How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay
How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

What Is Literary Analysis?

Literary analysis refers to closely studying a text, understanding its meaning, and investigating why the author made particular choices. This type of essay writing can be used on poems, plays, short stories, novels, or any other form of literary writing. An essay in literary analysis is not a book review, nor is it a summary of the plot or a rhetorical analysis. Instead, it is a form of argumentative essay where the student is expected to analyze elements such as structure, perspective, and language of the text, and illustrate how the author applies literary devices to convey ideas and create effects.

The Purpose of a Literary Analysis

This type of academic assignment aims to evaluate and examine a literary work or its features. The depiction of a literary analysis essay assumes the study of organization, imagery, perception, and choice of language in the text. The techniques are evaluated to comprehend the message the author intended to pass along.

Types of Literary Analyses

Cultural Analysis

Cultural literary analysis describes a new understanding of a text using philosophies, practices, and objects representative of a culture’s laws, values, and values. By considering the belief systems of the location and time period which the text is based on, a cultural analysis perceives the text in consideration of the culture it was referred from.

Feminist Analysis

This type of literary analysis concentrates on feminist theories based on the unequal treatment of men and women by the society. Feminist critics evaluate texts from the perspective of gender stereotypes, patriarchal societies, and the reception and treatment of female and male writers.

Historical Analysis

A historical analysis evaluates text through historical lens. Historical critics form an understanding of where the text is written and when to enable them find new meaning in consideration if social events, its roots and the historical aspects of the time period that influenced the author’s writing.

New Criticism

This analyzes text based on the text itself. New criticism concentrates on internal contexts and ignores cultural, biographical, historical, and additional outside contexts. New critics study devices such as literary devices, theme, style, structure, setting, diction, content, plot, and language patterns.

Psychological Analysis

A psychological analysis tries to understand a text by postulating and examining the intentions of the author, the response of the reader and the psychological state of the characters in the text.

Reader Response Analysis

This type of literary analysis essay shifts concentration away from the author and other external elements of the text and evaluates the reception of the text through the perspectives of the readers.

Literary Analysis Essay Outline

The following is a standard literary analysis essay outline you can use for your paper.


  • When writing a literary analysis essay introduction, begin with the title of the paper and the author’s name. This should not exceed two sentences and you should stress on the primary idea of the analyzed text to hook your readers.
  • The next step is to briefly explain what the work is all about or its influence on the literature world. Why is the work worth an analysis? Does the author raise any conflicts?
  • Create a thesis statement for the literary analysis essay. Expound on your primary idea and the main points you put across. This is the most important sentence in the literary analysis.

Literary Analysis Body Paragraphs

  • For every point you make in the thesis, allocate it an individual paragraph. When writing a 500-750 word essay, your analysis should have three paragraphs.
  • Each paragraph should start with a meaningful but concise topic sentence. To ensure that there is smooth flow in the body paragraphs, use transition phrases and words such as ‘however,’ ‘moreover,’ ‘however,’ etc.
  • This should be followed by a detailed explanation of the main ideas. Remember that all your claims should be supported with credible evidence obtained from the text such as substantiations, paraphrases, descriptions, or quotations.
  • Use a concluding sentence at the end of every body paragraph while talking about what the paragraph proves.

Literary Analysis Conclusion

  • This paragraph is the final one in the literary analysis paper, which will give your paper a sense of completeness. In this paragraph summarize all main points, share your feelings, or comment on the work.
  • Stress why your viewpoints are viable and how the main body paragraphs prove this.
  • Do not introduce new ideas or topics here

Step By Step Guide to Writing a Literary Analysis Essay

Critical Reading

If you are wondering about how to begin the literary analysis, start with careful reading. At this point, identify the main themes of the text. Make a list of the themes and note the pages where you found them. Use this method even for references since an academic paper requires you to show the pages in the text for any paraphrases and quotations.

At this point, the text’s events are vital as they present the principal idea or the main theme. So, it is advisable to focus on narrative voice, structure, choice of language, and literary devices. These are the text elements that crate emotional and visual effects and communicate the meaning.

  • Narrative voice. When reading the text under literary analysis, the narrator becomes a friend of the reader. What kind of a person is the narrator? Are they omniscient or omnipresent as a supernatural force? Are they in the same condition as other protagonists? The first-person narration can be used (subjective and completely involved in the plot) or third-person (objective and distanced). The tone in the narrator’s voice will determine how you perceive the text. Is it tragic, realistic, or comic? Is their reliability in the narrator’s figure, and are their words plausible?
  • Structure. Is the flow of the poem, novel, or story affected by the structure? Which structural elements did the author use (lines, stanzas, chapters, or acts)? This feature is vital when analyzing poetry. Meter, pauses, punctuation, and rhyme pattern shape the reader’s insight of verses and communicate the author’s feelings and thoughts, just like the words. Repetition and foreshadowing can generate dramatic irony or create suspense. Climax can be found at the end or in the middle of the narration. The plot timeline impacts action advancement, accelerating, and slowing the in-text time. You do not have to talk about all these factors, however, if something catches your attention, note it.
  • Choice of language. At this stage, you should evaluate the length of sentences, the density of grammatical structures, application of high-flown or poetic language, or persistent vulgar words.
  • Literary devices. This is the most theory-based aspect of the essay. The following elements make up literary devices:
    • Literary techniques (parallelism, repetition, foreshadowing, foil, anthropomorphism, exposition, allegory, and allusion).
    • Figurative language (irony, idiom, alliteration, hyperbole, analogy, simile, personification, onomatopoeia, and oxymoron).
    • Literary elements (narrator, diction, theme, plot, imagery, setting, tone, mood, conflict, characterization, etc.
  • Conflict. This is found in almost every text. Talk about any of the following types of conflict in your analysis and explain how it is executed through the plot.
    • Person vs. God, fate, or supernatural forces.
  • Person vs. nature
  • Person vs. person
  • Person vs. self
  • Person vs. society
  • Person vs. technology
  • Create the Thesis

Modern professional literature and world classic are valuable because of their abundant literary devices, well-thought structure, and many-sided conflicts. A length research thesis cannot fit all of them. Choose an idea that touched you the most while reading the text. Create the intention of your analysis using just one sentence, which should be succinct and to the point. Your thesis tells your readers what the paper is about, and also hints at what you will not discuss.

A thesis statement clearly describes the scope of the topic and how the writer is going to approach it. It is an assertion about the text under literary analysis. You can have an explanatory, analytical, or argumentative thesis.

  • Explanatory thesis. This is based on accurate information without the author’s opinion.
  • Analytical thesis. This breaks down a concept into analyzable parts. It should give an answer to the question of “why” and “how.”
  • Argumentative thesis. This presumes that you should take a stand on a debatable topic.

The thesis statement should have enough textual evidence. Earlier, you collected information; therefore, it will now be easier to find quotations and passages referring to the subject. You don’t have to use all the information you collected, but having sufficient material will help in structuring the arguments.

  1. Write the Essay
  2. Title. The title should be a shortened version of your thesis. Here, you have to be brief, witty, and creative. If you do not know about how to begin writing the title, start with a short quote and then a colon, and illustrate how it connects to your thesis. This is the simplest and most convincing way to give your paper a title.
  3. Literary analysis introduction. In summary, this entails of background information on the book and the author, leading to the thesis. Take a popular opinion on the topic and present your thesis as a refutation to it. On the other hand, you can limit a theme for analysis or the literary devices. You can conclude the introduction paragraph with a hint of what will be discussed in the paper. But, in a five-paragraph essay, you should condense the summary into one sentence.
  4. Write the body. Each body paragraph must focus on one aspect or topic. All body paragraphs should follow the template below:
    • Begin with a topic sentence explaining the contents of the paragraph. Avoid writing lengthy sentences with complex grammar to give your reader a peak at the section and assists in orienting in your text. Use transition words to move from one idea to the next.
    • Continue with substantiation and evidence. You can use quotes if the quote is just a sentence long or not exceeding 30 words. If not, summarize or paraphrase the quote and use only essential information. Do not use paraphrases or quotes without providing a suitable explanation. Conclude each paragraph with a conclusion of just one sentence about the idea under discussion.

5. Write the Conclusion

Complete the essay by avoiding direct quotations and without introducing new ideas. Summarize all you have talked above by paraphrasing. Then emphasize the thesis again, stressing the new direction the essay has taken.

Challenges Faced by Students When Writing Literary Analysis Essays

  • Summarizing the Plot

Mostly, students make a summary of the plot rather that doing an appropriate analysis and explaining a claim or developing an argument. This is a mistake that many students make, which makes them fail in the task. When they make an assertion, students are enticed to use the plot as evidence, which is the wrong approach to take. Students fail to explain to readers what happens and why they made an argument or an assertion. Using the plot summary effectively takes practice and instruction, which students find to be challenging. The best approach is to credibly support their assertions in the literary analysis without referring to the summary.

  • Use of Improper Tenses

When writing a literary analysis essay, it is vital to employ proper use of tenses. Students who are new in writing this type of assignment are tempted to write in the past tense as the work was most likely written in years past. It is also not easy to understand the reason for using the present tense. The use of the present tense happens as it relates to how one reads and comprehends the literary text, hence should be applied in the analysis.

  • Failure to Support Arguments and Assertions

Most students do not understand the significance of supporting arguments and assertions in literature-based essays; hence they leave it out when writing a literary analysis essay. Rather than just paraphrasing and quoting the material from the text and citing, you should support your claims through various sources, more so secondary sources relating to personal experiences and the text. Therefore, you should be capable of drawing strong connections between your assertions and evidence when writing a literary analysis essay. 

  • Failing to Quote the Material

Quoting material appropriately is quite difficult especially for someone new to literary analysis. It is essential to learn how to incorporate quotes properly in your literary essay and not just include them randomly. The student should also learn when to paraphrase and when to quote the material suitably.

Why are Students Taught Literary Analysis?

Literature Acts as a Mirror to the World

Art is descriptive, not prescriptive. Essentially, this means that literature is powerful in the capability to hold up a mirror to the world and show us truths about it, however beautiful or brutal, rather than merely preaching to us. Worthy literature is illuminating, not didactic, thus allowing students to be witnesses to realities in and outside of their own. In turn, students are able to formulate complex responses to the realities resulting in building open-mindedness and empathy.

Literary Analysis Supports Critical Thinking

Creating a literary analysis essay needs the writer to explore textual themes as communicated through stylistic choices and literary devices in order to shape and develop a complex argument about the particular themes. The argumentation process relies on inductive and deductive reasoning to get to multifold conclusions fully sustained by logical evidence. By doing this, students examine the relationship between content and form, assess and consider various interpretations of text, and choose and scrutinize persuading evidence to sustain highly specific interpretations. Students are taught how to think, and not what to think. Taking part in literary analysis offers a set of skills that can be applied to innumerable contexts in their education and beyond.

Literary Analysis Promotes Valuable Communication Skills

Discussing literature in class entails verbally taking part in argumentation, interpretation, and inquiry. When practiced regularly, the students have an increased ability to coherently articulate stances and questions. Furthermore, essay writing exposes students to a multitude of valuable expectations and conventions of written communication, not considering the venue, such as precise pronoun reference, transitional phrases, and topic sentences.

Literature is Art

As artists learn to create art, they also learn to critique and analyze it by truly interrogating a piece of art’s purpose and how the purpose is achieved through the form-content association. Literature is art. Analyzing literature helps demonstrate for students that for art to succeed, it may involve self-expression, but also whether to inspire, to invoke empathy, to inform or simply to entertain. Regularly participating in literary analysis reinforces the symbiotic relationship between academic curricula and the arts to give students an unparalleled educational experience.

The three-pronged function of literary analysis; to establish the author’s primary idea, to achieve personal value from the work, and to draw from it knowledge regarding the general human condition, serves a higher goal. Like any other logical perception of things, literary analysis provides the demystification of reality and of ideas. Instead of remaining bound by a set of dilemmas and irresolvable questions, you can obtain your answers through literary analysis through a deliberate, rational and targeted treatment of the text. Literary analysis is said to have fulfilled its essential role if the reader completes a text with greater confidence, erudition, and knowledge.

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