What is Literary Analysis?
Literary analysis entails delving deeply into a text, deciphering its meanings, and delving into why the author chose particular decisions. It can be used to describe novels, short tales, plays, poems, and any other type of literary work.
How to Write A literary Analysis Essay
A literary analysis essay is not the same as a rhetorical analysis or a plot synopsis or a book review. Instead, it’s an argumentative essay in which you analyze components like the text’s language, perspective, and structure, and explain how the author employs literary methods to create effects and express ideas.
To keep your literary analysis essay focused, read the book carefully and come up with a thesis statement before you start writing. Follow the usual framework of an academic essay as you write:
An introduction that informs the reader about the topic of your essay.
A major body, separated into paragraphs, that presents evidence from the text to support an argument.
A conclusion that clearly explains the primary point that your investigation has demonstrated.
Step One: Reading the text and identifying literary devices is the first step.
The first step is to read the text(s) carefully and make some notes. Pay attention to the aspects of the text that are most exciting, surprising, or even perplexing as you read; these are the areas where you may focus your study.
The purpose of literary analysis is to evaluate the writing itself and understand how the text functions on a deeper level, not just to explain the events recorded in the text. You’re mostly looking for literary devices, which are linguistic components used by authors to express meaning and generate effects. You can also hunt for links between distinct texts if you’re comparing and contrasting multiple texts.
There are several main areas on which you can focus your analysis to get started. Try to think about how each part of the text relates to the others as you evaluate it. To keep track of noteworthy sections and quotes, utilize highlights or notes.
Take into account the author’s writing style. Are the sentences brief and straightforward, or are they longer and more poetic?
What word combinations stand out as particularly interesting or unusual? Is it possible to use words in a figurative sense to mean something different than their literal meaning? Metaphor (e.g., “her eyes were seas”) and simile (e.g., “her eyes were like oceans”) are examples of figurative language.
Keep an eye out for imagery in the text—repeated pictures that evoke a certain mood or represent something significant. Remember that language in literary writings is employed to express more than what it appears to say on the surface.
Consider the following questions:
Who is the narrator of the story?
What story are they telling?
Is it a first-person (“I”) narrator who is intimately involved in the story, or a third-person narrator who describes the characters from afar?
Consider the viewpoint of the narrator. Is the narrator omniscient (knowing everything there is to know about all the people and events) or does he or she merely have partial knowledge? Is this an untrustworthy storyteller who we shouldn’t believe at face value? Authors frequently imply that their narrator is providing us with a distorted or dishonest account of events.
It’s also worth examining the text’s tone. Is the story supposed to be funny, sad, or something else entirely? Is it more common for serious subjects to be handled as amusing, or vice versa? Is the story realistic, fantasy, or a mix of the two?
Consider the structure of the text and how it relates to the story being told.
Novels are frequently broken down into chapters and parts.
Lines, stanzas, and cantos are used to separate poems.
Scenes and acts are used to split plays.
Consider why the author opted to divide the text into sections in the manner that they did.
There are also some less formal structural factors to consider. Is the story told in a linear fashion, or does it hop back and forth in time? Is it set in the middle of the action, in medias res? Is the plot progressing towards a clear climax?
Consider how the rhyme and meter impact your interpretation of the text and your impression of the tone when reading poetry. To gain a sense of this, recite the poem aloud.
In a play, you might think about how different scenes build up character interactions and how the environment relates to the action. Keep an eye out for dramatic irony, which occurs when the audience is aware of something that the characters are unaware of, resulting in a double meaning in their words, thoughts, or actions.
Step 2: Formulating a thesis
The argument you want to convey about the text is your thesis in a literary analysis essay. It’s the central thesis that steers your essay and keeps it from becoming a collection of haphazard observations about a text.
If your essay has a prompt, your thesis must respond to or relate to the prompt. Consider the following scenario:
Example of an essay question
Is “Before the Law” by Franz Kafka a religious parable?
Your thesis statement should be a response to this question—not just a simple yes or no, but a reason why this is or isn’t the case:
Example of a thesis statement
“Before the Law” by Franz Kafka is a narrative about bureaucratic alienation, not a religious parable.
You may be offered the option of choosing your own topic; in this instance, you must develop an original thesis. Explore what stood out to you in the book; pose questions to yourself about the elements that piqued your interest, and consider how you may respond.
Your thesis should be debatable—that is, something you believe to be true about the text but isn’t a simple statement of truth. It must be complicated enough to evolve over the course of your essay through facts and arguments.
Assume you’re doing research on the novel Frankenstein. Begin by pondering the following question: How is the character of Frankenstein portrayed?
Your first response can be a superficial description:
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the character Frankenstein is presented as a monster.
This assertion, however, is just too simplistic to be a compelling theory. You can develop the answer into a more complex and arguable thesis statement after reading the material and studying its narrative voice and structure:
Mary Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives throughout the work to depict Frankenstein in a more negative light. After the monster’s story, Frankenstein begins to resemble the thoughtlessly brutal figure the creature paints him as, despite the fact that he looks to be a naive yet caring idealist at first.
It’s crucial to remember that you can change your thesis statement as you write, so it doesn’t have to be flawless right now. The idea is to retain your attention on the text while evaluating it.
Obtaining textual proof
Your essay will use textual evidence—specific elements of the text that demonstrate your point—to support your thesis statement. This evidence is quoted and evaluated throughout your article to help the reader understand your point of view.
Before you begin writing, comb through the book for pertinent quotations. You may not use everything you uncover, and you may need to go back to the text for more evidence as you write, but gathering textual evidence from the start can help you frame your arguments and assess whether they are persuasive.
Step 3: Come up with a title and an introduction.
You’ll need two elements to start your literary analysis paper: a strong title and an introduction.
The name of the book
Your title should make it apparent what your analysis will be about. It usually includes the author’s name as well as the text(s) you’re studying. Keep it as short and interesting as possible.
A typical title format is to start with a relevant quote from the book, followed by a colon, and then the rest of the title.
Don’t worry if you have trouble coming up with a solid title at first; it will become easier once you’ve started writing the essay and have a better understanding of your ideas.
The introductory paragraph
The essay beginning gives a concise outline of the main points of your argument. It should include a synopsis of the essay’s format as well as your thesis statement.
An introduction’s conventional structure is to start with a broad statement about the content and author, then move on to your thesis statement. You may bring up a frequently held belief about the book and show how your thesis will refute it, or you could zoom in on a specific device you want to focus on.
Then, as a final touch, give a preview of what’s to come in the major body of the essay. This is referred to as signposting. It will be more elaborate in larger essays, but it should not be more than one sentence in a five-paragraph essay structure.
It’s not a bad idea for some students to write the introduction later in the process. After all, once you start writing, you’ll have a better notion of the overall shape of your arguments!
Even if you write the introduction first, you should go back to it afterwards to make sure it matches what you ended up writing and make any required changes.
Step 4: Writing the body of the essay
Everything between the introduction and the conclusion constitutes the body of your essay. It includes your arguments as well as the textual evidence that backs them up.
structure of a paragraph
A high school literary analysis essay typically has five paragraphs: the three body paragraphs, as well as the introduction and conclusion.
In the main body, each paragraph should focus on a single issue. Try to divide your argument into three primary areas of analysis in the five-paragraph format, all of which are linked to your thesis. Only provide analysis that supports your thesis, not everything you can think of to say about the text.
The same logic applies on a larger scale in longer pieces. In your main body, for example, you might have two or three sections, each with many paragraphs. Within these parts, you should still start new paragraphs at logical points in the argument, such as when a new topic is introduced.
It’s critical to employ a topic sentence at the start of each paragraph to keep your remarks focused.
A excellent topic sentence tells the reader what the paragraph is about at a glance. It can start a fresh argument and link it to or contrast it with the prior paragraph. Transition words such as “however” or “moreover” are helpful for seamless transitions:
This topic sentence indicates that the paragraph will focus on religious symbolism, while the linking word “nevertheless” highlights a contrast with the end of the previous paragraph.
Making use of textual evidence
Backing up your assertions with appropriate evidence from the text is an important aspect of literary analysis. This entails introducing text quotes and discussing their relevance to your claim.
It’s crucial to contextualize quotes and explain why you’re using them; they should be properly introduced and evaluated, not left to their own devices:
Using a quote isn’t always essential. When discussing the author’s language, quoting is useful, but there are instances when you’ll need to refer to narrative aspects or structural features that can’t be expressed in a brief quote.
In certain circumstances, it’s preferable to paraphrase or summarize sections of the text, i.e., describe the relevant section in your own words:
Walton’s letters to his sister make up the first and last sections of the work, and it’s worth noting that the entirety of Frankenstein’s and the creature’s storylines are apparently recounted by Walton in these letters.
Step 5: Writing a conclusion
There should be no new quotations or arguments in the conclusion of your analysis. Rather, it’s about completing the essay. You summarize your main arguments and strive to underline their importance to the reader in this section.
A smart way to do this is to describe your main points and then emphasize the conclusion you reached as a result of them, emphasizing the new perspective your thesis provides on the text as a whole: