How to Write a Literary Analysis

While some may argue the validity of a literary analysis, understanding how to properly write one not only helps to sharpen your critical thinking skills, but also helps you to write more objectively.

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Whether you’ve been asked to write an analytical paragraph or to pen an entire critical analysis essay, the trick is to try to see things as the author did when they first wrote the work that you are analyzing.  Your overall objective is to uncover any symbolism and to clearly explain to anyone who may be reading your analysis thesis how the characters functioned, why they did the things that they did, and what the true message or meaning of the text might be.

The next time you are asked to read any piece of literature and to write a critical analysis, try exploring the following:

  1. What is the underlying or intentional message that the author hoped to deliver? Ask yourself what the primary theme or concept the author was hoping to create and what message they wanted to send to their readers.
  2. Who are the characters, not just on the outside – who are they really? Consider the external factors as well: The tone, the environment, the plot and any other literary devices that the author may have used to ensure that readers truly understand the characters and their value.
  3. Why did the author choose to use specific literary devices in the specific ways they were used? What did the author intend on teaching their readers? How have the characters or the setting or plot twist helped the reader to better understand the theme of the writing?

A true analysis is much more than a typical summary – it is a descriptive and investigative account of how something happened and for what reason.

What is a Literary Analysis

As touched upon earlier, a literary analysis is, in essence, an essay that delves deeper into a work of literature; examining and evaluating the various plot twists, character traits, events and setting in hopes of gaining a better insight into the message the author intended to deliver.

The method used to create a textual analysis will differ only slightly, depending on the type of work being analyzed. For the most part, you will break down the literary work into various components in order to develop a better understanding of the work in its entirety.

An analysis paper, for example, that was based on a piece of poetry might require you to explore various types of imagery used in the poem, or even the relationship between the content and the form of the piece used. A play, on the other hand, may require you to analyze and explain the connection between the subplot and the primary plot, or it may even make sense for you to delve into specific character traits of the main characters and how their flaws might be revealed at various intervals in the play.

Analyzing a novel or short story is a little more interesting given the fact that you have much more to work with. You may, for example, identify and explore a particular theme (like a character’s inability to form strong bonds after experiencing a tragic childhood) and outline how the author depicts that theme based on the point of view or direction that the story goes.

Definition of Literary Analysis

By way of definition, a literary analysis is:

The practice or process or closely examining sections of literary writing to uncover how they relate to or affect the work as a whole. Structured literary analysis focuses predominately on the theme, plot, setting, character(s) and several other literary devices used by the author to create the true meaning of their work. Remember to clearly discuss the essence of your analysis and the chief idea based on the theme.)

Literary Analysis Outline

A literary or critical analysis follows the same format as most other essays, given that it requires an introduction, a thesis statement, the body and lastly an analysis conclusion.

Use the following guideline to help you better structure your analysis essay:

INTRODUCTION: Start by forming the context of your critique.

  • Remember to include the full name of the author, the title of the piece that you will be analyzing and any supplementary information that will be helpful to strengthen your thesis and following thematic statements.
  • Clearly deliver your thematic statement or statements. A thematic statement is the overall concept or main idea as it relates to life that the author is attempting to deliver. (This is the ‘why’)
  • End your introduction with your thesis statement. Your thesis statement should include the who, what, why and Remember to include parts of the question that you intend to answer.

In summation, the introduction should include:

WHO: The full name of the author
WHAT: The response to the question
HOW: The manner in which meaning is shown
WHY: How the meaning relates to life or what the true message that author wants to deliver is

THE BODY: (A minimum of two paragraphs, more is better)

  • Start each paragraph with a concise argument that relates to your initial thesis statement.
  • Each paragraph must have a single point of view.
  • Include relevant quotes to validate your argument. This should focus on “how” things work and also answer your question.
  • Quotes should consist of both narrative and dialogue.
  • Don’t simply uncover a literary technique and offer an example of it. Instead explain how using that particular technique relates to the question you are answering.
  • End with a strong statement that reiterates the sole focus of the paragraph.
  • Consider mentioning the theme in your body paragraphs, but do not divert from the question being answered.

CONCLUSION

  • Start your conclusion by carefully and concisely restating your thesis – but do not do so verbatim.
  • Clearly explain how the ideas and concepts presented in the body of the essay depict the theme. Simply put, your conclusion should also explain what message the author was hoping to deliver about life and how it relates to the examples you’ve included in your analysis.

We have created a Free Online Plagiarism Checker for Teachers for your convenience. Feel to use it!

Types of Literary Analysis

There are several different types of literary analysis, and while they don’t differ widely in comparison, the type used will be largely dependent on the requirements of the assignment.

Here is a brief overview of some of the most common forms of literary analysis that may be uncovered in a traditional educational setting.

Close Reading: The term close reading refers to the act of reading a specific piece of writing while paying particularly close attention to the minor details. This includes things like a character’s use of specific words or perhaps a gesture, along with the imagery the author uses in a specific scene and how the characters might react to it – understanding why the author chose to use the devices that will create a stronger and more insightful understanding of the work in its entirety.

Theoretical: A theoretical paper is used to expressly learn or practice a specific theory or to compare and contrast two separate theories. More often than not, this type of essay will ask the writer to study the text using multiple theories and to develop a framework that is inherent of the argument made by the author.

Comparative or Synergistic: A comparative essay is just as it sounds, a comparison of multiple elements of a piece of writing. This might include similarities between texts or pieces of literature that have been explored previously, or even a comparison of multiple works created by the same author or even texts of a similar genre. The overall objective is to bridge connections and create a conclusion based on your findings.

Contextual or Historical: A literary analysis that focuses heavily on either the context of the work or historical / societal framework requires not only a close reading of the work being analyzed, but also will undoubtedly require additional research that will be called upon to help strengthen and support your thesis.  Similar to all other forms of essays, it is your thesis that carries the most weight. Your goal is to research the societal or historical context found in the work being analyzed and to create a strong thesis that clearly explains how the context relates to the writing.

APPLIED: An applied analysis is slightly less formal than most other forms of analysis – although less formal should not be confused to mean less critical. An applied essay requires you to refer to a specific piece of writing and to explore how the issues inside it might relate to your own personal experiences.

Literary Analysis Example

An example of an applied analysis is the one that asks the writer to examine issues of gender or personal identity and how they relate to their own personal life.

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