How to Write Literary Analysis
Literary Analysis and Dialectical Criticism
The purpose of literary analysis is to examine (sometimes evaluate) how and why a piece of literature such as a novel, short story, poem, and others was written. It typically involves analysis on how different literary devices or tools (i.e. plot or structure, character, setting, etc) are used to create a meaning.
Literary analysis is a form dialectical criticism where opinion or ideas in a piece of literature are analysed using question and answer method. Moreover, since a literary piece typically contain three elements, the focus of most literary analysis is to examine the ethos (credibility), logos (logical), and pathos (emotional) of a particular literary work.
Understanding Means of Persuasion and Literary Devices
Writing a literary analysis demands good understanding of the three common elements of literary works. A Greek word signifying Aristotle’s first category of means of persuasion or appeals, Ethos is an ethical appeal or a literary device used to persuade a specific audience of the character or credibility (ex. authority, moral character, etc.) of individual figures in the plot. These are usually statements highlighting their credibility such as “Dr. B. Smith, a NASA senior scientist, confirms the existence of other life form on Mars” or “This type of treatment is recommended by doctors all over the world”.
“Word” in Greek, Logos on the other hand is an appeal to logic or a literary device used to convince the audience through inductive and deductive reasoning methods. These are mostly statements citing and justifying the reasons for a particular issue. For example, the statement that “Crime rate is greater in poor communities with high unemployment rate according to 2014 statistics” is persuading us to support the fact that the root cause of crime is unemployment.
Pathos, Greek for “suffering” or “experience” is an appeal to emotion. It is a literary device used to persuade audience by arousing their emotions, feelings, and responses on a particular issue. It is often expressed in vivid and emotional language with sensory details like the statement, “He deserves nothing less than a death penalty as he is an evil, heartless criminal who mercilessly butchered his innocent victims”.
Authors of literary piece also utilize other devices such as plot or arrangement of events, figurative language (ex. simile, metaphor, etc), tone (ex. humorous, sympathetic, etc), imagery (ex. touch, see, hear, etc.) and symbolism (ex. an angle, demonic, etc.), setting (location, time, season, etc) and allusion (ex. past events, biblical story, etc).
Write an Outline Using Literary Devices
Initially, you need to identify the means of persuasion and other literary devices that the author utilized in his or her literary piece. A good practice is to look for ethos, logos, and pathos or those having the most evidence and use them as outline. As shown in the sample outline below, you need to look for evidence of beliefs or ideals, examine the reasoning and logical coherence of argument, look for signs of emotional appeal, and then ask and answer some general questions.
Sample outline of literary analysis:
Write the thesis statement
Ex. Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick depends mainly on symbolism, imagery, and allegory which….
Write an introduction paragraph
Ex. Moby Dick is a novel narrated in the first person by Ishmael who embarked on a whaling voyage to see the world. It has a meditative, sarcastic, and tragic tone that….
Character and credibility (First device)
Who are the target audience? Does the author present himself as expert on the subject? Are individual figures in the text credible enough?
Reasoning and logical coherence of arguments (Second device)
What is the theme? What narrative approach was used? Is it effective? Are there evidence supporting the arguments?
Emotional appeal (Third device)
Is the literary piece exhibits empathy or offer insights about pitiable conditions? Is the author using imagery and symbolism? Are they appealing or have imaginative impact to the target audience?
Reinstate your thesis, summarise the arguments discussed earlier, and write a profound statement.
Note that the above sample outline is restricted to the three categories of appeal and general questions. For specific devices such as plot, character, imagery, and others, the ideas presented in the following section may be useful in your analysis.
Literary Analysis for Specific Devices
Literary analysis of the plot is often focusing on how events connect to each other and to the whole. Your work therefore is to identify the events, establish a pattern, and illustrate the relationship between. Similarly, since the character or the people mentioned in the literary piece including the narrator of the story (if any) are normally identified and scrutinized in a literary analysis, it is critical to investigate the personalities of these actors and how they interact. You may also describe their behaviour, words, thoughts, and the changes in each of them.
If the literary piece used imagery and symbolism such as word as descriptions that involve the five human senses or concrete things representing larger and more abstract ideas (i.e. flags, dead bird or flowers, etc) then you need to describe them, establish a pattern, and explain their significance. You may also describe their relationship to the character, theme, and other elements of the literary piece. The setting or place where the actions happen and form or the structure of the literary of the piece may be evaluated in terms of contribution and significance to the theme, character, imagery, and others.
The theme or the central idea of the literary piece may be analysed in terms of theme development such as consistency of words, description, and combination of elements used to represent the central idea of the piece.
It is important to keep in mind that regardless of the above outline and recommended approaches, the strength of your literary analysis still depends on the way you write the analysis. Your analysis therefore must be highly academic and accurate, written in formal tone and in the manner that readers can easily follow and comprehend your views. Moreover, since you also need to persuade your audience that you know what you are talking about, do your best and innovate, critically examine the text, uncover all devices, and talk about them like a pro.
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Megan Zuchowski says
Great article..very interesting read.
Amber Terry says
This is incredibly helpful because a lot of these concepts can be difficult at times, for me at least 🙂
I was just wondering the other idea how to do this, and now I see this post. Yay.