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What Is a Literary Essay?

A literary analysis essay is an academic assignment that examines and evaluates a work of literature or a given aspect of a specific literary piece. It tells about the big idea or theme of a book you’ve read. The literary essay may be about any book or any literary topic imaginable.

How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

When you’re taking a literature course, you clearly expect some degree of academic writing to be involved. You’ll be reading books, and you’ll be discussing them in class. However, you’ll also analyze those books in written.

There’s a problem: your professors assign you the books and they ask you to write the paper, but they don’t teach you how to write a literary essay step by step. Some students assume they can find some reviews on Goodreads and paraphrase them. Others go through blogs maintained by passionate readers, and they assume that that’s the style they should follow.

This type of paper needs a specific format. Plus, you’ll have to maintain an adequate style of academic writing. You can’t write like a blogger would write, and you cannot copy Goodreads or Amazon reviews. What you should do is read that book and write a proper literary essay that would leave your professor impressed.

Are there any guidelines you can follow to achieve that goal? Of course there are! In the most basic form, these are the steps you should follow:

  • Understand the purpose of a literary analysis;
  • Understand the format (learn what this type of assignment must include in its content);
  • Plan
  • Write
  • Edit

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? As any other student, you need more tangible guidelines that teach you how to handle this particular assignment. As always, we’re here to help with that! Read through this step-by-step guide, and you’ll be ready to start writing the literary analysis by the end of the day.

What Is the Purpose of a Literary Analysis Essay?

The main purpose of a literary analysis essay is to prove that you’ve carefully examined and evaluated a work of literature from various aspects. First of all, you must understand the term analysis. It means breaking something up to its essential components, and analyzing how their features contribute towards the overall impression.

Let’s take an example: you’re analyzing Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It’s a highly popular book with countless reviews all over the Internet. If you check out those reviews, you’ll notice they are highly personal. They are all about the way the reader perceived the book. You’re allowed to share your own impressions in a literary analysis, but they have to be part of a more structured format. Most of all, you’ll focus on the analysis of all components of the book.

You’ll be reading the book differently, too. When you’re reading for pleasure, you’re mainly focused on emotions and visualizations of the scenes and characters. You’ll still pay attention to those elements of the reading process, but you’ll also be analytical towards the book. You’ll consider these elements:

  • Subject
  • Form
  • Style
  • Main theme
  • The relationship between form and content
  • The relationship between the main plot and the subplot
  • Characters’ strengths and flaws
  • Storyline strengths and flaws

In most cases, professors ask you to focus on one aspect analyzing a book. For example, they will ask you to analyze the strengths and flaws of Gatsby’s character. An overall analysis is a much larger and more complex paper, whose structure is closer to a research paper than it is to an essay.

So let’s sum up:

  • The purpose of a literary analysis is to analyze a particular theme or aspect of the book or poem you’ve read.
  • Your writing will be sharp and focused. You will express not only your personal thoughts and emotions regarding the piece, but your studious approach towards it as well.
  • Think of it this way: you’re putting yourself in the shoes of a literary critic. If you’ve ever read the critiques in popular magazines, you’ll notice they are objective; not personal. Your essay will have a specific format, but it will maintain that critical approach you’ve seen from real critics.
  • Your goal is to convince the reader that you’re making a valid point with your analysis.

What Must a Literary Analysis Essay Include?

When students don’t know how to write a literary essay, they make a common mistake: freewriting. This assignment is not based on freewriting, where you sit and write whatever comes to mind regarding the book. The paper must be organized, and it needs specific elements that will turn freewriting into an actual literary analysis:

  • A specific topic, which you’ll formulate in accordance with the central idea you want to convey.
  • A central thesis statement, which tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper. This is a very clear declarative sentence that conveys the main point of your essay. Every single sentence you write in your literary analysis will be directly connected to this central idea.
  • An introduction, body, and conclusion - that’s the basic structure to maintain in most formats of academic writing. The literary analysis is no different; it needs an intro, body, and conclusion. The only difference is that you’re not obliged to stick to the 5-paragraph format. If you need more paragraphs in the body, you’re free to include them unless your professor tells you otherwise.

How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay Introduction

Now that you’re aware of all elements this essay should include, it’s easier for you to write the literary essay outline. It should briefly describe the points you’re going to include in the introduction, body, and conclusion. Once you have the outline ready, it will be easier for you to start writing the paper.

How do you start? That’s the greatest challenge to overcome throughout this process.

In the introduction, it’s important to capture the interest of your reader. You will do that by bringing immediate focus to the main point you’re going to make. Explain the reader (your professor) what aspect of the book or poem you’re going to analyze. Is it the format, a specific character, or an element of the plot?

  • You may start with a quote that conveys this main point for you. If, for example, you’re analyzing Gatsby’s character, you may include this quote:

“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the ‘creative temperament’ - it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which is not likely I shall ever find again.”

With this quote, the author practically expressed Gatsby’s personality, so you have where to start from. From here on, you’ll analyze the character’s personality in different scenes and you’ll describe how they are related to the description from this quote.

  • It’s also allowed for you to include some background information relevant to the literature genre or to the author of the piece you’re analyzing.
  • At the end of the introduction, you’ll include your thesis statement. It’s recommended for it to be in a single sentence. That rule will push you towards clarity and scarcity.

Once you have the introduction with a clear thesis statement, it won’t be that difficult for you to write the body of your paper. You don’t necessarily have to write three paragraphs in it, but it’s the minimum number of paragraphs for an essay of 500 - 700 words. You may separate the body in more paragraphs, but less than three would make the paper look like a bulky and overwhelming read.

Each paragraph needs a topic sentence, which is directly related to the thesis statement.

How to End a Literary Analysis Essay

Naturally, your literary analysis needs a strong, convincing conclusion. This final paragraph will make the essay complete and well-rounded. It will give the reader an impression that you made a clear point that they are ready to agree or disagree with.

How do you write such a conclusion?

  • Don’t introduce new points of discussion in the conclusion.
  • It should summarize and restate the main points you made, but it mustn’t be repetitive. You may make a relevant comment from a different perspective, or restate the main thesis to show how your arguments proved it.

Conclusion

The literary analysis is not an easy essay to write. They say that the best critics are geniuses. They know how to penetrate deep into the essence of the book they read, and understand the author’s intentions for each element of their writing.

No one expects a college student to achieve that level of literary criticism, but the least you can do is try. If you follow the tips above, you can start writing the literary analysis essay as soon as you’re done with the reading.

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