How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay: A Complete Guide

Literary analysis is one of the most common tasks in literature at school and university. How well a student does this type of paper often determines his or her final grade in the subject. We will tell you how to write a literary analysis essay, and you will have to act according to the presented plan.

literary analysis essay writing guide

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What Is a Literary Analysis Essay?

A literary analysis essay definition is simple. Literary analysis is understood as reviewing the work according to certain parameters. This process allows you to better understand the work, to track not only its storyline but also its inner meaning.

Thanks to literary analysis, you can figure out what the writer meant, what ideas and thoughts he or she put into his or her story, play, or poem. For those who are interested in how to analyze a work, a literary analysis outline will help. It is suitable for reviewing prose, lyrics, or plays.

Literary Analysis Essay Outline

The main secret of successful reviewing is adherence to the analysis outline:

  1. Story of creation
  2. The meaning of the name/title
  3. The genre of the work
  4. Theme, idea, and problem
  5. Composition and key moments of the plot
  6. Conflict in the work
  7. The system of characters and images
  8. Author’s position
  9. Expressive means
  10. Conclusion

Story of creation

If you don’t know how to start a literary analysis essay, our advice is to begin with a story of the literary work’s creation. This point allows you to better understand the conditions in which the text was written, and it gives an idea of what was happening at that time in the life of the author and in society.

The meaning of the name/title

In some cases, this section can be skipped (for example, if the poem is named on the first line), but usually, a certain idea, the key idea of the work, is hidden behind the title.

The genre of the work

Defining a genre is one of the important skills that students must have. The form of the work and its features (the nature of the narrative, characters, theme, etc.) will help to determine the genre.

Theme, ideas, and problem

This is one of the main points of the analysis outline. A theme is understood as what is being discussed in a poem, story, or novel. The idea is the key thought of the work, the message that the author wants to convey to the reader. Usually, the disclosure of an idea occurs through the coverage of certain problems, which also need to be reflected in the analysis.

Composition and key moments of the plot

In this section of the analysis, it is necessary to reflect the plot structure of the work, showing what happens at its different stages:

  • exposition
  • opening
  • development of action
  • climax
  • denouement
  • postposition

Conflict in the work

The core of most works is conflict: external (the character and society, or protagonist and antagonist) or internal (the character with himself or herself). This conflict is often the engine of the plot and is resolved in the denouement.

The system of characters and images

At this point in the literary analysis of the work, it is necessary to describe the main characters (both positive and negative) and the images that are used in the text.

Author’s position

The scheme for analyzing a literary work will not be complete without displaying the author’s attitude toward what is happening in the plot. It should be indicated which side the author adheres to, as well as which characters’ thoughts and actions are closer to him or her.

Expressive means

This point is extremely important in the analysis of poetry: the expressive means help, even in small form, to reveal the author’s key thoughts, to understand what is behind one image or another. Here, it is necessary to find not only characteristic lexical units and syntactic constructions but also means of expressiveness, such as:

  • epithets and metaphors
  • hyperbole
  • metonymy and synecdoches

Conclusion

The conclusion is an essential element of a holistic analysis of a work. In it, the student once again notes the key idea of a poem or prose and gives a comprehensive description of what he or she read.

All these points form the standard literary analysis essay format, which you can follow for writing your own paper.

Types of Literary Analysis Essays

Different types of analysis are characterized by different methods of analyzing a literary work. Let’s consider the most common ones.

Analysis of a work of prose

The specificity of the analysis of prose depends on the volume of the work. Stories are easier to analyze: as a rule, they have fewer characters and plot twists and an understandable composition. When analyzing novels, it is very important to be able to highlight the main storylines and key characters, not to be distracted by secondary ones.

Life hack: in order to analyze a novel, it is not at all necessary to read it in full. A summary will tell you about the plot and the main conflict, and a few quotes will give an idea of the author’s style and characters.

An example of a brief analysis of a novel can be seen in this literary analysis essay.

Analysis of a poetic work

The plan for the analysis of a lyrical work may not contain some points necessary for understanding prose: for example, in a poem, there is not always a conflict and specific characters, the author’s position may not appear. At the same time, some points will have to be added: indicate the poetic size and type of rhyme.

When analyzing, the most important thing is to adhere to a plan. It is important not to overlook the necessary details when reviewing a verse. A holistic, detailed, or approximate analysis of a poetic text is written arbitrarily, gradually supplemented with information and your own opinion. The plan can be divided into several points:

Date of writing, author (brief historical information about the author and the date of writing, and the literary direction in which the poet’s work belongs)

  • Poem title, theme, and idea
  • Plot
  • Composition of the poem
  • Analysis of images, their characteristics
  • Expressive means used by the author
  • Rhyme
  • Poetic size
  • Conclusion, personal attitude to the work

Analysis of a dramatic work

Taking into account the specifics of the plays (the abundance of dialogues, the absence of active actions), when analyzing them, it is necessary to pay special attention to the speech of the characters and the symbolism, which is often embedded in the title of the work.

Analysis of a work of folklore

When analyzing folklore (epic, saga, etc.), the stories and traditions of a particular people acquire great importance. Folklore reflects the myths and religious ideas of different nations, their mentality, and this relationship must be reflected in the analysis.

Literary Analysis Sample

The Main Idea of The House on Mango Street

Esperanza, the protagonist in House on Mango Street, is a representation of author Sandra Cisneros. The name Cisneros chooses for her protagonist in this autobiographical novel immediately tells us something about her nature: that hope is a fundamental virtue that makes coping with her life much easier. Hope plays an important role in the life of Esperanza, the eldest daughter of two immigrant parents, and is a recurring theme in this coming of age novel. Things do not come easy for Esperanza or her family, hence their ability to live through the myriad challenges that life throws at them comes down to their ability to hope for and dream of a better tomorrow. The analogy between Esperanza and Cisneros is uncanny.

What’s in a name, you might ask. Carnegie said it best: “We should be aware of the magic contained in a name…” (78). In that regard, Cisneros obliges us to pay special attention to the fact that her protagonist is named Esperanza. The author uses the autobiographical novel style to reflect parallels between herself and the protagonists of her novels (First Letter).

Cisneros reveals that her protagonist relies on hope (esperanza in Spanish) to cope with the bitter obstacles in her life. In the final chapter of the book, Esperanza still denies the fact that she lives in the house on Mango Street, saying that one day she’ll have a real home. Esperanza’s family also relies on hope to deal with their reality, to such an extent that you almost feel pity for them. Her mother, on more than one occasion, tells her children that when they win the lottery, life will be better since the family will be able to afford a new and more suitable home (Cisneros).

It is no coincidence that Cisneros chose the name of Esperanza for the protagonist of this novel. The fact that hope plays a recurring theme throughout the book is a testament to this. For immigrants, it is hard to think of a better way to cope with the harsh realities of starting a new life than through hope.

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