Literary analysis is the practice of analyzing small parts of a text to see how they relate to the greater whole. Authors use many different techniques to create meaning. Characters, setting, primary and secondary plots, as well as the overall structure contribute to our understanding of their work. Writing a literary analysis teaches students how to better grasp and appreciate different works of literature.
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In performing literary analysis, students often pick and discuss one specific theme or point of development. For example, if you’re analyzing a play by William Shakespeare, you might want to focus on the play’s central theme in relation to the main characters. A coming-of-age novel like The Catcher In The Rye might have you focus on the protagonist’s growth and change. Poetry, lyrics, news, criticisms, and films are subject to various types of literary analysis.
In this article, we will look at Shakespeare’s Hamlet and show how literary analysis is applied to this classic play.
- Literary Analysis Outline
- Writing a Title
- Writing a Thesis Statement
- Introduction Paragraph
- Writing Body Paragraphs
- Writing The Conclusion
Literary Analysis Outline
The first step is writing an outline for your essay. An outline, or written plan, is like a framework for a house. Instead of putting the building materials into a pile on the ground and calling it a house or merely listing our thoughts into paragraphs, we organize ideas and build our arguments like a house.
Learn more about how to create an outline which will get your essay 80% done before you even start writing!
In the case of Hamlet, we could build an outline around the protagonist’s inner struggle and how it relates to the whole play. The complexity of Hamlet’s character will help us discuss the theme of revenge through several moral questions he addresses. We can organize the essay in a way that each body paragraph addresses a different moral issue.
Writing a Title
It is essential that the essay title communicates our position or point of analysis. It is the first thing that the reader will see, so make it interesting and informative. If it’s an attention grabber, it must still give them an idea of what’s to come. Here is an appropriate title to our Hamlet essay which focuses on the theme of revenge:
Hamlet: How Revenge Leads To Tragedy
Writing a Thesis Statement
After giving the reader some context, present the thesis statement. The thesis statement is like a generalization of the ‘moral’- the universal message of the story. It is a tool used in the introductory paragraph to introduce and generalize the theme which will be discussed in the essay.
Our thesis statement will present the argument and answer the questions ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘how’ and ‘why’. It must be a carefully worded as it is essential to maintaining our argument throughout the text. The thesis belongs near the end of the introductory paragraph.
Question: How is revenge portrayed in Shakespeare’s Hamlet?
Thesis: Shakespeare uses the character of Hamlet to explore the complex theme of revenge and how it always leads to tragedy.
The introduction’s main purpose is to establish the context and background for the reader. It must include the author’s full name and the title of the work you focus on. In giving background information, it is best to make it informative and catchy. Similar to titles, essay introductions are a means of grabbing attention.
Introduction Example: During the time of Shakespeare, revenge plays were very common. A villain commits murder; the protagonist is a relative of the murdered man, and embarks on a quest for revenge; he succeeds but destroys himself in the process. The plot of Hamlet revolves around the task assigned to Hamlet by who he believes is the ghost of his murdered father. Before performing his duty, Hamlet asks himself moral questions regarding the nature of revenge. Hamlet’s intellectual and reflective personality complicates his decision as he struggles to find what is the right thing to do. In this way, Shakespeare uses the character of Hamlet to explore the complex theme of revenge and how it always leads to tragedy.
Writing Body Paragraphs
It is unnecessary to summarize or retell the whole story. An analysis should only contain a brief summary of the plot. In the end, it’s all about your ideas and observations in relation to a specific theme. Keep in mind that most people who will pick up an essay on Hamlet will have probably read the play anyway.
A 500-700 word essay is typically split into three body paragraphs. These body paragraphs will heavily rely on quotes from the book. You may use other writers’ interpretations of the text as source material. However, it is always best to make your own observations.
Each body paragraph must start with an argument or topic sentence that ties back to your thesis statement. The topic sentence also gives each section a clear focus in terms of csubject matter. Each paragraph must have a single focus. If you’re discussing the character Claudius in paragraph 1, don’t jump ahead by examining other characters.
Here are some points to consider when writing body paragraphs:
A summary of key events will give your audience perspective to the point you’re trying to make. When summarizing, make sure to connect your summary to the main point of the paragraph.
Using quotes may prove extremely valuable to supporting your argument. The character’s further actions can be justified and traced back to this quote. We know that with writers like Shakespeare, there aren’t any coincidences.
Always look for textual evidence such as direct quotations to support your analysis.
Identify writer techniques and provide examples of how this technique supports the subject matter.
Paraphrasing is a means of transforming original material into your own writing. Long quotes or sections can be paraphrased to avoid filling your essay with too much water.
A good literary analysis requires attention to details. Is there a prop which contributes to the ominous environment of a scene? Perhaps, the weather serves as a perfect expression of what the character is feeling?
Use transitions between body paragraphs to create an organic flow from one argument to the next.
It is best to end body paragraphs with a ‘clincher’ sentence - one that ties back into the topic sentence of your paragraph.
A body paragraph is like a sandwich. All the tasty knowledge is carefully layered on the inside and enclosed by two loaves of bread (topic sentence and clincher).
Writing The Conclusion
The conclusion must summarize the points you have made, and leave the reader with a final impression. Do not use the conclusion to introduce a new topic.
The general purpose is to give the reader a sense of completion. Start your concluding paragraph by restating the thesis.
Go through your body paragraphs to see how you could summarize the main arguments in the conclusion.
Use the last sentences for universal applications and final thoughts.
Why is this work important?
How does the author convey their perspective on life in this particular work of literature?
Check out our blogpost on how to write a conclusion for additional help.
Conclusion Example: The various levels of complexity in the characters’ motivations for revenge ultimately lead to the dissolution of the kingdom of Denmark, and the death of the king. The manipulative and power-hungry Claudius abuses his power to try and get rid of Hamlet. Spiritually, Claudius is perplexed as the ghost of Late King Hamlet haunts and distorts his consciousness. The ghost can be perceived as a metaphor that Claudius has killed the king physically, but not in spirit. The soul of the late king survives, hoping that justice is restored to the kingdom. Hamlet’s quest for revenge may seem just initially. However, his obsession with expressing anger and seeking revenge, leads to the deaths of Laertes, Gertrude, Claudius, and himself. Although the lines between right and wrong are often blurred, the ending of Hamlet provides a principled and virtuous conclusion. As the ancient Chinese proverb says: “If you seek revenge, dig two graves.”
Essay Writing Advice From Our Professional Team
Literary analysis is a challenging essay to write as well as analytical essay. While writing an essay of this kind, it’s important to spend a lot of time drafting and outlining beforehand. When writing about literature, the most vital tip I can give you is to make sure to write your piece as if the reader of your writing has already read the work that you are discussing. Literary analysis is NOT a book report. Do not include plot summary in your essay. While writing, stick to exclusively analysis. Another handy shortcut to writing these essays is to focus on questions such as “What was the author’s intent” and “what effect does it have on the reader”. The article mentions the importance of an argument. An argument is the main claim of your essay. In literary analysis, it’s extremely important that you articulate your claim in your thesis and refer back to your thesis at the end of each paragraph/main point that you make. This will alleviate any confusion that the reader could have about your paper.
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