Literary Analysis Essay

Literary Analysis Essay

The purpose of a literary analysis essay is to carefully examine and sometimes evaluate a work of literature or an aspect of a work of literature. As with any analysis, this requires you to break the subject down into its component parts. Examining the different elements of a piece of literature is not an end in itself but rather a process to help you better appreciate and understand the work of literature as a whole. For instance, an analysis of a poem might deal with the different types of images in a poem or with the relationship between the form and content of the work.

If you were to analyze (discuss and explain) a play, you might analyze the relationship between a subplot and the main plot, or you might analyze the character flaw of the tragic hero by tracing how it is revealed through the acts of the play.

Analyzing a short story might include identifying a particular theme (like the difficulty of making the transition from adolescence to adulthood) and showing how the writer suggests that theme through the point of view from which the story is told; or you might also explain how the main character‟s attitude toward women is revealed through his dialogue and/or actions.


The Thesis Statement

The thesis statement tells your reader what to expect: it is a restricted, precisely worded declarative sentence that states the purpose of your essay — the point you are trying to make. Without a carefully conceived thesis, an essay has no chance of success. The following are thesis statements which would work for a 500-750 word literary analysis essay

The Introduction

The introduction to your literary analysis essay should try to capture your reader‟s interest. To bring immediate focus to your subject, you may want to use a quotation, a provocative question, a brief anecdote, a startling statement, or a combination of these. You may also want to include background information relevant to your thesis and necessary for the reader to understand the position you are taking. In addition, you need to include the title of the work of literature and name of the author. The following are satisfactory introductory paragraphs which include appropriate thesis statements

The Body of the Essay and the Importance of Topic Sentences

The term regularly used for the development of the central idea of a literary analysis essay is the body. In this section you present the paragraphs (at least 3 paragraphs for a 500-750 word essay) that support your thesis statement. Good literary analysis essays contain an explanation of your ideas and evidence from the text (short story, poem, play) that supports those ideas. Textual evidence consists of summary, paraphrase, specific details, and direct quotations. Each paragraph should contain a topic sentence (usually the first sentence of the paragraph) which states one of the topics associated with your thesis, combined with some assertion about how the topic will support the central idea. The purpose of the topic sentence is twofold

The Conclusion

Your literary analysis essay should have a concluding paragraph that gives your essay a sense of completeness and lets your readers know that they have come to the end of your paper. Your concluding paragraph might restate the thesis in different words, summarize the main points you have made, or make a relevant comment about the literary work you are analyzing, but from a different perspective. Do not introduce a new topic in your conclusion.


The skillful use of textual evidence — summary, paraphrase, specific detail, and direct quotations — can illustrate and support the ideas you are developing in your essay. However, textual evidence should be used judiciously and only when it directly relates to your topic. The correct and effective use of textual evidence is vital to the successful literary analysis essay. Summary If a key event or series of events in the literary work support a point you are trying to make, you may want to include a brief summary, making sure that you show the relevance of the event or events by explicitly connecting your summary to your point. Below is an effective summary (with its relevance clearly pointed out) from the essay already quoted above on “The Secret Lion” (B): The boys find the grinding ball, but later attempt to bury it (SUMMARY). Burying it is their futile attempt to make time stand still and to preserve perfection (RELEVANCE). Paraphrase You can make use of paraphrase when you need the details of the original, but not necessarily the words of the original: paraphrase to put someone else’s words into your own words. Below is an example (also from the paper on “The Secret Lion”) of how to “translate” original material into part of your own paper: Original: “I was twelve and in junior high school and something happened that we didn’t have a name for, but it was nonetheless like a lion, and roaring, roaring that way the biggest things do.” Paraphrase: Early in the story, the narrator tells us that when he turned twelve and started junior high school, life changed in a significant way that he and his friends could not quite name or identify. Specific Detail Various types of details from the text lend concrete support to the development of the central idea of your literary analysis essay. These details add credibility to the point you are developing. Below is a list of some of the details which could have been used in the developmental paragraph from the paper on John Updike’s short story “A & P” (see the paragraph again for which details were used and how they were used). “usual traffic” “fluorescent lights” “checkerboard green-and-cream rubber-tile floor” “electric eye” shoppers like “sheep,” “house slaves,” and “pigs” neatly stacked food dynamite
Using Direct Quotations Quotations can illuminate and support the ideas you are trying to develop. A judicious use of quoted material will make your points clearer and more convincing. As with all the textual evidence you use, make sure you explain how the evidence is relevant—let the reader know why the quotes you cite are significant to your argument.

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