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  • How to write a literary analysis essay | A step-by-step guide

How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay | A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on January 30, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on August 14, 2023.

Literary analysis means closely studying a text, interpreting its meanings, and exploring why the author made certain choices. It can be applied to novels, short stories, plays, poems, or any other form of literary writing.

A literary analysis essay is not a rhetorical analysis , nor is it just a summary of the plot or a book review. Instead, it is a type of argumentative essay where you need to analyze elements such as the language, perspective, and structure of the text, and explain how the author uses literary devices to create effects and convey ideas.

Before beginning a literary analysis essay, it’s essential to carefully read the text and c ome up with a thesis statement to keep your essay focused. As you write, follow the standard structure of an academic essay :

  • An introduction that tells the reader what your essay will focus on.
  • A main body, divided into paragraphs , that builds an argument using evidence from the text.
  • A conclusion that clearly states the main point that you have shown with your analysis.

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Table of contents

Step 1: reading the text and identifying literary devices, step 2: coming up with a thesis, step 3: writing a title and introduction, step 4: writing the body of the essay, step 5: writing a conclusion, other interesting articles.

The first step is to carefully read the text(s) and take initial notes. As you read, pay attention to the things that are most intriguing, surprising, or even confusing in the writing—these are things you can dig into in your analysis.

Your goal in literary analysis is not simply to explain the events described in the text, but to analyze the writing itself and discuss how the text works on a deeper level. Primarily, you’re looking out for literary devices —textual elements that writers use to convey meaning and create effects. If you’re comparing and contrasting multiple texts, you can also look for connections between different texts.

To get started with your analysis, there are several key areas that you can focus on. As you analyze each aspect of the text, try to think about how they all relate to each other. You can use highlights or notes to keep track of important passages and quotes.

Language choices

Consider what style of language the author uses. Are the sentences short and simple or more complex and poetic?

What word choices stand out as interesting or unusual? Are words used figuratively to mean something other than their literal definition? Figurative language includes things like metaphor (e.g. “her eyes were oceans”) and simile (e.g. “her eyes were like oceans”).

Also keep an eye out for imagery in the text—recurring images that create a certain atmosphere or symbolize something important. Remember that language is used in literary texts to say more than it means on the surface.

Narrative voice

Ask yourself:

  • Who is telling the story?
  • How are they telling it?

Is it a first-person narrator (“I”) who is personally involved in the story, or a third-person narrator who tells us about the characters from a distance?

Consider the narrator’s perspective . Is the narrator omniscient (where they know everything about all the characters and events), or do they only have partial knowledge? Are they an unreliable narrator who we are not supposed to take at face value? Authors often hint that their narrator might be giving us a distorted or dishonest version of events.

The tone of the text is also worth considering. Is the story intended to be comic, tragic, or something else? Are usually serious topics treated as funny, or vice versa ? Is the story realistic or fantastical (or somewhere in between)?

Consider how the text is structured, and how the structure relates to the story being told.

  • Novels are often divided into chapters and parts.
  • Poems are divided into lines, stanzas, and sometime cantos.
  • Plays are divided into scenes and acts.

Think about why the author chose to divide the different parts of the text in the way they did.

There are also less formal structural elements to take into account. Does the story unfold in chronological order, or does it jump back and forth in time? Does it begin in medias res —in the middle of the action? Does the plot advance towards a clearly defined climax?

With poetry, consider how the rhyme and meter shape your understanding of the text and your impression of the tone. Try reading the poem aloud to get a sense of this.

In a play, you might consider how relationships between characters are built up through different scenes, and how the setting relates to the action. Watch out for  dramatic irony , where the audience knows some detail that the characters don’t, creating a double meaning in their words, thoughts, or actions.

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Your thesis in a literary analysis essay is the point you want to make about the text. It’s the core argument that gives your essay direction and prevents it from just being a collection of random observations about a text.

If you’re given a prompt for your essay, your thesis must answer or relate to the prompt. For example:

Essay question example

Is Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” a religious parable?

Your thesis statement should be an answer to this question—not a simple yes or no, but a statement of why this is or isn’t the case:

Thesis statement example

Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” is not a religious parable, but a story about bureaucratic alienation.

Sometimes you’ll be given freedom to choose your own topic; in this case, you’ll have to come up with an original thesis. Consider what stood out to you in the text; ask yourself questions about the elements that interested you, and consider how you might answer them.

Your thesis should be something arguable—that is, something that you think is true about the text, but which is not a simple matter of fact. It must be complex enough to develop through evidence and arguments across the course of your essay.

Say you’re analyzing the novel Frankenstein . You could start by asking yourself:

Your initial answer might be a surface-level description:

The character Frankenstein is portrayed negatively in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein .

However, this statement is too simple to be an interesting thesis. After reading the text and analyzing its narrative voice and structure, you can develop the answer into a more nuanced and arguable thesis statement:

Mary Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as.

Remember that you can revise your thesis statement throughout the writing process , so it doesn’t need to be perfectly formulated at this stage. The aim is to keep you focused as you analyze the text.

Finding textual evidence

To support your thesis statement, your essay will build an argument using textual evidence —specific parts of the text that demonstrate your point. This evidence is quoted and analyzed throughout your essay to explain your argument to the reader.

It can be useful to comb through the text in search of relevant quotations before you start writing. You might not end up using everything you find, and you may have to return to the text for more evidence as you write, but collecting textual evidence from the beginning will help you to structure your arguments and assess whether they’re convincing.

To start your literary analysis paper, you’ll need two things: a good title, and an introduction.

Your title should clearly indicate what your analysis will focus on. It usually contains the name of the author and text(s) you’re analyzing. Keep it as concise and engaging as possible.

A common approach to the title is to use a relevant quote from the text, followed by a colon and then the rest of your title.

If you struggle to come up with a good title at first, don’t worry—this will be easier once you’ve begun writing the essay and have a better sense of your arguments.

“Fearful symmetry” : The violence of creation in William Blake’s “The Tyger”

The introduction

The essay introduction provides a quick overview of where your argument is going. It should include your thesis statement and a summary of the essay’s structure.

A typical structure for an introduction is to begin with a general statement about the text and author, using this to lead into your thesis statement. You might refer to a commonly held idea about the text and show how your thesis will contradict it, or zoom in on a particular device you intend to focus on.

Then you can end with a brief indication of what’s coming up in the main body of the essay. This is called signposting. It will be more elaborate in longer essays, but in a short five-paragraph essay structure, it shouldn’t be more than one sentence.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, protagonist Victor Frankenstein is a stable representation of the callous ambition of modern science throughout the novel. This essay, however, argues that far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as. This essay begins by exploring the positive portrayal of Frankenstein in the first volume, then moves on to the creature’s perception of him, and finally discusses the third volume’s narrative shift toward viewing Frankenstein as the creature views him.

Some students prefer to write the introduction later in the process, and it’s not a bad idea. After all, you’ll have a clearer idea of the overall shape of your arguments once you’ve begun writing them!

If you do write the introduction first, you should still return to it later to make sure it lines up with what you ended up writing, and edit as necessary.

The body of your essay is everything between the introduction and conclusion. It contains your arguments and the textual evidence that supports them.

Paragraph structure

A typical structure for a high school literary analysis essay consists of five paragraphs : the three paragraphs of the body, plus the introduction and conclusion.

Each paragraph in the main body should focus on one topic. In the five-paragraph model, try to divide your argument into three main areas of analysis, all linked to your thesis. Don’t try to include everything you can think of to say about the text—only analysis that drives your argument.

In longer essays, the same principle applies on a broader scale. For example, you might have two or three sections in your main body, each with multiple paragraphs. Within these sections, you still want to begin new paragraphs at logical moments—a turn in the argument or the introduction of a new idea.

Robert’s first encounter with Gil-Martin suggests something of his sinister power. Robert feels “a sort of invisible power that drew me towards him.” He identifies the moment of their meeting as “the beginning of a series of adventures which has puzzled myself, and will puzzle the world when I am no more in it” (p. 89). Gil-Martin’s “invisible power” seems to be at work even at this distance from the moment described; before continuing the story, Robert feels compelled to anticipate at length what readers will make of his narrative after his approaching death. With this interjection, Hogg emphasizes the fatal influence Gil-Martin exercises from his first appearance.

Topic sentences

To keep your points focused, it’s important to use a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph.

A good topic sentence allows a reader to see at a glance what the paragraph is about. It can introduce a new line of argument and connect or contrast it with the previous paragraph. Transition words like “however” or “moreover” are useful for creating smooth transitions:

… The story’s focus, therefore, is not upon the divine revelation that may be waiting beyond the door, but upon the mundane process of aging undergone by the man as he waits.

Nevertheless, the “radiance” that appears to stream from the door is typically treated as religious symbolism.

This topic sentence signals that the paragraph will address the question of religious symbolism, while the linking word “nevertheless” points out a contrast with the previous paragraph’s conclusion.

Using textual evidence

A key part of literary analysis is backing up your arguments with relevant evidence from the text. This involves introducing quotes from the text and explaining their significance to your point.

It’s important to contextualize quotes and explain why you’re using them; they should be properly introduced and analyzed, not treated as self-explanatory:

It isn’t always necessary to use a quote. Quoting is useful when you’re discussing the author’s language, but sometimes you’ll have to refer to plot points or structural elements that can’t be captured in a short quote.

In these cases, it’s more appropriate to paraphrase or summarize parts of the text—that is, to describe the relevant part in your own words:

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what must a literary analysis essay include apex

The conclusion of your analysis shouldn’t introduce any new quotations or arguments. Instead, it’s about wrapping up the essay. Here, you summarize your key points and try to emphasize their significance to the reader.

A good way to approach this is to briefly summarize your key arguments, and then stress the conclusion they’ve led you to, highlighting the new perspective your thesis provides on the text as a whole:

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By tracing the depiction of Frankenstein through the novel’s three volumes, I have demonstrated how the narrative structure shifts our perception of the character. While the Frankenstein of the first volume is depicted as having innocent intentions, the second and third volumes—first in the creature’s accusatory voice, and then in his own voice—increasingly undermine him, causing him to appear alternately ridiculous and vindictive. Far from the one-dimensional villain he is often taken to be, the character of Frankenstein is compelling because of the dynamic narrative frame in which he is placed. In this frame, Frankenstein’s narrative self-presentation responds to the images of him we see from others’ perspectives. This conclusion sheds new light on the novel, foregrounding Shelley’s unique layering of narrative perspectives and its importance for the depiction of character.

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Ultimate Guide to the AP English Literature and Composition Exam

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The English Literature and Composition exam is one of the most popular AP exams among self-studiers and enrolled students alike. In 2019, a total of 380,136 students took the AP Literature exam, making it the third most favored AP exam, trailing only English Language and U.S. History in popularity. If you are interested in taking the AP Literature exam—and are taking a class or self-studying—read on for a breakdown of the test and CollegeVine’s advice for how to best prepare for it.

When is the AP Literature Exam?

2020’s AP English Literature and Composition exam day is Wednesday, May 6, 2020 at 8 AM. Check out our blog 2020 AP Exam Schedule: Everything You Need to Know to learn more about this year’s AP exam dates and times. 

What Does the AP Literature Exam Cover?

The AP Literature course engages students in careful reading and critical analysis of fictional literature, leading to a deeper understanding of the ways in which writers provide both meaning and pleasure to their readers—considering structure, style, theme, and smaller-scale elements such as figurative language, imagery, symbolism, and tone. 

Although there is no required reading list, the College Board formerly provided a list of prospective authors in its past AP Literature course description. Regardless of which specific titles are read in preparation for the exam, students should be familiar with works from both British and American authors written from the 16th century to the present. Ten of the commonly studied works in AP Literature courses are:

  • Great Expectations , Charles Dickens 
  • Invisible Man , Ralph Ellison
  • Beloved , Toni Morrison 
  • King Lear , William Shakespeare 
  • Heart of Darkness , Joseph Conrad 
  • The Portrait of a Lady , Henry James 
  • Wuthering Heights , Emily Bronte 
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God , Zora Neale Hurston 
  • To Kill a Mockingbird , Harper Lee 
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man , James Joyce 

How Long is the AP Literature Exam? What is the Format?

The AP Literature exam is one of the longer AP exams, clocking in at 3 hours. It is comprised of two sections. 

Section 1: Multiple Choice

1 hour | 45 Questions | 45% of Score

The first section of the AP Literature exam is one hour long and consists of 45 multiple-choice questions—23-25 Reading questions and 20-22 Writing questions. The multiple-choice questions are grouped in five sets of questions, with each set linked to a passage of prose fiction or poetry that contains between 8 and 13 questions. Students receive two sets of questions about both prose fiction and poetry, with the fifth set varying between prose fiction and poetry. The function of the multiple choice section is to assess a student’s ability to: 

1. Understand and interpret word choice, comparisons, and figurative language

This is one of the most common questions types on the AP Lit exam. Students are frequently asked to infer the meaning of certain words and phrases, and how they impact the rest of the passage. You will also be asked to identify and interpret figurative language.

what must a literary analysis essay include apex

Source: The College Board

2. Understand the theme of the poem or passage

You should be able to summarize and articulate what the excerpt is about and what sort of message it conveys.

what must a literary analysis essay include apex

3. Paraphrase or reformulate selected lines from the passage

Students are tested on their reading comprehension by being asked to select the reformulated response that most closely aligns with the original excerpt.

what must a literary analysis essay include apex

4. Explain the function of…

  • The narrator or speaker: Know how a narrator’s or speaker’s perspective controls the details and emphases that affect how readers experience and interpret a text.

what must a literary analysis essay include apex

  • Characters : Grasp how characters allow the reader to explore values, beliefs, assumptions, biases, and cultural norms.

what must a literary analysis essay include apex

  • The plot and structure : Understand what the author conveys by the arrangement of the sections of text, their relationship to each other, and sequence, along with how the reader’s interpretation of the text is affected by these choices.

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  • Symbols and motifs : Describe the purpose of symbols and motifs and how they contribute to the meaning of the passage.

what must a literary analysis essay include apex

5. Identify parts of speech, verse forms, and meters

You’ll occasionally need more technical knowledge of parts of speech (adjective, adverb, etc.) and verse forms (blank verse, free verse, sonnet, etc.). You should also have a basic knowledge of poetic meter (iambic pentameter, trochaic tetrameter, etc).

what must a literary analysis essay include apex

Section 2: Free Response

2 hours 15 minutes | 3 questions | 55% of Score

The second section of the AP Literature exam is two hours (plus a 15-minute reading period) and contains three free response questions. These prompts test three core abilities:

  • A literary analysis of a poem
  • A literary analysis of a piece of prose fiction (this may include drama) 
  • An analysis that examines a specific concept, issue, or element in a meritorious literary work selected by the student. 

The free response essays are graded by college and AP Lit teachers following a standardized rubric.

Below are 3 example free response questions from 2019’s AP Literature Exam: 

1. “Carefully read P. K. Page’s 1943 poem “The Landlady.” Then, in a well-organized essay, analyze the speaker’s complex portrayal of the landlady. You may wish to consider such elements as imagery, selection of detail, and tone.”

2. “Carefully read the following excerpt from William Dean Howells’ novel The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885). Then, in a well-constructed essay, analyze how the author portrays the complex experience of two sisters, Penelope and Irene, within their family and society.  You may wish to consider such literary elements as style, tone, and selection of detail.”

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AP Literature Exam Score Distribution, Average Score, and Passing Rate

The AP Literature exam is extremely challenging, with less than half (49.7%) of students achieving a passing score of 3 or higher. The average student score is 2.62—only Physics (2.51) and Human Geography (2.55) have lower average scores. If you’re curious about other score distributions, see our post Easiest and Hardest AP Exams .

Best Ways to Study for the AP Literature Exam

One of the first steps you should take when preparing for the AP Literature exam is to look at its full course description . This will help guide your studying and understanding of the knowledge required for the AP Literature exam. Below are a few more steps you can take to ace the AP Literature exam. 

Step 1: Assess Your Skills

Practice Questions and Tests: Take a practice test to assess your initial knowledge. The College Board’s AP English Literature Course and Exam Description offers some sample multiple-choice questions, and the College Board also provides six sample AP Lit free-response questions with scoring commentaries . Older versions of the AP English Literature exam are also available; you can find a copy of the 2012 AP Lit exam and the 1999 AP Lit exam . Search around the web and you’ll likely turn up even more practice exams with answers keys —some will even have explanations of the questions. You’ll also find practice tests in many of the official study guides, and some even include a diagnostic test to act as your initial assessment.

Identify Areas in Need of Improvement: Once you have taken some kind of formative assessment, score it to identify your areas of strength and areas in need of improvement. It can be helpful to have a friend (or even better, a teacher) score your free-response essays, since they are more subjective than the multiple-choice section. With an accurate formative assessment, you’ll have a better idea of where to focus your studying efforts.

Step 2: Know Your Material

In the case of the AP Literature exam, this means focusing on your reading and writing skills.

Become an Active Reader: When reading, take care to go slowly and reread important or complex sections. Pause often to consider meaning, context, and intent. Become an active reader, underlining and taking notes as you go. Remember that the importance of the text comes not only from the author, but also from how the text affects you, the reader. Pay attention to how you feel and why you feel that way. Visit the College Board’s Reading Study Skills for more information.         

Write Frequently: Prepare for the writing section of your exam by writing frequently. According to the College Board, the goal is to become a “practiced, logical, clear, and honest” writer through the writing process. This means that you will plan, draft, review, redraft, edit, and polish your writing again and again. To be a successful writer on your exam, you will need to organize your ideas ahead of time, use your text wisely to support a clearly stated thesis, and provide a logical argument. Finally, you should pay close attention to your use of grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure. Visit the College Board’s Writing Study Skills for more information. 

Get Expert Advice: For more specific guidance about test preparation, consider using a formal study guide. One good choice is Barron’s AP English Literature and Composition, 6th Edition . This study guide contains a review of test topics covering details test takers need to know about poetry, fiction, and drama, and includes five full-length practice tests. Some users do criticize it for providing few examples of scored student essays, but plenty of those are available on the College Board scoring examples page . 

The Princeton Review’s Cracking the AP English Language & Composition Exam, 2020 Edition: Proven Techniques to Help You Score a 5 is another solid choice containing a summary of test strategies and a focused review of course content. 

Alternatively, there are many online study resources available. Some AP teachers have even published their own study guides or review sheets online. You can find one such guide here .

Consider using an app to study: A convenient way to study is to use one of the recently-developed apps for AP exams. These can be free or cost a small fee, and they provide an easy way to quiz yourself on-the-go. Make sure you read reviews before choosing one—their quality varies widely. One that does receive good reviews is the McGraw Hill 5 which also saves you some money by covering 14 different AP subjects.      

Step 3: Practice Multiple-Choice Questions

Once you have your theory down, test it out by practicing multiple-choice questions. You can find these in most study guides or through online searches. There are some available in the College Board’s course description.

Try to keep track of which concept areas are still tripping you up, and go back over this theory again. Keep in mind that the key to answering questions correctly is understanding the passage, so practice active reading skills as you’re tackling the multiple-choice questions. This includes underlining, mouthing words, and circling key points. Remember, the answer will always be found in the text, and often the question will tell you exactly where in the text to look for it.

Step 4: Practice Free-Response Essays

Focus on Writing Skills: Use a rich vocabulary, varied sentence structure, and logical progression of ideas. Make sure that your words flow easily from one to the next. According to the College Board’s scoring criteria , writing that suffers from grammatical and/or mechanical errors that interfere with communication cannot earn a the maximum score of a 6, no matter how strong your thesis, compelling your argument, or convincing your evidence is.  

Cultivate Cohesive Writing: You should also strive to write a thoughtful and persuasive analysis of the literature. Begin by writing a quick outline to structure your piece. Make sure that your introduction leads to a clearly stated thesis and use supporting paragraphs to build this argument. Use quotes judiciously in your answers and focus on writing with sophistication and clarity.

Practice, Practice, Practice: The best way to prepare for these free-response questions is through repeated exercises analyzing short prose passages and poems, and through practicing with open analytical questions. 

Understand Scoring: As you prepare for the writing portion of your exam, be sure to review how your free responses will be scored. Each free-response essay is graded on a scale from 0 to 6 with points awarded for three elements: Thesis (0-1 point), Evidence and Commentary (0-4 points), and Sophistication (0-1 point). A comprehensive explanation of the College Board’s scoring rubric is found on their website.  

Study the free-response questions and scored student responses with written explanations provided by the College Board . The most effective way to use these is to read and respond to the prompts first, then review the student samples and scoring explanations. Use this feedback to practice another prompt and repeat the cycle until you are confident that your responses are as strong as the top scorers’. 

Step 5: Take Another Practice Test

As you did at the beginning of your studying, take a practice test to see which areas you’ve improved in and which still require practice.

If you have time, repeat each of the steps above to incrementally increase your score.

Step 6: Exam Day Specifics

If you’re taking the AP course associated with this exam, your teacher will walk you through how to register. If you’re self-studying, check out CollegeVine’s How to Self-Register for AP Exams .

For information about what to bring to the exam, see CollegeVine’s What Should I Bring to My AP Exam (And What Should I Definitely Leave at Home)?

CollegeVine can’t predict how you’ll score on your AP Literature exam, but we can help take the guesswork out of college admissions. Our free chancing engine uses a data-driven algorithm taking into consideration criteria such as GPA, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities to tell you your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges and universities.

Check out these other Collegevine articles for more information about AP exams. 

  • 2020 AP Exam Schedule
  • How Long is Each AP Exam?

Want access to expert college guidance — for free? When you create your free CollegeVine account, you will find out your real admissions chances, build a best-fit school list, learn how to improve your profile, and get your questions answered by experts and peers—all for free. Sign up for your CollegeVine account today to get a boost on your college journey.

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what must a literary analysis essay include apex

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Introduction

You’ve been assigned a literary analysis paper—what does that even mean? Is it like a book report that you used to write in high school? Well, not really.

A literary analysis essay asks you to make an original argument about a poem, play, or work of fiction and support that argument with research and evidence from your careful reading of the text.

It can take many forms, such as a close reading of a text, critiquing the text through a particular literary theory, comparing one text to another, or criticizing another critic’s interpretation of the text. While there are many ways to structure a literary essay, writing this kind of essay follows generally follows a similar process for everyone

Crafting a good literary analysis essay begins with good close reading of the text, in which you have kept notes and observations as you read. This will help you with the first step, which is selecting a topic to write about—what jumped out as you read, what are you genuinely interested in? The next step is to focus your topic, developing it into an argument—why is this subject or observation important? Why should your reader care about it as much as you do? The third step is to gather evidence to support your argument, for literary analysis, support comes in the form of evidence from the text and from your research on what other literary critics have said about your topic. Only after you have performed these steps, are you ready to begin actually writing your essay.

Writing a Literary Analysis Essay

How to create a topic and conduct research:.

Writing an Analysis of a Poem, Story, or Play

If you are taking a literature course, it is important that you know how to write an analysis—sometimes called an interpretation or a literary analysis or a critical reading or a critical analysis—of a story, a poem, and a play. Your instructor will probably assign such an analysis as part of the course assessment. On your mid-term or final exam, you might have to write an analysis of one or more of the poems and/or stories on your reading list. Or the dreaded “sight poem or story” might appear on an exam, a work that is not on the reading list, that you have not read before, but one your instructor includes on the exam to examine your ability to apply the active reading skills you have learned in class to produce, independently, an effective literary analysis.You might be asked to write instead or, or in addition to an analysis of a literary work, a more sophisticated essay in which you compare and contrast the protagonists of two stories, or the use of form and metaphor in two poems, or the tragic heroes in two plays.

You might learn some literary theory in your course and be asked to apply theory—feminist, Marxist, reader-response, psychoanalytic, new historicist, for example—to one or more of the works on your reading list. But the seminal assignment in a literature course is the analysis of the single poem, story, novel, or play, and, even if you do not have to complete this assignment specifically, it will form the basis of most of the other writing assignments you will be required to undertake in your literature class. There are several ways of structuring a literary analysis, and your instructor might issue specific instructions on how he or she wants this assignment done. The method presented here might not be identical to the one your instructor wants you to follow, but it will be easy enough to modify, if your instructor expects something a bit different, and it is a good default method, if your instructor does not issue more specific guidelines.You want to begin your analysis with a paragraph that provides the context of the work you are analyzing and a brief account of what you believe to be the poem or story or play’s main theme. At a minimum, your account of the work’s context will include the name of the author, the title of the work, its genre, and the date and place of publication. If there is an important biographical or historical context to the work, you should include that, as well.Try to express the work’s theme in one or two sentences. Theme, you will recall, is that insight into human experience the author offers to readers, usually revealed as the content, the drama, the plot of the poem, story, or play unfolds and the characters interact. Assessing theme can be a complex task. Authors usually show the theme; they don’t tell it. They rarely say, at the end of the story, words to this effect: “and the moral of my story is…” They tell their story, develop their characters, provide some kind of conflict—and from all of this theme emerges. Because identifying theme can be challenging and subjective, it is often a good idea to work through the rest of the analysis, then return to the beginning and assess theme in light of your analysis of the work’s other literary elements.Here is a good example of an introductory paragraph from Ben’s analysis of William Butler Yeats’ poem, “Among School Children.”

“Among School Children” was published in Yeats’ 1928 collection of poems The Tower. It was inspired by a visit Yeats made in 1926 to school in Waterford, an official visit in his capacity as a senator of the Irish Free State. In the course of the tour, Yeats reflects upon his own youth and the experiences that shaped the “sixty-year old, smiling public man” (line 8) he has become. Through his reflection, the theme of the poem emerges: a life has meaning when connections among apparently disparate experiences are forged into a unified whole.

In the body of your literature analysis, you want to guide your readers through a tour of the poem, story, or play, pausing along the way to comment on, analyze, interpret, and explain key incidents, descriptions, dialogue, symbols, the writer’s use of figurative language—any of the elements of literature that are relevant to a sound analysis of this particular work. Your main goal is to explain how the elements of literature work to elucidate, augment, and develop the theme. The elements of literature are common across genres: a story, a narrative poem, and a play all have a plot and characters. But certain genres privilege certain literary elements. In a poem, for example, form, imagery and metaphor might be especially important; in a story, setting and point-of-view might be more important than they are in a poem; in a play, dialogue, stage directions, lighting serve functions rarely relevant in the analysis of a story or poem.

The length of the body of an analysis of a literary work will usually depend upon the length of work being analyzed—the longer the work, the longer the analysis—though your instructor will likely establish a word limit for this assignment. Make certain that you do not simply paraphrase the plot of the story or play or the content of the poem. This is a common weakness in student literary analyses, especially when the analysis is of a poem or a play.

Here is a good example of two body paragraphs from Amelia’s analysis of “Araby” by James Joyce.

Within the story’s first few paragraphs occur several religious references which will accumulate as the story progresses. The narrator is a student at the Christian Brothers’ School; the former tenant of his house was a priest; he left behind books called The Abbot and The Devout Communicant. Near the end of the story’s second paragraph the narrator describes a “central apple tree” in the garden, under which is “the late tenant’s rusty bicycle pump.” We may begin to suspect the tree symbolizes the apple tree in the Garden of Eden and the bicycle pump, the snake which corrupted Eve, a stretch, perhaps, until Joyce’s fall-of-innocence theme becomes more apparent.

The narrator must continue to help his aunt with her errands, but, even when he is so occupied, his mind is on Mangan’s sister, as he tries to sort out his feelings for her. Here Joyce provides vivid insight into the mind of an adolescent boy at once elated and bewildered by his first crush. He wants to tell her of his “confused adoration,” but he does not know if he will ever have the chance. Joyce’s description of the pleasant tension consuming the narrator is conveyed in a striking simile, which continues to develop the narrator’s character, while echoing the religious imagery, so important to the story’s theme: “But my body was like a harp, and her words and gestures were like fingers, running along the wires.”

The concluding paragraph of your analysis should realize two goals. First, it should present your own opinion on the quality of the poem or story or play about which you have been writing. And, second, it should comment on the current relevance of the work. You should certainly comment on the enduring social relevance of the work you are explicating. You may comment, though you should never be obliged to do so, on the personal relevance of the work. Here is the concluding paragraph from Dao-Ming’s analysis of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

First performed in 1895, The Importance of Being Earnest has been made into a film, as recently as 2002 and is regularly revived by professional and amateur theatre companies. It endures not only because of the comic brilliance of its characters and their dialogue, but also because its satire still resonates with contemporary audiences. I am still amazed that I see in my own Asian mother a shadow of Lady Bracknell, with her obsession with finding for her daughter a husband who will maintain, if not, ideally, increase the family’s social status. We might like to think we are more liberated and socially sophisticated than our Victorian ancestors, but the starlets and eligible bachelors who star in current reality television programs illustrate the extent to which superficial concerns still influence decisions about love and even marriage. Even now, we can turn to Oscar Wilde to help us understand and laugh at those who are earnest in name only.

Dao-Ming’s conclusion is brief, but she does manage to praise the play, reaffirm its main theme, and explain its enduring appeal. And note how her last sentence cleverly establishes that sense of closure that is also a feature of an effective analysis.

You may, of course, modify the template that is presented here. Your instructor might favour a somewhat different approach to literary analysis. Its essence, though, will be your understanding and interpretation of the theme of the poem, story, or play and the skill with which the author shapes the elements of literature—plot, character, form, diction, setting, point of view—to support the theme.

Academic Writing Tips : How to Write a Literary Analysis Paper. Authored by: eHow. Located at: https://youtu.be/8adKfLwIrVk. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license

BC Open Textbooks: English Literature Victorians and Moderns: https://opentextbc.ca/englishliterature/back-matter/appendix-5-writing-an-analysis-of-a-poem-story-and-play/

Literary Analysis

The challenges of writing about english literature.

Writing begins with the act of reading . While this statement is true for most college papers, strong English papers tend to be the product of highly attentive reading (and rereading). When your instructors ask you to do a “close reading,” they are asking you to read not only for content, but also for structures and patterns. When you perform a close reading, then, you observe how form and content interact. In some cases, form reinforces content: for example, in John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14, where the speaker invites God’s “force” “to break, blow, burn and make [him] new.” Here, the stressed monosyllables of the verbs “break,” “blow” and “burn” evoke aurally the force that the speaker invites from God. In other cases, form raises questions about content: for example, a repeated denial of guilt will likely raise questions about the speaker’s professed innocence. When you close read, take an inductive approach. Start by observing particular details in the text, such as a repeated image or word, an unexpected development, or even a contradiction. Often, a detail–such as a repeated image–can help you to identify a question about the text that warrants further examination. So annotate details that strike you as you read. Some of those details will eventually help you to work towards a thesis. And don’t worry if a detail seems trivial. If you can make a case about how an apparently trivial detail reveals something significant about the text, then your paper will have a thought-provoking thesis to argue.

Common Types of English Papers Many assignments will ask you to analyze a single text. Others, however, will ask you to read two or more texts in relation to each other, or to consider a text in light of claims made by other scholars and critics. For most assignments, close reading will be central to your paper. While some assignment guidelines will suggest topics and spell out expectations in detail, others will offer little more than a page limit. Approaching the writing process in the absence of assigned topics can be daunting, but remember that you have resources: in section, you will probably have encountered some examples of close reading; in lecture, you will have encountered some of the course’s central questions and claims. The paper is a chance for you to extend a claim offered in lecture, or to analyze a passage neglected in lecture. In either case, your analysis should do more than recapitulate claims aired in lecture and section. Because different instructors have different goals for an assignment, you should always ask your professor or TF if you have questions. These general guidelines should apply in most cases:

  • A close reading of a single text: Depending on the length of the text, you will need to be more or less selective about what you choose to consider. In the case of a sonnet, you will probably have enough room to analyze the text more thoroughly than you would in the case of a novel, for example, though even here you will probably not analyze every single detail. By contrast, in the case of a novel, you might analyze a repeated scene, image, or object (for example, scenes of train travel, images of decay, or objects such as or typewriters). Alternately, you might analyze a perplexing scene (such as a novel’s ending, albeit probably in relation to an earlier moment in the novel). But even when analyzing shorter works, you will need to be selective. Although you might notice numerous interesting details as you read, not all of those details will help you to organize a focused argument about the text. For example, if you are focusing on depictions of sensory experience in Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale,” you probably do not need to analyze the image of a homeless Ruth in stanza 7, unless this image helps you to develop your case about sensory experience in the poem.
  • A theoretically-informed close reading. In some courses, you will be asked to analyze a poem, a play, or a novel by using a critical theory (psychoanalytic, postcolonial, gender, etc). For example, you might use Kristeva’s theory of abjection to analyze mother-daughter relations in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved. Critical theories provide focus for your analysis; if “abjection” is the guiding concept for your paper, you should focus on the scenes in the novel that are most relevant to the concept.
  • A historically-informed close reading. In courses with a historicist orientation, you might use less self-consciously literary documents, such as newspapers or devotional manuals, to develop your analysis of a literary work. For example, to analyze how Robinson Crusoe makes sense of his island experiences, you might use Puritan tracts that narrate events in terms of how God organizes them. The tracts could help you to show not only how Robinson Crusoe draws on Puritan narrative conventions, but also—more significantly—how the novel revises those conventions.
  • A comparison of two texts When analyzing two texts, you might look for unexpected contrasts between apparently similar texts, or unexpected similarities between apparently dissimilar texts, or for how one text revises or transforms the other. Keep in mind that not all of the similarities, differences, and transformations you identify will be relevant to an argument about the relationship between the two texts. As you work towards a thesis, you will need to decide which of those similarities, differences, or transformations to focus on. Moreover, unless instructed otherwise, you do not need to allot equal space to each text (unless this 50/50 allocation serves your thesis well, of course). Often you will find that one text helps to develop your analysis of another text. For example, you might analyze the transformation of Ariel’s song from The Tempest in T. S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land. Insofar as this analysis is interested in the afterlife of Ariel’s song in a later poem, you would likely allot more space to analyzing allusions to Ariel’s song in The Waste Land (after initially establishing the song’s significance in Shakespeare’s play, of course).
  • A response paper A response paper is a great opportunity to practice your close reading skills without having to develop an entire argument. In most cases, a solid approach is to select a rich passage that rewards analysis (for example, one that depicts an important scene or a recurring image) and close read it. While response papers are a flexible genre, they are not invitations for impressionistic accounts of whether you liked the work or a particular character. Instead, you might use your close reading to raise a question about the text—to open up further investigation, rather than to supply a solution.
  • A research paper. In most cases, you will receive guidance from the professor on the scope of the research paper. It is likely that you will be expected to consult sources other than the assigned readings. Hollis is your best bet for book titles, and the MLA bibliography (available through e-resources) for articles. When reading articles, make sure that they have been peer reviewed; you might also ask your TF to recommend reputable journals in the field.

Harvard College Writing Program: https://writingproject.fas.harvard.edu/files/hwp/files/bg_writing_english.pdf

In the same way that we talk with our friends about the latest episode of Game of Thrones or newest Marvel movie, scholars communicate their ideas and interpretations of literature through written literary analysis essays. Literary analysis essays make us better readers of literature.

Only through careful reading and well-argued analysis can we reach new understandings and interpretations of texts that are sometimes hundreds of years old. Literary analysis brings new meaning and can shed new light on texts. Building from careful reading and selecting a topic that you are genuinely interested in, your argument supports how you read and understand a text. Using examples from the text you are discussing in the form of textual evidence further supports your reading. Well-researched literary analysis also includes information about what other scholars have written about a specific text or topic.

Literary analysis helps us to refine our ideas, question what we think we know, and often generates new knowledge about literature. Literary analysis essays allow you to discuss your own interpretation of a given text through careful examination of the choices the original author made in the text.

ENG134 – Literary Genres Copyright © by The American Women's College and Jessica Egan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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1.6 The basics of literary analysis

7 min read • january 25, 2023

ChristineLing

ChristineLing

Introduction

Today, we’ll be looking at literary analysis . Now that you’ve learned “how to read” (see guide 1.5 if you haven’t already), you can learn how to write analytically about what you’ve read. You’ve most likely done this already in English classes of the past, so feel free to view this guide as a refresher on literary analysis writing. If the idea of literary analysis is new to you though, then this is a great time to learn!

What is Literary Analysis?

Literary analysis is a method of close reading that involves identifying and interpreting various elements of a text in order to better understand and evaluate the work as a whole. This includes analyzing the text's themes , characters , symbols , and structure , as well as the author's use of language and literary devices . 

In literary analysis , the goal is to identify details that, when put together, support a claim about an aspect of the text, and then to use this evidence to defend that claim in an argument. This process allows readers to gain a deeper understanding of the text and to make connections between the work and the broader literary tradition or cultural context in which it was written.

In addition to having to do it in English classes for assignments and essays, literary analysis helps in developing critical thinking skills. By analyzing and interpreting a text, readers learn to evaluate arguments, identify biases, and understand different perspectives. You don’t have to limit it to classroom use; you can analyze books you read for leisure too! It can help you develop a personal interpretation of the text and appreciate the beauty of literature.

How to Write Literary Analysis Arguments

Now, let’s look at what makes up a literary analysis . We’ll break it down into two main parts: claim and evidence .

Part 1: Claim

A claim is a defensible/arguable* statement . It asserts something to be true or false about a text. A claim should be specific, clear, and supported by evidence from the text.

In literary analysis , a claim can be made about any aspect of the text. Here’s a list of potential aspects:

Historical context

Author's purpose

After identifying the aspect of the text that you want to focus on, you should state your position on that aspect in a clear and specific statement. For example, "The main character in the novel is struggling with feelings of isolation and loneliness," or "The author uses the structure of the novel to convey the theme of the fragility of memory."

It's important to note that a claim should not be a summary of the text or a general observation, but rather a specific, arguable statement that can be supported by evidence . Additionally, a claim should be written in a way that is open to discussion and debate, not as a statement of fact or truth.

Here are some more examples of claims:

The main character's internal conflict in the novel is a representation of the societal pressure to conform.

The use of imagery in the poem is used to convey the theme of death and loss.

The symbolism of the river in the novel represents the passage of time and the inevitability of change.

The novel's structure is used to convey the theme of the complexity of human relationships.

The Additional Notes section of the AP Lit Exam scoring guidelines provides a solid checklist for you to think about as you craft a claim . See below.

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*Note: defensible means it does not describe the obvious (“The sky is blue”) nor does it describe the impossible (“Everyone’s favorite color is red”). Stating something that is obvious/too general or impossible to defend will not earn you the thesis point on the AP exam. In addition, it will be difficult to earn Evidence and Commentary points. How would you provide sound evidence and rationale for an obvious/impossible statement?

Part 2: Evidence

Textual evidence refers to specific details from the text that are used to support a claim made in literary analysis . It is the evidence or proof that supports the claim and helps to make it convincing. To present textual evidence , it is important to quote or paraphrase the relevant passage from the text and to provide context for the quote, explaining how it supports the claim .

For example, if a claim is made that the main character in a novel is struggling with feelings of isolation and loneliness, textual evidence to support this claim might include a passage in which the character says, "I've never felt so alone in my life." This quote provides concrete evidence that the character is experiencing feelings of isolation and loneliness. Additionally, one could also provide the context of the quote, explaining how it relates to the claim , such as "The character's statement highlights their feelings of isolation and loneliness, which is a central theme throughout the novel."

Another example, if the claim is that the novel's structure is used to convey the theme of the fragility of memory, the evidence could be a passage that describes the use of non-linear narrative , such as "The novel jumps between different time periods, highlighting how memories can be fragmented and unreliable." The evidence supports the claim , because the non-linear narrative structure emphasizes the theme of memory's fragility.

Lastly, if the claim is that the symbolism in the novel represents the struggle between tradition and modernity, evidence could be a passage that describes the use of a traditional house as a symbol, such as "The old house in the novel symbolizes the protagonist's struggle to hold on to tradition while facing the pressures of modernity." This passage provides evidence that the house is being used as a symbol to represent the struggle between tradition and modernity.

It's important to note that textual evidence should be carefully selected and used to support the claim , rather than being used to impose an interpretation on the text. Also, it is important to provide more than one piece of textual evidencen (if possible) to strengthen the claim and to avoid overgeneralization.

Tips on Writing Them

To see examples of good claims, I encourage you to look at the scoring guidelines of past AP Lit exams. See all past exam questions here . In the published scoring guidelines, there are a few example theses provided that can give an idea of what is expected. For example, here’s a thesis that earned the thesis point on the 2021 AP Lit Exam

"Winston uses first-person narration , vivid descriptions , and humor to convey the narrator’s greater sense of connection to his friend Loon and his embarrassment on behalf of the woman who feels powerless in the situation.”

Notice the level of detail in the claim . It’s not just “Winston conveys the narrator’s greater sense of connection.” The student provided three reasons right off the bat (“ first-person narration , vivid descriptions , and humor ”), giving the grader a good idea of where the essay is going.

Here’s a list of some other tips to keep in mind:

Read the text closely and critically: Before writing a literary analysis , it is important to read the text multiple times, paying close attention to the author's use of literary devices and techniques, as well as the text's themes , characters , symbols , and structure . Of course, on an exam with limited time, you have to be aware of how much time you spend reading. Make sure you read just enough to get an idea of what your claim will be. You can return to specific parts of the text later to look for textual evidence

Consider the literary and cultural context: The text should be analyzed in the context of the literary tradition and cultural context in which it was written. This will help to deepen the understanding and appreciation of the text, and it will help the writer to make connections between the text and the broader literary and cultural context.

Analyze the text, not the author: A literary analysis should focus on the text itself, rather than on the author's personal life or beliefs. Avoid making assumptions about the author's intentions or beliefs, and instead focus on the text's themes , characters , symbols , and structure .

Literary analysis is a way of closely reading a text to understand and evaluate it. It involves identifying and interpreting elements of the text like themes , characters , symbols , and structure , as well as the author's use of language and literary devices . Your eventual goal is to make a claim about an aspect of the text and use evidence from the text to support that claim . To write a good literary analysis , you should read the text closely, consider the literary and cultural context, and focus on the text, not the author.

That’s everything I’ve got for you for Unit 1! Hope you’ve learned a lot, and I wish you luck on your next Fiveable study guide adventure.

Key Terms to Review ( 15 )

Author's Use of Language

Close Reading

First-Person Narration

Literary Analysis

Literary Devices

Non-linear Narrative

Textual Evidence

Vivid Descriptions

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Literary Analysis Essay

Literary Analysis Essay Writing

Last updated on: May 21, 2023

Literary Analysis Essay - Ultimate Guide By Professionals

By: Cordon J.

Reviewed By: Rylee W.

Published on: Dec 3, 2019

Literary Analysis Essay

A literary analysis essay specifically examines and evaluates a piece of literature or a literary work. It also understands and explains the links between the small parts to their whole information.

It is important for students to understand the meaning and the true essence of literature to write a literary essay.

One of the most difficult assignments for students is writing a literary analysis essay. It can be hard to come up with an original idea or find enough material to write about. You might think you need years of experience in order to create a good paper, but that's not true.

This blog post will show you how easy it can be when you follow the steps given here.Writing such an essay involves the breakdown of a book into small parts and understanding each part separately. It seems easy, right?

Trust us, it is not as hard as good book reports but it may also not be extremely easy. You will have to take into account different approaches and explain them in relation with the chosen literary work.

It is a common high school and college assignment and you can learn everything in this blog.

Continue reading for some useful tips with an example to write a literary analysis essay that will be on point. You can also explore our detailed article on writing an analytical essay .

Literary Analysis Essay

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What is a Literary Analysis Essay?

A literary analysis essay is an important kind of essay that focuses on the detailed analysis of the work of literature.

The purpose of a literary analysis essay is to explain why the author has used a specific theme for his work. Or examine the characters, themes, literary devices , figurative language, and settings in the story.

This type of essay encourages students to think about how the book or the short story has been written. And why the author has created this work.

The method used in the literary analysis essay differs from other types of essays. It primarily focuses on the type of work and literature that is being analyzed.

Mostly, you will be going to break down the work into various parts. In order to develop a better understanding of the idea being discussed, each part will be discussed separately.

The essay should explain the choices of the author and point of view along with your answers and personal analysis.

How To Write A Literary Analysis Essay

So how to start a literary analysis essay? The answer to this question is quite simple.

The following sections are required to write an effective literary analysis essay. By following the guidelines given in the following sections, you will be able to craft a winning literary analysis essay.

Introduction

The aim of the introduction is to establish a context for readers. You have to give a brief on the background of the selected topic.

It should contain the name of the author of the literary work along with its title. The introduction should be effective enough to grab the reader’s attention.

In the body section, you have to retell the story that the writer has narrated. It is a good idea to create a summary as it is one of the important tips of literary analysis.

Other than that, you are required to develop ideas and disclose the observed information related to the issue. The ideal length of the body section is around 1000 words.

To write the body section, your observation should be based on evidence and your own style of writing.

It would be great if the body of your essay is divided into three paragraphs. Make a strong argument with facts related to the thesis statement in all of the paragraphs in the body section.

Start writing each paragraph with a topic sentence and use transition words when moving to the next paragraph.

Summarize the important points of your literary analysis essay in this section. It is important to compose a short and strong conclusion to help you make a final impression of your essay.

Pay attention that this section does not contain any new information. It should provide a sense of completion by restating the main idea with a short description of your arguments. End the conclusion with your supporting details.

You have to explain why the book is important. Also, elaborate on the means that the authors used to convey her/his opinion regarding the issue.

For further understanding, here is a downloadable literary analysis essay outline. This outline will help you structure and format your essay properly and earn an A easily.

DOWNLOADABLE LITERARY ANALYSIS ESSAY OUTLINE (PDF)

Types of Literary Analysis Essay

  • Close reading - This method involves attentive reading and detailed analysis. No need for a lot of knowledge and inspiration to write an essay that shows your creative skills.
  • Theoretical - In this type, you will rely on theories related to the selected topic.
  • Historical - This type of essay concerns the discipline of history. Sometimes historical analysis is required to explain events in detail.
  • Applied - This type involves analysis of a specific issue from a practical perspective.
  • Comparative - This type of writing is based on when two or more alternatives are compared

Examples of Literary Analysis Essay

Examples are great to understand any concept, especially if it is related to writing. Below are some great literary analysis essay examples that showcase how this type of essay is written.

A ROSE FOR EMILY LITERARY ANALYSIS ESSAY

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD LITERARY ANALYSIS ESSAY

THE GREAT GATSBY LITERARY ANALYSIS ESSAY

THE YELLOW WALLPAPER LITERARY ANALYSIS ESSAY

If you do not have experience in writing essays, this will be a very chaotic process for you. In that case, it is very important for you to conduct good research on the topic before writing.

There are two important points that you should keep in mind when writing a literary analysis essay.

First, remember that it is very important to select a topic in which you are interested. Choose something that really inspires you. This will help you to catch the attention of a reader.

The selected topic should reflect the main idea of writing. In addition to that, it should also express your point of view as well.

Another important thing is to draft a good outline for your literary analysis essay. It will help you to define a central point and division of this into parts for further discussion.

Literary Analysis Essay Topics

Literary analysis essays are mostly based on artistic works like books, movies, paintings, and other forms of art. However, generally, students choose novels and books to write their literary essays.

Some cool, fresh, and good topics and ideas are listed below:

  • Role of the Three Witches in flaming Macbeth’s ambition.
  • Analyze the themes of the Play Antigone,
  • Discuss Ajax as a tragic hero.
  • The Judgement of Paris: Analyze the Reasons and their Consequences.
  • Oedipus Rex: A Doomed Son or a Conqueror?
  • Describe the Oedipus complex and Electra complex in relation to their respective myths.
  • Betrayal is a common theme of Shakespearean tragedies. Discuss
  • Identify and analyze the traits of history in T.S Eliot’s ‘Gerontion’.
  • Analyze the theme of identity crisis in The Great Gatsby.
  • Analyze the writing style of Emily Dickinson.

If you are still in doubt then there is nothing bad in getting professional writers’ help.

We at 5StarEssays.com can help you get a custom paper as per your specified requirements with our do essay for me service.

Our essay writers will help you write outstanding literary essays or any other type of essay. Such as compare and contrast essays, descriptive essays, rhetorical essays. We cover all of these.

So don’t waste your time browsing the internet and place your order now to get your well-written custom paper.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should a literary analysis essay include.

A good literary analysis essay must include a proper and in-depth explanation of your ideas. They must be backed with examples and evidence from the text. Textual evidence includes summaries, paraphrased text, original work details, and direct quotes.

What are the 4 components of literary analysis?

Here are the 4 essential parts of a literary analysis essay;

No literary work is explained properly without discussing and explaining these 4 things.

How do you start a literary analysis essay?

Start your literary analysis essay with the name of the work and the title. Hook your readers by introducing the main ideas that you will discuss in your essay and engage them from the start.

How do you do a literary analysis?

In a literary analysis essay, you study the text closely, understand and interpret its meanings. And try to find out the reasons behind why the author has used certain symbols, themes, and objects in the work.

Why is literary analysis important?

It encourages the students to think beyond their existing knowledge, experiences, and belief and build empathy. This helps in improving the writing skills also.

What is the fundamental characteristic of a literary analysis essay?

Interpretation is the fundamental and important feature of a literary analysis essay. The essay is based on how well the writer explains and interprets the work.

Cordon J.

Law, Finance Essay

Cordon. is a published author and writing specialist. He has worked in the publishing industry for many years, providing writing services and digital content. His own writing career began with a focus on literature and linguistics, which he continues to pursue. Cordon is an engaging and professional individual, always looking to help others achieve their goals.

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what must a literary analysis essay include apex

—AP Passage Analysis—

After students have been introduced to the "four pillars" of style analysis —diction, imagery, language, and syntax—they are ready to write an AP Passage Analysis essay.  When choosing a passage from a novel or play to use as a sample AP Passage Analysis prompt, we use the following 2011 AP Literary Argument prompt (Form B) as a guide:

In  The Writing of Fiction  (1925), novelist Edith Wharton states the following: 

At every stage in the progress of his tale the novelist must rely on what may be called the  illuminating incident  to reveal and emphasize the inner meaning of each situation.  Illuminating incidents are the magic casements of fiction, its vistas on infinity.

Choose a novel or play that you have studied and write a well-organized essay in which you describe an "illuminating" episode or moment and explain how it functions as a "casement," a window that opens onto the meaning of the work as a whole.

As we read a novel or play, we encourage students to look for passages that serve as an "illuminating incident" that, one could argue, reveals the meaning of the work as a whole.  These "magic casements" —as Wharton calls them— then become the subject of our AP Passage Analysis essay prompt for that book.  For example, when we teach F. Scott Fitzgerald's  The Great Gatsby , we sometimes use the opening paragraphs of Chapter 3 when Nick Carraway describes a typical party at Gatsby's house over the summer as our AP Passage Analysis essay:

Gatsby Party AP Prompt.jpg

When students read the passage for the first time, they should highlight or underline any examples of diction, imagery, language, or syntax that seem interesting, unusual, or potentially loaded with meaning.  To help students with their analysis, we also provide a study guide on the back of the prompt that they should try to complete on their own:

Gatsby AP Study Guide.jpg

After annotating the text and completing the study guide, students should then begin the process of organizing their argument.  Similar to the other AP essays, we encourage students to use Hegel's Dialectic to construct their arguments:

Hegel's Dialectic.jpg

When following Hegel's Dialectic , students should first look for tensions within the passage that might serve as the focus of their first two body paragraphs in the essay.  In the passage describing Gatsby's party, one tension is the surface energy and excitement of the guests that contrasts with the underlying shallowness and artificiality of their interactions.  As soon as students identify a tension, they find textual evidence to support their claims and are ready to craft their thesis and antithesis paragraphs.  The final body paragraph, or synthesis, should explore how these competing, yet complementary, tones help reveal the author or playwright's overall theme.  In other words, students should consider how the passage might serve as an "illuminating incident" that reveals the meaning of the work as a whole.

Hegel's Tone.jpg

Even though students will not have finished the novel or play when they analyze the passage, they should make a prediction on how the passage might serve as one of those "magic casements" that potentially reveals the work's overall theme.  In other words, students should consider what larger message or point the author or playwright seems to be making in the passage.  What can we learn about human nature or human behavior from this section of the novel or play?  In the description of Gatsby's party,  for instance, one could argue that living in the present might feel spontaneous and exciting, but it potentially comes at a cost that will need to be paid in the future. 

Below is a sample AP Passage Analysis essay for Gatsby's party that follows Hegel's Dialectic .  Please note that the introductory paragraph cites the author, title, and argument by reflecting the three topic sentences in the body paragraphs that follow:

Sample Gatsby Essay I.jpg

When students write their AP Passage Analysis essay, they should also think how the passage connects to the general theme of the AP Literary Argument prompt that provides a focus for the entire unit.  For example, when we read  The Great Gatsby , we chose the following 2016 AP Literary Argument prompt f or the final essay:

Many works of literature contain a character who intentionally deceives others.  The character's dishonesty may be intended either to help or hurt.  Such a character, for example, may choose to mislead others for personal safety, to spare someone's feelings, or to carry out a crime.  Choose a novel or play in which a character deceives others.  Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the motives for that character's deception and discuss how the deception contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.

When students prepare to write their AP Passage Analysis essay, students should think about how Gatsby's parties could be seen as "dishonest" and a "deception."  Even though students do not yet know Gatsby's whole story in Chapter 3, they eventually will discover that Gatsby uses his parties as a way to attract and impress Daisy.  We also find out that the persona of "Jay Gatsby" is similarly a fraud, and when that deception is revealed, his dream dies with it.  The tragedy of Gatsby's story is not just that someone with his background could never win the love of someone like Daisy, but that he would pursue someone so unworthy of his love in the first place.  In a similar way, the energy and excitement of Gatsby's parties are also an illusion; they might be superficially appealing, but Fitzgerald suggests through his description that they lack substance and meaning underneath.  A close analysis of Gatsby's party for the AP Passage Analysis essay not only reveals the overall theme of the novel, but it also helps students prepare for the AP Literary Argument at the end of the novel.

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Literary Analysis Essay

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Literary Analysis Essay - Step by Step Guide

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Published on: Aug 16, 2020

Last updated on: Jan 29, 2024

Literary Analysis Essay

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Literature is an art that can inspire, challenge, and transform us. But how do we analyze literature in a way that truly captures its essence? 

That's where a literary analysis essay comes in. 

Writing a literary analysis essay allows you to delve into the themes, characters, and symbols of a literary work. It's a chance to engage with literature on a deeper level and to discover new insights. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will take you through the process of writing a literary analysis essay, step by step. Plus, you’ll get to read some great examples to help you out!

So let’s dive in!

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What is a Literary Analysis Essay?

Literary analysis is a process of examining a literary work in detail to uncover its meaning and significance. 

It involves breaking down the various elements of a work, such as plot, character, setting, and theme. And then analyzing how they work together to create a specific effect on the reader.

In other words, literary analysis is an exercise in interpretation. The reader of a work asks questions about what the author means to say, how they are saying it, and why. 

A literary analysis essay is an essay where you explore such questions in depth and offer your own insights.

What is the Purpose of a Literary Analysis Essay?

In general, the purpose of a literary analysis essay is as follows: 

  • To gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the work.
  • To be able to think critically and analytically about a text. 

Content of a Literary Analysis 

A literary analysis essay delves deep into the various aspects of a literary work to examine its meaning, symbolism, themes, and more. Here are the key elements to include in your literary analysis essay:

Plot Analysis 

Plot refers to the sequence of events that make up the storyline of a literary work. It encompasses the main events, conflicts, and resolutions that drive the narrative forward. 

Elements of Plot Analysis 

The elements of a plot typically include:

  • Exposition: The introduction of the story that establishes the setting, characters, and initial circumstances.
  • Rising action: A set of events or actions that sets the main conflict into motion, often occurring early in the story.
  • Conflict: The series of events that build tension and develop the conflict, leading to the story's climax.
  • Climax: The turning point of the story, where the conflict reaches its peak and the outcome hangs in the balance.
  • Falling Action: The events that occur after the climax, leading towards the resolution of the conflict.
  • Resolution: The point in the story where the conflict is resolved, providing closure to the narrative.

Character Analysis 

Character analysis involves studying the role, development, and motivations of the characters in a literary work. It explores how characters contribute to the overall narrative and themes of the story.

Elements of Character Analysis 

  • Identification of major and minor characters.
  • Examination of their traits, behaviors, and relationships.
  • Analysis of character development and changes throughout the story.
  • Evaluation of the character's role in advancing the plot or conveying themes.

Symbolism and Imagery Analysis 

Symbolism and imagery analysis focuses on the use of symbols, objects, or images in a work. It analyzes and explores the use of literary devices to convey deeper meanings and evoke emotions. 

Elements of Symbolism and Imagery Analysis 

  • Identification of key symbols or recurring motifs.
  • Interpretation of their symbolic significance.
  • Analysis of how imagery is used to create vivid mental pictures and enhance the reader's understanding and emotional experience.

Theme Analysis 

Analyzing the theme involves exploring the central ideas or messages conveyed in a literary work. It examines the underlying concepts, or messages that the author wants to convey through the story.

Elements of Theme Analysis 

  • Identification of the main themes or central ideas explored in the text.
  • Analysis of how the themes are developed and reinforced throughout the story.
  • Exploration of the author's perspective and the intended message behind the themes.

Setting Analysis 

The Setting of a story includes the time, place, and social context in which the story takes place. Analyzing the setting involves how the setting influences the characters, plot, and overall atmosphere of the work.

Elements of Setting Analysis 

  • Description and analysis of the physical, cultural, and historical aspects of the setting.
  • Examination of how the setting contributes to the mood, atmosphere, and themes of the work.
  • Evaluation of how the setting shapes the characters' actions and motivations.

Structure and Style Analysis 

Structure and style analysis involves studying the organization, narrative techniques, and literary devices employed by the author. It explores how the structure and style contribute to the overall impact and effectiveness of the work.

Elements of Structure and Style Analysis 

  • Analysis of the narrative structure, such as the use of flashbacks, nonlinear timelines, or multiple perspectives.
  • Examination of the author's writing style, including the use of language, tone, and figurative language.
  • Evaluation of literary devices, such as foreshadowing, irony, or allusion, and their impact on the reader's interpretation.

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How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay?  

Writing a great literary analysis piece requires you to follow certain steps. Here’s what you need to do to write a literary essay:

Preparing for Your Essay 

The pre-writing process for writing a literary analysis essay includes the following:

  • Choosing a literary work to analyze
  • Reading and analyzing the work
  • Taking notes and organizing your thoughts
  • Creating an outline for your essay

Choosing a Work to Analyze 

As a student, you would most probably be assigned a literary piece to analyze. It could be a short story, a novel, or a poem.  However, sometimes you get to choose it yourself.

In such a case, you should choose a work that you find interesting and engaging. This will make it easier to stay motivated as you analyze the work and write your essay.

Moreover, you should choose a work that has some depth and complexity. This will give you plenty of material to analyze and discuss in your essay. Finally, make sure that your choice fits within the scope of the assignment and meets the expectations of your instructor.

Reading and Analyzing 

Once you’ve chosen a literary work, it's time to read the work with careful attention. There are several key elements to consider when reading and analyzing a literary work:

  • Plot - The sequence of events that make up the story. Analyzing the plot involves examining the structure of the story, including its exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
  • Characters - The people or entities that populate the story. Analyzing characters involves examining their motivations, personalities, relationships, and development over the course of the story.

Want to learn more about character analysis? Head to our blog about how to conduct character analysis and learn easy steps with examples.

  • Setting - The time, place, and environment in which the story takes place. Analyzing the setting involves examining how the atmosphere contributes to the story's overall meaning.
  • Theme - The underlying message or meaning of the story. Analyzing themes involves examining the work's central ideas and how they are expressed through the various elements of the story.

Moreover, it's important to consider the following questions while analyzing:

  • What is the central theme or main point the author is trying to make?
  • What literary devices and techniques has the author used?
  • Why did the author choose to write this particular work?
  • What themes and ideas are present in the work?

These questions will help you dive deeper into the work you are writing about.

Take Notes and Gather Material 

As you read and analyze the literary work, it's important to take notes so you don’t forget important details and ideas. This also helps you identify patterns and connections between different elements of the piece.

One effective way to take notes is to list important elements of the work, such as characters, setting, and theme. You can also use sticky notes, highlighters, or annotations to mark important passages and write down your ideas.

Writing Your Literary Analysis Essay 

Once you have read a piece of literature and taken notes, you have all the material you need to write an essay. Follow the simple steps below to write an effective literary analysis essay.

Create an Outline for Your Essay 

Firstly, creating an outline is necessary. This will help you to organize your thoughts and ideas and ensure that your essay flows logically and coherently.

This is what your literary essay outline would look like: 

Writing the Introduction 

Writing your essay introduction involves the three following parts:

  • Begin the introductory paragraph with an engaging hook statement that captures the readers' attention. An effective hook statement can take many different forms, such as a provocative quote, an intriguing question, or a surprising fact. 

Make sure that your hook statement is relevant to the literary work you are writing about. Here are a few examples of effective hooks:

  • Afterward, present the necessary background information and context about the literary work. For instance, 
  • Talk about the author of the work or when and where it was written. 
  • Give an overview of the work or why it is significant. 
  • Provide readers with sufficient context so they can know what the work is generally about.
  • Finally, end the introduction with a clear thesis statement . Your thesis statement should be a concise statement that clearly states the argument you will be making in your essay. It should be specific and debatable, and it should provide a roadmap for the rest of your essay.

For example, a thesis statement for an essay on "Hamlet" might be: 

Watch this video to learn more about writing an introduction for a literary analysis essay:

Writing the Body 

Here are the steps to follow when writing a body paragraph for a literary analysis essay:

  • Start with a topic sentence: 

The topic sentence should introduce the main point or argument you will be making in the paragraph. It should be clear and concise and should indicate what the paragraph is about.

  • Provide evidence: 

After you have introduced your main point, provide evidence from the text to support your analysis. This could include quotes, paraphrases, or summaries of the text.

  • Explain and discuss the evidence:

Explain how the evidence supports your main point or argument or how it connects back to your thesis statement.

  • Conclude the paragraph: 

End the paragraph by relating your main point to the thesis and discussing its significance. You should also use transitions to connect the paragraph to your next point or argument.

Writing the Conclusion 

The conclusion of a literary analysis essay provides closure to your analysis and reinforces your thesis statement. Here’s what a conclusion includes:

  • Restate your thesis statement: 

Start by restating your thesis statement in a slightly different way than in your introduction. This will remind the reader of the argument you made and the evidence you provided to support it.

  • Summarize your main points: 

Briefly summarize the main points you made in your essay's body paragraphs. This will help tie everything together and provide closure to your analysis.

  • Personal reflections:

The conclusion is the best place to provide some personal reflections on the literary piece. You can also explain connections between your analysis and the larger context. This could include connections to other literary works, your personal life, historical events, or contemporary issues.

  • End with a strong statement: 

End your conclusion with a strong statement that leaves a lasting impression on the reader. This could be a thought-provoking question, a call to action, or a final insight into the significance of your analysis.

Finalizing your Essay

You’ve completed the first draft of your literary analysis essay. Congratulations!

However, it’s not over just yet. You need some time to polish and improve the essay before it can be submitted. Here’s what you need to do:

Proofread and Revise your Essay 

After completing your draft, you should proofread your essay. You should look out for the following aspects:

  • Check for clarity: 

Make sure that your ideas are expressed clearly and logically. You should also take a look at your structure and organization. Rearrange your arguments if necessary to make them clearer.

  • Check for grammar and spelling errors: 

Use spelling and grammar check tools online to identify and correct any basic errors in your essay. 

  • Verify factual information:

You must have included information about the work or from within the work in your essay. Recheck and verify that it is correct and verifiable. 

  • Check your formatting: 

Make sure that your essay is properly formatted according to the guidelines provided by your instructor. This includes requirements for font size, margins, spacing, and citation style.

Helpful Tips for Revising a Literary Essay 

Here are some tips below that can help you proofread and revise your essay better:

  • Read your essay out loud:

Reading your essay out loud makes it easier to identify awkward phrasing, repetitive language, and other issues.

  • Take a break: 

It can be helpful to step away from your essay for a little while before starting the editing process. This can help you approach your essay with fresh eyes and a clearer perspective.

  • Be concise:

Remove any unnecessary words or phrases that do not add to your argument. This can help to make your essay more focused and effective.

  • Let someone else proofread and get feedback: 

You could ask a friend or a teacher to read your essay and provide feedback. This way, you can get some valuable insights on what you could include or catch mistakes that you might have missed.

Literary Analysis Essay Examples 

Reading a few good examples helps to understand literary analysis essays better. So check out these examples below and read them to see what a well-written essay looks like. 

How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

Literary Analysis Essay Example

Sample Literary Analysis Essay

Lord of the Rings Literary Analysis

The Great Gatsby Literary Analysis

Literary Analysis Example for 8th Grade

Literary Analysis Essay Topics 

Need a topic for your literary analysis essay? You can pick any aspect of any work of literature you like. Here are some example topics that will help you get inspired:

  • The use of symbolism in "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  • The theme of isolation in "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger.
  • The portrayal of social class in "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen.
  • The use of magical realism in "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
  • The role of women in "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood.
  • The use of foreshadowing in "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding.
  • The portrayal of race and identity in "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison.
  • The use of imagery in "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy.
  • The theme of forgiveness in "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini.
  • The use of allegory in "Animal Farm" by George Orwell.

To conclude,

Writing a literary analysis essay can be a rewarding experience for any student or writer, But it’s not easy. However, by following the steps you learned in this guide, you can successfully produce a well-written literary analysis essay. 

Also, you have got some examples of essays to read and topic ideas to get creative inspiration. With these resources, you have all you need to craft an engaging piece. So don’t hesitate to start writing your essay and come back to this blog whenever you need.

The deadline is approaching, but you don’t have time to write your essay? No worries! Our analytical essay writing service is here to help you out!

At CollegeEssay.org, we have a team of professional and experienced literature writers who can help you craft a compelling literary essay. Our affordable and reliable essay writing website focuses on providing high-quality essays and deliver them timely.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 4 components of literary analysis.

The four main components of literary analysis are: 

  • Conflict 
  • Characters 
  • Setting 

What is the fundamental characteristic of a literary analysis essay?

Interpretive is the fundamental characteristic of a literary analysis essay. 

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3.12: Writing an Introduction to a Literary Analysis Essay

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This video discusses the steps to take when writing an introduction to a literary analysis paper.

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  • How to write an Introduction to a Literary Analysis Paper. Authored by : MrBarberteaches. Located at : https://youtu.be/_p9FVfJ6urA . License : All Rights Reserved . License Terms : Standard YouTube License

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  1. How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

    Table of contents. Step 1: Reading the text and identifying literary devices. Step 2: Coming up with a thesis. Step 3: Writing a title and introduction. Step 4: Writing the body of the essay. Step 5: Writing a conclusion. Other interesting articles.

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    A literary analysis of a poem; A literary analysis of a piece of prose fiction (this may include drama) An analysis that examines a specific concept, issue, or element in a meritorious literary work selected by the student. The free response essays are graded by college and AP Lit teachers following a standardized rubric.

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    Microsoft Word - Literary analysis.rtf. 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 ...

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    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,

  8. PDF Discovering Evidence for a Literary Analysis Essay

    Discovering Evidence for a Literary Analysis Essay, Fall 2014. 2 of 6. meaning of a literary work. This handout focuses on how to write an explication essay because explication is the foundation for literary analysis, whether the essay be a critical argument or an explication. Literary analysis begins with a study of form and effect.

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    A literary analysis essay is an important kind of essay that focuses on the detailed analysis of the work of literature. The purpose of a literary analysis essay is to explain why the author has used a specific theme for his work. Or examine the characters, themes, literary devices, figurative language, and settings in the story.

  11. Analyzing Novels & Short Stories

    Literary analysis looks critically at a work of fiction in order to understand how the parts contribute to the whole. When analyzing a novel or short story, you'll need to consider elements such as the context, setting, characters, plot, literary devices, and themes. Remember that a literary analysis isn't merely a summary or review, but ...

  12. AP Passage Analysis Tutorial

    Tutorials. After students have been introduced to the "four pillars" of style analysis—diction, imagery, language, and syntax—they are ready to write an AP Passage Analysis essay. When choosing a passage from a novel or play to use as a sample AP Passage Analysis prompt, we use the following 2011 AP Literary Argument prompt (Form B) as a guide:

  13. PDF 9 Interpretive Analyses and Writing about Literature

    Analysis. 1. Discovering an aspect of the subject that is meaningful to you. Although you will not include your personal motives in the finished version of your interpretive analysis, your interpretation will be more compelling if you take time to discover why the subject is meaningful to you.

  14. A Comprehensive Guide to Writing a Literary Analysis Essay

    Here are the steps to follow when writing a body paragraph for a literary analysis essay: Start with a topic sentence: The topic sentence should introduce the main point or argument you will be making in the paragraph. It should be clear and concise and should indicate what the paragraph is about. Provide evidence:

  15. 12.14: Sample Student Literary Analysis Essays

    Heather Ringo & Athena Kashyap. City College of San Francisco via ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative. Table of contents. Example 1: Poetry. Example 2: Fiction. Example 3: Poetry. Attribution. The following examples are essays where student writers focused on close-reading a literary work.

  16. 3.12: Writing an Introduction to a Literary Analysis Essay

    3.12: Writing an Introduction to a Literary Analysis Essay is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts. Back to top 3.11: Using Databases- Periodical Indexes and Abstracts

  17. What Must A Literary Analysis Essay Include Apex

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