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Literary Analysis Essay

Definition: A literary analysis essay is an attempt to evaluate and understand the work of an author, either a single work or an entire body of work. Literary criticism is a description, analysis, evaluation, or interpretation of a particular literary work or an author's writings as a whole.

If you've been asked to analyze a piece of literature, try following these steps:

1. Identify the author's purpose. Ask yourself, what theme or main idea did the author want the reader to understand after he or she had finished reading?
2. Think of the characters, tone, setting, rhythm, plot, imagery, etc. as devices or tools that help ensure that the reader "gets" the meaning that the writer intended him or her to learn.
3. Ask yourself, why did the author choose to use these devices, in these particular ways? How does this kind of character, plot event, or type of imagery help the reader understand the theme?

Remember, tell us how & why-don't just summarize!

Types of Literary Analysis

Character Analysis defines characters' qualities to explore how they react to various conditions or attempt to shape their environment. In other words, the reader/writer seeks to explain why characters behave/think/act in the manners they do. Sometimes, comparing/contrasting two characters is helpful, although a concentration on one character often offers the more complete analysis for short essays (and is what I recommend).

Point of View (POV) Analysis explores why the author chose a particular pov, and how this viewpoint affects the reader-writer's perception of the work.

Analysis of Setting explores how and why a work's time and place affects the events and/or the characters of the work. Often the reader-writer will want to consider setting as part of another form of literary analysis (extending the analysis of a character, for example).

Analysis of Theme involves working the concept, thought, opinion or belief that the author expresses. It is very common (and helpful) to consider theme when analyzing another aspect of literature rather than on its own. The theme of a work is the main message, insight, or observation the writer offers.

The importance of theme in literature can be overestimated; the work of fiction is more than just the theme. However, the theme allows the author to control or give order to his perceptions about life.

Analysis of Structure demonstrates how a work's organization influences (or is influenced by) the plot and theme of the work.

Analysis of Symbolism (and Imagery) involves demonstrating why an author chooses to use one or more dominant, recurring symbols or images.

Analysis of Style is an attempt to show how and why the author employs word choice, sound or rhythm to convey ideas. In prose, the reader-writer may look at a key passage and consider diction, grammar, sentence length, and rhythm and sound.

Teaching Literary Analysis

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