Literary analysis essay composition purpose

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  • Composition


  • A literary analysis broadens understanding and appreciation of a piece of literature.
  • Think as you read:
    • What theme is the author attempting to convey? In other words, what is the author saying about life and/or people?
    • What techniques are employed to convey theme, mood, etc.?


  • A thesis for a literary analysis must be persuasive in nature.
  • A formula for the most basic analysis thesis could look something like this:
    • In (title), (author's name) uses (1st literary device), (2nd literary device), and (3rd literary device) to (analyze/criticize/explain/etc.) (some aspect of human nature).
    • In "If you Were Coming in the Fall," Emily Dickinson uses simile, diction, and syntax to describe how people wait, hoping to fall in love.


  • A literary analysis should focus on one or a combination of the following major literary elements:
  • Theme - but never alone! Only how it is brought out through use of other techniques.
    • What message about life and/or people is the author trying to convey?


  • Conflict – internal? external? Who’s involved?
    • Person vs. person
    • Person vs. him/herself
    • Person vs. society
    • Person vs. nature
  • What does the conflict(s) reveal about the theme?


  • Characterization:
      • Direct characterization: the author tells the reader directly about a character.
      • Indirect characterization: revealed through dialogue, character’s own thoughts, actions, thoughts of others, physical description.
    • Consider why that character is important in the story. How is s/he used to develop the theme?


    • Define the setting (time and place of story).
    • What does the setting reveal about the theme? Is the author commenting upon the time period in which the story is set?


  • Symbolism – objects, actions, descriptions, characters can all represent deeper ideas
    • Analyze the choice of symbols and what they are meant to symbolize or reveal.
    • How does the symbolism develop the theme?


  • Point of view
    • 1st person: told from character’s perspective and voice
    • 3rd person omniscient – narrator knows all characters’ thoughts and feelings
    • 3rd person limited – narrator knows one character’s thoughts and feelings; told from author’s voice
      • How does it affect character development?
      • Would it matter if the narration was different? Why?
      • How does the point of view develop the theme?


  • Always go one step further in your commentary and be sure to answer the question “So what?”
  • Always explain your point.
    • The story is set in the South.
      • So what?
    • The main character is a hypochondriac.
      • So what?
    • The road symbolizes choice.
      • So what?


  • An effective literary analysis essay relies upon quotes to strengthen the analysis.
  • A quote should not be more than a few words. Generally, there is no need to quote an entire sentence.
  • Choose only the most important word(s) to quote.
  • Explain the quote without referencing it directly by saying “This quote shows…” or “This proves…”
  • Cite all quotes: “Quoted” words (Page #).


  • Quotes must be smoothly integrated into a sentence of your own. Without quotations marks, the reader should not be able to tell where your words end and the quoted words begin.
  • Contextualize quotes by providing the context and speaker (if quoting dialogue):
    • When he hears her answer, Jessup “flies off the handle” and tells her to “Get lost!” (94).
  • If you need to change words within a quote, use brackets [new word] around the new word.
    • After the trial, Scout tells Jem that she “heard [Miss Gates] say it’s time somebody taught [the black people of Maycomb] a lesson” (247).


  • While you read the story, highlight and label passages regarding the following:
    • Setting
    • Symbolism
    • Characters (personality traits, descriptions, telling statements)
    • Conflict
    • Fairy tale techniques
    • Tragic hero qualities
    • Anything you think may be important


  • This essay will be a 4-paragraph essay:
    • Introduction
    • 2 body paragraphs, each exploring one literary element
    • Conclusion
    • No Works Cited necessary
    • Parentheticals (page numbers) are required

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