runaway slave seeking liberation upon the waters of the Mississippi remains a defining classic of American literature.
24. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
A thrilling adventure story, gripping history and fascinating study of the Scottish character, Kidnapped has lost none of its power.
25. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (1889)
Jerome K Jerome’s accidental classic about messing about on the Thames remains a comic gem.
26. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (1890)
Sherlock Holmes’s second outing sees Conan Doyle’s brilliant sleuth – and his bluff sidekick Watson – come into their own.
27. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)
Wilde’s brilliantly allusive moral tale of youth, beauty and corruption was greeted with howls of protest on publication.
28. New Grub Street by George Gissing (1891)
George Gissing’s portrayal of the hard facts of a literary life remains as relevant today as it was in the late 19th century.
29. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)
Hardy exposed his deepest feelings in this bleak, angry novel and, stung by the hostile response, he never wrote another.
30. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)
Stephen Crane’s account of a young man’s passage to manhood through soldiery is a blueprint for the great American war novel.
31. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
Bram Stoker’s classic vampire story was very much of its time but still resonates more than a century later.
32. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
Joseph Conrad’s masterpiece about a life-changing journey in search of Mr Kurtz has the simplicity of great myth.
33. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (1900)
Theodore Dreiser was no stylist, but there’s a terrific momentum to his unflinching novel about a country girl’s American dream.
34. Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901)
In Kipling’s classic boy’s own spy story, an orphan in British India must make a choice between east and west.
35. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
Jack London’s vivid adventures of a pet dog that goes back to nature reveal an extraordinary style and consummate storytelling.
36. The Golden Bowl by Henry James (1904)
American literature contains nothing else quite like Henry James’s amazing, labyrinthine and claustrophobic novel.
37. Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe (1904)
This entertaining if contrived story of a hack writer and priest who becomes pope sheds vivid light on its eccentric author – described by DH Lawrence as a “man-demon”.
38. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)
The evergreen tale from the riverbank and a powerful contribution to the mythology of Edwardian England.
39. The History of Mr Polly by HG Wells (1910)
The choice is great, but Wells’s ironic portrait of a man very like himself is the novel that stands out.
40. Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (1911)
The passage of time has conferred a dark power upon Beerbohm’s ostensibly light and witty Edwardian satire.
41. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915)
Ford’s masterpiece is a searing study of moral dissolution behind the facade of an English gentleman – and its stylistic influence lingers to this day.
42. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)
John Buchan’s espionage thriller, with its sparse, contemporary prose, is hard to put down.
43. The Rainbow by DH Lawrence (1915)
The Rainbow is perhaps DH Lawrence’s finest work, showing him for the radical, protean, thoroughly modern writer he was.
44. Of Human Bondage by W Somerset Maugham (1915)
Somerset Maugham’s semi-autobiographical novel shows the author’s savage honesty and gift for storytelling at their best.
45. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920)
The story of a blighted New York marriage stands as a fierce indictment of a society estranged from culture.
46. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
This portrait of a day in the lives of three Dubliners remains a towering work, in its word play surpassing even Shakespeare.
47. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis (1922)
What it lacks in structure and guile, this enthralling take on 20s America makes up for in vivid satire and characterisation.
48. A Passage to India by EM Forster (1924)
EM Forster’s most successful work is eerily prescient on the subject of empire.
49. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos (1925)
A guilty pleasure it may be, but it is impossible to overlook the enduring influence of a tale that helped to define the jazz age.
50. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
Woolf’s great novel makes a day of party preparations the canvas for themes of lost love, life choices and mental illness.
51. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
Fitzgerald’s jazz age masterpiece has become a tantalising metaphor for the eternal mystery of art.
52. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926)
A young woman escapes convention by becoming a witch in this original satire about England after the first world war.
53. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
Hemingway’s first and best novel makes an escape to 1920s Spain to explore courage, cowardice and manly authenticity.
54. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
Dashiell Hammett’s crime thriller and its hard-boiled hero Sam Spade influenced everyone from Chandler to Le Carré.
55. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)
The influence of William Faulkner’s immersive tale of raw Mississippi rural life can be felt to this day.
56. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
Aldous Huxley’s vision of a future human race controlled by global capitalism is every bit as prescient as Orwell’s more famous dystopia.
57. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)
The book for which Gibbons is best remembered was a satire of late-Victorian pastoral fiction but went on to influence many subsequent generations.
58. Nineteen Nineteen by John Dos Passos (1932)
The middle volume of John Dos Passos’s USA trilogy is revolutionary in its intent, techniques and lasting impact.
59. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)
The US novelist’s debut revelled in a Paris underworld of seedy sex and changed the course of the novel – though not without a fight with the censors.
60. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)
Evelyn Waugh’s Fleet Street satire remains sharp, pertinent and memorable.
61. Murphy by Samuel Beckett (1938)
Samuel Beckett’s first published novel is an absurdist masterpiece, a showcase for his uniquely comic voice.
62. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled debut brings to life the seedy LA underworld – and Philip Marlowe, the archetypal fictional detective.
63. Party Going by Henry Green (1939)
Set on the eve of war, this neglected modernist masterpiece centres on a group of bright young revellers delayed by fog.
64. At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien (1939)
Labyrinthine and multilayered, Flann O’Brien’s humorous debut is both a reflection on, and an exemplar of, the Irish novel.
65. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
One of the greatest of great American novels, this study of a family torn apart by poverty and desperation in the Great Depression shocked US society.
66. Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse (1946)
PG Wodehouse’s elegiac Jeeves novel, written during his disastrous years in wartime Germany, remains his masterpiece.
67. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1946)
A compelling story of personal and political corruption, set in the 1930s in the American south.
68. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1947)
Malcolm Lowry’s masterpiece about the last hours of an alcoholic ex-diplomat in Mexico is set to the drumbeat of coming conflict.
69. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen (1948)
Elizabeth Bowen’s 1948 novel perfectly captures the atmosphere of London during the blitz while providing brilliant insights into the human heart.
70. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)
George Orwell’s dystopian classic cost its author dear but is arguably the best-known novel in English of the 20th century.
71. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (1951)
Graham Greene’s moving tale of adultery and its aftermath ties together several vital strands in his work.
72. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)
JD Salinger’s study of teenage rebellion remains one of the most controversial and best-loved American novels of the 20th century.
73. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (1953)
In the long-running hunt to identify the great American novel, Saul Bellow’s picaresque third book frequently hits the mark.
74. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
Dismissed at first as “rubbish & dull”, Golding’s brilliantly observed dystopian desert island tale has since become a classic.
75. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
Nabokov’s tragicomic tour de force crosses the boundaries of good taste with glee.
76. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
The creative history of Kerouac’s beat-generation classic, fuelled by pea soup and benzedrine, has become as famous as the novel itself.
77. Voss by Patrick White (1957)
A love story set against the disappearance of an explorer in the outback, Voss paved the way for a generation of Australian writers to shrug off the colonial past.
78. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
Her second novel finally arrived this summer , but Harper Lee’s first did enough alone to secure her lasting fame, and remains a truly popular classic.
79. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1960)
Short and bittersweet, Muriel Spark’s tale of the downfall of a Scottish schoolmistress is a masterpiece of narrative fiction.
80. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
This acerbic anti-war novel was slow to fire the public imagination, but is rightly regarded as a groundbreaking critique of military madness.
81. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962)
Hailed as one of the key texts of the women’s movement of the 1960s, this study of a divorced single mother’s search for personal and political identity remains a defiant, ambitious tour de force.
82. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
Anthony Burgess’s dystopian classic still continues to startle and provoke, refusing to be outshone by Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant film adaptation.
83. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964)
Christopher Isherwood’s story of a gay Englishman struggling with bereavement in LA is a work of compressed brilliance.
84. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)
Truman Capote’s non-fiction novel, a true story of bloody murder in rural Kansas, opens a window on the dark underbelly of postwar America.
85. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1966)
Sylvia Plath’s painfully graphic roman à clef, in which a woman struggles with her identity in the face of social pressure, is a key text of Anglo-American feminism.
86. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth (1969)
This wickedly funny novel about a young Jewish American’s obsession with masturbation caused outrage on publication, but remains his most dazzling work.
87. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (1971)
Elizabeth Taylor’s exquisitely drawn character study of eccentricity in old age is a sharp and witty portrait of genteel postwar English life facing the changes taking shape in the 60s.
88. Rabbit Redux by John Updike (1971)
Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, Updike’s lovably mediocre alter ego, is one of America’s great literary protoganists, up there with Huck Finn and Jay Gatsby.
89. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977)
The novel with which the Nobel prize-winning author established her name is a kaleidoscopic evocation of the African-American experience in the 20th century.
90. A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul (1979)
VS Naipaul’s hellish vision of an African nation’s path to independence saw him accused of racism, but remains his masterpiece.
91. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
The personal and the historical merge in Salman Rushdie’s dazzling, game-changing Indian English novel of a young man born at the very moment of Indian independence.
92. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1981)
Marilynne Robinson’s tale of orphaned sisters and their oddball aunt in a remote Idaho town is admired by everyone from Barack Obama to Bret Easton Ellis.
93. Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis (1984)
Martin Amis’s era-defining ode to excess unleashed one of literature’s greatest modern monsters in self-destructive antihero John Self.
94. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (1986)
Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel about a retired artist in postwar Japan, reflecting on his career during the country’s dark years, is a tour de force of unreliable narration.
95. The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (1988)
Fitzgerald’s story, set in Russia just before the Bolshevik revolution, is her masterpiece: a brilliant miniature whose peculiar magic almost defies analysis.
96. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (1988)
Anne Tyler’s portrayal of a middle-aged, mid-American marriage displays her narrative clarity, comic timing and ear for American speech to perfection.
97. Amongst Women by John McGahern (1990)
This modern Irish masterpiece is both a study of the faultlines of Irish patriarchy and an elegy for a lost world.
98. Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997)
A writer of “frightening perception”, Don DeLillo guides the reader in an epic journey through America’s history and popular culture.
99. Disgrace by JM Coetzee (1999)
In his Booker-winning masterpiece, Coetzee’s intensely human vision infuses a fictional world that both invites and confounds political interpretation.
100. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2000)
Peter Carey rounds off our list of literary milestones with a Booker prize-winning tour-de-force examining the life and times of Australia’s infamous antihero, Ned Kelly.
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