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Published: Thursday 31st of October 2013
What many don’t know about literary analysis essays is that they’re not written purposelessly, but on the contrary, they can be extremely helpful most of the times. The main reason why people should resort to reading or even writing this type of essay is that it will help them examine and even evaluate an important aspect of a work of literature or even a work of literature as a whole. Just like in the case of any other type of analysis, you’ll have to break the matter down into smaller pieces and examine each of them carefully. This way, not only you will better appreciate the work of literature, but also understand it better.
When analysing a poem for example, the focus might be on the various types of images present in that poem, or the relationships that form between the content and the form of the work. When analysing a play, the focus might be on the relationships between the characters, between the main plot and a specific subplot or on the tragic hero’s character flaw by following the plotline to see how it’s revealed throughout the play. When analysing a short story for example, the focus is mostly placed on identifying a specific theme, such as the challenges one encounters when transiting from childhood to adolescence or from adolescence to adulthood, and on emphasizing the way the writer points that theme through the particular point of view of the character from which the story is presented.
NB: Writing is the more focused and sharpened expression of both study and thought. In time, you’ll improve your writing skills and as you do so, you’ll also notice that your perceptions and critical abilities will become better and better. The main purpose in writing literary analysis essays is to develop an idea and support it with arguments, so that the ones reading the essay are convinced by your arguments. In classroom discussions or in ordinary discussions about a specific work of literature, you don’t have to follow a strict line, as you can discuss about a certain matter, jump to another one and then return to the previous matter once more. In writing however, you must follow a line, stick to the particular point of development and not jump over certain aspects. Being organized is the key to success. Therefore, it’s a must that the essay has a central idea, several paragraphs which develop systematically from the central idea, so to put it simply, everything must be directly related to and revolve around the thesis (central idea) and must have a great contribution to the readers’ understanding of that thesis. Here’s a list of these three principles below, to make it easier to follow it:
The main purpose of the thesis statement is to present the reader what to expect. The declarative sentence is supposed to present the point you’re trying to make with this essay. If you don’t give enough attention when conceiving the thesis, chances are your essay will not be successful. Here’s an example of some thesis statements which can be used for literary analysis essays that have between 500-750 words:
In most cases, the thesis statement is placed at the end of the last introduction paragraph.
The introduction of the literary essay is probably the most important part, because it should capture the reader’s attention and interest. If it’s not well-written in an objective manner and doesn’t present the main purpose of the essay, there are high chances the reader will stop reading the essay from the very beginning.
It’s recommended to use quotations in the introduction part, a provocative question, a startling statement, some brief anecdotes or even a mixture of these. It’s also best to include some background details that are relevant to the thesis and that will help the reader better understand the subject you are tackling. Moreover, it is advisable you also mention the title and the name of the author for the work of literature you are writing the essay on. Here are two good examples of introductory paragraph that also contain thesis statements:
The body encompasses the greatest part of the development of the central idea in your literary analysis essay. Here’s where you include the paragraphs that support the thesis statement. If the essay has between 500-750 words, the body must include at least three paragraphs. Well-written literary analysis essays include detailed explanation of the ideas, as well as evidence from the work of literature that supports them. Worth mentioning is that textual evidence consists of direct quotations, particular details, paraphrase or even a short summary.
A topic sentence is needed for each paragraph. In most cases, this sentence is the first one of the paragraph and it is used to present one of the many topics that are associated with the thesis. There are two main reasons why topic sentences should not be missed from each paragraph:
Each developmental paragraph, which constitute the body of the essay, will consist of the summaries and explanations, on paraphrases and direct quotations, as well as on some specific details to both develop and support the more general idea you have previously mentioned in the topic sentence. Here’s an example of a developmental paragraph that can be placed right after the introductory paragraph B mentioned above:
By taking a look at the way Sammy describes the A & P, it can be understood that the setting is monotonous, rigid and ugly. The reader can see uniformity in what Sammy describes, as the chain store that can be found both in the story and reality is seen as a regular fixture in modern society. The “checkerboard green-and-cream rubber tile floor” (486) is just as mildly cool as the light that appears fluorescent. Sammy also talks about the traffic in the store which he finds quite unusual, as everyone moves towards a certain direction, “except for the swim suited girls”, who follow the opposite direction. Everything is extremely well organized. Also, Sammy associates the shoppers with a pack of “sheep”, with “pigs” and with “house slaves” all together (486). He claims that they won’t be strayed from their routine not even by a dynamite.
What makes this paragraph strong and relevant is that it uses quotations, explanation, summary, as well as many details that help supporting the topic sentence. It’s clear how everything relates back to the central idea presented before.
It’s a must for a literary analysis essay to have a conclusion part. The main purpose of a conclusion is to comprise all ideas mentioned in both the introduction and the body parts of the essay and to provide a sense of completeness of it. When finishing reading the essay, the reader should be left with some clear ideas on what the essay was about and on what the main ideas were. There are several ways in which you can build the concluding paragraph:
The conclusion should NOT be used as an introduction part for another topic. Here’s an example of a concluding paragraph with reference to the one mentioned above in introductory paragraph C of “My Last Duchess” by R. Browning:
The poem doesn’t reveal whether or not the Duke possesses any redeeming qualities. The author chooses to emphasize more the Duke’s traits (materialism, jealousy and arrogance) and presents them in a way that lets the reader understand that people who might have known the Duke’s character and known him personally, would have based their opinions related to him on these 3 major character flaws. At length, the reader will not form a favourable opinion of the Duke and from what can be understood, Browning didn’t intend anything else.
The title is also a crucial part of the essay and you need to choose it carefully, as it is meant to attract the readers’ attention. The title of your literary analysis essay should describe the approach you choose to tackle in the paper. Using the title of the literary work as your essay title will not bring you the desired success. Be original and find something that would really make the reader say “I want to read this essay!”.
Another essential aspect you need to consider when writing a literary analysis essay is the audience you are writing for. Think about this essay as you would have it written for your professor and your colleagues or other students. You don’t have to “retell” the literary work once again, as they most probably have already read it and don’t expect for someone to tell them something they already know. Rather, you should take over the role of the interpreter or explainer of the work of literature and to present the specific elements that caught your attention, what they mean and how did you put them in relation to the thesis. The main purpose of your essay should be to provide relevant arguments with respect to the central idea and to draw some conclusions to it. Don’t resort to plot summary, as this will only make your essay irrelevant.
First of all, textual evidence consists of paraphrase, summary, direct quotation and specific details. These ones are used within the literary analysis essay in order to support and illustrate the major ideas you are discussing and developing in the paper. Nevertheless, you should not exaggerate in using them. Utilizing them effectively and correctly within the essay is crucial with respect to reach success and obtain reader’s appreciation.
The best time to make use of paraphrase text is when you need to bring forth specific details of the original text, but without using the exact words present in the original. In other words, you use paraphrase when you want to express someone else’s words using your own words.
NB: What was mentioned above related to retelling the work and plot summary remains valid. However, you can still use summary as a textual evidence when you want to use a series of events presented in the work or a specific key event in order to support a point or an idea you are trying to make in your essay. A brief summary is necessary in such situations and it can be relevant to your essay if it helps you to illustrate a certain aspect by connecting it to your idea.
A top-notch literary analysis essay must contain direct quotation. Direct quotations are one of the best practices to support and illustrate the main ideas you are developing in your essay. They will make your ideas more convincing, more professional and clearer. Just as in the case of the other textual evidence methods, it’s vital you explain the way this evidence is relevant to your essay. In other words, ensure you tell the reader the reason why the quotes you cite are so important and relevant to the specific argument. Here are some guidelines when using quotations:
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The dropping of the daylight in the west,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, while the white mule
She rode around the terrace — like and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech….
The most frequent mistake people make when utilizing direct quotation as textual evidence in their literary analysis essays is related to proper punctuation. Take a look at the list below to see what the conventions are when it comes to this aspect:
Lengel has a discussion with Sammy with the intend of convincing the latter one to not quit his job. So Lengel says “‘Sammy, you don’t want to do this to your Mom and Dad’” (Updike 486)
No one said writing a literary analysis essay would be something easy or something that would only take half an hour to write. You need to take many aspects into account, but most importantly, you need to have a good reason why you start writing that essay in the first place. Regardless of the type of work of literature you choose to analyse, make sure you define your central idea from the very beginning and create the essay around it. Be clear, concise and relevant in your arguments and support each idea with the right arguments. This way, it will be easier not only for you, but also for your readers to understand the connection between the work of literature and what you are trying to point in your essay. Overall, by following all these guidelines presented in this article, you’ll definitely come up with a well-organized, structured and high quality literary analysis essay.