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What a Literary Analysis Essay Should Include

A literary analysis essay can be a very challenging and intimidating type of essay for students who are not used to writing them, but if done correctly it can actually be a lot of fun. Once you start examining a work of literature closely, you start to notice hidden patterns and meanings. It’s almost like being a detective, except that there’s no one way to “solve” the case. Everything depends on your ability to read carefully (“between the lines”, so to speak), come up with a compelling thesis, and provide evidence from the text to support your claim.

A literary analysis should focus on one particular aspect of the essay to examine, and show how it works within the context of the whole. There’s almost no end to what you can choose to look at, so pick something that interests you and be creative. You may look at some formal quality, the rhyme scheme or meter of a poem for instance, and demonstrate how it is integral to the meaning of the work. You can break down a particular scene in a short story or novel and show how it illustrates a theme in the work. Often a good strategy is to focus on a very specific detail, such as a single word that is used in several key places. The important thing is to read carefully, which almost always means reading more than once. Train yourself to notice patterns and ask questions.

There are two basic parts to a literary analysis essay:

  1. A thesis: the fruit of your painstaking textual research should be a definite, specific claim that is expressed in clearly and concisely as possible. A good thesis needs to be debatable. Your thesis should be at the end of your first paragraph, after you have introduced the text in general. You should also restate your thesis at the end of your paper.
  2. Textual evidence which supports the thesis. The body of your essay will provide the evidence which proves your claim. This could consist of direct quotations from the text, paraphrases, or summaries. A separate paragraph should be devoted to analyzing each piece of evidence.   Before you write your paper, organize your main points in an outline. Make sure the ideas are introduced in a logical order, so that it flows smoothly from one paragraph to the next.