How To Craft A Literary Analysis Essay: A Step-by-Step Guide

Literary analysis featured

When you read for pleasure, your sole purpose is to have fun. You may read to learn something, pass the time, or lose yourself in the poetic extravaganza. There are simply numerous reasons to read a book or a literary work. These are some of the things that one enjoys in leisure. 

However, there’ll come a time when you have to read literature and analyze it in terms of the technical aspect. This is usually a regular occurrence in English or literature classes. So what does it means to analyze?

Don’t fret; we’ll help you here – Analyzing is nothing but breaking down a structure into smaller parts and then examining how those parts function both individually and collectively. Since you are analyzing a literary work, you’ll need to break down the piece into little chunks to interpret the meaning of the text. 

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Just don’t forget that literary analysis differs from rhetorical analysis. It is not a summary of a book or its plot either. Instead, it is a type of argumentative essay where you evaluate various elements of the literary work. 

This article will guide you through the definition, outline, and steps of writing a literary analysis in detail.

Definition of literary analysis

Literary analysis is one of the academic assignments where students evaluate the literary piece from different perspectives, such:

  • Structure
  • Form
  • Content
  • Plot and subplot
  • Theme
  • Images
  • Characters and so on

The purpose of writing a literary essay is to analyze a particular literary work. Furthermore, if you believe that literary works are simply restricted to works of literature, you are mistaken. 

Besides the work of Stephen King and JK Rowling, any work expressed in print or writing can be evaluated. As a result, you can assess all theatrical, musical, and lyrical works in a literary essay.

Remember that your literary essay should be structured in a systematic fashion, with a complete examination of all the components that each literary work contains:

  • Character
  • Theme
  • Point of view
  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Tone
  • Conflict 

These are the 7 essential parts of a literary analysis essay.

How to start a literary analysis?

The first step to starting the literary analysis of any work is to go through it and understand its nuances. Additionally, make notes on what you read and analyzed. Write down what stuck you and what confused you. Make points on patterns, contradictions, and ironies in work. Ask pertinent questions concerning the piece. 

Once you formulate your questions and find answers for them, collect evidence and ideas for your write-up. You’ll be starting your analysis with an introduction, and below are the three steps that you can employ to start your analysis.

  • Begin with your work’s title and author’s name. Only one or two sentences are enough. To make these phrases more engaging, emphasize the crucial topic of the evaluated work.
  • Explain briefly what the work is about or how it impacted world literature. Why is it worthwhile to investigate? What conflicts does the author raise?
  • For your literary analysis essay, create a thesis statement. Explain your fundamental idea as well as the main points you make. This is the most crucial sentence in your argument.

Literary essay format

The literary analysis outline is similar to any other essay format and follows the same old 3-part structure – introduction, body, and conclusion.

Introduction

  • Write the author’s name along with the title of the work
  • Include a hook sentence
  • Brief about the conflicts and their influence on world literature
  • Include a line to describe what the work is about
  • Compose a thesis statement and explain your main argument(s)

Body paragraphs

  • Write a paragraph for each point discussed in the introduction. Usually, three paragraphs are sufficient
  • Be concise and to the point in each paragraph. The topic sentence must be meaningful
  • Use transition words such as however, moreover, etc., for a smooth flow between sentences and paragraphs
  • Provide detailed explanations of your primary idea
  • Support everything you write with proper evidence
  • Include a concluding sentence for each paragraph

Conclusion 

  • Sum up significant points, comment on the literary piece, and share your thoughts.
  • Avoid introducing any new topics or arguments here
  • Highlight your point of view and stress why it is feasible 

How to write a literary analysis?

You can write your literary analysis in 5 easy steps. Always start writing your analysis after creating an outline. Include a minimum of 3-4 key ideas in the body of your essay. Once your outline is ready, you may start writing your literary analysis. Below are a few essential steps that you can follow to build your analysis:

Step 1: Read critically to identify the literary devices

The first step is to read and understand the whole text comprehensively and make initial or introductory notes. Pay attention to the aspects in the literature that are most exciting, surprising, intriguing, or even baffling as you read—these are the areas you may go into in your analysis.

The purpose of literary analysis is to evaluate the writing itself and understand how the text functions on a deeper level, rather than just explaining the events portrayed in the text. You’re primarily looking for literary devices—textual components used by writers to communicate meaning and generate effects.

There are several significant areas you might concentrate on to begin your analysis. Try to consider how each part of the text relates to the others as you evaluate it. To keep track of important sections and quotes, utilize highlights or notes. Here are the key areas that you need to focus on:

Literature devices: This is the most theoretically grounded portion of your essay. Literary devices are made up of the three elements listed below:

  • Literary devices (allusion, allegory, exposition, anthropomorphism, foil, foreshadowing, repetition, and parallelism)
  • Figurative expressions (metaphor,  assonance, symbolism, onomatopoeia, simile, pun, personification, analogy,  proverb, cliche, alliteration, idiom, irony, hyperbole, understatement, and oxymoron)
  • Elements of literature (plot, setting, theme, imagery, tone, mood, motifs, point of view, antagonists, protagonists,  climax, conflict, diction, characterization, and narrator)

Language choice: Consider the author’s linguistic style. Are the sentences brief and straightforward, or complicated and poetic?

What words did you find as uncommon or fascinating? Are words employed metaphorically to mean something instead of their literal meaning? Generally, the figurative language includes metaphor (for example, “her eyes were seas”) and simile (for example, “her eyes were like seas”).

Keep an eye out for imagery in the text as well—recurring pictures that create a particular atmosphere or represent something significant. Remember that language is utilized in literary texts to express more than what it appears to say.

Structure: Consider the structure of the text and how it relates to the story.

  • Novels are usually divided into sections and chapters.
  • Poems are basically split into lines (usually short ones), stanzas, and sometimes cantos.
  • Scenes and acts are used to split plays.

Is the structure of the tale, novel, or poem important to its flow? What structural features does the author employ (chapters, stanzas, lines, acts)? This feature is critical in poetry analysis. And in this analysis, the rhyme pattern, pauses, punctuation, and meter, like the words, affect the reader’s perception of verses and convey the author’s thoughts and feelings.

Some of the topics described in the literary devices section can also be considered in terms of structure. One can create suspense and dramatic irony through foreshadowing and repetition. The climax can occur in the middle or towards the end of the narrative. The plot timeline affects action development, both accelerating and slowing it down. 

However, you don’t have to go through all of these points, but if something catches your attention while reading, just make a note of it.

Narrative voice: Analyze who is narrating the story and how they are doing it. 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 narrator’s point of view. Is the narrator omniscient (knowing everything about all the people and events) or merely partially aware? Are they untrustworthy storytellers whose words should not be taken at face value? Authors frequently imply that their narrator is telling us a distorted or dishonest version of events.

One must also consider the tone of the writing. Is the story meant to be humorous, tragic, or something else? Is it more common for serious matters to be handled as amusing, or vice versa? Is the story realistic, imaginative, or somewhere in the middle?

Conflict: Almost every writing contains a conflict. Mention which of the following is applicable to your analysis and how it is reflected in the plot:

  • Person vs. self
  • Person vs. person (another individual)
  • Person vs. nature
  • Person vs. God, supernatural forces, or fate
  • Person vs. community (society)
  • Person vs. technology

Step 2: Develop a thesis

In a literary analysis essay, the thesis statement is the point you intend to convey about your analysis. It is the fundamental argument that steers your essay and keeps it from becoming a collection of random observations about a text.

Thus, in one sentence, express the purpose of your analysis – thesis statement. Keep it brief and to the point. The thesis must reflect your thoughts to your audience and also make them understand what you do not say.

A thesis statement must clearly describe the writer’s approach to the analysis. Please note that it is a textual claim that will be proven in the essay. A thesis can be argued, analyzed, or explained.

Remember that you can alter your thesis statement during the writing process, so it doesn’t have to be flawless at this point. The goal is to keep you focused on the text as you evaluate it.

Step 3: 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, you should go through the material and look for significant quotations. You may not use everything you uncover and may revisit the text for more proof as you write. However, gathering textual evidence from the start will help you build your arguments and assess their persuasiveness.

Step 4: Write title and introduction

Create a title. It must be a condensed form of the thesis. This is the finest spot to be original, witty, and succinct. If you’re stuck on a title, start with a short quote followed by a colon, and then explain how it relates to the thesis statement. 

For instance, in the famous novel, Wuthering Heights written by Emily Bronte, the introduction goes like this – “He’s more myself than I am”: the Destructive Nature of an Ego Blurred by Love. This is the simplest and most effective method to title an essay.

Write the beginning of the literary analysis. In summary, it begins with background information on the author and the work and then advances to the thesis in the introduction. You can make use of public sentiment on the subject and create a thesis that opposes it. 

Alternatively, you can narrow your analysis to specific literary methods or themes. The introduction paragraph can be ended with a summary of the topics covered in the essay. This summary, however, should be condensed into a single line of a five-paragraph essay.

Compose the body. Each body paragraph should focus on a single topic or aspect. For all body paragraphs, use the following template:

  • Begin with a topic sentence that describes the topic of the paragraph. In the initial sentence, avoid using long phrases with complex language. It gives the reader a quick peek at the section and aids in-text navigation. Transition words can help you go from one thought to another.
  • Continue with evidence and support. Using quotes is right when it is one phrase long and does not go beyond thirty words. Alternatively, you can summarize the quote or paraphrase it to hold only the essential details. Never utilize quotations or paraphrases without a detailed explanation.
  • Complete each paragraph with a one-sentence/one-line summary of the discussed concept.

Step 5: Write Your Conclusion

Finish the essay without introducing new ideas and without using direct quotations. Summarize everything you’ve said so far in different words. Then, emphasize the argument once more, emphasizing the new perspective provided by the essay.

Literary analysis tips

Here are some valuable tips that can come in handy:

1. Use the present tense when writing.

Example: In William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” the villagers go to Emily Grierson’s house because it stinks.

NOT: The townspeople visited Emily Grierson’s house in Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” because it smelt awful.

2. Do not analyze the text; in other words, use the third person (avoid I or you). However, some instructors may require or permit the use of the first or second person in an informal analysis if the usage is consistent, so check with your instructor.

3. Do not summarize the plot (i.e., retelling the story literally). Instead, analyze (develop a thesis on and explain) the story in literary terms.

4. Include a clear thesis statement that highlights something important in the book, usually the theme. (A separate thesis handout is available.)

5. Discuss your ideas using literary terms (for example, character, theme, place, rhyme, point of view, alliteration, symbols, imagery, figurative language, protagonist, and so on).

6. Do not confuse the opinions of characters (in fiction or theater) or speakers (in poetry) with the viewpoints of authors.

7. Use numerous quotations and paraphrases to back up your views, but write the body of your paper in your own words and with your own ideas.

8. When writing a research paper that involves literary criticism, be sure to establish your own opinion rather than simply restating the critics’. You may use the critics’ points of view to back up your own.

9. Cite prose, poetry, drama, criticism, and any other sources utilized in accordance with MLA guidelines. (Please see the most recent edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.)

Conclusion

Overall, literary analysis involves various phases where you break down a novel, a play, or poetry into smaller chunks in order to analyze it. One must remember that this type of analysis is different from rhetorical analysis. We hope that by the end of this article, you will have gained valuable insights into literary analysis and how it is written. 

Follow the steps and tips given here to come up with a fantastic analysis that earns you praise from your instructor and a good score.

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