When you are assigned with literary analysis essay, your main goal is to examine and study a certain piece of literature to understand what main points it aims to render. Such work is usually assigned to students at high schools and colleges, who study literature or humanities.
The use of such a task is very broad: students read a book, learn how to analyze it, and research information on the background and author.
There is no general pattern of how to write a literary analysis, as it greatly depends on the piece of work you need to discuss. For example, the length of your work, number of paragraphs, and formatting will be completely different for a poem and a novel.
Literary Analysis Essay: A Step-by-Step Guide
Literary analysis means closely studying a text, interpreting its meanings, and exploring why the author made certain choices. It can be applied to novels, short stories, plays, poems, or any other form of literary writing.
A literary analysis essay is not just a summary of the plot or a book review. Instead, you need to analyze elements such as the language, perspective, and structure of the text, and explain how the author uses literary devices to create effects and convey ideas.
Before beginning a literary analysis essay, it’s essential to carefully read the text and come up with a thesis statement to keep your essay focused. As you write, follow the standard structure of an academic essay:
- An introduction that tells the reader what your essay will focus on.
- The main body, divided into paragraphs, builds an argument using evidence from the text.
- A conclusion that clearly states the main point that you have shown with your analysis.
Step 1: Reading the text and identifying literary devices
The first step is to carefully read the text and take initial notes. As you read, pay attention to the things that are most intriguing, surprising, or even confusing in the writing – these are things you can dig into in your analysis.
Your goal in literary analysis is not simply to explain the events described in the text but to analyze the writing itself and discuss how the text works on a deeper level. Primarily, you’re looking out for literary devices – textual elements that writers use to convey meaning and create effects.
To get started with your analysis, there are several key areas that you can focus on. As you analyze each aspect of the text, try to think about how they all relate to each other. You can use highlights or notes to keep track of important passages and quotes.
Step 2: Coming up with a Thesis
Your thesis in a literary analysis essay is the point you want to make about the text. It’s the core argument that gives your essay direction and prevents it from just being a collection of random observations about a text.
If you’re given a prompt for your essay, your thesis must answer or relate to the prompt. For example:
Essay question example
Is Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” a religious parable?
Your thesis statement should be an answer to this question – not a simple yes or no, but a statement of why this is or isn’t the case:
Thesis statement example
Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” is not a religious parable, but a story about bureaucratic alienation.
Sometimes you’ll be given the freedom to choose your topic; in this case, you’ll have to come up with an original thesis. Consider what stood out to you in the text; ask yourself questions about the elements that interested you, and consider how you might answer them.
Your thesis should be something arguable – that is, something that you think is true about the text, but which is not a simple matter of fact. It must be complex enough to develop through evidence and arguments across the course of your essay.
Say you’re analyzing the novel, Frankenstein. You could start by asking yourself:
How is the character of Frankenstein portrayed?
Your initial answer might be a surface-level description:
The character Frankenstein is portrayed negatively in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
However, this statement is too simple to be an interesting thesis. After reading the text and analyzing its narrative voice and structure, you can develop the answer into a more nuanced and arguable thesis statement:
Finding textual evidence
To support your thesis statement, your essay will build an argument using textual evidence – specific parts of the text that demonstrate your point. This evidence is quoted and analyzed throughout your essay to explain your argument to the reader.
It can be useful to comb through the text in search of relevant quotations before you start writing. You might not end up using everything you find, and you may have to return to the text for more evidence as you write, but collecting textual evidence from the beginning will help you to structure your arguments and assess whether they’re convincing.
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Step 3: Writing a title and introduction
To start your literary analysis paper, you’ll need two things: a good title, and an introduction.
Your title should indicate what your analysis will focus on. It usually contains the name of the author and text(s) you’re analyzing. Keep it as concise and engaging as possible.
A common approach to the title is to use a relevant quote from the text, followed by a colon and then the rest of your title.
If you struggle to come up with a good title at first, don’t worry – this will be easier once you’ve begun writing the essay and have a better sense of your arguments.
The essay introduction provides a quick overview of where your argument is going. It should include your thesis statement and a summary of the essay’s structure.
A typical structure for an introduction is, to begin with, a general statement about the text and author, using this to lead into your thesis statement. You might refer to a commonly held idea about the text and show how your thesis will contradict it, or zoom in on a particular device you intend to focus on.
Then you can end with a brief indication of what’s coming up in the main body of the essay. This is called signposting. It will be more elaborate in longer essays, but in a short five-paragraph essay structure, it shouldn’t be more than one sentence.
Some students prefer to write the introduction later in the process, and it’s not a bad idea. After all, you’ll have a clearer idea of the overall shape of your arguments once you’ve begun writing them!
If you do write the introduction first, you should still return to it later to make sure it lines up with what you ended up writing, and edit as necessary.
Step 4: Writing the body of the essay
The body of your essay is everything between the introduction and conclusion. It contains your arguments and the textual evidence that supports them.
A typical structure for a high school literary analysis essay consists of five paragraphs: the three paragraphs of the body, plus the introduction and conclusion.
Each paragraph in the main body should focus on one topic. In the five-paragraph model, try to divide your argument into three main areas of analysis, all linked to your thesis. Don’t try to include everything you can think of to say about the text-only analysis that drives your argument.
In longer essays, the same principle applies on a broader scale. For example, you might have two or three sections in your main body, each with multiple paragraphs. Within these sections, you still want to begin new paragraphs at logical moments – a turn in the argument or the introduction of a new idea.
To keep your points focused, it’s important to use a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph.
A good topic sentence allows a reader to see at a glance what the paragraph is about. It can introduce a new line of argument and connect or contrast it with the previous paragraph. Transition words like “however” or “moreover” are useful for creating smooth transitions:
…The story’s focus, therefore, is not upon the divine revelation that may be waiting beyond the door, but upon the mundane process of aging undergone by the man as he waits.
Nevertheless, the “radiance” that appears to stream from the door is typically treated as religious symbolism.
This topic sentence signals that the paragraph will address the question of religious symbolism, while the linking word “nevertheless” points out a contrast with the previous paragraph’s conclusion.
Step 5: Writing a conclusion
The conclusion of your analysis shouldn’t introduce any new quotations or arguments – instead, it’s about wrapping up the essay. Here, you summarize your key points and try to emphasize their significance to the reader.
A good way to approach this is to briefly summarize your key arguments, and then stress the conclusion they’ve led you to, highlighting the new perspective your thesis provides on the text as a whole.
Literary Analysis Essay Example: A Cop’s Life: How Sutton Changes ‘Cop Literature’
Within the line of duty, upstanding accomplishments are norm; even then, some officers manage to stand out for unparalleled excellence. Randy Sutton is a veteran of the Las Vegas Police Department, known nationally for his commentary on issues within or because of Law Enforcement policies.
He first served ten years as a part of the Princeton New Jersey Police Department before serving for twenty-three years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
At retirement, he was at the rank of Lieutenant within the LVMPD, one of the most sophisticated and highly decorated in the history of the department. His teachings on how to police with honor have led and inspired thousands of prospective Law Enforcement officials.
These lessons granted him the “Points of Light” award from the President of the United States. In his years, he has experienced all there is in the line of duty. All the frightening people, terrifying realities, and long, drunken nights amount into an autobiographical story of a frank cop.
He is now known for his shocking expository tale, A Cop’s Life: True Stories from the Heart Behind the Badge. In this narrative, Sutton delves beyond the surface of police works and exposes the darkest parts of society. He presents an honest, heartbreaking, and expository tale of the hardest job in the world.
After the horrors of September 11th, 2001, Sutton began to solicit writings from law enforcement officers across the country. He wanted to bridge the growing gap between enforcement and those they serve, providing a new, broad perspective of the inner perspective of police.
He gathered hundred of responses, editing them and adding his own perspective on law issues and traumas. A Cop’s Life is a powerful collection of anecdotes and situations relating to those on the front line.
Unlike many cop memoirs – which turn from heart-warming to amusing to general in a formulaic fashion – Sutton focuses on truth in his autobiographical tales. Able to relate to anyone’s moral compass, the story takes in more than just touching tales. It exposes the true humanity it takes to live with this job.
This book is the definition of gritty, episodically depicting both life as a New Jersey rookie and a veteran of Las Vegas – one of the most challenging cities in America for police. Sutton succeeds in connecting civilians with the true-life and true-crime aspects of police work.
A Cop’s Life covers so much more than the average reader – even prospective cop – could imagine. The stories have no clear delineation, and move about from positive to negative to everything in between. This story is not only the pain of dealing with domestic troubles influenced by bad areas.
This story is a midnight call shuttering through the mind, driving up to the house of a kind elderly woman, finding her beaten to death in bed by the three thugs laughing as they run. Shocking, unsettling, and leaves the reader questioning; where did humanity go wrong?
This is no cookie-cutter recipe of surprise as a criminal is still not taken down, despite best efforts. Instead, there is the story of a man outfitted in a Ninja costume, being filled up with a metal bullets, staring in disbelief as he stands and raises his own gun to meet you. A rush of not knowing what to do, having to problem solve within seconds of realization.
Even more surprisingly, A Cop’s Life doesn’t just outline the pain of seeing a family lost after a death. The reader is able to imagine the pride of the family, the student with shocking grades and a bright future, the sight of his body dangling from a wire, the confusion and pain in his family’s eyes.
Suicide isn’t the covering of a body with a white sheet, it isn’t turning away a crying mother from the body. It’s raw, just as Sutton depicts every tale. The baby doesn’t just pass in its sleep, leaving a future unrealized – no. It dies in the arms of a tired, broken police officer, wondering where the world went wrong.
What is possibly worst of all in the story, A Cop’s Life doesn’t show the generic, copy-and-paste ‘thank you’ montage from the people of a community. It shows both sides; those who hail Sutton as a hero, the protector of all, and those who see him as the devil, a proponent of racism and exclusion.
Not once do people perceive him for who he is, a man doing his job the best he can. The reality rarely dawns on the public, but Sutton ensures it dawns on the reader.
Overall, Sutton does well by his audience, evoking an accurate depiction of the pain, torment, and confusion that builds behind the force. He fleshes out twenty autobiographical sketches from working and retired cops to show the life of an average man on the line.
Avoiding classic cliches in literature of the sort is hard, but I admired how well he kept to the truth. The more hard-hitting scenes are his encounters with gang members, calls of suicides, and even burnt-out colleagues plans to pursue a different life.
Sutton uses personal experiences to create haunting depictions of a variety of unlikely characters. There is a boy who tries to protect his grandmother from thugs’ attacks, and a young girl who inspires Sutton to keep on the track of duty.
We get to peel back the curtain, see how he deals with the stress of trying to save and help those who refuse, resulting in an endless feeling of emptiness. He creates the feeling that many from combat do: long blank periods of boredom punctuated by shock and terror.
Even scenes that buy into the classic ‘pure cop’ motifs – such as the final, bright Christmas story – do not lose touch with the real life experiences that Sutton deals with first-hand. This is a deeply personal ordeal, something that cannot be supplemented with traditional memoirs.
Eerie and touching at the same time, “A Cop’s Life: True Stories from the Heart Behind the Badge” is one of the most shocking exposes of cop life in the history of literature.
Sutton’s attempt to bridge the gap between law enforcement and civilians succeeds in creating a shocking profile of the life and thoughts of those on the line of duty.
A Cop’s Life: True Stories from the Heart Behind the Badge is an poignant retelling of everyday life formed with anecdotes from the front line. He easily creates an all new mix of the true-life and true-crime aspects of police work.
This book shocks readers with the honesty, brevity, and emotion of the work as a whole. Anyone seeking a new way to understand exactly what happens behind the shocking experiences that cops have to face will be able to see the value of this work.
The depth and breadth of the story offer completely new ideas for how police work affects the human mind and just how difficult it can be to get up in the morning and put the suit back on. The strength, respect, and discipline it takes to perform in this line of duty is understated without the perspective of this hard-hitting memoir.