Literary Analysis

By: Kate Thornbury

Writing a literary analysis paper can be a bit confusing to those who aren’t familiar with the type of close reading skills necessary to gather the evidence you need to write a strong paper. It can be tricky to take a deep look at literature. Here are a few steps you can take to write an analysis that is logical, strong, and supported by evidence. 

Ask Questions While You Read

 When you’re reading the text, take note of moments that you really enjoyed, confused you, or made you do a double take. These questions that you’re asking yourself now may lead you to a question that would be good to answer in an essay. Some questions to keep in mind as you read: 

  • What confused you? 
  • What moments did you enjoy? 
  • Are there any moments of irony?  
  • Are there any repetitions?  
  • Are there any contradictions?  
  • What is the tone, imagery, setting? 
  • Who are the characters and what are their personalities?

Gather Evidence

Once you decide what question you want to answer, you’ll need to collect evidence. Don’t worry if you don’t quite know the answer to your question yet. Right now, just focus on collecting moments in the text that reflect your topic. Here are some elements that are used in every work of literature and some questions you can answer to back up your argument:  

  • Plot 
    • What significant events happen in the story?  
  • Characters 
    • What qualities do the characters have? How do these qualities define them and what happens to them? How do they interact with each other?  
  • Narrator 
    • Is the narrator reliable? How does the narrator portray the characters? How does the narrator shape the reader’s perception of events and characters?  
  • Conflict 
    • What is the central conflict in the story? How do the characters respond to it?  
  • Themes 
    • What themes are the author focusing on and how does the author use elements of story to portray these themes?  
  • Form 
    • How does the author shape the text? How does the form convey the author’s intentions or a deeper meaning in the work?  

Write a Thesis

After you‘ve gathered points of evidence, you can start to draw connections between them and the question you want to answer. Bonus points if you can connect them with each other, as well. In the thesis, you need to make an arguable claim that is supported by the evidence you’ve collected. Your thesis statement should include both facts and your stance on the topic.  

 Make sure your thesis does these things:  

  • Makes a statement, not a question 
  • Names the topic of the paper  
  • Takes a stance  

Read more about crafting a thesis statement here.  

Tips and Tricks

Now that you’ve developed your thesis and gathered your evidence, it’s time to write a paper that supports your thesis statement. Here are some tips to help you through that process:  

  • Stay on track: you wrote a specific thesis statement that makes a specific claim. 
    •  To make sure you stay on topic throughout your essay, keep asking yourself: “How does this paragraph support my thesis?” 
  • Don’t use the conclusion to restate your introduction.  
    • Instead, use the conclusion to give an overview of the strongest evidence you’ve offered in your body paragraphs.  
  • Use your essay to completely develop a single, solid thought.  
    • Don’t try to address too many things in one paper. If you do that, you run the risk of not showing that you can make a strong or coherent analysis.  

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