Writing a literary analysis essay might seem intimidating at first, but they’re really just analytical essays with a specific subject matter.
This guide on how to write a literary analysis essay will help you through the entire process, from defining your thesis statement to refining and creating your argument to finally proving it with examples from the text.
By following the steps below, you’ll be well on your way to mastering this useful and versatile writing technique.
Why is a Literary analysis important?
A literary analysis is an informative essay that explores the themes, motifs, and symbols in a novel or poem.
It also helps readers to relate their own lives with the text’s characters.
When you are analyzing a work of literature, it is important to give context by establishing what type of literature it is (poem vs. short story) and what era it was written in (early twentieth century).
You will then look at how this piece addresses major issues like feminism or racism by exploring different characters’ motivations and backstories.
Finally, analyze how the theme impacts your interpretation of events in the story through specific examples throughout the plotline.
Here are some of the reasons why you would need a Literary Analysis :
Literary analysis helps students understand complicated concepts such as symbolism, meaning and motive in order to learn more about the author’s intentions.
By writing a literary analysis essay, students can develop an understanding of these complex concepts and apply them to their own interpretations.
These essays allow teachers to gauge how well the student understands a given text and if they have successfully grasped its nuances.
In general, they provide useful feedback on whether or not the student understood the work correctly so they can receive grades appropriately.
A literary analysis provides critical insight into the minds of writers who may be difficult for people to connect with.
Writers often put ideas into words that are difficult for people to express themselves.
A person who has experienced something similar to what is being described in the story might find insight into his/her experience from reading it because someone else has already articulated those feelings, thoughts, or emotions in words.
However, while there are similarities between the two experiences, there are always differences.
A literary analysis forces one to consider and explore both similarities and differences in perspectives – one’s own and others.
Analysing texts also improve literacy skills and develops critical thinking skills as one must carefully read sentences, interpret meanings behind language choices, take note of patterns within a piece, and make connections between certain passages.
Students gain knowledge of their opinions and preferences concerning the text and share them with others.
Overall, a literary analysis gives readers more insight into a work which allows them to better comprehend what it is trying to say.
Analyzing literature helps one see the historical context and cultural relevance of a text.
For example, if you were looking at a nineteenth-century British novel, knowing when it was published will help you know what social issues were prevalent during that time period.
If you are looking at an early twentieth-century American novel, knowing the setting and time period is just as important to understand why certain themes came up during this time period (such as racism), but don’t forget to consider factors outside of America’s borders!
A literary analysis is a great way to get a handle on the big picture of what is happening in a text.
Many times, analyzing literature gives readers an opportunity to make connections between different texts.
For example, after reading several different works by Shakespeare, you may find yourself understanding what is going on in one more easily due to having knowledge of themes that appear in others.
On the other hand, a literary analysis can also lead to frustration.
If a reader does not enjoy or is unfamiliar with the genre of the work in question, he or she might struggle to make sense of what is happening.
A reader’s preconceived notions and personal biases can colour the lens through which he or she sees a text.
This means that analysis could end up coming across as biased instead of objective depending on what kind of perspective you are coming at it with.
Characteristics of a Literary Analysis Essay and their importance
A literary analysis essay is not complete without the use of symbolism, imagery, and motifs.
These three elements are essential in determining the theme of the story as well as what the author’s intentions are.
Other characteristics that are needed for a literary analysis essay include how much dialogue there is, how each character changes during the course of the story, and tone.
The characters’ changes should be noted so that it can be seen whether or not they are realistic; if they don’t change realistically then it may show an unrealistic aspect to them (or lack thereof).
The tone should also be noted because it will show whether or not the story was written with irony.
It is crucial to note how many lines of dialogue there are in order to get an idea of how complex the work might be.
For example, one line could represent one person whereas more than two lines would represent two people.
If this were important information, it would need to be mentioned in order for the reader to have enough context about the work being analyzed.
In summary, the elements of a literary analysis essay are themes, plot, setting, characters, point of view, figurative language, and style.
Literary Analysis Theme Analysis
Theme analysis is an essential part of understanding any text.
When looking at the themes in a text, you want to know how they’re developed over time and why they’re important to the overall meaning of the text.
You want to pay attention to symbols that tie into these themes as well as anything else you notice along the way.
Some other things to watch out for when analyzing a text include tone, point of view, and style.
All of these aspects contribute to the reading experience by helping make connections between your world and the world of the book.
They tell you what the author wants to say, what he wants you to think, and how he wants you to feel.
By reading a literary analysis essay, we gain insight into both our world and the worlds of authors’ past through their words. Themes include love, death, family, and jealousy.
For example, Love is a central theme in Romeo and Juliet because it plays a major role in leading Romeo to commit suicide. Another example of a central theme is death.
There are many examples of death throughout Shakespeare’s Hamlet such as King Hamlet’s murder, Ophelia drowning, Polonius killing himself, and Laertes getting stabbed.
The first mention of death happens before the play starts which draws us in from the start to wonder what exactly happened that caused someone to die.
Plot Analysis in a Literary Essay
To write a good plot analysis, you should look at the main events of the story and describe the impact of those events on the characters and/or narrator.
Then, examine how those events led to the climax of the story.
Finally, summarize what happened after the climax and explain why it didn’t end up satisfying you.
You can discuss key scenes or moments that stuck out to you while reading.
If you’re looking at the plot, you’ll want to be sure that your analysis is clear and concise.
If it isn’t, your instructor will have no idea what you’re trying to say.
The most common mistake that students make when analyzing a plot is going off on tangents about things such as whether or not they liked reading it.
Instead, try focusing on how well-developed and realistic characters are or how effectively action sequences were written.
The following is a list of some key plot points that you should focus on in a Literary analysis essay.
- Events before the beginning of the story that gives context to what’s happening in the text
- The conflict and how it builds
- The climax of the story
- What happens after the climax
- Secondary plots that run alongside the primary plot
- Characters’ reactions to the main event
- Whether or not the ending resolves all of the conflicts in a satisfactory manner
- How the reader feels about the story as a whole
- Whether or not there is a sufficient foreshadowing of future events
- How believable the characters are and how true to life they seem
Figurative language Analysis in a Literary Essay
To make your literary analysis essay truly stand out, be sure to explore figurative language.
This includes metaphors, similes, personification and other literary devices.
For example, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Ron says that Mrs Weasley is really stressed which indicates that she is probably very worried about something.
This is an example of personification because it makes Mrs Weasley seem like a living being who has feelings just like everyone else.
Metaphors and similes are also present in the novel.
For example, Hermione tells Harry that Snape doesn’t hold back his blows in order to get the best out of them.
This is a metaphor because it gives the idea that Snape is a fighter and not just a teacher.
Figurative language in a literary analysis essay can also include symbols, imagery, and allegories.
Symbols refer to objects that represent larger ideas (ex. the snake as Satan).
Imagery refers to descriptive passages that paint a mental picture for the reader (ex. pale green with silver, tall and crooked).
Allegories are stories that contain multiple meanings – one level of meaning would represent reality (ex. Animal Farm), while another level represents deeper hidden meanings (ex. a literal interpretation vs. a deeper interpretation).
There are three types of allegory: personifications, abstractions, and comparisons.
Personifications occur when a character does not exist but is made to appear real (ex. the eyes of the statue followed them wherever they went).
Abstractions happen when one thing is used to represent another thing that cannot be literally shown (ex. in Animal Farm, the animals are represented by farmers).
Comparisons are when two things are put together to show how they are similar or different (ex. in The Great Gatsby, Gatsby is a representation of what society wants and Daisy is a representation of what society needs).
Literary Analysis Essay Setting
When describing a literary work’s setting, you need to focus on 3 key factors: location, time period, and description. Location is an important part of the setting because it helps define characters and their actions.
For example in The Great Gatsby, we know that Gatsby lives in West Egg because his mansion overlooks Long Island Sound and East Egg due to his location from New York City.
The time period can also be used to create character development as well as show how they interact with different people.
For example, the winter of our discontent in Hamlet shows that he is downhearted and not happy.
In some works, the protagonist will leave the setting to go on a journey and change as they return.
For example, in The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield goes off to school and comes back a changed man. The description is crucial to establishing the mood, tone, and theme of a story.
The setting is usually shown through the use of metaphor, simile, and personification.
For example in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Harry sees the basilisk for the first time it felt like his blood was turning to ice because it was so cold.
This sentence is an example of a simile because blood is compared to ice.
The coldness of the basilisk’s body is an example of personification because it allows readers to feel more connected with the story. It is also a simile because the comparison of blood to ice creates a visual in the readers’ minds.
The setting is an essential part of any literary analysis essay, so be sure to spend ample time on this topic.
Point of view Analysis in Literary Essay
Point of view, or PoV, refers to who is telling a story. There are 3 main types of PoV used in literature.
First-person is told from one character’s perspective.
For example, Holden Caulfield narrates The Catcher in Rye by stating I swear I don’t know why she called me [Jay Gatsby] up and made me go over there.
This is how we know that Holden and Jay Gatsby are both real characters in the novel.
The Third-person limited is told from one character’s perspective. Third person, omniscient tells a story from all the perspectives of characters involved in the plot.
Getting Ready to Write a Literary Analysis Essay
Before you can start writing, you need to ensure that you are fully ready.
To do this, take some time to read through the assignment prompt carefully and make sure you understand what is being asked of you.
For example, if the prompt asks for an analysis of a poem’s theme, then make sure that you understand what theme means in terms of literary theory as well as what kind of interpretation is expected for this assignment.
Literary analysis essays require you to interpret a work of literature, which mans that no two papers can have the same thesis statement.
Make sure you state yours clearly in the introductory paragraph so that your reader knows exactly what they are going to get out of this paper when they sit down and read it.
Remember a literary analysis essay is not simply about summarizing the plot or giving your opinion about the work.
You must provide solid evidence in support of your argument, so it’s important to plan ahead by brainstorming possible points you could use to back up your thesis before sitting down and starting to write.
Develop the Outline for your literary analysis essay
The outline for a literary analysis essay should include an introduction, three main points of the work to be analyzed, and concluding thoughts.
A good literary analysis essay outline will have a brief description of the components of each section as well as sample topics for those sections.
For example, the introduction could give background information about the author or work being discussed or provide specific details about why it was chosen for analysis.
One topic for the first point would be how the work reflects its time period.
Another possible topic is whether there are themes present in the work that represent larger societal issues.
The third point might address what aspects of the work make it unique among others.
Finally, the conclusion should summarize all arguments made in the body of the essay and offer any final insights into this piece’s broader significance within a wider context.
Here is an example outline for a literary analysis essay about Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven:
- Background on Edgar Allan Poe First Point
- Themes in The Raven Second Point
- Narrative techniques Third Point
- The poem’s portrayal of life and death
How to Structure a Literary Analysis Essay
Once you know what’s required of you, it’s time to begin structuring your paper.
The structure of a literary analysis essay requires three major parts: the introduction, the body paragraphs, and the conclusion.
Each part is equally important because, without all three components, you won’t be able to prove your point with enough depth or complexity.
Take note that these paragraphs follow the standard five-paragraph essay format.
The introduction should include your thesis statement (the main idea of what you’re arguing), some background information about the text/author/time period, and any other relevant information (e.g., quotes).
In addition, each body paragraph should have its own topic sentence followed by supporting sentences explaining why this point supports your overall argument.
Literary analysis Essay Introduction
The introduction is arguably one of the most important parts of your paper because it is used to present and establish your argument, as well as introduce background information and set up what’s going to come later.
The introduction typically includes three sections in an order similar to an outline:
- thesis statement,
- background info,
- why you’re writing about it.
The introduction is often a difficult section to write, but this is also the case for many of the more difficult parts of your essay.
So, don’t worry too much; just focus on getting a rough draft written and then go back and revise as needed. It’ll come together eventually.
How to write a literary analysis essay thesis statement
The thesis statement of your essay is probably one of its most important sections because it states exactly what you’re arguing.
If you don’t have a strong thesis statement, then your paper is likely to read as bland and weak, with little to no reason for your reader to want to continue on and finish reading.
It’s tempting to try to avoid thinking of your thesis statement until you’ve already written the rest of your paper, but it will end up hurting your efforts instead.
Starting with a strong thesis statement is crucial because it helps you stay focused and grounded throughout the writing process.
Asking yourself what am I trying to argue? is an excellent question for anyone who struggles with deciding what their thesis statement should be.
There are a few different types of thesis statements, including arguing a definite position, exploring multiple interpretations, and claiming certain connections.
Your thesis statement should answer the following questions: what is the purpose of your paper, what are you arguing, and how does it relate to the work you’re analyzing?
An example would be In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, there are both explicit and implicit themes concerning love.
A good thesis statement is succinct, straightforward, and addresses both the what and why aspects of your essay.
The background information gives context and sets the scene for your analysis.
Background information can be placed at the beginning of the introductory paragraph or towards the beginning of your first body paragraph.
You may also choose to only discuss background information once, at the beginning of your essay, so long as you still reference it when necessary within your paper.
Supporting details can either come before or after examples depending on whether they provide context for what comes next or if they provide further clarification after examples.
The last section of the introduction is where you talk about your purpose for writing the paper.
This is typically a short paragraph, and it serves as a bridge between what’s been presented so far and what’s to come.
Literary Essay Body paragraphs
The body of your essay, which follows the introduction, consists of several paragraphs that make up the bulk of your analysis.
The goal of each individual paragraph is to prove your thesis statement by providing specific information from the text, using textual evidence and research to support what you say.
Each sentence needs to do two things: help prove your point, and connect with the preceding sentence.
Avoid sentences as I agree, I disagree, I think, This shows, etc., because these are not concrete points backed up by facts.
Instead, use sentences that start with phrases such as Jane Austen use this passage… or This sentence implies… to show the passage you’re referring to and explain your analysis of it.
Literary analysis essay body paragraphs are divided into three parts.
First, introduce your claim in relation to the passage you’re referencing and what you’ve previously said in your paper.
Second, offer supporting evidence from the text (including textual citations).
Third, summarize what you’ve just said. This is your concluding thought, and it wraps up what you’re saying.
Now, we’ll go over the step-by-step process of building a paragraph: introduce your claim, present supporting evidence, and give a conclusion.
The claim in a literary analysis essay is a way for the author to explore a topic, idea, theme, or pattern found in the work. These claims usually come in the form of a statement. This statement is what the author is trying to argue for, and it’s usually found at the beginning of a paragraph.
Introducing a claim in the body paragraphs should follow the same steps, but with more detail and explanation.
There are many ways to introduce a claim.
One popular strategy is through a rhetorical question–for example, What does Margaret Atwood mean when she says I am looking for you? Another way to introduce your argument would be through an anecdote–such as the one mentioned earlier about reading Lolita in Tehran.
Sometimes, a writer will tell the reader their purpose right away.
For instance, Joan Didion starts her essay On Self Respect by stating I want to see myself respectably.
Other times, the writer will create suspenseful questions.
For example, Richard Wright asks What happens when Negroes meet freedom?
Finally, sometimes writers will bring in prior knowledge from outside sources–whether it’s from another text or their own experiences.
This is the case in Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road. She mentions how the four stages of education came to pass in African-American society, and cites references to back it up.
Supporting evidence for a claim is what you use to back up your analysis.
You need to have evidence for every sentence in your paper–if you don’t, it’s probably better to leave out the sentence. This means that every paragraph must have at least one or two sentences with textual evidence and/or research.
Evidence can come in the form of paraphrasing the text, quoting it directly, or giving your opinion as if it were factual. Paraphrasing is a good strategy to employ in order to build your analysis.
When you paraphrase, you write what you understand the text to be saying.
This sentence, for example, is a paraphrase of John Steinbeck’s quote, It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
Quoting the text verbatim is also helpful. It lets your reader know exactly where you’re getting your evidence from.
Some people may disagree with your interpretation of the text, but they’ll still be able to find your quotes in the book.
Opinion is a good tactic because then you don’t have to worry about being too repetitive.
However, make sure that this opinion isn’t just one that’s made up; instead, make sure it’s supported by textual evidence.
Once you’ve introduced your claim, supported it with some evidence, and written your conclusion, the last step is to give a summary of everything you’ve written.
If all else fails, take a few sentences to remind readers of the things you wrote in each paragraph so they can remember what happened while they were busy focusing on something else!
You now know the basics of writing a literary analysis essay. Keep in mind, though, that there’s a lot more to it than what we covered here.
Literary Essay Conclusion
The concluding paragraph is the paragraph that wraps up your essay and includes a summary of your main points.
This is important for the reader to be clear about what you have discussed in the essay.
After you wrap up your essay, it’s important to give a concluding statement–a final comment or thought that sums up what you want the reader to think of your work. There are many ways to conclude an essay, and most teachers will provide specific instructions on how they want their students to end their papers.
Some common conclusions are personal reflections (on the author’s own thoughts), general thoughts (on the ideas explored throughout the paper), predictions (what will happen next) or recommendations (for future readings).
No matter which kind of ending you choose, keep it short and simple.
Remember that your first job is to prove your point–don’t forget to do so!
Make sure to address counterarguments and rebuttals as well, even if they aren’t included in your body paragraphs. You should briefly mention them before continuing on to your evidence. In the conclusion, summarize your primary points and tell the reader why these are significant.
Consider talking about how this research has helped you understand certain concepts more deeply, how this may change the way you look at things in the future, or recommend further reading.
Reading Closely and Taking Notes
Read closely, and be sure to highlight or underline key passages of the text when preparing to write a literary analysis essay.
Some students like to use sticky notes, as they can easily stick them in important places on their pages.
You should also take note of any quotes you find relevant–make sure that when you list these quotes in your bibliography, they are identified by page number so that readers can find them easily!
To ensure your literary analysis essay stands out from others, consider citing evidence from outside sources as well.
These sources might include articles from peer-reviewed journals or books on the same topic.
It’s easy to find peer-reviewed articles online through databases such as JSTOR and EBSCOhost.
It’s always best to consult your teacher first before using other sources, though; some instructors prefer that all research comes from within the course textbook or lecture material.
Still, others require only one source, while yet others may ask for two or three.
Whatever the case, make sure to double-check with your instructor before writing anything else!
Here are tips for reading and note-taking :
- Read each sentence and carefully examine the words, phrases, and clauses.
- Note the subject, verb, objects, and prepositional phrases.
- Highlight the important information that you feel is vital to your understanding.
- Ask yourself questions about each sentence and write them down
- What does it mean? How does this sentence relate to my theme? What is its significance? What am I trying to say here? Why is this sentence true? What is the significance of this sentence? What would happen if the sentence were untrue? What are some implications of this sentence?
- Write a summary for each paragraph. This can be done in bullet points, sentences, or in a line across the top. Summarizing your thoughts about each paragraph is helpful for both you and your reader! It helps you stay focused on your big picture and remember how all your pieces fit together, and it gives the reader a quick idea of what they are about to read.
- Include a quote from the passage in your essay
- List each paragraph’s main point in an introductory sentence. For example, This passage talks about the conflict between emotion and reason.
- Follow up with at least three supporting sentences to explain why this passage matters for your argument or theme.
- Use specific examples from the text to illustrate why you think it’s significant. Make sure to provide
Revise, Edit and Proofread
When you are done writing it’s time to edit for spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, and typos.
If you have time, get someone else to read it over as well.
Once you’re happy with the final product, type it into Microsoft Word (or similar software).
If formatting will be important later on (e.g., margins), set those parameters now!
Editing is the most important part of the process, as it ensures that your essays are free from grammar and punctuation mistakes.
Many people find editing to be tedious and painful, but it is absolutely necessary to give your paper a polished look.
Here are tips for effective editing of your literary analysis essay:
- Read your essay aloud to catch any awkward phrasing or misused words.
- Go back to the text and insert commas and semicolons where needed.
- Double-check that all citations in your essay are listed in the correct order, with the full citation following each quotation.
- Verify that all of your quotes are properly formatted according to MLA or APA guidelines.
- Remember, quotations should not take up more than one paragraph.
How does a literal analysis compare to other types of Essays?
A literary analysis essay is one of the most common types of essays assigned in school.
It requires you to analyze, interpret, and evaluate a text.
This type of essay might be less difficult for you if you are familiar with the work being analyzed or if it is one that has been studied extensively by other scholars.
If not, it will require time and effort to create your own interpretation.
Compared to different kinds of essays, such as an argumentative essay or an opinion essay, this kind can seem intimidating. You may feel like there is no way to know what to write about without having a deep understanding of the work.
However, this simply isn’t true!
There are many things you can do when writing this kind of paper that won’t involve making connections between every detail in the text (although this can be helpful).
One thing you can do is ask yourself questions about the work.
What did it make you think of? What emotions were invoked while reading? How would someone else describe this book
Another thing you could do is look at the title, subject matter, and genre to give yourself a general idea of what was written about.
You could also think about how various passages from the text influenced your thoughts on particular themes or topics.
And finally, don’t forget to use your own words and expressions – don’t try to just copy down everything you find from your textbook.
Be creative and remember that you are telling a story of the text rather than merely summarizing it.