How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay (The Complete Guide)

Do you know How to Write A Literary Analysis Essay step by step? What is the Purpose of Literary Analysis? A literary analysis is not merely a summary of a literary work. Instead, it is an argument about the work that expresses your personal perspective, interpretation, judgment, or critical evaluation of the work. ? This is accomplished by examining the literary devices, word choices, or writing structures within the work.

The purpose of a literary analysis is to demonstrate how these elements convey meaning. What Do the Critics Do? ? ARGUE a position, slant, or lens using textual evidence. The analysis is an argument. And it is far from “mere opinion.” It relies upon close reading and textual evidence, not fluffy meanderings or empty “I FEEL’s.” ?

Provide a working THESIS that encompasses that textual evidence: Develop a unique, specific, debatable thesis: “Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness addresses the exploitation of African natives and resources through the unconventional treatment of the light versus dark motif, as the light takes on ironic negative meanings and distinctions between the light and darkness become ambiguous.”

Avoid a non-debatable, predictable, or simplistic thesis: “In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, there are many motifs, the most prevalent being light versus darkness.” ? Identify a THEME (as it relates to the other elements of fiction) to assign meaning to the text Remember that literary themes are in essence issues. Without these “issues,” the other elements of fiction – character, setting, imagery, motif, symbolism – don’t add up to anything.

One of the paths to literary analysis is to discover what the author\’s purpose is with each of his choices. Avoid the problem that many students have, which is to hold the erroneous assumption that simply retelling what happened in detail is good enough (no, it is not). Plot summary is necessary, but not the intended goal in a literary essay.

literary analysis writing

Through the prevalence of a theme, a literary work will often imply or project a view about the issue. In other words, a “major theme” in a literary work usually consists of an issue and an implicit or explicit view about the issue. Your literary analysis is connecting the dots for the reader, answering the question, “But what does it all mean?”

For this assignment, you may choose one of the following four topics to address in a literary essay:

1. The novel presents an intricate mix of brutal violence and deep love. Dicsuss these two elements and how/why they are used and what purpose they serve. Make sure to address which one the author indirectly declares to be stronger. 

2. The book makes several references to the supernatural, beginning with the opening explanation of Fuku and Zafa. Write about these and other supernatural elements and how/why they continue to show up throughout the book. 

3. There are many similarities and differences that show up between multiple characters in the book. Choose two characters and write a compare/contrast essay on them, including an exploration of their relationship with each other if applicable. 

4. The novel explores masculinity from several different angles. Using the various characters (both major and minor), write an essay that seeks to explain the varying definitions the author presents on what it means to be a Dominican man.

5. If there is something in the novel that stands out to you and you would like to propose a topic, you can present a developed idea to me via email for approval. This email should not just say something like “the role of sex” but instead should look very much like the above mentioned topic ideas. I will not approved half-developed ideas, and if I think your idea can be molded into one of the 4 I gave, I will make suggestions accordingly. 

Essay Specifications:

The essay should be between 3-5 full pages in length. (Full pages mean at least 3/4 of the way down the final page). You may only use 3rd person, do not use 1st or 2nd person. Use MLA formatting according to MLA 8th edition. You must use at least 3 quotes from the novel to support your claim. There is a sample paper on the modules.

How will it be graded?

25-Requirements met, MLA format, 3 pages, 3rd person only, reference the novel at least 3 times.

25-Grammar, spelling, capitalization, subject/verb agreement, punctuation use, and more!

25-Claim is made in a thesis statement, details and quotes from the novel support the claim, clear comprehension of the novel.

25-Organization, flow follows thesis statement, smooth transitions, makes sense, writing is orderly.

NOTE: You do not need a Works Cited page for this essay, unless you bring in a source other than the novel. However, you will lose 20 points if you fail to reference the novel at least 3 times within your essay. 

What is a Literary Essay? Literary Analysis Definition

Writing about literature is almost like having a great conversation about your favorite movie. The major difference is that in a book, there are no accidental boom mics or continuity errors, EVERYTHING is on purpose. My favorite example of this is Shakespeare’s choice to name his characters Othello and Desdemona. He could have chosen anything, but he picked two names with HELL and DEMON in them.

And as it turns out (spoiler alert), Othello is possessed by Desdemona’s love. It’s not by accident. Literary essays dive into literature in a to make connections between characters, to explore various developing themes, and to look at other literary elements such as symbolism, setting, plot, and many more. For those of you who like to over-analyze, you will be great at this essay. 

When answering the questions, consider things such as content, intent, reference vs. inference, POV choice, tense choice, word/image choice and their associations, figurative language, syntax, and tone. 

You can analyze some of the following literary aspects in your research paper 1.) setting 2.) character 3.) conflict 4.) theme 5.) symbol 6.) modernism 7.) narrative technique 8.) style 9.)dialogue and 10.) fragmentation. 

Be sure to analyze the appropriate literary elements such as symbolism, imagery, diction, alliteration, and any other applicable literary terms that work to create the theme. Be sure to tie the analysis to the bigger theme in the thesis and the conclusion.

What Makes a Good Literary Essay?

A good literary essay is more than a book report. It does not simply summarize, but instead it shows your interaction with the text. Your understanding of it should be clear.

A good literary essay has support from the text. Referring back to the book does more than just prove you read it. It shows your ability to find and assemble the parts of the novel that support the claim you are making. 
A good literary essay “joins the conversation”. You are not the first person to read this book and write an essay on it, and you won’t be the last. By examining what others have said about the novel, you will find yourself entering into an academic conversation about the text.

It is fine to acknowledge what others have said, as long as you give them credit for it, and respond to those expressions and opinions. While you are not a literary critic, your thoughts on this novel are as important as anyone else’s. 
A good literary essay will dig into the text. Making sweeping statements about a novel does nothing to show your understanding of it. Instead, get specific, even on a word level if necessary. The more detailed your essay, the more it will help your focus.

Remember, the author chose every word for a reason, nothing is by accident. This mentality will help you seek to understand why the author made the choices they did. 

NOTE: Literary essays are very difficult for some people. If you find that you are having a hard time writing the essay, I would advise writing a comparison between two characters or two relationships and the way they evolve throughout the novel. Just do your best to show your grasp on the book and look for literary essay example to know more.

Be careful not to rely on outside websites for this essay. It’s easy to plagiarize ideas on assignments like this one. Googling too much about the book will result in you using someone else’s ideas…it’s hard to get them out of your head once they’re in there!

Write a literary analysis of: 1. Topic is Flannery O’Connor “Parker’s Back” “ in the form of a Literary Analysis Question” (better known as a “Research Question”)

– Define epiphany. Discuss the roles in which epiphanies play in the story. What purpose do these epiphanies serve in the context of the story?

– Focus on Parker’s character. Why does O’Connor characterize him in such a way? What purpose does his character serve to the overall meaning of the story?

2. After reading the story & reviewing your reading notes, a topic may just jump out at you, or you may have recognized a pattern or identified a problem that you’d like to think about in more detail.

3. Develop a working “Literary Analysis Question” (better known as a “Research Question”) that you want answered by the end of your paper. For example, Why is Parker obsessed with tattoos?

Sample Introduction Paragraph with Thesis Statement for Literary Analysis Writing:

Throughout our lives, we are constantly developing a self-identity, which sets us apart from others as individuals. Our childhood experiences, social interactions, and observances structure the identity we develop as adults. We consistently strive for self-assurance and definition which, unfortunately, many people are unable to obtain during their lifetime. For those of us that encounter an opportunity to grasp a truer meaning of our self-worth, we find it in the least likely of places. Flannery O’Connor presents such an opportunity in her short story, “Parker’s Back”, as her protagonist becomes obsessed with continuously obtaining tattoos in a misguided attempt to develop his self-identity. However, it is evident that Parker’s obsession for tattoos of vivid color represents the emptiness inside of him and he too must find “himself” in the least likely of places.

The above exemplary introduction paragraph ( literary analysis introduction example) is successful because it does the following:

• It opens with a “hook” that engages the reader.

• It progressively moves from the “general to particular” organization and slowly introduces the reader to the topic before exerting an opinionated, argumentative thesis.

• It identifies the author’s full name and the genre and title of the fiction.

• The thesis is in the optimal location �” the last sentence in the introduction par.

• The thesis clearly states the student’s argumentative interpretation (i.e. opinion) in a general way that does not give too much away at the beginning and saves it for the content of the essay.

• Notice how the student’s literary analysis question is inferred in the thesis �” Why is Parker obsessed with getting more tattoos? 

Literary Analysis Essay Audience & Purpose:

You are writing this essay to take an argumentative stance and defend your personal interpretation with textual evidence. You want to make a clear argument for your interpretation to others who have read the work, but who disagree or have a differing interpretation.

What is Generally Considered Inappropriate to the Genre? ?

Avoid the use of the second person (the pronoun you) in making your point. Although we do this all the time when speaking, it makes for a sloppy sounding argument in writing. The first person (the pronoun I) is also taboo unless you are supporting your argument with personal experience:

Do not say, \”I will present the reasons why. . .\” or \”I feel* that the author is saying . . .\”. ? Avoid such contrivances as \”In conclusion\” and \”Secondly.\” A proper conclusion is an unambiguous closing and should sound like one even without a label.

Similarly, the order of your argument should make sense and follow some kind of pattern; it should be clear why a particular support area is second or third, not merely that it is second or third. ?

A literary analysis (as well as a review of any book, film or play) is written in the present tense as if you are the narrator. * A special note on feel. Feel should be reserved for emotions, and cannot adequately express beliefs or even strong convictions. It is a conversational device we have developed to avoid disagreement in our culture.

One cannot, after all, argue against a feeling. If you are expressing an opinion, \”I think\” or \”I believe\” may seem appropriate, but often you’ll find that when these are eliminated, your perspective becomes more authoritative and less apologetic or unprofessional. \”I feel\” goes with sad, confident, sorry, rotten, pretty, good, pretty good and other abstractions, not with \”. . . that a tax increase is unnecessary.\” Avoid these QUALIFIER phrases such as: “I think,” “I feel,” “I believe,” or “In my opinion.”


MLA ? Original title, only incorporating underline, italics, or quotations if appropriate ? 12 pt Type and Times New Roman Font ? One inch margins ? Double-spaced throughout ? MLA Format: Parenthetical (In-text) citation and Works Cited page ? Do you know how a sample literary analysis essay for high school and college should be?

Thesis Statements Examples for Literary Analysis Essays:

  • The social and political backdrop of the turbulent late 1950s and early 1960s in the United States illuminates the mindsets and behaviors of the characters in John Updike’s “A & P.”
  • Ernest Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home” and Louise Erdrich’s “The Red Convertible” present the effects of the war as intergenerational; that is, even those family members who did not serve in wartime directly will experience the ripple effects of the psycho-emotional trauma of those who did.
  • Reckless behavior permeates Otsuka’s “Come, Japanese!” and is presented as a survival mechanism during times of emotional trauma.
  • Economic inadequacy places people at psychological and social disadvantage, as illustrated in James Joyce’s “Counterparts” and Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson,” respectively.

You can write literary analysis example for a short story, a poem, a novel, character essay, personal literary essay, for middle school, or high school. Literary analysis topics are diverse and your success will depend on your ability to use appropriate literary analysis terms, understand the types of literary analysis, and following this guide right from the introduction, body, conclusion, and referencing.


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