A literary analysis is the process where you read a literary work very closely to figure out how the author gets their main points across. Start by taking notes on the text and reading it very carefully, then develop and outline your argument. Write the analysis according to your outline, and proofread it carefully before turning it in or sending it on.
EditSteps

EditTaking Notes and Developing Your Argument

  1. Write down ideas as you read through the text. The first time you read through your text, take notes on things that stand out, such as the main conflict, the characters' motivations, the tone, and the setting.[1]

    • Mark pieces of the text that seem interesting or noteworthy. Does the author seem to be making a major statement in one section? Are they suddenly being more philosophical? Highlight or make a note about that section.
    • For instance, one of the main quotes you see repeated from George Orwell's novel 1984 is "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength." As it's the Party's (the country's only political party) main slogan, that keys you into the fact that it's going to be important to the story. It's a good idea to use a certain color highlighter to mark this statement every time it's made. This makes it easier to spot the statement so you can analyze where, when, and why Orwell is repeating the line.

  2. Note the literary devices the author uses. Literary devices are things the author uses to tell the story or make a point. They could include alliteration, imagery, metaphors, allusions, allegories, repetition, flashback, foreshadowing, or any number of other devices the author employs to write the story or poem.[2]

    • For instance, imagery is how the author uses vivid language to help create mental pictures. It can set the tone of the work. Take this example from George Orwell's novel 1984, which is presented as the fourth paragraph in the novel:
      • "Outside, even through the shut window-pane, the world looked cold. Down in the street little eddies of wind were whirling dust and torn paper into spirals, and though the sun was shining and the sky a harsh blue, there seemed to be no colour in anything, except the posters that were plastered everywhere."

    • Just from this short text, you get a sense of the harshness of the world, drained of color and very cold.

  3. Focus on the key themes the author seems to be expressing. Themes are the major ideas the author seems to be repeating throughout the text. They can be things like religion, government, good versus evil, authority, social structure, coming-of-age, war, education, or human rights, to name a few. Identify the themes as early as you can in your reading, as this makes it easier to annotate examples of the themes as you read.[3]

    • In 1984, some of the main themes Orwell focuses on are war, authority, and social structure.

  4. Look at the form of the work. The form refers to how the text is constructed. In a long work, it can mean how the work is divided and whether it's in first-person or third-person. In a poem, look at the line breaks, the stanza arrangement, the shape of the poem, and even the negative space the writer uses. Think about why the author chose this particular form and how it helps present the ideas.[4]

    • Think about how the form and content relate to each other. Then, consider how they might be in tension with each other.
    • For example, a poem often contains less information than a novel, so the writer might use the form to draw attention to the unknown or unanswered questions.

  5. Consider the historical context of the work. No work is written in a vacuum, so the time period and location where the author is writing will affect the text. Research where the author lived, the time period the novel was written in, and what was going on at the time.[5]

    • For instance, 1984 came out just after WWII in 1949, when fascism had threatened to take over the globe. However, equally important, Orwell had witnessed the problems of totalitarian regimes in places like Spain and wanted to warn against the advancement of totalitarianism in any form, from the political left or right.[6]

  6. Decide what the author's purpose is in writing the text. An author can have several purposes for writing a text. Your job is to identify at least one of them you can write about. Don't worry about what you choose, as long as you can back up what you think the purpose is with evidence from the text.[7]

    • When identifying the author's purpose, examine the historical context of the novel, as well as the author's themes. You can also read other analyses and reviews of the text, as well as interviews of the author.
    • For example, one of Orwell's main purposes in writing 1984 was to show how if citizens don't keep their government in check, it can lead to a totalitarian government where every movement and thought is scrutinized.

  7. Brainstorm about how the author shows their main purpose. Connect the notes you took on the text with what you consider to be one of the author's main purposes. Think about how the author is using these devices to make their point.[8]

    • For instance, in the slogan "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength," you get a introduction to the author's purpose. It gives the reader a view of what's ahead: citizens in this society are required to swallow contradictory statements from the government without question, a concept known in the novel as "doublethink."

  8. Decide on your argument by focusing your topic. Focus on one element of the story that exemplifies what you think the main purpose is. Think about what stands out about that particular topic to you. Why does it seem important?[9]

    • For example, maybe you decide that you want to focus on how imagery sets up the tone for the novel 1984. Why is that important? Without that imagery, the novel would be very different, and Orwell would have had difficulty setting up a believable world for the reader.



EditOutlining the Paper

  1. Write a thesis statement. The thesis statement is the main idea of your paper. You want to cover your basic argument to let your readers know what you plan to argue. For a literary analysis, you should connect the main idea or theme of the work to a specific way the author shows it.[10]

    • For example, you might write, "In 1984, Orwell's use of imagery to establish a bleak and dreary world is key to bringing home his theme that totalitarianism is something to be avoided at all costs."

  2. Organize your argument from start to finish. How you organize your essay is up to you. One typical method is to go through the book in order, providing your evidence starting at the beginning of the book and moving towards the end.[11]

    • Alternatively, it may make sense to you to begin with a historical introduction to the work to provide context.
    • Another method is to present your most important part of the argument first and work down from there.

  3. Set up your main ideas or paragraphs. Write down a Roman numeral for each main idea you want to cover in your essay, as well as your introduction and conclusion. Next to the Roman numeral, jot down that main idea in a shortened form.[12]

    • For instance, you might write:
      • I. Introduction
      • II. Provide background information and historical context for 1984
      • III. Introduce the author's main theme
      • IV. Establish how imagery helps create the theme
      • V. Conclusion

  4. Add the main points you want to cover in each paragraph. Under each Roman numeral, use letters and then Arabic numerals to go into more detail about what you want to cover in each section. You can be very specific or just cover the basics. However, the more specific you are, the easier it will be to write your essay.[13]

    • Your detailed outline might look something like this:
      • I. Introduction
        • A. Introduce work, including author, title, and date
        • B. Thesis: In 1984, Orwell's use of imagery to establish a bleak and dreary world is key to bringing home his theme that totalitarianism is something to be avoided at all costs.

      • II. Provide background information and historical context for 1984
        • A. Discuss World War II
        • B. Bring up Orwell's experiences in Spain
          • 1. Experiences of fascism influenced work
          • 2. Feared totalitarianism on the right and left

        • C. Coined phrase "cold war"

      • III. Introduce the author's main theme
        • A. Warning against totalitarianism
          • 1. Party in complete control
          • 2. No privacy, even for thoughts
          • 3. Orwell thought this was the logical conclusion of a complete totalitarianism

      • IV. Establish how imagery helps create the theme
        • A. Book begins with bleak, colorless imagery, sets up tone
        • B. Description of urban decay creates a feeling of the world falling apart
        • B. Contrasting imagery when Winston has experiences with Julia, re-establishes purpose of main imagery

      • V. Conclusion

EditWriting Your Essay

  1. Introduce each main topic with a couple of introductory sentences. With each point you make, provide a short introduction to it at the beginning of the paragraph. This just establishes what the idea is. It can also connect the idea to the rest of your text.[14]

    • For instance, you might write, "From the very beginning of the novel, Orwell establishes that this world is bleak and dreary, one that no one would want to live in."
    • When writing a literary analysis, you must draw your argument out through the whole essay. That means that with each paragraph you add, you need to connect it to the main thesis of the essay. Doing so helps your reader see the overall point you're making.

  2. Backup your points with quotes from the text. When you're writing a literary analysis, you must show your reader where you found the evidence in the text. That means, when you make an assertion about the text, you need to add a quote or paraphrase the text to back up what you're saying.[15]

    • Go over your annotations to find good quotes. Then, explain what the quote means and how it supports your point. Make sure your analysis of the quote takes up at least as much space as the quote itself.
    • For example, you might add, "From the very beginning of the novel, Orwell establishes that this world is bleak and dreary, one that no one would want to live in; he writes: 'Outside, even through the shut window-pane, the world looked cold. Down in the street little eddies of wind were whirling dust and torn paper into spirals, and though the sun was shining and the sky a harsh blue, there seemed to be no colour in anything, except the posters that were plastered everywhere.'"
    • Don't forget to provide proper citations for the text.

  3. Analyze how your evidence backs up the main point you're making. With this step, you need to answer why the point you're making is important. Show the reader that the evidence you provide relates to your main argument.[16]

    • For example, to complete the paragraph after the quote you provided, you might write the following:
      • This world is harsh to inhabitants, "cold" and foreboding, without even color to break up the monotony. A bright, sunny day doesn't even provide a reprieve from this bleakness, and Orwell uses passages like these to establish that this world could be the future, a harsh reality with no escape into fantasy or pleasantries.

  4. Write your introduction. If you haven't already, fill in your introduction. Part of your introduction should be your main thesis, but you should also introduce the main points you want to make throughout the essay, as well as the work itself.[17]

    • Try to draw your reader in with your introduction. You could write:
      • Imagine a world where every facial expression, every movement, every word you say is endlessly scrutinized by an overreaching government. Anyone who breaks the rules or steps out of line is punished harshly. If it sounds like a bleak reality that no one would want to live in, that was entirely George Orwell's point in writing the novel 1984, a book that creates a picture of a dystopian future where citizens are controlled by a totalitarian government. In 1984, Orwell's use of imagery to establish a bleak and dreary world is key to bringing home his theme that totalitarianism is something to be avoided at all costs. This point was driven home for him by his time spent in Spain under fascism, as well as political climate of the time, which was World War II."

  5. Create your conclusion. In the conclusion, you need to draw your argument back together and tie it up neatly for your reader. That way, they can see how everything fits together.[18]

    • For example, you might write:
      • For Orwell, the fact that the world could be headed towards totalitarianism was disastrous. That fate, no matter whether it came from the right or left, was something every citizen should fight against. In his novel, Orwell shows the logical conclusion of a world controlled by totalitarianism, and it's through the literary device of imagery that he draws the reader into that world. Once the reader experiences that dreary world, they will want no part of a government that could thrust them into that harsh reality.
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EditPolishing Your Essay

  1. Make sure your argument makes sense from beginning to end. Try to read through your essay as if you had never read the text you're analyzing. Can you follow the argument with just the assertions, evidence, and analysis you've provided? If you can't, try going back through and filling in any blanks.

    • You can also ask a friend to read through it to see if they can follow it.

  2. Take out phrases like "I think" or "In my opinion." When you're first writing a literary essay, you may be timid about your analysis. Most everyone is! However, when you present your argument, leave out these phrases. It weakens your argument, and signals to the reader you're not confident in what you're doing.[19]
  3. Proofread your essay by reading it out loud. Watch for any mistakes your spellcheck catches, but you should also check it yourself. Reading it out loud helps you slow down and catch more mistakes in the text.[20]

    • For instance, you may notice words that are wrong or places where the sentence structure sounds a little funky.

  4. Let someone else proofread it. It always helps to have another set of eyes when proofreading. Ask a friend, parent, or classmate to go over your essay to see if they catch any grammatical mistakes.



EditTips

  • Be sure you have a clear understanding of the essay assignment before writing your analysis. Always to follow the teacher's instructions and guidelines.



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