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How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

As a freshman in college, not all assignments are as clear as they sound. Throughout this article, we will examine and understand how to conduct an effective literary analysis by breaking down the subject into its relevant elements.


What is a Literary Analysis Essay?

At one point or another, we have all faced this question. Regardless of what stage in one’s education that it pops up tackling a literary analysis essay entails the same process. What does tend to differ, however, is the degree of depth that is needed as well as the available topics, if any. Bear in mind that each lecturer might have added their own twist to the assignment itself. Nonetheless, the purpose of the task is to examine an element or more in one or multiple works of literature. Thus, one can say that tackling this paper is in a sense a scholarly evaluation of a particular work of literature having the root of its investigation stemming from the various perspectives of the text.

If you have been wondering how to write a literary analysis essay step by step, then look no further. This article has been designed to help students face any academic challenge at all levels.

Some of the most common topics

The list we have gathered for you below is just an example of how popular this type of assignment is throughout academia. In fact, there is really no limit to the number of subjects that one can choose from in a literary analysis paper. However, keep in mind that it is best to select a topic that sparks your interest as it will make examining it so much easier:

  • Love, Friendship, Death and War in Literature
  • Depiction of Gender Roles
  • Significant events in Politics
  • Reasons why possession of firearms should be illegal
  • Movie Review of Harry Potter [ or any famous film that also has a book counterpart]
  • Cultural Expression Through Literature
  • The impact of sex in literature

In most cases, students are free to choose their themes or literary works according to personal preference. Nonetheless, if you have been given out a list of selected topics by the lecture to choose from try to pick one that you have some knowledge on or something that has a lot of easily accessible information.

Why is Literary Analysis so Important?

Before jotting down all the thoughts and ideas for the piece, it is crucial to understand that while conducting literary analysis one is not composing a summary. This differentiation is key in starting to break down the various elements of the given assignment. When we are performing a review, we are just restating the events that happened, in our case, the literary analysis essay will require us to explain in depth how these events came to be according to the various interpretations of the text. The best way to get started is by getting yourself acquainted with the following terminology:

Get to Know The Elements of the Text

  • The Plot
  • Does the chronological chain of events play a part in our literary interpretation or analysis?
  • Do these incidents support the initial assumption of the analysis?
  • Would our understanding of each scene change after having read the literary piece multiple times?
  • Characters
  • Are the names of the characters symbolic of some particular literary theme?
  • Do we find it easy to relate to them and their struggles? If not, why so?
  • Is there sufficient information on their backgrounds, beliefs, actions, reactions, appearances, etc. for us to perform a successful analysis?
  • Do these characters reflect the author’s religion, culture, gender, ethnicity, race through their literary depiction? Was this done on purpose? character analysis checklist for literary analysis essay

  • Conflict
  • Is the protagonist and antagonist of the story defined from the start? Is this relevant to our analysis?
  • Are we meant to assess the conflict amongst characters or also their internal conflicts when faced with life-changing decisions or situations in this literary piece?
  • Is this element used as a means for the author to express their views on the current situation of the world?
  • Does the supernatural play a significant role in the resolution of conflict? Why?
  • Setting
  • Does the place where all the action happens carry the same literary significance to the plot as the characters performing the actions in our analysis?
  • Is the era the book is set in play a part in how we interpret the characters and their supposed roles?
  • Was the setting of our analysis setup in a particular way as to enforce a literary motif or literary theme?

Explain the Literary Devices Used

a funny illustration to literary devices

  • Symbolism
  • Are the elements highlighted in the text and our analysis essay used as a means to challenge our understanding of traditional gender roles?
  • Are the religious motifs clearly defined for us or is it something we must look for purposefully?
  • Does the author use the setting, characters or mother nature as their main conductor to express their personal beliefs on the subject?
  • Can we verify these assumptions with academic experts?
  • Thematic Imagery
  • Does the author express his opinion on a particular topic using repetitive imagery and motifs? Why is he/she trying to draw our attention to it?
  • Are colors relevant to our analysis of the events?
  • Do the incidents depict religious or global conflicts that changed the fate of humanity?
  • Metaphors, Foreshadowing, Motifs, Allegories
  • Do we get the same sensation as when watching a movie, where we know something is going to happen( good or bad) to the characters involved?
  • Can we predict what is going to happen quickly? Or is it always a surprise?
  • Is it easy to break through the ice and understand the hidden message left to us by the author?
  • Does the literary analysis require us to have a strong understanding of their previous work in order to see the connections?
  • Point of View [ Who is telling us the story and why?]
  • Who is telling us the story? Why is it relevant?
  • Does the change in story-teller impact the flow of the plot? Is it done on purpose?
  • Is this change in the tone meant to be symbolic of good and evil (the duality of human existence)?

Don’t Forget to P.E.E.

screenshot from a cartoon As entertaining as it might sound, it is vital when tackling any topic for this assignment to Point, Explain and Evaluate. These three factors help the essay writer point out a reoccurring motif in the text, explain why it is relevant to us, and the author then evaluates its impact on our interpretation of the piece. Remember that everyone can have their own unique interpretation while presenting their literary analysis essay. However, it is vital to have solid arguments and reasoning while describing it. The most common way to do so is by using direct quotes from the text itself that illustrate this particular point of view.

How to Structure a Literary Analysis Essay

As with most academic assignments, the basic outline entails that there should be a comprehensive title, introduction, main body and lastly a well-tailored conclusion. However, before setting sail, it is important to be aware and understand the background of your target audience. Below we will highlight the elements that should be present and help define each section individually from the other.


One of the most underrated components of any essay is knowing the audience. What proves this to be true is that when writing a paper that is to be written by your fellow peers the tone, terminology, and information being distributed is entirely different than if it was designated for a first-time reader. Knowing the target audience from the start has a significant impact on how the points will be structured and presented throughout the assignment. Keep this in mind when tackling any literary analysis essay.


Think of the title as the cover page of the book. It is pleasant when we are greeted by something that captures our attention and makes us curious. Try to be concise but also creative at the same time since the title will give the reader the first impression about what they are about to explore in the essay. The title itself should not give away the conclusion, but it should entice the audience to find that out.


This section serves as the means used to lay the groundwork for the thesis of the paper. Introducing a catchy hook can work wonders here because it will subconsciously confirm the audience’s instinct to continue reading the essay. After grabbing the reader’s attention, the objective is to develop and elaborate the idea as vivid as possible. At this level, artistic tools like imagery, irony or the central theme itself should be employed to present the perspective from which the literary analysis paper will be assessed.

Many scholars throughout time have developed various methods to achieve this. Some have chosen to do so either by posting a brief question, writing a startling statement or opening with a relevant anecdote. No matter what style fits the literary essay best the goal is to create a lasting impression. For example in the case of a newspaper article clipping will read: Will Floyd Mayweather step in the boxing ring ever again? McGregor begs to differ. Not only does the title capture what the article is about, but it also invokes a deep desire to read the entire article to find out if what is being said can bring back a legend of boxing back into the fighting ring.

The body

What this section represents can be considered as the bread and butter of the literary analysis essay. These body paragraphs serve as the supporting pylons of the piece. Here one should not only explore but also explain the various literary devices and elements that are relevant to their analysis allowing the reader to follow their thought process logically. Make use of a standard paragraph structure in which each section will detail a particular element or literary device. It is best to organize them in order of importance or relevance to the requirements of the task. Overall this is where it is most common to Point, Explain and Evaluate as previously mentioned in this article.

In most cases, many students should remember that despite all the heavy duty lifting in this part of the paper, one should still look to create some form of suspense to continue enticing their audience. The reason for doing so is that lectures always have to grade a large number of literary analysis papers. Thus it is best to make yours stand out by making it a good reading experience.

Literary Analysis Essay Conclusion

Having reached the final paragraph of the assignment, it is time to consider how you would like to end the piece. Some can say that through this literary analysis essay they have gained a new perspective on the text, maintain status quo or discover that it is quite the contrary of their initial assumptions. In most cases, the most conventional way to end is to summarize all the facts and agree with the main thesis of the given assignment. However, it is best to include the impact this essay had on you without adding any new analytical information into the conversation. With that in mind, it is indicated to have a clear idea of the final impression you would like to leave on the audience.

Still Can’t Figure Out How To Write a Literary Analysis Essay?

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