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What Does Literary Analysis Mean?

A literary analysis essay explores themes by making use of various parts of a piece of text, whether fiction or non-fiction. This entails assessing characters, plots, settings, stylistic devices used and other techniques used by the author to translate meaning. This kind of paper seeks to answer why a novel, short story, essay, or play was written.

With this type of essay, it is important to consider why the author may have used the various devices. This means you have to go through close reading, which simply implies a deep analysis of the text. It entails going through the entire text and analyzing the choices of the author. When reading through the piece of text, you should ask yourself questions about everything. Why does the writer use this instead of that? Remember that the literary analysis is your own analysis of the text.

For your analysis, consider the following:

  • Allegory: In this type narrative form, the writer may intend to portray certain themes and human traits through characters. These may include greed, patience, pride etc. The book Animal Farm is a perfect example of how the writer uses allegory in the form of animal characters to represent real-life human elements.
  • Characters: There are various categorizations of typescripts representing places, objects, human activities or other work functions. These may include;
    • Protagonists, who the story revolves around.
    • Antagonists, who oppose the protagonists or represent a different value system.
    • Minor characters who work to amplify either the protagonist or antagonist.
    • Static and dynamic characters, unchanging and changing respectively in the plot.
    • Characterization, which reveals different elements about a character such as their appearance, personality, motivations, actions and dialogue.
  • Connotations and denotations: This refers to the implied meaning of a word or statement, and they may change over time in the text. The latter refers to the dictionary definition of a word.
  • Diction: Refers to choice of words that conveys the intended meaning in its pronunciation, rhythm, syllable, letters, etc.
  • Figurative speech: These are words that go beyond the literal or superficial meaning, and they may include metaphors, similes, hyperboles and personification.
  • Imagery: This is the use of vivid detail by the author to create a mental picture in the mind of the reader, and is used to create sensory responses, both mental, emotional and physical.
  • Plot: This is the arrangement of events, incidents and ideas to convey the rest of the meaning and effectively channel the story. It might include the following aspects:
    • Suspense: This is when the author creates tension or a feeling of discomfort by giving little to no information.
    • Exposition: The author provides background information about the characters, setting, plot etc.
    • Foreshadowing: The author clues the reader about what might happen in the story, either explicitly or obviously.
    • Rising action: The process of the literary build up.
    • Denouement: The way the story turns out.
  • Symbolism: Where an object is meant to be representative of something greater than the object itself.
  • Tone: The voice that the writing takes, and usually implies the author’s attitude towards the subject.
  • Structure: The way the author arranges the literary piece.
  • Point of view: This establishes the author’s intentions, and pertains to how the story is told and who tells it.

There are other literary elements that may be used depending on whether the author is writing a poem, an essay, a novel or non-fictional works such as biographies. For example, for a poem, a foot represents a group of stressed or unstressed syllables used in a line or poem. A meter may also measure the structure of the rhythm.

There are various other elements that pertain to literary analysis and depend on the type of work you are analyzing. It is important to familiarize yourself with other pieces of work similar to what you want to analyze and check what elements you might need to think about.

Tackling the Literary Analysis Essay

Analyzing the text literally means putting all the components employed by the author under scrutiny to see how the overall outcome was effected. You have to think about what the author’s intentions were in each component employed and also place individual items in the overall context of the text.

The writer will always have a thematic statement that guides their writing. This thematic statement is in turn divided into several parts. The Who, What, How and Why of each method employed will serve to build up your entire analysis. The Why is the answer to the thematic statement, and is the reason why the author used a certain method or overall reason why the literary piece was written.

The essay prompt may ask you to focus on a specific device used or it may require you to explore the entire writing technique employed by the author. Essay prompts vary and it is important to fully understand what is being asked of you. The prompt may read something like:

“How does the author use imagery to highlight various human values in Animal Farm?”

This prompt requires that you have a good idea of the book the Animal Farm and first acknowledge that imagery has been used in the text, and look at each or the most important values and instances to be represented by imagery.

Before you begin any writing, it is important to read the entire book and make notes of the recurring values that you are being asked to explore. It seldom happens that you need to explore all the devices used especially for a large body of text. This however depends on the prompt provided.

Once you have understood what the question requires of you, start reading the text and make notes. You should be able to understand how the use of the device that the essay asks you to explore contributes to the development of the entire text. This is where the thesis comes in.

Your thesis statement is the How and Why of your analysis. It is what you explore with your own arguments and claims and seek to convince the reader about. A thesis statement usually appears at the end of the introductory paragraph, and will aim to tell your reader what main points you will consider as your arguments, what the significance and effect of these arguments might be, and what the outcome of these arguments might be in the global perspective of the entire text. As is often the case, the thesis statement will evolve as you work on the paper, and you may find yourself refining it several times over.

Like any other essay, the introduction should always catch the attention of the reader immediately. This leads to the development of the hook, which is your catchy statement that holds relevance to the thesis and yet draws the reader in. Your hook can employ a stylistic device employed in the text you are analyzing itself, or you can choose to employ your own devices based on the outcome that your desire. This may include humor, satire, irony, dialogue, anecdotes. The hook may be the very first statement of the introduction.

The main body consists of your arguments and counterarguments. Each argument should be concise and should clearly address how the use of the selected device contributes to the overall thesis statement or question that you’re considering. Well-crafted analyses will include backing of the arguments through sources and also incorporate both dialogue and quotations. Each argument should transition flawlessly into the next until the main body satisfactorily backs the thesis statement or the main point that you were trying to argue. For your arguments to hold water, it is crucial that you make actual references to the specific scenarios where the various devices were used in the text.

The conclusion should restate the thesis statement and succinctly summarize any main points brought out by your arguments. How do the ideas and arguments that you have presented crystallize into the theme? In this section, you can also provide a very brief critique of the author’s methods and their effectiveness.

Points to Remember During Literary Analysis

It is important to back any argument with evidence. If you are to give an analysis of the device used, it’s crucial that you present evidence of this usage and how this affects the overall theme. Reading through the entire text will give you a blatant idea of what the author is trying to achieve and what devices are being used to this end.

Your arguments shouldn’t be biased, meaning cherry picking isn’t allowed. Analyze the whole body of the text to come to a conclusive judgement about the overall intentions of the author, not just in one specific section. Avoiding elements which don’t fit into your own thesis or interpretation of the text shows a lack of critical thinking and analytical ability.

Consider referring to other sources (secondary) that have analyzed the same text. Compare them to your own analogy.

Finally, edit/proofread your presentation to ensure logic and clarity.

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