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Literary Analysis

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Literary Analysis Essay

1. Instructions: Analyze and interpret a thought-provoking theme, character, passage, or concept found in the literary piece you’re analyzing. Develop an argument/thesis. Be specific. Do not simply summarize or restate ideas covered in critical essays, discussions, or otherwise found elsewhere. Rather, use a unique framework for developing your own argument.

Be creative! Feel free to write an essay that complements or revises standard interpretations. Support your argument with relevant textual evidence (in the form of short quotes) from the essay. Additionally, incorporate outside research to address both your own claims and the possible counterarguments.

2. Mandatory requirements:

  1. Your paper must incorporate direct quotes from your chosen work of literature.
  2. Do not use block quotes and/or excessive summary.
  3. Please incorporate at least three outside sources. A minimum of one of these sources must be scholarly.
  4. Remember to write the paper and to summarize events using the present tense.
  5. The essay should be a minimum of 1250 words.

Additionally, here are some additional pointers that I think will lead to a stronger essay. Be sure  that your essay…

  • provides evidence to support your claim
  • refers to the author(s) and the work(s) in the opening sentences. Use the author’s full name the first time and the author’s last name in all further references in the essay. uses literary present tense to discuss events in the fiction, poetry, or drama.
  • uses strong verbs in the thesis statement and throughout the essay: demonstrates, uses, develops, underscores, accomplishes, strengthens, illustrates, shows, reveals, serves, emphasizes, identifies, suggests, implies, etc.
  • does more than simply summarize the work

3. Formatting and content guidelines

Format: MLA [consult online reference or class notes] including:

Margins: One inch on all sides, left justified

Spacing: Double-spaced, with no spaces between paragraphs

Page Numbering: Upper right corner: last name plus page number

Identification (Top left of first page only):


Professor Name

Course Name and Section

Date Submitted

Title: Centered, first letters of main words capitalized; do not underline, bold face, italicize, or put title in quotes. You MUST have an original title – do not simply title the paper “Literary Analysis.” [Body of essay commences directly below title]

Font: 12-point, Times New Roman, including title

4. Papers with the following issues will be considered incomplete and will have their grade affected:

  1. Failure to submit a rough draft. If I don’t receive an on-time rough draft, I will deduct 20% from your grade for the final draft.
  2. Final draft does not meet the length requirement. If the paper does not meet the required word count, points will be deducted. Generally, 10% of the grade is deducted for every 10% of the content missing.
  3. Any portion of the essay is verified as plagiarized. In the event that I find any portion of your essay is plagiarized, you will be provided with proof. This will result in a 0% for the assignment. Please note, this is grounds for course failure. If in doubt, ask beforehand.

5. Submission Essays must be submitted electronically via Canvas. I will not accept essays sent through email.

6. Essays will be graded in reference to the following criteria:

  • A clear and controlling overall idea and specific thesis is present
  • Sufficient evidence via supporting details is present
  • Effective organization of material, with transitions as needed
  • Proper grammar and style (sentence skills), correct spelling and word usage, and appropriate vocabulary
  • Proper use of the MLA, format throughout: see above
  • Thoroughness of analysis and in following directions.


• Refer to this very reputable online resource: The OWL (Online Writing Lab) at Purdue: “Writing in Literature: An Overview.” This overview page includes links to pages that discuss how to write a thesis, how to read a poem, how to read a novel or short story, and how to read a play, among other topics.

• Ask a Writing Lab tutor to review drafts of your thesis statement for strength and coherence.

Some Useful Information: Literature is classified in categories, or genres, which have sub- classifications or forms of their own. Being familiar with the characteristics of the genre in which the work is classified will provide context for your analysis of that work. In the list below, which is not exhaustive, are common forms of literature with the genres they represent.

Fiction: myths, parables, short stories, novels (picaresque, romance, historical, gothic, science fiction, mystery, modernist)

Poetry: sonnets, ballads, epics, limericks, elegies, free verse, odes, lyrics, tercets, villanelles

Nonfiction (sometimes called creative nonfiction): slave narratives, personal essays, memoirs, biographies, travel writing

Drama: tragedies, comedies, theatre of the absurd

Once you decide what work you will analyze, you will begin the analysis of the work and do any research required. As you think about your topic, be sure to construct a thesis that will guide your analysis as well as serve to focus and organize your essay. A good thesis is specific, limited in scope and offers a perspective or interpretation on a subject. A literary thesis should be clear and focused, setting up an argument that the essay will support with discussion and details from the work.


Remember, the essay must have a clear thesis statement in its initial paragraph. This thesis statement should express an arguable proposition. For example…

Weak: “Oedipus Rex is a work filled with irony.”

Yes, indeed. However, there is not much debate possible here. It states the obvious in a vague fashion. This is not a passable thesis statement.

Strong: “Sophocles uses irony in Oedipus Rex to serve the larger message of the play: Fate is inescapable, and there is ultimately no free will.”

This is much more substantial. There is original analysis present here, with a clearly stated thesis that makes the reader wonder how you will prove this stance.

A thesis in a literary analysis or literary research paper can take many forms. When given an assignment to analyze a work of fiction, poetry, or drama, you must first determine the requirements of the assignment. Make sure that you understand the nature of the assignment and that you follow the instructions of your professor.

SAMPLE THESIS STATEMENTS These sample thesis statements are provided as guides, not as required forms or prescriptions.

#1 The thesis may focus on an analysis of one of the elements of fiction, drama, poetry or nonfiction as expressed in the work: character, plot, structure, idea, theme, symbol, style, imagery, tone, etc. Example: In “A Worn Path,” Eudora Welty creates a fictional character in Phoenix Jackson whose determination, faith, and cunning illustrate the indomitable human spirit.

Note that the work, author, and character to be analyzed are identified in this thesis statement. The thesis relies on a strong verb (creates). It also identifies the element of fiction that the writer will explore (character) and the characteristics the writer will analyze and discuss (determination, faith, cunning).

Further Examples: The character of the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet serves as a foil to young Juliet, delights us with her warmth and earthy wit, and helps realize the tragic catastrophe. The works of ecstatic love poets Rumi, Hafiz, and Kabir use symbols such as a lover’s longing and the Tavern of Ruin to illustrate the human soul’s desire to connect with God.

#2 The thesis may focus on illustrating how a work reflects the particular genre’s forms, the characteristics of a philosophy of literature, or the ideas of a particular school of thought. Example: “The Third and Final Continent” exhibits characteristics recurrent in writings by immigrants: tradition, adaptation, and identity.

Note how the thesis statement classifies the form of the work (writings by immigrants) and identifies the characteristics of that form of writing (tradition, adaptation, and identity) that the essay will discuss.

Further examples: Samuel Beckett’s Endgame reflects characteristics of Theatre of the Absurd in its minimalist stage setting, its seemingly meaningless dialogue, and its apocalyptic or nihilist vision. A close look at many details in “The Story of an Hour” reveals how language, institutions, and expected demeanor suppress the natural desires and aspirations of women.

#3 The thesis may draw parallels between some element in the work and real-life situations or subject matter: historical events, the author’s life, medical diagnoses, etc. Example: In Willa Cather’s short story, “Paul’s Case,” Paul exhibits suicidal behavior that a caring adult might have recognized and remedied had that adult had the scientific knowledge we have today. This thesis suggests that the essay will identify characteristics of suicide that Paul exhibits in the story. The writer will have to research medical and psychology texts to determine the typical characteristics of suicidal behavior and to illustrate how Paul’s behavior mirrors those characteristics.

Further Examples: Through the experience of one man, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, accurately depicts the historical record of slave life in its descriptions of the often brutal and quixotic relationship between master and slave and of the fragmentation of slave families. In “I Stand Here Ironing,” one can draw parallels between the narrator’s situation and the author’s life experiences as a mother, writer, and feminist.


1. In (title of work), (author) (illustrates, shows) (aspect) (adjective). Example: In “Barn Burning,” William Faulkner shows the characters Sardie and Abner Snopes struggling for their identity.

2. In (title of work), (author) uses (one aspect) to (define, strengthen, illustrate) the (element of work). Example: In “Youth,” Joseph Conrad uses foreshadowing to strengthen the plot.

3. In (title of work), (author) uses (an important part of work) as a unifying device for (one element), (another element), and (another element). NOTE: The number of elements can vary from one to four. Example: In “Youth,” Joseph Conrad uses the sea as a unifying device for setting, structure and theme.

4. (Author) develops the character of (character’s name) in (literary work) through what he/she does, what he/she says, what other people say to or about him/her. Example: Langston Hughes develops the character of Semple in “Ways and Means”…

5. In (title of work), (author) uses (literary device) to (accomplish, develop, illustrate, strengthen) (element of work). Example: In “The Masque of the Red Death,” Poe uses the symbolism of the stranger, the clock, and the seventh room to develop the theme of death.

6. (Author) (shows, develops, illustrates) the theme of __________ in the (play, poem, story). Example: Flannery O’Connor illustrates the theme of the effect of the selfishness of the grandmother upon the family in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

7. (Author) develops his character(s) in (title of work) through his/her use of language. Example: John Updike develops his characters in “A & P” through his use of figurative language. Learning and Tutoring Center, Summer 2011 Page 4 of 4



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