Much of the writing you will do in this class will be analysis of literature, or what is called literary analysis. The purpose of this page is to teach you the basic elements of a good literary analysis. You should refer often to the material here to reinforce what we learn in class and to continue to improve your writing over the year. Specifically, you will be writing literary analysis for the following:
- Blog posts for independent reading
- Paragraphs and essays assigned for a story or a novel we read
What is Literary Analysis?
As we learned earlier this week, an analysis is when we take something apart to look closely at the parts of the whole in order to understand how those parts relate to or function in the whole. So a literary analysis is when we look at parts of a piece of literature, focusing specifically on literary devices such as the setting, the characters, a particular point of view, imagery, etc. to see how they function in the whole story, especially as these devices help the author reveal his or her theme to us.
Where do your ideas about a work of fiction come from?
- You have learned some literary devices and can now begin to see them as they exist in what you read. Maybe you never thought about the fact that Cinderella is told in third person omniscient point of view. What would change in the story if Cinderella told her own story? Before you can think about literary devices, you have to know what they are.
- You have learned more about what it means to infer an idea from the details in a story. We can infer that no matter how sweet and dutiful Cinderella is her stepmother is not going to be kind to her. We can support that inference with facts from the story.
- You are also becoming better readers. Many of you are reading books and stories that really get you to think. Your ideas come from your immersion in a story’s world. If you can put yourself into a story along side a character, you cannot help but relate. When we are able to put ourselves in another’s place, we call this empathy. When we read empathetically, it is easier to respond to what we are reading
How to Write a Literary Analysis
When we write about our ideas, we must first state a thesis.
- A thesis is a statement that tells our reader what we believe is true. For example, we can turn our inference from number two above into a thesis: Ex: Cinderella’s stepmother is a cruel woman who is not kind to her, no matter how sweet and kind she may be.
- A good thesis combines a topic with your opinion. Your thesis must be arguable. That means that your statement is open to diverse opinions, and someone else might disagree with you. Even if most people will agree with you, there needs to be an opinion in the statement.
- The thesis guides your paragraph or your essay. You write to prove your thesis.
To prove your thesis, you have to give evidence, just as a lawyer in court would if she’s trying to prove her client is innocent. For a literary analysis, your evidence comes mostly from the story or the book you are writing about.
Two Types of Evidence:
1: Direct Evidence/Quoting the text
- Full quotation: Use an entire sentence or group of sentences, but use only what you need to prove your point. Sometimes you need to modify a full quotation to fit your sentence, which means leaving out a word or two. You will mostly use partial quotations. See an example in the sample paragraph below.
- Partial quotation: Use a phrase or clause, not an entire sentence. See an example in the sample paragraph below.
2: Indirect Evidence
- Paraphrase: Put the main idea into your own words. See an example in the sample paragraph below.
Writing an Essay Instead of a Paragraph
When your analysis is longer than a paragraph, you will create supporting claims. These claims are your main points or your main reasons that your thesis is true. You should have only one claim per paragraph. The number of paragraphs will vary, depending on your goals.
An essay also requires an introduction. An introduction should get your reader’s attention, give sufficient background information if the reader will need it, and presents your thesis to the reader.
Finally, an essay requires a conclusion, which brings your ideas to a satisfactory end. There are various options for conclusions:
- Extend your ideas to the “what if” realm, suggesting what would be good or best overall.
- Restate your main point
- Include your personal insight
An important part of your analysis is explaining what you mean. You state a claim (say what you think/your opinion), give evidence from the text (your proof/how you know what you know), and explain your reasoning. It is your job to make your thinking clear to your reader.
Your evidence cannot stand alone. In other words, you cannot “plop” in a phrase from a book and expect it to explain itself.
Using Evidence from a Text
The “tricky” part to a literary analysis is weaving your evidence into your writing. But once you learn a few “rules,” this will not be hard at all.
- Set up any evidence by introducing it. Give the reader whatever context information is necessary, such as who said it, when, and why.
- A summary of the story or a passage is not evidence. Do not summarize or retell what happens.
- Never end a paragraph with a quotation. Always end in your own words.
- The majority of your paragraph or essay must be your writing/your words. Use evidence to prove your claims, but do not overdo it. A good ratio is 2/3 (your own writing) to 1/3 (borrowed). Remember, use only what you need when you include evidence from the text.
- When you weave in a quotation or a paraphrase, the sentence you end up with must be a complete, grammatically correct sentence.
- When you use quotation marks to set off text, periods or commas go inside. When you show what page the evidence came from, put only the number of the page in parentheses. The period for the sentence goes after the parentheses. You should always use page numbers when they are available to you. Even if you paraphrase the text, you still give page numbers.
▪ Example for quotation: The author writes “idea goes here” (245).
▪ Example for paraphrase: The author says that the idea goes here (245).
Sample Literary Analysis Paragraph on The Lottery (opens in another window)
Another Sample Paragraph Showing Component Parts
|Cinderella’s stepmother is a cruel woman who is not kind to her, no matter how sweet and kind Cinderella may be. In fact, it is Cinderella’s sweet nature and beauty that make things worse for her.1 Perrault explains2 that the stepmother “could not bear the good qualities of this pretty girl, and the less because they made her own daughters appear the more odious.3” The stepmother is clearly jealous of Cinderella4. Her own daughters are not beautiful, even though they are “dressed richly5,” but when compared with Cinderella, they are ugly4. The stepmother’s jealousy turns to cruelty when she makes Cinderella wear “coarse apparel5,” but what’s worse is that she makes Cinderella do all the hard work and act as a servant to the stepsisters6. It is unfair how the stepmother gives everything good7, like fine rooms, to her own daughters6, while Cinderella “[sleeps]8 in a sorry garret, on a wretched straw bed.” Not even Cinderella’s father has the power to save his daughter from her dismal existence. Cinderella’s patience in spite of all her mistreatment is amazing, and when her fairy godmother blesses her eventually, we9 cannot help but cheer for the underdog who deserves all she gets10.||
Other Things You Need to Know
When you write about literature, you use literary present tense. Characters in stories and books are living in the present action of their fictional world. You treat them as if they exist now, not in the past. Cinderella is not was.
- You should write primarily in third person, because it’s a more authoritative voice (sounds more “in charge”), but you can also use first person when needed. If you are relating a personal experience, you have to use first person. You may also use what is called “universal first person,” where you place yourself in a larger group, like all people in society or people of all time.
- You need to show where you got your information from. Generally, you will cite only one text. Use MLA style to cite the story or book. This is the model for citing a book by one author:
Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Medium of Publication.
Notes on citation style:
Italicize the title. This is probably different from what you’ve learned. The main reason for the change for us is that we are publishing online and underline online means hyperlink. Medium of publication is also a new thing, due to the fact that you can read a book in various ways. Most of you will put “print” for your medium of publication, but some of you will put “e-reader.” Ask for help if you need it. Finally, a citation like this uses what’s called hanging indent, which is a reverse indentation style.
excerpt from Cinderella
Charles Perrault version
Once there was a gentleman who married, for his second wife, the proudest and most haughty woman that was ever seen. She had, by a former husband, two daughters of her own, who were, indeed, exactly like her in all things. He had likewise, by another wife, a young daughter, but of unparalleled goodness and sweetness of temper, which she took from her mother, who was the best creature in the world.
No sooner were the ceremonies of the wedding over but the stepmother began to show herself in her true colors. She could not bear the good qualities of this pretty girl, and the less because they made her own daughters appear the more odious. She employed her in the meanest work of the house. She scoured the dishes, tables, etc., and cleaned madam’s chamber, and those of misses, her daughters. She slept in a sorry garret, on a wretched straw bed, while her sisters slept in fine rooms, with floors all inlaid, on beds of the very newest fashion, and where they had looking glasses so large that they could see themselves at their full length from head to foot.
The poor girl bore it all patiently, and dared not tell her father, who would have scolded her; for his wife governed him entirely. When she had done her work, she used to go to the chimney corner, and sit down there in the cinders and ashes, which caused her to be called Cinderwench. Only the younger sister, who was not so rude and uncivil as the older one, called her Cinderella. However, Cinderella, notwithstanding her coarse apparel, was a hundred times more beautiful than her sisters, although they were always dressed very richly.
For the rest of the story go to <http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0510a.html#perrault>
For a cool annotated version go to <http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/cinderella/index.htm>