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Literary Essay

Teacher/Instructor Katie Aquino
Katie Aquino

Writing, Grammar, Literature, ACT Prep
Education: M.Ed.,Stanford University

Katie is an enthusiastic teacher who strives to make connections between literature and student’s every day lives.

Simply put, a literary analysis essay is an analysis of literature. Generally, literary analysis essays have 3 formats: (1) how multiple decisions in one work influence the whole, (2) how similar/different decisions in two worlds set them apart or bring them together, or (3) how outside theories influence a piece of literature. When writing a literary analysis, it is important to remember to speak about the book in present tense, to avoid needless plot summaries, to select specific and solid evidence and to make sure to actually analyze, not just recount.

Perhaps the most popular essay that you'll have to write in high school is, the literary analysis essay. And this is one where you are going to look specifically at how and why literature was written. So I want to talk about some of the common topics and then give you some pointers to keep in mind as you are writing. So really the important thing to focus on is that, you are not just retelling a story here, you are really thinking about author intentions. So why did the author choose certain things to happen or put things in a certain order or use certain devices in his or her writing. Some of the common topics that you might be asked to look at in literary analysis, are looking at the characters and how they develop or why certain ones are round and certain ones are flat, things like that. Certain sound devices especially in poetry, you are going to be looking maybe alliteration, onomatopoeias and how that changes a poem.
Figurative language; similes, metaphors, personification. These are choices that an author makes and you maybe asked to analyze why you think he or she made the choice. Symbols, irony, why they picked a particular studying, the sequence of the plot, why certain things happen in certain orders. Themes are a big one where you are really looking at author intention, what is the message that he or she is trying to get across. Point of view, why they have a certain narrator or what impact that particular narrator had on the story and then outside literary theory or literary criticism. So all of these things are literary analysis where you are taking the book and then you are really digging into it on a deeper level.
Let's talk about some pointers here, since this is something you guys are probably going to be writing quite often. The first one I have is that when you are speaking about a book or a piece of literature, you always want to talk about it in the present tense and I know it seems kind of unnatural because typically you are writing your paper after you've read the book, so to you it feels like all that stuff happened in the past but a book exist always in the present. So write about it in a present tense; Ralph run not Ralph ran. Another thing that I see quite often is once you've referred to an author by the first and the last name like William Golding, refer to him or her by last name only not by first name only. So don't call William Golding, William or Bill or Billy because you are probably not on the first name basis like that.
Here's another big one, avoid needless plot summary. So usually the teacher whose assigning this literary analysis has a good idea of what is going on in the book and while you are going to have recount some details, you certainly don't want spend an entire page of your essay giving me a summary of everything that happened in the book. So really think about where summary is appropriate and where it's not appropriate. You want to set up your quotes but we don't need a whole separate paragraph that tells me everything that happened and then finally and this is obviously the key to literary analysis, is to make sure that you analyze. Go beyond just telling me what happened or how the characters developed and think about why it happened that way or why it sat where it is. Really think about what the author would say if you ask the questions. So analysis is really the key to a literary analysis essay. So hopefully this would get you started on that prolific literary analysis essay in your high school career.