Learning How to Write a Great Literary Analysis Essay in Simple Steps?

Posted on: 14th April 2020

Are you struggling with your literary analysis essay assignment? Well, maybe you aren’t having difficulties but could use some insights on how to write a literary analysis that will move your literature professor into giving you an A+ grade. Whichever the case, you’ll be glad that you winded up on our blog.

A literary analysis essay, unlike casual reading, is reviewing a piece of literature with purpose. In this case, you don’t just read for leisure, inspiration, or learning; you do it keenly, hoping to understand how an author conveys his main themes. 

Luckily, analyzing a literary work is a skill you can hone, and a process you can perfect. As you continue practicing this form of writing, you’ll eventually develop an approach that’ll work best for you. In the meantime, we’ve compiled an all-inclusive guide that’ll help you compose a literary analysis essay that’ll have all your classmates talking. 

Want the essay done immediately? Seek essay writing help from our custom writing experts. You can also check out a literary analysis essay example in our collection of college essays for a better understanding. 

What Is a Literary Analysis Essay?

A literary analysis essay is a piece of writing that requires a student to examine a given work of literature critically. As you can gather from the word analysis, the article requires you to break down the subject into its various components. 

Analyzing the various components of a literary work is a process that helps you appreciate and gain a deeper understanding of the literature piece holistically. 

For instance, a literary analysis of a poem might require you to investigate the various forms of imagery applied or the link between the poem’s content and the type of the works used. On the flip side, when analyzing a play, you may be required to explain the relationship between the main plot and the subplot. You can also analyze a character flaw of one of the protagonists by outlining how it is demonstrated throughout the play. 

You may find analyzing a short story or a novel more interesting, considering that you’ve got much more to work with. For instance, you may choose to discuss a given theme (such as a character’s inability to forge real relationships after a troublesome childhood.) Eventually, you can trace how the author demonstrates that theme, based on the course of the story. 

Literary Analysis Essay Definition

In case you were concerned with the literal definition of a literary analysis (pun intended), here it goes:

“A literary analysis is the process of carefully scrutinizing pieces of literature to find out how they link to or influence the writings as a whole”

In most cases, a well-thought-out literary analysis essay focuses on the theme, setting, plot, characters, and other writing tools used by the author to convey their message.

With that said, there are various elements of literature that you can use to perform literary analysis on a given work. 

Literary Analysis Using Literature Elements

As we discovered earlier, your teacher of literature may ask you to write a literary analysis essay because such an assignment prompts you to consider how and why a novel, play, short story, or poem was written. Writing a successful literary analysis hinges on the consideration that every choice an author makes is attached to a specific reason. As such, your work is to point out the various decisions and try to explain their implication. 

Alternatively, you may choose to observe a literary analysis from your perspective. Instead of considering the author’s intentions, you can base your argument on one or a combination of the elements we’ve listed below. If you choose this route, you must use the original text to justify your case to your reader. 

You can use the following literature elements to write a literary analysis essay.


Well, this is a type of narrative in which the characters symbolize a broader human trait like greed, vanity, or bravery and attempts to communicate a valuable lesson or meaning to life. Originally, allegory was based on characters. However, modern parables lean more towards plot and theme. 

Some examples include;

  • Harry Potter, The Dangers of Seeking Racial Purity
  • William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily- the Decline of the Old South
  • District 9, South African Apartheid


A character is a representation of a place, person, or thing carrying out activities conventionally done by humans in a work of fiction. 

Characters can be categorized into the following:

  • Protagonist – The main character around whom the story revolves
  • Antagonist – The primary force that opposes the main character
  • Minor – Often supports and illuminates the main character
  • Static – A figure that remains the same throughout the narrative/play
  • Dynamic – A character that changes in a significant way
  • Characterization – The process through which an author reveals the personality of his various characters (dialogue, appearance, motivations, and appearances)


When considering the theme, check out the title, images, symbols, allusions, among other details in the story. 


A connotation refers to the implied meaning of a word. You should beware that connotations change over time.

  • Frugal/cheap
  • Cautious/scared
  • Confidence/arrogant


This is the meaning of a word, as it is found in the dictionary.


Diction represents word choice that relays and accentuates the meaning or theme of a poem through variations in sound, syllable, letters, rhythm, look, and definition.

Figurative Language

Using figurative language refers to using words to communicate the meaning of a word beyond its denotation.

Some forms of figurative language include;

  • Metaphor – Is a figure of speech whereby a phrase is applied to an action, object or being, to which it isn’t applicable (E.g., You’re my sunshine)
  • Simile – Refers to a figure of speech that involves comparing one thing to another; it is used to make a description more vivid (E.g., You light up my world like the sunshine)
  • Hyperbole – Refers to exaggerated claims that aren’t to be interpreted in their literal sense (E.g., I could eat a horse)
  • Personification – Describes the attribution of human-like traits to a non-human form (America has gloved up and is ready to knock out the coronavirus epidemic)


You can describe imagery as the author’s attempt to paint a virtual image (or reference point) in the reader’s mind. While the closest forms of imagery are usually visual, compelling imagery can elicit a physical, emotional, and even sensational response. 


This refers to the organization of ideas that comprise a story. 

Some of the tools used in a plot include:

  • Foreshadowing – A style that the author uses to give the reader a clue about an inevitable occurrence in the story. Foreshadowing may be explicit (obvious) or implied (hidden). 
  • Suspense – Describes the feeling of tension used by the author to make the reader anxious about looming incidents.  
  • Conflict – Describes a struggle between opposing forces (e.g., protagonist and antagonist)
  • Exposition – Refers to contextual information about characters, plot, setting, etc.
  • Rising Action – Is the process followed by the story as it develops towards the central conflict
  • Crisis – Refers to a significant turning point in the plot that determines the turn of events. 
  • Resolution – It is also known as denouement. It refers to the turn of events. 

Point of View

The point of view applies to the person telling the story and how it is narrated. Sometimes, a story’s point of view can indirectly help to recognize the intentions of the author. 

  • Narrator – Refers to whoever is telling the story, he may or may not be a character in the narrative
  • First Person – The narrator takes part in the activities, but sometimes is given a partial vision of the plot
  • Second Person – The narrator speaks to the audience as if he is part of the story (e.g., You see darkness everywhere)
  • Third Person – The narrator is a detached observer. He is neither a character in the narrative, nor does he adopt the character’s perspective. The narrator leaves the reader to provide the meaning of reported events. 
  • Omniscient – Refers to an all-knowing narrator. He knows what everyone in the story is thinking or feeling, in addition to what they are doing. Omniscient narrators may sometimes leave the mind of a given character to analyze them in some meaningful way. 


The setting of a story refers to the place where the story took place. It provides a cultural and historical background. Authors have used this element to symbolize the characters’ emotional condition. 


Rhythm is often used to describe the timing of the poem. It is the apposition of stressed and unstressed beats in a poem. Authors use this tool to provide the reader with a lens through which he can move through the literature. 


This refers to the person performing the poem. A poem mustn’t have a speaker, and the poet and speaker don’t have to be the same person. 


In fictitious works, this term describes how the author organizes a story’s plot. 

When it comes to poetry, it refers to the poem’s pattern of organization. 


Symbolism describes an instance whereby an object serves as a representation of something or an idea more significant than the item itself. 


Tone refers to the inferred attitude towards a poem’s subject. It can be cynical, hopeful, concerned of dreary, etc. A poet successfully conveys a poem’s tone by combining the various elements we’ve discussed above. 

In your literary analysis essay, your professor will ask you to focus on one aspect. For instance, he may ask you to analyze the weaknesses and strengths of the protagonist. An overall analysis is a more extended, more complex composition. Its structure resembles a research paper more than it does an essay.  

Types of Literary Analysis Essays

You can approach your literary analysis essay in various ways. Luckily, the approaches don’t differ much in comparison. The method you adopt in your literary analysis essay will largely depend on your assignment’s requirements. 

Here’s a summary of the most common forms of literary analysis that you may come across in a conventional educational setting. 

Compare and Contrast

As the name implies, this approach entails comparing various elements of a particular piece of writing. This might include outlining the likenesses between works of literature that have been analyzed before, comparing texts written by the same author, or prose of the same genre. You can also be required to compare and contrast various characters in a particular work of fiction. 

Primarily, the bottom line is to establish a connection and draw a conclusion from your findings. 

For example, compare and contrast the characters of Harry Potter and Sirius Black in Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone


Here’s an example of a prompt for a trace essay. Select an image, be it eyes, birds, knives, or any other imagery and trace it throughout the novel, Macbeth.

Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? All you’ve got to do is read the play, highlight every instance where a bird appears and list them in your essay, right? Not exactly. Instead of cataloging the examples, your instructor wants you to demonstrate the connection between the cases. What’s more, you should explain how the cases contribute to the major themes and stylistic devices in the literature. 


In such an essay, you’re required to debate an ethical or moral or aesthetic issue addressed in the text. You should consider two important points. Firstly, you shouldn’t base your discussion points on your feelings. Secondly, remember that a great literary analysis essay should have a surprising argument. As such, you must try to think outside the box. You can give your case an unexpected twist by acknowledging and responding to the counterargument. 

Close Reading

As the name suggests, close reading refers to the method where you read your piece of literature while paying close attention to the fine details. This may include things such as a character’s choice of words, specific gestures, the imagery used in a given scene, and how the various figures may react to it. 

Overall, this approach entails recognizing why the author decided to use the devices that will create a more insightful understanding of the literary work. 


A theoretical composition is used to learn or practice a given theory. It can also be used to compare and contrast two separate theories. In most cases, a theoretical approach will require you to analyze the text using various theories and come up with a structure that effectively relays the author’s argument. 

Contextual or Historical

This is a type of literary analysis essay that focuses on the historical or contextual setting of the work. This type of essay not only requires a close reading of the writings being analyzed but also necessitates further research that you will need to defend your thesis. 


An applied analysis essay takes a less formal approach compared to other types of analysis. While it may be less formal, that doesn’t mean less critical. 

An applied essay requires you to use a particular piece of writing to explain how the issues described in the text relate to your personal experiences. 

Want to refer to an actual literary analysis essay example? We’ve got a vast inventory just for that!

Planning A Literary Analysis Step-By-Step

The essence of writing is the construction of an idea. When writing a literary analysis essay, your primary objective is to convince your reader that you have supported your argument. Unlike normal conversation and classroom chitchat, excellent writing must adhere to the specific point of development. To that end, it necessitates a great deal of organization. 

You must also consider that a literary analysis essay is not a synopsis or a book review. Rather, it involves studying how the author manipulates various literary devices to create multiple effects and express his ideas by observing elements like theme, plot, perspective, or structure.

Before you start writing your literary analysis essay, it is crucial to read the material carefully and develop a thesis statement. Finally, your piece must feature an introduction, a body that forms a strong argument, and a conclusion that ties everything together. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to write a literary analysis essay. You can also check out our collection of literary analysis essay examples to have a better grasp of a literary analysis essay outline.

1. Read the Text Carefully

If you’ve got sufficient time, we advise that you read the writings you’re about to analyze at least twice. However, the first time you read through the text, you should take note of the things that stand out. Things to note may include;

  • Tone
  • Setting
  • Main conflict
  • Characters’ motivations

As you read, mark the various sections that may seem interesting. Does it appear like the author is making a significant point in a particular section? Is the poet or playwright suddenly becoming more philosophical? If you come across a part that seems noteworthy, you should highlight it or make a note. 

For example, in George Orwell’s book 1984, the following phrase is repeated multiple times. “War is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength.” Given the frequency of this slogan, it occurs to the reader right away that the motto is crucial to the narrative. 

As such, you can use a color highlighter to mark the various areas of interest so that you can spot the section easily when writing your literary analysis essay. 

2. Choose Your Literary Analysis Essay Topic

Often, when you’re asked to write a literary analysis essay in class, your instructor provides a list of writing prompts. All you have to do is chose one and work on it. Choosing a literary analysis essay topic can be relatively challenging, making you quite lucky. If this is the case, just pick a topic that piques your interest, and work away.

If you’re asked to come up with your literary analysis essay topic, there’s no need to panic. Do you have no idea where to start? Better yet, do you have too many ideas? Whichever the case, do not worry, keep calm and ask yourself the following questions. 

What Struck You?

Is there a specific sentence, image, or scene that lingered in your mind for long? If it captivated you, then the chances are that you can use it as an inspiration to write a fascinating essay. 

What Confused You?

Perhaps you were stunned to see the protagonist or another character act in a particular way, or maybe you can’t fathom why certain events unraveled the way they did. A confusing scenario can act as a loose thread in a sweater; when you pull on it, you can uncover the whole thing.

Consider why the author decided to write his story the way he did, and you might tap into some crucial insights about the piece of literature. 

What Patterns Did You Notice?

Is there a phrase the author keeps repeating? How about an illustration that is repeated throughout in the text? If you can uncover how the pattern weaves through the book or play, and its implication on the overall message, you’ve got your literary analysis essay figured out halfway. 

Did You Notice Any Ironies?

Some of the greatest works of literature are quite complex. Similarly, great literary analysis essays explain said complexities. 

Perhaps the title Happy Days entirely disagrees with the subject matter of the book (Orphaned children dying from hunger). Maybe a specific character conducts himself in one way when dealing with his family and acts totally different when around his peers. Ultimately, if you can find a way to explain the various contradictions in a story, you’re on your way to writing a great literary analysis essay. 

At this juncture, it’s not paramount that you know exactly what to write about your topic – you just need somewhere to start your analysis. You can easily direct your reading and brainstorming by phrasing your topic as a question, which you’ll answer in your analysis essay. The right questions invite critical discussions, as opposed to merely rehashing the summary. 

Finally, you must consider the scope of your question. Ask yourself, is this a topic that I can satisfactorily address within the parameters of the essay requirements? Also, is this topic vast enough to meet the required word count?

3. Gather Your Evidence

After deciding on your topic for the literary analysis essay, you’ll want to gather the information that will help you to answer the question. This time around, you need to read your literature more keenly as you keep track of sections, images, symbols, and anything else that relates to your topic. Ultimately you’ll start joining the dots between the examples, and your thesis will emerge.

Remember the various elements of literature we discussed earlier? These are the features you’ll analyze and which you’ll include as evidence to reinforce your arguments. 

4. Construct a Thesis

What is the purpose of a literary analysis essay thesis? Your thesis is the central idea you want to convey about the literature you’re studying. It is the mast that steers your essay and prevents it from being a composition of random observations about a literary work. The bulk of your article will be spent trying to prove this statement. 

If your professor provided an essay prompt for your literary analysis essay, your thesis statement must answer or relate to the prompt. 

In case you’ve been allowed to come up with a literary analysis essay topic of your own, you must develop an original thesis. A good literary analysis essay thesis must have the following characteristics.


See, your thesis statement should be a claim you hold to be true about the body of text you’re reviewing. It should be something debatable, as opposed to being a matter of fact. What’s more, it must be multifaceted enough to grow through arguments and evidence as your essay progresses. 


Your thesis statement must be testable using textual evidence. As much as a thesis statement should be an opinion, the claim must be provable using the same literature. 


As you construct your thesis statement, you want to ensure that your claim isn’t something your reader could have anticipated. Your class assignment should demonstrate that you put some thought into writing your essay. As such, your essay’s central argument shouldn’t be too obvious. 


Take this thesis statement, “Dr. Frankenstein’s monster reveals a great deal about the human condition.” This is almost a good thesis statement. However, it’s somewhat vague. What does the writer mean by “a great deal?” Also, how does the book reveal information about the human condition?

5. Develop and Organize Your Arguments

There are various approaches that you can follow to develop your literary analysis outline. One essay prompt may require you to compare and contrast two characters while another one may ask you to outline the imagery used in a particular literary work. You’ll need a different approach for each essay.

We like advising our clients to use either of the three approaches to structure their literary analysis essays. 

  • Read the book and note your evidence from start to finish
  • Begin by providing context to the piece of literature
  • Present the most critical part of your argument first

6. Develop an Essay Outline 

You’ll love to know that a literary analysis essay outline is not much different from the conventional essay outline. A standard essay should comprise an introduction, body, and conclusion.

You can write a roman numeral for every main idea you want to convey in your essay. Then, expand your outline by including letters and digits under every roman number. The more specific your essay outline will be, the more detailed your literary analysis essay will be. 

Writing your Literary Analysis Essay

Learning how to write a literary analysis essay has never been easier. This section explains a literary analysis essay outline in detail. We’ve broken down how to write the various parts of your literary analysis essay for the best results. 

7. Write the Introduction

You’ll need two things to start writing your literary analysis essay. That’s a proper title and an introduction. 

Your essay’s title should communicate your paper’s topic in a concise yet engaging way. It should contain the name of the text you’re reviewing and could also mention the author’s name. Additionally, it should summarize, briefly and interestingly, your essay’s core argument. 

The purpose of your literary analysis essay introduction is to set up the entire essay; it should provide a brief overview of the course of your argument. As the first section of your paper, you want the introduction to be captivating so that you can reel in the reader. 

You can arrest your reader’s attention by using a quote, an intriguing question, a startling statement, a brief anecdote, or a combination of all. 

The length of your introduction will depend on the overall length of your essay. However, if you’re writing the popular five-paragraph essay, it shouldn’t exceed one paragraph. Regardless of your paper’s required wordcount, your introduction must;

  • Start with a hook to capture the reader’s interest
  • Provide necessary context
  • Present your thesis

If you’re the type that prefers writing the opening later on, it’s a good idea too. After all, you’ll have a better picture of your arguments after you’re done writing. 

8. Develop the Body

After introducing the core argument of your literary analysis essay, you’ll want to develop it from different angles and support it with textual evidence. The body of your essay is where you defend your thesis statement (central idea).

Again, how you organize the body will be defined mainly by the argument strategy you use. Despite how you structure your ideas, your body paragraph must check the following boxes. 

Start with A Topic Sentence

Each of your body paragraphs should begin with a topic sentence, a statement stating the idea you’ll be discussing in the section. A good topic sentence is like a road sign on a highway; it tells the reader where he is and where he’s going. 

Include Textual Evidence

This is the supporting details you gathered while reading the novel, poem, or play you’re analyzing. Your data may include and isn’t limited to direct quotations or paraphrased content from the text. FYI, direct references are more effective.

Use Transitions

You want the ideas in your essay to flow together logically and seamlessly. Using transition words can significantly improve the flow in your composition. As you write your literary analysis essay, you should think of each paragraph as a response to the previous one.

While there are many transition words you can use in your essay, counting your paragraphs (firstly, secondly, thirdly, finally) always does the trick. 

Develop A Single Thought

You should avoid the temptation of wanting to cram too much information in a single paragraph. You don’t want your professor to think you’re disorganized. As such, let every section focus on developing one idea to the fullest. 

Have A Closing Sentence

Never leave your readers hanging. When you come to the end of a paragraph, include a closing sentence that’ll summarize the main idea discussed in the article.  

9. Conclude your Essay

A conclusion paragraph will help you to summarize everything your literary analysis has covered. In this section, you want to restate your thesis, draw your argument together, and tie up everything so that your reader sees how it all fits together. If possible, let your conclusion end on an enthusiastic note.

An excellent literary analysis essay conclusion should;

  • Not introduce new ideas
  • Restate the thesis
  • Emphasize the significance of your argument

Here’s one essay conclusion method that works like magic – summarize your main ideas, emphasize your findings, and draw attention to the perspective your thesis provides on the literary work as a whole.

You can gain more ideas on how to structure your literary analysis essay conclusion by checking out the numerous literary analysis essay examples we’ve archived for you.

10. Polish your Essay

This is one step many students overlook, not knowing that it could mean the entire difference, whether they get an A+ grade. 

When polishing-up your essay, you want to ensure that it is logical from start to finish. One easy way to do that is to review your composition as if you’ve never read the literature you were analyzing. Ask yourself, can someone who has never read this book, play, or poem follow my argument with the assertions, evidence, and analysis I’ve provided?

Another way you can improve your essay is to proofread it. Try reading your composition out loud; it helps you slow down, and enables you to catch more errors. 

Finally, how about allowing someone else to proofread your work? A fresh pair of eyes is likely to see mistakes that you were overlooking subconsciously. 

Need Help with Your Literary Analysis Essay?

If you follow our comprehensive guide on how to write a literary analysis essay, you’ll be on your way to boosting your GPA with an A+ grade. With time, you’ll develop a level of literary criticism that only top-tier literature scholars have mastered. In the meantime, we can help you write a high-quality literary analysis essay. Click here to request any type of essay from our custom writing experts right away. 

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