Are you in need of guidance on how to write a literary analysis essay? You’re not alone, and just like other students, you could probably benefit from some tips and tricks to help you handle a critical analysis essay successfully, so please keep reading.
A literary analysis describes a process where one studies and then discusses the literary devices and structure used in a literary text, such as a book, short story, poem, play, or other literary work. Unlike a summary, it is detailed and analyzes the elements used and their effectiveness. It may also involve a critique of the work and an interpretation.
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Just like there are different types of essays, there are different types of literary analysis that seek to analyze literature from different perspectives. They are:
The feminist analysis looks into the unfair treatment of women in society, gender stereotypes, and context within patriarchal societies. For example, one may perform a feminist analysis of Jane Eyre, which describes women’s struggles in a male-dominated society.
Examples of feminist analysis essay topics include:
The reader-response analysis focuses on the reader or audience and their experience. It may look into their reaction and interpretation of the context. For instance, a text may make a reader feel depressed due to themes, vivid language, and other literary devices used.
Examples of reader-response analysis essay prompts include:
A psychological analysis involves an in-depth look at the author’s and characters' motivations and their possible psychological state. Simply put, it looks into the hidden messages in the text the writer may have included unconsciously.
If you are looking for psychological analysis topics, consider these examples for inspiration:
Historical analysis looks into a text through historical context. Most of the time, it compares the events in the book to those occurring in the same time period that might have inspired the writer. An example is how a historical analysis of Jane Eyre may look into events during the Victorian era in England.
Here are some examples of historical literary analysis essay prompts you can use.
A cultural, literary analysis chooses to assess a text based on objects, beliefs, and practices that represent a culture. As such, it looks into the text and interprets it from the point of view of the culture in question. For example, one may perform a cultural literary analysis of Things Fall Apart by seeking to understand it by comparing it to Igbo culture.
Below are some examples of cultural analysis literary essay topics:
Unlike the others, this genre analyzes a text’s internal context. It ignores external issues like the historical and cultural context rather than looking into the style, themes, and literary devices used.
Below are some examples of new criticism literary essay prompts:
If you would like more ideas, check out our 50 captivating college essay prompts.
Every essay genre follows a particular structure which allows the writer to present their thoughts in a coherent manner. As such, many students who search for terms like “What is a literary analysis?” also seek out help with the format. While this structure is generally similar across all genres, the content is different. Below is an explanation of how to write a literary analysis essay, with details for each section.
This is the first section you deal with in a literary analysis essay outline. In this section, you are supposed to introduce the text you are analyzing and capture the reader’s attention using a quote or question. This can be followed by a short summary as well as the title and author of the work in question. The last sentence in this part is the thesis statement which includes the main point of your essay. For example, your essay’s thesis could be your interpretation of a character’s real motives based on their traits.
This is where you develop and provide evidence to support your thesis. You can use quotes and summaries from the text to prove your points. All in all, the content discussed here should align with and contribute to the thesis statement.
Last is the conclusion, which wraps up your essay. You should summarize your essay and restate some major points made. Additionally, you should paraphrase your thesis and reiterate it.
If you would like more tips on structuring your essay, you can look through our guide on how to format an essay.
To ensure you grasp how to write a literary analysis essay example, our experts have written up the following sample to help students like yourself. It will be based on the prompt “In hindsight, what historic events could have inspired Fahrenheit 451” and follows the literary analysis essay outline mentioned in the previous section.
“Fahrenheit 451 is one of the most famous novels on the topic of censorship and control. Just like many other books, the author was influenced by current political events in their time that posed a threat to national security. As such, the themes in this story are heavily influenced by politics. It, therefore, means that certain historical events influenced this book, and the author viewed censorship and authoritarianism as a risk to society.
One of the events that influenced Fahrenheit 451 was the McCarthy trials in the 1940s and 1950s, which saw many investigated and questioned by the government due to fears of communist infiltration (Reeves, 2020). Fahrenheit 451 was written in 1953, which means that this event definitely inspired Ray Bradbury. At this time, many feared that Eastern European immigrants were going to overthrow the US government, leading to authoritarianism.
In summary, Fahrenheit 451 was influenced by several historical events. The author believed that these societal changes would occur over time and sought to warn people through this book. They include the McCarthy trials, repression in the Soviet Union, and book burning in Nazi Germany. While these issues have been solved, the book is still relevant as it shows how hysteria can lead to unpleasant social and political changes.”
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When writing a literary analysis, it is important to understand the various elements to analyze to make your essay well-rounded and comprehensive. As such, when writing a literary analysis, you should include the following elements in your essay:
Begin by summarizing the major plot points. These could be events such as the rising action, climax, falling action, and any events that lead to them before, during, and after. Be sure to organize them in order since the flow of events is important for the reader to understand.
The setting refers to the time period and location of the events and can help show the inspiration for the work. For example, certain novels were written during times of civil unrest, hence portraying themes like war and authoritarianism. As such, the setting helps communicate the author’s message.
Describe how the characters change and how they contribute to the plot and its development. In a critical analysis essay, it is worth noting down the traits that contribute to their role. For example, a character could be described as witty, so be sure to note it in your literary analysis.
Take note of what perspective the writer chooses to write in. It could be in the first person (uses I/me, us, our), second person (uses the pronoun you), or third person point of view (uses she, he, they, their, etc.). The first-person narrator allows readers to access the story through one individual who describes events. While the second person is similar in that it is one person describing the events; it is uncommon since it is strange and difficult to engage readers, especially in creative writing. Last is the third-person narrator, who is either a spectator or omniscient and narrates the events surrounding them.
Different authors use various styles. Some may use complex terms, while others may even invent their own language and words. The format may also affect the text, such as how some texts are limericks or others are haikus.
Simply put, these literary devices lead to more vivid stories, add layers of meaning, and evoke certain emotions. Examples of these literary devices are similes, metaphors, motifs, allegories, and more.
You could note down these points when writing the draft, as they will be useful when organizing the draft.
For tips on how to extract these themes and other stylistic devices, check out our tips on how to write a book review.
As a beginner, you can benefit from employing some tips to ensure you ace your essay. These include:
In some cases, the author’s purpose or motivation is dependent on your interpretation if they have not clearly stated it. In simple terms, the author’s purpose is the main lesson they wish to convey. To identify this, just ask yourself what theme is most prominent in the story, and this will give you the takeaway.
Before you start writing, you should analyze the essay topic and organize your points. However, you need a topic first, and if this has not been provided, brainstorm. You can do this by writing down interesting passages in the text that give you ideas on what to analyze. It could be the theme, tone, figures of speech used, point of view, dialogue, or any other literary elements that are notable to you and can form the basis for a literary analysis. This is one of the most important tips for anyone seeking information on how to write a literary analysis essay, so be sure to use it if necessary.
A good thesis should reflect your perspective on an issue and be open to debate. Failure to use a debatable and open thesis means that your essay is a summary. As such, you can select a thesis such as “Is Oliver Twist’s story a portrayal of social issues?” instead of “Oliver Twist is about poverty and social issues affecting children.”
When writing a literary analysis, it is important to form an outline and free write to help you get started. While this sounds simple, it helps you explore your creativity and avoid procrastination. It will also help you decide which ideas to include in your essay.
Once you have a good thesis to base your essay on, a good understanding of key elements in the book, and a draft, you can connect your ideas. To properly connect your ideas, you can use transitional phrases to show that your ideas are related.
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A literary analysis needs references from the texts, no matter the type. You may use quotes and show how they relate to your point.
A literary analysis requires noting observations and inferences, while a summary only describes the events that contribute to the plot.
It depends, but most likely, no. Most readers at this point are familiar with the plot. Hence you only need to include quotes in some parts.
In short, a literary analysis essay discusses the structure and literary devices used in a literary work and their impact on the reader. There are six literary analysis types: feminist, historical, cultural, reader-response, psychological, and new criticism. They generally follow the structure of the introduction, body, and conclusion. To ensure you write a good literary analysis, including elements such as the plot, figurative language, style, and more is important. You may also use the tips outlined, such as brainstorming and writing a draft before, which are good techniques to ensure your essay is well-written.
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