Writing a literary analysis paper: tips and examples
Literary analysis paper is not the kind of task you may have dealt in high school. This is a more complex assignment for college level, so it cannot be just your personal evaluation of a literary piece in question — even though, of course, a certain degree of subjectivity can never be avoided. Still, a solid literary analysis paper will follow specific guidelines of its own, and — most of the time — these rules will be fixed. Students are supposed to pay attention to several essential elements, including setting, characters, literary devices, and of course, the meaning (i.e., main message) of someone else’s work. If you have never worked on a literary analysis before, stay tuned — we’ll tell you how you can write a winning paper in no time.
The goal of literary analysisAs already mentioned, students are to consider several elements when analyzing a work of literature. However, analyzing all the characters, as well as stylistic devices is not always an option because such an analysis may take hundreds of pages — especially when dealing with a novel. So, when writing a literary analysis for college, students are usually expected to focus on a particular theme. Remember that the goal of any literary analysis is to better understand a particular literary work. Sometimes, it also implies analyzing the author’s intentions, messages, as well as the overall value of this writing piece. If for example, you need to analyze The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger, it’s expected that you focus on the process of coming of age. So, it will be more or less easy to analyze the novel’s setting and characters from this perspective. Sometimes, books under analysis will have many pressing themes to focus on, so you’ll have to choose just one. For example, Shelley’s Frankenstein can focus on religion vs. technology, on social stereotypes, on personal responsibility for one’s actions, etc. So, unless your professor specifically defines the angle you’ll need to take in your analysis (which, by the way, they often do or at least offer several prompts to choose from), you’ll need to choose this angle independently. Consequently, every literary component you analyze will have to tie up to your main topic. Essentially, this is the primary purpose of shorter literary analysis — define the topic of your essay and present factual examples from the text to prove your point of view. Needless to say, you are to operate with the literary components we’ve mentioned above — setting, characters, plot, narration themes, literary devices, etc. Now, let’s try to break this process into several essential steps.
Outlining a literary analysis paperChances are, you’ve managed to complete excellent papers without an outline — but mind that this was before you entered college. In high school, requirements were lower, so students did not need to pay attention to so many different details. Now, they do — so if you really want to write an A+ literary analysis paper, we strongly suggest thinking of an outline for your work and drafting at least some rough notes to keep you on track as you write. This will help you organize your thoughts, choose the most impressive arguments to support your point of view and, thus, finish an excellent, properly structured paper. Below are some essential elements you should pay attention to.
Title for your analysisYour title should not be boring, like “Religion in Frankenstein,” or — even worse — “Frankenstein literary analysis.” It should hint at your main topic and — ideally — catch your readers’ attention. Think of it as a headline for your paper. You would not open a Facebook post with a boring headline, would you? The same logic goes here. Even though your professor will open your document, a boring title will lose your points in the final grade. So, think about something creative, something that urges your readers’ interest.
Thesis statementThis is the most difficult part of your paper, even though a thesis only takes one sentence (sometimes, two). A thesis is the main idea you are going to prove in your paper; so, all the literary devices you choose to analyze in your body paragraphs will be directly related to this statement. It has to be informative and thought-provoking. Also, a thesis cannot be a universal fact everyone agrees with. If it were, there would be no point in writing the paper. For example, when writing an analysis on responsibility in Frankenstein, your thesis could go like this: “The conflict between one’s actions and the unwillingness to accept responsibility for them is vividly shown through the opposition between Victor Frankenstein and his creation.”This is a good thesis for a literary analysis because:
- It shows an author’s position on the subject
- It lines up the main theme for a paper
- It is not something anyone will agree with, so this thesis can be proved through textual examples
IntroductionA thesis is placed at the end of your introduction paragraph, but what comes first? You may already know that the best way to start a paper is to grab your readers’ attention, but how exactly? More importantly, do you always have to do that? There is no clear answer. It is a rigid guideline to introduce your topic and mention the author and the work under analysis. As for an attention-grabbing hook, it may or may not be there. For example, you can jump straight to the important question if you really want to hook your readers: “One of the most contradictory questions in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the question of the responsibility: who is more to blame for the tragic events described in the novel — the scientist or the monster?” Or, you could use a less creative approach and just state some facts: “Frankenstein is a Gothic novel written by Mary Shelley in 1818. In her work of art, Shelley raises a number of issues concerned with moral and social issues. Apart from the conflict between scientific and moral principles, Shelley raises the theme of personal responsibility for the things people do”. Both approaches are totally acceptable, so you should choose the one that suits you best. After all, you’re the writer. Note that in our second example, you can already proceed with the thesis you mentioned above —about a conflict between one’s actions and responsibility for them. So, it’s a good fit for short papers — in just a couple of lines, you already have a solid intro that meets all academic writing requirements. The first example still needs some background info and clarification; so, it may be a good idea for a more extended analysis.
Body ParagraphsThe number of your body paragraphs will depend on the exact topic of your analysis, your perspective on the subject, and of course — paper length. The best way to make your analysis not only logical but also objective is to choose major text elements we’ve mentioned above (setting, plot, character development, stylistic devices) and prove your point of view (that is, thesis) through this lens. Once again, feel free to choose as many elements as you need to prove your thesis, but make sure you deal with one thought (or text element) per paragraph.
ConclusionA solid conclusion does not only sum up your main points and restates your thesis; it also leaves readers with a sense of completion. Try to make a lasting impression on your audience — this is the best way to warp up any paper, not only a literary analysis one. You can include a bit of moral evaluation here, or even a generalization to show how everyone can relate to your thesis (that you should have proven by now). For example: “Through this vivid story, Shelley expresses her opinion of a parent being responsible for a child, not only for his physical health but for his moral condition as well. Though her hyperbolized images, at times terrifying, Shelley strengthens the idea of destructive outcomes of neglecting the ones we are supposed to be responsible for”. This is a good conclusion because:
- It restates the thesis you’ve been supporting in body paragraphs
- It highlights the main points you analyzed in your body text
- It adds a personal touch, showing why this topic is important