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Literary Analysis Essay

Updated: Apr 21, 2016
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Mostly assigned in a college-level English course, the Literary Analysis Essay challenges the student-writer to dissect a piece of literature – an essay, short story, novella, novel, play, poem, etc. – and determine how and why it was written, or what the author sought to convey in writing the literary work. This becomes the argument of their essay.


To successfully analyze literature, the student-writer should keep in mind that every author has unlimited opportunities to make choices in their work for certain reasons. Perhaps they are trying to emphasize something through using ample metaphors to alter how their story is told and experienced. Once the student has determined a piece of literature to analyze for their assignment, they should be sure their essay should point out the author’s choices and attempt to explain why these choices are significant in the telling – and understanding – of the story.


Then there is another way to write a Literary Essay, too: the student-writer can consider a piece of literature from his or her own perspective. Rather than focusing on only the author’s intentions, in this case they can rather develop an argument based on a single aspect of a piece of literature, in most cases in the context of a literary term (or combination of terms).


These can be addressing certain elements of a work: its evidence of conflict; its point of view and if the narrator is trustworthy; the setting, the place or location of the action – which provides the historical and cultural context for characters, and can often can symbolize the emotional state of characters. Example – In Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the crumbling old mansion reflects the decaying state of both the family and the narrator’s mind; the student might analyze the character flaw of the tragic hero by tracing how it is revealed through the acts of the play.
A student-writer may choose to analyze a short story and identify a particular theme (like the difficulty of making the transition from adolescence to adulthood) and showing how the writer suggests or indicates the theme through the point of view from which the story is told; or they might also explain how the main character’s attitude toward women is revealed through his dialogue and/or actions. These are just a few examples of what can comprise a Literary Analysis Essay.


The Literary Analysis Essay must have a central idea (thesis), including several paragraphs that grow systematically out of the central idea, and everything in the essay must be directly related to the central idea and must contribute to the reader’s understanding of that central idea.
The student-writer’s objective in writing a Literary Analysis Essay is to convince the reader that their essay supports and defends the idea they are developing.



Steps to Writing the Literary Analysis Essay


1) Start with the Literature.


Long before the writing process ever begins, find a piece of literature – a play, poem, novel, short story, etc. – to expound on. The student-writer should find it interesting, comprehendible and relatively easy to discuss at length.



2) Digest the Material, Brainstorm, and Develop a Thesis.


Most every published literary work is worth talking about to some extent. After finding an interesting story, the student-writer should read it once more with an eye toward pinpointing certain aspects: one, how and why it was written; or two, how a certain part or aspect of the literature can be analyzed to help the reader make better sense of it what it was about or sought to convey.


3) Make an Outline.


In order to present the argument in the clearest and most concise way possible, the student-writer must comb through their findings and find the most relevant information to convey about their topic. The student-writer can then discard all of the useless and less pertinent information to maintain the integrity of the contention. The student should then take all of the valuable information and organize it, building a relatively sound argument. Not matter what kind of outline the student-writer creates, it should result in a simple summary of the argument.


4) Write a First Draft.


The student-writer should keep in mind the basic formula for an essay: there should be an introductory paragraph introducing the reader to the subject and should always include a clear thesis. In the case of the Literary Analysis Essay, the thesis should be structured around the idea the “X” is valid or not. The following body paragraphs should support the Thesis Statement and go into detail describing the qualities and characteristics that make it so. These ideas should be fully supported by only credible sources with citations clearly visible to the reader. The concluding paragraph acts as the opposite of the introduction. If the introduction is saying “hello,” then the conclusion is saying “goodbye.” A bad conclusion is the equivalent of walking out in the middle of a conversation.


5) Edit, Write a Final Draft, Then Submit.


With the most difficult part of the essay, the first draft, finished, the student-writer can now step away from the assignment for a brief period. This way, the student can look at their work later with fresh perspective in order to reorganize and clarify their argument(s). The student-writer should thencarefully proofread for any errors in grammar or punctuation. The last step before the student-writer turns in their Literary Analysis Essay is reading over a printed copy of their essay and then making corrections. Then, and only then, can the student-writer submit the work and get the high marks they so rightfully deserve.


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