What is a literary analysis, and what is it good for?
Please don’t reply, “Absolutely nothing, say it again y’all!”
You might think that a literary analysis isn’t good for anything, but it actually helps sharpen your writing skills and your critical thinking abilities.
If you can write a stunning literary analysis, you have a pretty good chance of doing well in your literature course, too, so that’s definitely a bonus!
This all sounds great, right, but what do you do if you’re not quite sure how to even start? If you’re in need of a little help, you’ve come to the right place. I’m here to explain how to write a literary analysis that works.
What Is a Literary Analysis?
A literary analysis is quite simply an analysis of a piece of literature. Makes sense, right?
Your goal is to carefully examine a piece of literature. To do this, you need to break it into smaller pieces. This will help you understand the writing as a whole.
As you read, pay close attention to what characters say and do. Even a small action or comment can be significant. For example, consider how the simple phrase, “Out, damned spot; out, I say” reveals Lady Macbeth’s guilt and descent into madness.
Also pay attention to (and actively look for) the literary terms you’ve learned about in class. You know, terms like plot, character, foreshadowing, symbolism, and theme.
Remember: even though plot can be an important component of a literary analysis, a literary analysis is not a plot summary.
Let me say that again for emphasis: A literary analysis is not a plot summary.
Don’t write a paper that explains every single plot point of the story. While it may be appropriate to include a brief summary of the literature, the summary shouldn’t be the focus of your essay.
Remember, you’re analyzing a key element of the literature. You’re not telling your friend what happens in the story.
Here’s a mini literary analysis example to help explain what I mean.
Let’s look at Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery”.
Need inspiration? Check out these example essays on “The Lottery.”
Here’s a plot summary. It tells you what happens in the story. This is not a literary analysis.
In “The Lottery,” villagers gather to draw the name of the person who will win the lottery. Here’s the kicker though, the person doesn’t win a million dollars, as might be the case with a modern story of this title. Instead, the person who wins the lottery is stoned to death by the rest of the villagers to ensure a good harvest. This isn’t a lottery that anyone would want to win.
Here’s the start to a good literary analysis. This example chooses a small element of the story (the black box) and explains its importance (what the box symbolizes).
While a simple box may not seem to matter, when you look at it in the larger context of the story, you’ll see that the shabby black box, which holds the slips of paper with each villager’s name, is actually an important symbol.
Notice that the box is black. Black symbolizes death. The box is old and worn out, yet the villagers won’t replace it. This symbolizes the tradition of the lottery. It, too, is old and dated, yet villagers cling to the tradition.
See the difference? A summary simply retells the plot, while an analysis explains and analyzes an important element of the story.
Read: How to Write a Good Essay: Stop Summarizing, Start Commentating
Ready to move on to a more detailed, step-by-step explanation? Great! Let’s get to work!
How to Write a Literary Analysis That Works
1. Read the literature carefully
I know this is a basic step, but my point here is that you should actually read the material. Don’t rely on Spark Notes or Shmoop. These sites can be helpful in understanding material, but they’re no substitute for actually reading the original text (even if you do have to read all 500 pages of The Lord of the Rings).
2. Review literary terms, and take notes as you read
It can be hard to remember every detail of a story or find a specific quote in a 500 page novel. Save yourself time and the frustration of pouring through each page again by writing down your thoughts, asking questions, and highlighting important information.
Remember when I mentioned literary terms? Here’s where you’ll take notes about those, too.
If the book is titled The Lord of the Rings and you notice that the ring plays an important role in the novel, chances are that ring is a symbol of something. Take notes about the ring as you read (noting page numbers!), so you’ll be able to use the ideas to support your analysis.
Read: 10 Note Taking Strategies to Write a Better Essay
3. Understand your assignment
In some cases, writing a literary analysis means you’re writing your own original analysis and won’t need any additional sources to support your claims.
Some assignments will require you to complete research and use outside expert analysis to support your ideas.
These are two different assignments, so before you begin, make sure you’re writing the right type of paper!
4. Introduction and Thesis Statement
Reach out and grab your readers! Not literally, of course. But an introduction should grab readers’ attention and make them want to keep reading.
If you’re writing a literary analysis without the help of sources, try opening with a question that you’ll answer in your paper.
Here’s an example: The symbols of light and dark are prominent throughout literature, but what unique role do these seemingly common symbols play in The Lord of the Rings?
If you’re using outside research, try opening with an interesting or shocking quote from a source.
Here’s what an opening line of a literary analysis of The Lord of the Rings might look like if you’re using sources.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was published in 1954-1955 and “…has been hailed by many literary critics as a classic work of literature, one of the best—or the best—of the twentieth century” (McPartland 1).
After you introduce your topic in the introductory paragraph(s), you’ll wrap up the introduction with a clear and specific thesis statement.
The thesis statement functions like a mini road map of your paper and tells your readers the subject and focus of your paper. (To learn more about thesis statements, read How to Write a Thesis Statement in 5 Simple Steps.)
Check out these thesis statement examples you might use for a literary analysis of The Lord of the Rings.
Sample Thesis Statement #1: The key symbol in The Lord of the Rings is the ring itself, as it symbolizes power.
Sample Thesis Statement #2: Upon close reading, a number of themes emerge from The Lord of the Rings; however, one of the primary themes is good versus evil.
These sample thesis statements provide readers with a specific focus, with the first example clearly focusing on symbolism and the second clearly focusing on theme.
Once you have written an appropriate thesis statement, you have a direction for your paper and are ready to begin the actual analysis.
5. Analyze Literary Devices
Now’s the time to take a look at your notes again and review the observations you made about literary devices, such as theme, symbol, and character.
Break down the literature by examining each of these literary elements to see what role they play.
It’s a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You need to examine each piece individually to see how it forms the larger picture.
Let’s look at an example.
Here’s a working thesis statement: The key symbol in The Lord of the Rings is the ring itself, as it symbolizes power.
In this paper, you’ll focus on symbolism.Your literary analysis needs to create an argument and explain to readers how the ring symbolizes power. To do this, you’ll of course need specific examples from the novel.
Because the ring is a changing symbol throughout the story, you can provide a number of examples. For instance, the ring is a symbol of evil power. The ring also symbolizes a desire for power.
Here’s another working thesis statement: Upon close reading, a number of themes emerge from The Lord of the Rings; however, one of the primary themes is good versus evil.
In this paper, your focus is theme. Your literary analysis, will provide readers with examples to help explain the importance of the theme good vs. evil in the novel.
Throughout The Lord of the Rings, characters are in a constant battle of good and evil. The ring was created by evil and continually tempts even the most good and honest characters. Your analysis will include specific examples of characters being tempted, their struggles with good and evil, and their ultimate end of succumbing to the darkness of evil.
Every good essay ends with a good conclusion.
Wrap up your literary analysis by summing up your main ideas and restating your thesis (using different wording than your original thesis statement, of course).
If you’re writing about the symbolism of the ring in The Lord of the Rings your conclusion will restate the importance of the ring as a symbol of power and how that symbol is carried throughout the entire novel.
Include a few key points of your analysis, such as how the ring symbolizes evil power as well as a desire for power.
Your final lines will bring the essay to closure. As a concluding strategy, you might connect your opening and closing lines of your essay.
For instance, in the example above, I quoted a source that mentions the quality of the novel and its importance in literary history. Your concluding lines might restate this idea to emphasize the point.
Check out these example essays on The Lord of the Rings!
Final Thoughts on How to Write a Literary Analysis
Learning how to write a literary analysis takes practice–and revision. Don’t expect to quickly read a story and whip up your paper during Mad Men commercial breaks.
Budget your time wisely. Allow time for yourself to read (and possibly reread) the literature. Take notes as you read. And make sure to organize and draft your ideas carefully.
If you want to learn even more about literary analysis before you start your paper, read 8 Components of a Smart Literary Analysis.
If you’re having trouble deciding which literary device to focus on, I recommend taking a look at this detailed list of literary devices, which includes definitions and plenty of examples.
Ready to have someone else review your analysis? Kibin editors are always ready to help!
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By knowing how to write a literary analysis, a student can interpret any piece of literature he has read. Reading & comprehension are the integral parts of the learning process, and it is difficult to imagine perfect writing without mastering these skills. This article will help every student who asks, “What is a literary analysis?”
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After reading the article, think twice. In case of any questions left, you may buy a custom academic literary essay on any topic to get an excellent experience in the field of A+ writing.
What Is a Literary Analysis?
The primary thing to cover is a literary analysis definition. It is a type of Literature/English Composition 101 assignment, which reflects student’s reading and comprehension skills as well as the chosen author’s attempt to explain his choices’ importance. In “The Great Gatsby,” for example, Scott Fitzgerald tries to display the face of American nation of the middle XX century through the images of Bohemia against the poor people. The author shows what money can do with people. Various economic theories could be applied to analyze the characters from the offered novel – that is a clue for the student.
Students may need to learn how to write a literary analysis paper to discuss how and why a specific literature piece was composed:
- Short story/Essay
It is impossible to analyze the chosen text without remembering that each author has specific reasons to come up with a certain story. If a person wonders how to write a literary analysis, he/she should realize this assignment is old. Read the article and analyze your skills. If you feel like some of the essential skills are missing, skip it to the closing paragraph where we explain the best way to deal with any homework assignment.
Literary Analysis Outline: Student’s Action Plan
Literary analysis essay outline looks like the outlines of other academic papers, but it may have more paragraphs depending on the writer’s flow of thoughts. An outline is an action plan, which helps to survive. Building materials into a pile on the ground makes no sense – the writer may lose the point in the middle of the process. The prompt barely asks the students to develop outlines. Experts recommend to come up with a good literary analysis essay outline if you want to understand how to write a literary analysis of A-level.
Make each point of the outline in a way that it responds to one of the questions that may appear while discussing the chosen piece of literature. An outline helps to reveal the gaps in writer’s knowledge. Each gap alarms a student needs to conduct additional research to get the answers to various important questions. Do not start working on an outline without studying the grading rubric in details.
How to Write a Literary Analysis of a Short Story: Learn the Grading Rubric!
- A: A paper engages in a sophisticated, unique assessment and in-depth analysis of the author’s themes and techniques used to compose a chosen piece. It contains a complex analysis of the given literature.
- B: A paper offers to probe literary evaluation & criticism along with the piece’s themes and techniques.
- C: A paper contains a simple analysis without going into the details; the student offered an assessment of the basic level.
- D: There is no analysis & criticism in work. No specific themes or techniques used by the story’s author were properly evaluated/explained by the student.
How to Start a Literary Analysis?
The opening paragraph of an academic literary essay is an introduction, and it is important to make the reader want to read the whole piece from cover to cover.
A literary analysis introduction: The primary thing to do is introduce the topic. Grab the attention of the potential reader to make him read to the end by inserting one of the available hook sentences:
- Famous quotation
- Provocative/Rhetorical question
- A short anecdote/joke
- A startling statement
- Mix of these hooks
Do not forget about the background information. It must contain the title of the selected piece of literature, author’s name, main characters, and the main idea of the story’s plot. The last element in the introduction is a thesis statement, which points to the significance of the given story. A thesis could be made of more than one sentence. Example:
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Moving to the Body of Your Work
Body paragraphs: 2 things should appear in every new body paragraph – the topic sentence & interpretation along with the textual evidence. The information in each paragraph should be related to the thesis statement. Tie the details of the paragraph together. To relate some paragraph about the American society after the World War I, the student may recall the fact that John Gatsby survived as a soldier during the war. Drawing parallels with real-world events is a good idea. It helps to make the audience understand the writer’s point better.
Do not forget to add in-text citations, direct & indirect, to provide extra evidence to support the topic sentence/thesis statement. It is necessary to add several citations from the analyzed piece of literature to deliver the spirit of the story to the reader.
Literary Analysis Conclusion
How to end a literary analysis? It’s about dealing with the conclusion: The closing paragraph must provide a sense of completeness and inform the reading audience this is the end of the text. Use different words to rewrite the thesis statement. Unlike in introduction, in conclusion, the thesis statement comes at the beginning to remind the reader of the main argument (read more about argumentative analysis essay). After that, make a summary of the main points introduced in the body paragraphs. A student may include a relevant comment about the analyzed book or story from a different perspective, but without starting a new topic for discussion.
Literary Analysis Essay Example
The article offers a literary analysis essay example for every part of the paper: from its introduction to the conclusion based on different samples.
Example #1: Introduction
“One can say that “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway is a story, which looks simple on the surface but complicated and puzzling deep down. The author narrates the main events in short sentences. He uses a minimum of figurative language, but the story raises many questions without giving evidence for the final answers.”
Example #2: Body paragraph with the quote
“Sammy’s descriptions of the A & P introduced an ugly and boring setting. The chain store is something not unusual in the modern world, and the target audience can feel similar to Sammy’s uniformity. He adds the fluorescent light is as blandly cool as the "checkerboard green-and-cream rubber tile floor" (486).”
Example #3: Conclusion
“In “My Last Duchess,” the redeeming traits of the Duke do not show up in the poem, so I believe the author meant he does not have any. By the end of the Browning’s story, the reader does not favor the character of the Duke, and it is obvious the author wanted the reading audience to feel this way.”
It looks like the author succeeded with his intentions. The readers almost hate the character of the Duke on purpose.
The final thing left is the list of great topics to make each student understand how to write a literary analysis by choosing the correct issue to analyze.
15 Inspiring Literary Analysis Essay Topics
The last thing to observe is the list of top literary analysis essay topics!
Macbeth Literary Analysis Essay Topics
- Interpret the usage of figurative language in Macbeth
- Discuss the reversal of characters in relation to Macbeth and his wife
- Provide the evaluation of the Macbeth structure
- How is the suspense used by Shakespeare to create tension?
- In what way Macbeth develops during the plot development?
Romeo & Juliet Literary Analysis Topics
- The way Shakespeare reflects the archetypal star-crossed lovers
- Discuss the theme of time in Romeo & Juliet in the context of the lack of time
- Explain a cliché for romantic fatalism throughout the prism of Romeo & Juliet’s tragic love
- Is the love doomed by fate in Romeo & Juliet?
- What about the good & evil, light & dark in the famous Shakespeare’s play?
XIX & XX Century Literary Analysis Topics
- There is no more famous detective story than Sherlock Holmes (list the reasons why)
- Struggling to survive on the island is the allegory of living in a modern society in “The Lord of the Flies.”
- Forecasting racing outcomes as an example of fraud in our world (“The Rocking Horse Winner”)
- Is it right to claim that love is stronger than time on the example of “The Princess Bride”?
- Does it make sense to follow your dreams instead of focusing on real life? “Of Mice & Men” is the perfect novel to discuss
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