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Literary Analysis: How to Write an Impressive Essay?

Literary Analysis: How to Write an Impressive Essay?

Every once in a while, students get faced with the literary analysis essay, which isn’t a bad thing. It gives you the opportunity to discover and/or examine wonderful literature, while also letting you hone in on your writing skills.

Once you know how to write a literary analysis essay, you’ll be able to express your thoughts and analyse any piece of literature you’ve read. If you want to learn how to make a good one, continue reading this guide on how to write literary analysis, that includes outline, structure, steps of the process and literary analysis essay example.


Table of Contents

What Is a Literary Analysis

Literary analysis is the practice of analyzing small parts of a text to see how they relate to the greater whole. You need to think about how and why the author wrote this text, and what message is conveyed within it. Authors use many different techniques to create meaning; characters, setting, primary and secondary plots, literary devices, 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.

How to Write a Literary Analysis: First Steps

When writing a literary analysis, you can choose to write about; how the various components of the work you’re analysing relate to each other, how two separate literary works relate to each other, how the literary work relates to a larger context (social, religious, political, economic), or how one specific theme or point develops within the literary work.

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 another play by Shakespeare. Or, 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 all 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.

Three basic principles to follow in your literary analysis:

  • Concentrate on covering the topic you are writing about.
  • Determine a central idea of the literary piece and state it in the thesis.
  • To make parts listed above effective for the reader’s perception, make sure your literary analysis essay is well-organized.

So, let’s move on to the first step — writing an outline.

Literary Analysis Outline

An outline, or written plan, is like a framework for a house — or your literary analysis essay. Instead of putting 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 blueprint for 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 a literary analysis 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.


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Writing an Essay Title

It is essential that the essay title communicates our position or point of literary 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. Make sure to not just make the title of your literary analysis essay the title of the book or piece of work. Make the title unique and give a hint at what you will try to convey to the reader. 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 usually one sentence at the end of your introductory paragraph that offers a concise summary of the main point of the essay—the fundamental message. It is the tool you use 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.

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.

Introduction Paragraph

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. When giving background information, it is best to make it informative and catchy. Similar to titles, essay introductions are a means of grabbing attention. Try to avoid simply retelling or summarizing the plot. We suggest quoting the work you will analyse, asking a question, adding a provocative statement, or using a short anecdote.

Introduction Example:

During the time of Shakespeare, why were revenge plays so 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 the right thing to do is. Shakespeare loved to examine the drive for, and outcome of revenge. 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 a literary 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 should rely on quotes and paraphrasing from the book to back up your claims (topic sentences) with evidence. You may use other writers’ interpretations of the text as source material as well. 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 subject 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.

  • 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.

  • Identify writer techniques and provide examples of how these techniques support the subject matter.

  • Look for literary devices that the author uses to support your topic sentence and thesis statement — foreshadowing, metaphors, symbolism, etc.

  • 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?

  • Try to 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.

Check out our blogpost on how to write a conclusion for additional help

  • The general purpose is to give the reader a sense of completion. Start your concluding paragraph by reexploring your 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?

literary analysis conclusion

4 steps to decent conclusion

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.

Literary Analysis Essay Example

Literary Analysis of “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

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