A Writer’s Strategies Literary Analysis Essays: An Overview
Before you write • You must have a solid understanding of the text (novel, drama, short story, poem). • It is not possible to write an effective literary analysis on a work you do not comprehend.
What is a literary analysis essay? • A literary analysis presents your thoughtful interpretation or understanding of a literary work.
Where to start? • Read through the possible topics. • Mark those that appeal to you. • Which among the topics do you have insights and interpretations to share with readers?
Finding your Focus • After you decide on your topic… • State a possible focus for your analysis-a sentence or two expressing the main arguable point you want to emphasize in your writing.
An effective literary analysis essay… • Opens with a striking quotation, anecdote, sophisticated question, or personal comment that is related to the topic you will discuss. • These are strategies for “hooking the reader.”
For example: On forgiveness, Maya Angelou once said, “I don’t know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes--it is inevitable.” (Begin essay on John Proctor and self-forgiveness)
An effective essay: • Provides necessary background information on the work being studied. • Author • Title (properly punctuated!) • Just enough summary to launch into your arguable interpretation. • Summary should be quite limited.
An effective essay: • States the thesis (your arguable interpretation) concisely and directly. • The thesis is focused on addressing the prompt.
Getting to Thesis: • Let’s say my essay is going to be a character analysis on Giles Corey. • I would first go back to the drama and carefully look at every scene he is in, everything he says and everything that is said about him. His actions, his motivation. His strengths, his flaws.
Getting to Thesis: • Consider: what internal conflicts make life difficult for him? • Consider: does he change over the course of the play? • Consider: How does my impression of him change? • Consider: What can we learn from Giles Corey?
Develop a working thesis: • Something about breaking charity with our own loved ones, but finding courage and redemption… • Perhaps something about rewriting our own legacy by ultimately doing what’s difficult but right.
Thesis tips: • Why must a thesis be arguable with something to prove? • If it isn’t--the essay has no purpose. Giles Corey is an old man. Giles Corey gets his wife in trouble. Would anyone disagree? No.
Thesis tips: • An effective thesis is arguable, but is also supportable with evidence from the story. Giles Corey’s actions are motivated by his guilt over having a homo-erotic attraction toward Reverend Parris; he accuses his own wife to be rid of her. Interesting…but…WRONG!!
An effective essay: • Provides supporting evidence from the text for each main idea. • Topic sentence (with transition if needed). • Reference to text demonstrating the point (brief summary, direct quote).
An effective essay: • Provides commentary and analysis after each supporting detail.
Tips for writing commentary: • Consider the following questions as you look at your evidence: • Why is this example particularly fitting? • What does this example reveal about your topic? • How does this example prove or illustrate the main idea of your paragraph? • How does this example prove your thesis? • How does this example relate to other examples that you have already discussed, or plan to discuss, late in your paper?
An effective essay: • Follows a clear and consistent pattern of organization. • Introduction leads to directly stated, arguable thesis. • Body paragraphs focus on one controlling idea that works to provide evidence for why your interpretation is true. • Provides transitions from one idea to the next.
An effective essay: • Provides a memorable conclusion: • Frame-up: picks up the quote, allusion, anecdote, fact mentioned in the introduction. • Ties all important point together and makes a final statement about the main focus of your analysis.
Last tips to remember: • It is ineffective for you to retell the story. That is a summary, not literary analysis. • It is ineffective for you to provide more quoted material than commentary and analysis. Your thoughts and ideas drive the essay, not your evidence. • When analyzing any work of art, literature, or article, use the present tense.
Last tips to remember: • When adding quotes to your essay, always use a signal phrase. • An exacerbated John Proctor intones, “God is dead.”
Last tips to remember: • Whenever you quote material, make sure you have quoted accurately. • Spell all characters’ names correctly. • Give your essay a fitting and interesting title. • Follow the expectations of MLA format.