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- How to write a literary analysis essay | A step-by-step guide
How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay | A Step-by-Step Guide
Published on January 30, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on September 2, 2022.
Literary analysis means closely studying a text, interpreting its meanings, and exploring why the author made certain choices. It can be applied to novels, short stories, plays, poems, or any other form of literary writing.
A literary analysis essay is not a rhetorical analysis , nor is it just a summary of the plot or a book review. Instead, it is a type of argumentative essay where you need to analyze elements such as the language, perspective, and structure of the text, and explain how the author uses literary devices to create effects and convey ideas.
Before beginning a literary analysis essay, it’s essential to carefully read the text and c ome up with a thesis statement to keep your essay focused. As you write, follow the standard structure of an academic essay :
- An introduction that tells the reader what your essay will focus on.
- A main body, divided into paragraphs , that builds an argument using evidence from the text.
- A conclusion that clearly states the main point that you have shown with your analysis.
Table of contents
Step 1: reading the text and identifying literary devices, step 2: coming up with a thesis, step 3: writing a title and introduction, step 4: writing the body of the essay, step 5: writing a conclusion.
The first step is to carefully read the text(s) and take initial notes. As you read, pay attention to the things that are most intriguing, surprising, or even confusing in the writing—these are things you can dig into in your analysis.
Your goal in literary analysis is not simply to explain the events described in the text, but to analyze the writing itself and discuss how the text works on a deeper level. Primarily, you’re looking out for literary devices —textual elements that writers use to convey meaning and create effects. If you’re comparing and contrasting multiple texts, you can also look for connections between different texts.
To get started with your analysis, there are several key areas that you can focus on. As you analyze each aspect of the text, try to think about how they all relate to each other. You can use highlights or notes to keep track of important passages and quotes.
Consider what style of language the author uses. Are the sentences short and simple or more complex and poetic?
What word choices stand out as interesting or unusual? Are words used figuratively to mean something other than their literal definition? Figurative language includes things like metaphor (e.g. “her eyes were oceans”) and simile (e.g. “her eyes were like oceans”).
Also keep an eye out for imagery in the text—recurring images that create a certain atmosphere or symbolize something important. Remember that language is used in literary texts to say more than it means on the surface.
- Who is telling the story?
- How are they telling it?
Is it a first-person narrator (“I”) who is personally involved in the story, or a third-person narrator who tells us about the characters from a distance?
Consider the narrator’s perspective . Is the narrator omniscient (where they know everything about all the characters and events), or do they only have partial knowledge? Are they an unreliable narrator who we are not supposed to take at face value? Authors often hint that their narrator might be giving us a distorted or dishonest version of events.
The tone of the text is also worth considering. Is the story intended to be comic, tragic, or something else? Are usually serious topics treated as funny, or vice versa ? Is the story realistic or fantastical (or somewhere in between)?
Consider how the text is structured, and how the structure relates to the story being told.
- Novels are often divided into chapters and parts.
- Poems are divided into lines, stanzas, and sometime cantos.
- Plays are divided into scenes and acts.
Think about why the author chose to divide the different parts of the text in the way they did.
There are also less formal structural elements to take into account. Does the story unfold in chronological order, or does it jump back and forth in time? Does it begin in medias res —in the middle of the action? Does the plot advance towards a clearly defined climax?
With poetry, consider how the rhyme and meter shape your understanding of the text and your impression of the tone. Try reading the poem aloud to get a sense of this.
In a play, you might consider how relationships between characters are built up through different scenes, and how the setting relates to the action. Watch out for dramatic irony , where the audience knows some detail that the characters don’t, creating a double meaning in their words, thoughts, or actions.
Your thesis in a literary analysis essay is the point you want to make about the text. It’s the core argument that gives your essay direction and prevents it from just being a collection of random observations about a text.
If you’re given a prompt for your essay, your thesis must answer or relate to the prompt. For example:
Essay question example
Is Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” a religious parable?
Your thesis statement should be an answer to this question—not a simple yes or no, but a statement of why this is or isn’t the case:
Thesis statement example
Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” is not a religious parable, but a story about bureaucratic alienation.
Sometimes you’ll be given freedom to choose your own topic; in this case, you’ll have to come up with an original thesis. Consider what stood out to you in the text; ask yourself questions about the elements that interested you, and consider how you might answer them.
Your thesis should be something arguable—that is, something that you think is true about the text, but which is not a simple matter of fact. It must be complex enough to develop through evidence and arguments across the course of your essay.
Say you’re analyzing the novel Frankenstein . You could start by asking yourself:
Your initial answer might be a surface-level description:
The character Frankenstein is portrayed negatively in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein .
However, this statement is too simple to be an interesting thesis. After reading the text and analyzing its narrative voice and structure, you can develop the answer into a more nuanced and arguable thesis statement:
Mary Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as.
Remember that you can revise your thesis statement throughout the writing process , so it doesn’t need to be perfectly formulated at this stage. The aim is to keep you focused as you analyze the text.
Finding textual evidence
To support your thesis statement, your essay will build an argument using textual evidence —specific parts of the text that demonstrate your point. This evidence is quoted and analyzed throughout your essay to explain your argument to the reader.
It can be useful to comb through the text in search of relevant quotations before you start writing. You might not end up using everything you find, and you may have to return to the text for more evidence as you write, but collecting textual evidence from the beginning will help you to structure your arguments and assess whether they’re convincing.
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See an example
To start your literary analysis paper, you’ll need two things: a good title, and an introduction.
Your title should clearly indicate what your analysis will focus on. It usually contains the name of the author and text(s) you’re analyzing. Keep it as concise and engaging as possible.
A common approach to the title is to use a relevant quote from the text, followed by a colon and then the rest of your title.
If you struggle to come up with a good title at first, don’t worry—this will be easier once you’ve begun writing the essay and have a better sense of your arguments.
“Fearful symmetry” : The violence of creation in William Blake’s “The Tyger”
The essay introduction provides a quick overview of where your argument is going. It should include your thesis statement and a summary of the essay’s structure.
A typical structure for an introduction is to begin with a general statement about the text and author, using this to lead into your thesis statement. You might refer to a commonly held idea about the text and show how your thesis will contradict it, or zoom in on a particular device you intend to focus on.
Then you can end with a brief indication of what’s coming up in the main body of the essay. This is called signposting. It will be more elaborate in longer essays, but in a short five-paragraph essay structure, it shouldn’t be more than one sentence.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, protagonist Victor Frankenstein is a stable representation of the callous ambition of modern science throughout the novel. This essay, however, argues that far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as. This essay begins by exploring the positive portrayal of Frankenstein in the first volume, then moves on to the creature’s perception of him, and finally discusses the third volume’s narrative shift toward viewing Frankenstein as the creature views him.
Some students prefer to write the introduction later in the process, and it’s not a bad idea. After all, you’ll have a clearer idea of the overall shape of your arguments once you’ve begun writing them!
If you do write the introduction first, you should still return to it later to make sure it lines up with what you ended up writing, and edit as necessary.
The body of your essay is everything between the introduction and conclusion. It contains your arguments and the textual evidence that supports them.
A typical structure for a high school literary analysis essay consists of five paragraphs : the three paragraphs of the body, plus the introduction and conclusion.
Each paragraph in the main body should focus on one topic. In the five-paragraph model, try to divide your argument into three main areas of analysis, all linked to your thesis. Don’t try to include everything you can think of to say about the text—only analysis that drives your argument.
In longer essays, the same principle applies on a broader scale. For example, you might have two or three sections in your main body, each with multiple paragraphs. Within these sections, you still want to begin new paragraphs at logical moments—a turn in the argument or the introduction of a new idea.
Robert’s first encounter with Gil-Martin suggests something of his sinister power. Robert feels “a sort of invisible power that drew me towards him.” He identifies the moment of their meeting as “the beginning of a series of adventures which has puzzled myself, and will puzzle the world when I am no more in it” (p. 89). Gil-Martin’s “invisible power” seems to be at work even at this distance from the moment described; before continuing the story, Robert feels compelled to anticipate at length what readers will make of his narrative after his approaching death. With this interjection, Hogg emphasizes the fatal influence Gil-Martin exercises from his first appearance.
To keep your points focused, it’s important to use a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph.
A good topic sentence allows a reader to see at a glance what the paragraph is about. It can introduce a new line of argument and connect or contrast it with the previous paragraph. Transition words like “however” or “moreover” are useful for creating smooth transitions:
… The story’s focus, therefore, is not upon the divine revelation that may be waiting beyond the door, but upon the mundane process of aging undergone by the man as he waits.
Nevertheless, the “radiance” that appears to stream from the door is typically treated as religious symbolism.
This topic sentence signals that the paragraph will address the question of religious symbolism, while the linking word “nevertheless” points out a contrast with the previous paragraph’s conclusion.
Using textual evidence
A key part of literary analysis is backing up your arguments with relevant evidence from the text. This involves introducing quotes from the text and explaining their significance to your point.
It’s important to contextualize quotes and explain why you’re using them; they should be properly introduced and analyzed, not treated as self-explanatory:
It isn’t always necessary to use a quote. Quoting is useful when you’re discussing the author’s language, but sometimes you’ll have to refer to plot points or structural elements that can’t be captured in a short quote.
In these cases, it’s more appropriate to paraphrase or summarize parts of the text—that is, to describe the relevant part in your own words:
The conclusion of your analysis shouldn’t introduce any new quotations or arguments. Instead, it’s about wrapping up the essay. Here, you summarize your key points and try to emphasize their significance to the reader.
A good way to approach this is to briefly summarize your key arguments, and then stress the conclusion they’ve led you to, highlighting the new perspective your thesis provides on the text as a whole:
By tracing the depiction of Frankenstein through the novel’s three volumes, I have demonstrated how the narrative structure shifts our perception of the character. While the Frankenstein of the first volume is depicted as having innocent intentions, the second and third volumes—first in the creature’s accusatory voice, and then in his own voice—increasingly undermine him, causing him to appear alternately ridiculous and vindictive. Far from the one-dimensional villain he is often taken to be, the character of Frankenstein is compelling because of the dynamic narrative frame in which he is placed. In this frame, Frankenstein’s narrative self-presentation responds to the images of him we see from others’ perspectives. This conclusion sheds new light on the novel, foregrounding Shelley’s unique layering of narrative perspectives and its importance for the depiction of character.
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Writing About Poetry
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This section covers the basics of how to write about poetry, including why it is done, what you should know, and what you can write about.
Writing about poetry can be one of the most demanding tasks that many students face in a literature class. Poetry, by its very nature, makes demands on a writer who attempts to analyze it that other forms of literature do not. So how can you write a clear, confident, well-supported essay about poetry? This handout offers answers to some common questions about writing about poetry.
What's the Point?
In order to write effectively about poetry, one needs a clear idea of what the point of writing about poetry is. When you are assigned an analytical essay about a poem in an English class, the goal of the assignment is usually to argue a specific thesis about the poem, using your analysis of specific elements in the poem and how those elements relate to each other to support your thesis.
So why would your teacher give you such an assignment? What are the benefits of learning to write analytic essays about poetry? Several important reasons suggest themselves:
- To help you learn to make a text-based argument. That is, to help you to defend ideas based on a text that is available to you and other readers. This sharpens your reasoning skills by forcing you to formulate an interpretation of something someone else has written and to support that interpretation by providing logically valid reasons why someone else who has read the poem should agree with your argument. This isn't a skill that is just important in academics, by the way. Lawyers, politicians, and journalists often find that they need to make use of similar skills.
- To help you to understand what you are reading more fully. Nothing causes a person to make an extra effort to understand difficult material like the task of writing about it. Also, writing has a way of helping you to see things that you may have otherwise missed simply by causing you to think about how to frame your own analysis.
- To help you enjoy poetry more! This may sound unlikely, but one of the real pleasures of poetry is the opportunity to wrestle with the text and co-create meaning with the author. When you put together a well-constructed analysis of the poem, you are not only showing that you understand what is there, you are also contributing to an ongoing conversation about the poem. If your reading is convincing enough, everyone who has read your essay will get a little more out of the poem because of your analysis.
What Should I Know about Writing about Poetry?
Most importantly, you should realize that a paper that you write about a poem or poems is an argument. Make sure that you have something specific that you want to say about the poem that you are discussing. This specific argument that you want to make about the poem will be your thesis. You will support this thesis by drawing examples and evidence from the poem itself. In order to make a credible argument about the poem, you will want to analyze how the poem works—what genre the poem fits into, what its themes are, and what poetic techniques and figures of speech are used.
What Can I Write About?
Theme: One place to start when writing about poetry is to look at any significant themes that emerge in the poetry. Does the poetry deal with themes related to love, death, war, or peace? What other themes show up in the poem? Are there particular historical events that are mentioned in the poem? What are the most important concepts that are addressed in the poem?
Genre: What kind of poem are you looking at? Is it an epic (a long poem on a heroic subject)? Is it a sonnet (a brief poem, usually consisting of fourteen lines)? Is it an ode? A satire? An elegy? A lyric? Does it fit into a specific literary movement such as Modernism, Romanticism, Neoclassicism, or Renaissance poetry? This is another place where you may need to do some research in an introductory poetry text or encyclopedia to find out what distinguishes specific genres and movements.
Versification: Look closely at the poem's rhyme and meter. Is there an identifiable rhyme scheme? Is there a set number of syllables in each line? The most common meter for poetry in English is iambic pentameter, which has five feet of two syllables each (thus the name "pentameter") in each of which the strongly stressed syllable follows the unstressed syllable. You can learn more about rhyme and meter by consulting our handout on sound and meter in poetry or the introduction to a standard textbook for poetry such as the Norton Anthology of Poetry . Also relevant to this category of concerns are techniques such as caesura (a pause in the middle of a line) and enjambment (continuing a grammatical sentence or clause from one line to the next). Is there anything that you can tell about the poem from the choices that the author has made in this area? For more information about important literary terms, see our handout on the subject.
Figures of speech: Are there literary devices being used that affect how you read the poem? Here are some examples of commonly discussed figures of speech:
- metaphor: comparison between two unlike things
- simile: comparison between two unlike things using "like" or "as"
- metonymy: one thing stands for something else that is closely related to it (For example, using the phrase "the crown" to refer to the king would be an example of metonymy.)
- synecdoche: a part stands in for a whole (For example, in the phrase "all hands on deck," "hands" stands in for the people in the ship's crew.)
- personification: a non-human thing is endowed with human characteristics
- litotes: a double negative is used for poetic effect (example: not unlike, not displeased)
- irony: a difference between the surface meaning of the words and the implications that may be drawn from them
Cultural Context: How does the poem you are looking at relate to the historical context in which it was written? For example, what's the cultural significance of Walt Whitman's famous elegy for Lincoln "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed" in light of post-Civil War cultural trends in the U.S.A? How does John Donne's devotional poetry relate to the contentious religious climate in seventeenth-century England? These questions may take you out of the literature section of your library altogether and involve finding out about philosophy, history, religion, economics, music, or the visual arts.
What Style Should I Use?
It is useful to follow some standard conventions when writing about poetry. First, when you analyze a poem, it is best to use present tense rather than past tense for your verbs. Second, you will want to make use of numerous quotations from the poem and explain their meaning and their significance to your argument. After all, if you do not quote the poem itself when you are making an argument about it, you damage your credibility. If your teacher asks for outside criticism of the poem as well, you should also cite points made by other critics that are relevant to your argument. A third point to remember is that there are various citation formats for citing both the material you get from the poems themselves and the information you get from other critical sources. The most common citation format for writing about poetry is the Modern Language Association (MLA) format .
A Full Guide to Writing a Perfect Poem Analysis Essay
01 October, 2020
14 minutes read
Author: Elizabeth Brown
Poem analysis is one of the most complicated essay types. It requires the utmost creativity and dedication. Even those who regularly attend a literary class and have enough experience in poem analysis essay elaboration may face considerable difficulties while dealing with the particular poem. The given article aims to provide the detailed guidelines on how to write a poem analysis, elucidate the main principles of writing the essay of the given type, and share with you the handy tips that will help you get the highest score for your poetry analysis. In addition to developing analysis skills, you would be able to take advantage of the poetry analysis essay example to base your poetry analysis essay on, as well as learn how to find a way out in case you have no motivation and your creative assignment must be presented on time.
What Is a Poetry Analysis Essay?
A poetry analysis essay is a type of creative write-up that implies reviewing a poem from different perspectives by dealing with its structural, artistic, and functional pieces. Since the poetry expresses very complicated feelings that may have different meanings depending on the backgrounds of both author and reader, it would not be enough just to focus on the text of the poem you are going to analyze. Poetry has a lot more complex structure and cannot be considered without its special rhythm, images, as well as implied and obvious sense.
While analyzing the poem, the students need to do in-depth research as to its content, taking into account the effect the poetry has or may have on the readers.
Preparing for the Poetry Analysis Writing
The process of preparation for the poem analysis essay writing is almost as important as writing itself. Without completing these stages, you may be at risk of failing your creative assignment. Learn them carefully to remember once and for good.
Thoroughly read the poem several times
The rereading of the poem assigned for analysis will help to catch its concepts and ideas. You will have a possibility to define the rhythm of the poem, its type, and list the techniques applied by the author.
While identifying the type of the poem, you need to define whether you are dealing with:
- Lyric poem – the one that elucidates feelings, experiences, and the emotional state of the author. It is usually short and doesn’t contain any narration;
- Limerick – consists of 5 lines, the first, second, and fifth of which rhyme with one another;
- Sonnet – a poem consisting of 14 lines characterized by an iambic pentameter. William Shakespeare wrote sonnets which have made him famous;
- Ode – 10-line poem aimed at praising someone or something;
- Haiku – a short 3-line poem originated from Japan. It reflects the deep sense hidden behind the ordinary phenomena and events of the physical world;
- Free-verse – poetry with no rhyme.
The type of the poem usually affects its structure and content, so it is important to be aware of all the recognized kinds to set a proper beginning to your poetry analysis.
Find out more about the poem background
Find as much information as possible about the author of the poem, the cultural background of the period it was written in, preludes to its creation, etc. All these data will help you get a better understanding of the poem’s sense and explain much to you in terms of the concepts the poem contains.
Define a subject matter of the poem
This is one of the most challenging tasks since as a rule, the subject matter of the poem isn’t clearly stated by the poets. They don’t want the readers to know immediately what their piece of writing is about and suggest everyone find something different between the lines.
What is the subject matter? In a nutshell, it is the main idea of the poem. Usually, a poem may have a couple of subjects, that is why it is important to list each of them.
In order to correctly identify the goals of a definite poem, you would need to dive into the in-depth research.
Check the historical background of the poetry. The author might have been inspired to write a poem based on some events that occurred in those times or people he met. The lines you analyze may be generated by his reaction to some epoch events. All this information can be easily found online.
Choose poem theories you will support
In the variety of ideas the poem may convey, it is important to stick to only several most important messages you think the author wanted to share with the readers. Each of the listed ideas must be supported by the corresponding evidence as proof of your opinion.
The poetry analysis essay format allows elaborating on several theses that have the most value and weight. Try to build your writing not only on the pure facts that are obvious from the context but also your emotions and feelings the analyzed lines provoke in you.
How to Choose a Poem to Analyze?
If you are free to choose the piece of writing you will base your poem analysis essay on, it is better to select the one you are already familiar with. This may be your favorite poem or one that you have read and analyzed before. In case you face difficulties choosing the subject area of a particular poem, then the best way will be to focus on the idea you feel most confident about. In such a way, you would be able to elaborate on the topic and describe it more precisely.
Now, when you are familiar with the notion of the poetry analysis essay, it’s high time to proceed to poem analysis essay outline. Follow the steps mentioned below to ensure a brilliant structure to your creative assignment.
Best Poem Analysis Essay Topics
- Mother To Son Poem Analysis
- We Real Cool Poem Analysis
- Invictus Poem Analysis
- Richard Cory Poem Analysis
- Ozymandias Poem Analysis
- Barbie Doll Poem Analysis
- Caged Bird Poem Analysis
- Ulysses Poem Analysis
- Dover Beach Poem Analysis
- Annabelle Lee Poem Analysis
- Daddy Poem Analysis
- The Raven Poem Analysis
- The Second Coming Poem Analysis
- Still I Rise Poem Analysis
- If Poem Analysis
- Fire And Ice Poem Analysis
- My Papa’S Waltz Poem Analysis
- Harlem Poem Analysis
- Kubla Khan Poem Analysis
- I Too Poem Analysis
- The Juggler Poem Analysis
- The Fish Poem Analysis
- Jabberwocky Poem Analysis
- Charge Of The Light Brigade Poem Analysis
- The Road Not Taken Poem Analysis
- Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus Poem Analysis
- The History Teacher Poem Analysis
- One Art Poem Analysis
- The Wanderer Poem Analysis
- We Wear The Mask Poem Analysis
- There Will Come Soft Rains Poem Analysis
- Digging Poem Analysis
- The Highwayman Poem Analysis
- The Tyger Poem Analysis
- London Poem Analysis
- Sympathy Poem Analysis
- I Am Joaquin Poem Analysis
- This Is Just To Say Poem Analysis
- Sex Without Love Poem Analysis
- Strange Fruit Poem Analysis
- Dulce Et Decorum Est Poem Analysis
- Emily Dickinson Poem Analysis
- The Flea Poem Analysis
- The Lamb Poem Analysis
- Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night Poem Analysis
- My Last Duchess Poetry Analysis
Poem Analysis Essay Outline
As has already been stated, a poetry analysis essay is considered one of the most challenging tasks for the students. Despite the difficulties you may face while dealing with it, the structure of the given type of essay is quite simple. It consists of the introduction, body paragraphs, and the conclusion. In order to get a better understanding of the poem analysis essay structure, check the brief guidelines below.
This will be the first section of your essay. The main purpose of the introductory paragraph is to give a reader an idea of what the essay is about and what theses it conveys. The introduction should start with the title of the essay and end with the thesis statement.
The main goal of the introduction is to make readers feel intrigued about the whole concept of the essay and serve as a hook to grab their attention. Include some interesting information about the author, the historical background of the poem, some poem trivia, etc. There is no need to make the introduction too extensive. On the contrary, it should be brief and logical.
The body section should form the main part of poetry analysis. Make sure you have determined a clear focus for your analysis and are ready to elaborate on the main message and meaning of the poem. Mention the tone of the poetry, its speaker, try to describe the recipient of the poem’s idea. Don’t forget to identify the poetic devices and language the author uses to reach the main goals. Describe the imagery and symbolism of the poem, its sound and rhythm.
Try not to stick to too many ideas in your body section, since it may make your essay difficult to understand and too chaotic to perceive. Generalization, however, is also not welcomed. Try to be specific in the description of your perspective.
Make sure the transitions between your paragraphs are smooth and logical to make your essay flow coherent and easy to catch.
In a nutshell, the essay conclusion is a paraphrased thesis statement. Mention it again but in different words to remind the readers of the main purpose of your essay. Sum up the key claims and stress the most important information. The conclusion cannot contain any new ideas and should be used to create a strong impact on the reader. This is your last chance to share your opinion with the audience and convince them your essay is worth readers’ attention.
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Poem Analysis Essay Examples
A good poem analysis essay example may serve as a real magic wand to your creative assignment. You may take a look at the structure the other essay authors have used, follow their tone, and get a great share of inspiration and motivation.
Check several poetry analysis essay examples that may be of great assistance:
Writing Tips for a Poetry Analysis Essay
If you read carefully all the instructions on how to write a poetry analysis essay provided above, you have probably realized that this is not the easiest assignment on Earth. However, you cannot fail and should try your best to present a brilliant essay to get the highest score. To make your life even easier, check these handy tips on how to analysis poetry with a few little steps.
- In case you have a chance to choose a poem for analysis by yourself, try to focus on one you are familiar with, you are interested in, or your favorite one. The writing process will be smooth and easy in case you are working on the task you truly enjoy.
- Before you proceed to the analysis itself, read the poem out loud to your colleague or just to yourself. It will help you find out some hidden details and senses that may result in new ideas.
- Always check the meaning of words you don’t know. Poetry is quite a tricky phenomenon where a single word or phrase can completely change the meaning of the whole piece.
- Bother to double check if the conclusion of your essay is based on a single idea and is logically linked to the main body. Such an approach will demonstrate your certain focus and clearly elucidate your views.
- Read between the lines. Poetry is about senses and emotions – it rarely contains one clearly stated subject matter. Describe the hidden meanings and mention the feelings this has provoked in you. Try to elaborate a full picture that would be based on what is said and what is meant.
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There are a lot of benefits why you should refer to the professional writing agencies in case you are not in the mood for elaborating your poetry analysis essay. We will only state the most important ones:
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poem analysis essay
Writing a poetry analysis essay is not an easy feat but it is a very rewarding experience to undergo. Read on to know how to write a paper about a poem. Analyzing poetry will require you to approach the poem with an open mind (and heart). You need to be as objective as possible when trying to decipher the meaning behind the poet’s words, even if you do not fully understand what he or she is trying to express.
A few pointers in writing your poem analysis essay that can help you get started:
- Read through the poem several times and study each word carefully. Pay special attention to particular lines or verses which seem interesting or confusing. Take notes on each reading, underlining key words and phrases so that they can be easily referenced at a later date. Remember: taking good notes will help prevent ambiguity during your essay writing stage.
- How has the author used imagery, figurative language and other literary devices to develop this particular poem? Try to draw your own conclusions; you may be pleasantly surprised with your findings! Write them down in a logical order so that they clearly support one another, either by conjunction or contrast.
- What type of mood is the poet trying to convey through his/her writing? You can discover this by figuring out what emotions are being targeted: joy, fear, anger…etc. Use quotations from the text as illustrations here if necessary. Next, determine whether these feelings are being expressed successfully. If not, how could the author have improved upon it? Examples are always important for supporting points made so give examples where applicable.
- What is the overall mood of the poem? Does it seem very positive or negative, happy or sad? Give examples to support your opinion and include any evidence you think would bolster your argument.
- Is there a theme in this poem that can be used as a catalyst for writing an essay on? Look at all possibilities closely; find similarities and differences between various poems if necessary.
- Try not to jump into conclusions too soon – remember to weigh all options before choosing one that really makes sense.
Let us now define what your lecturer mean by a poem analysis.
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What is a poem analysis essay?
A poem analysis essay in literature is a piece of writing that looks at one or more poems in depth. The purpose of such essays is to give the writer an understanding of the poetry they are studying so they can be able to write about it with greater skill and insight. This makes these types of essays particularly useful for English students because many pupils will need them if they choose to study poetry at University level.
In order to write this type of essay , it is necessary for you clearly to identify what you want to achieve in your essay and formulate clear thesis statement on which to build your research and analysis. It is also important for you think carefully about how best to construct your paragraphs so they do not confuse the reader but rather communicate your points effectively and logically If you do this, then you will be able to write a poem analysis essay that effectively explores the poems you are studying while at the same time gives your reader a greater understanding of them.
A poem analysis essay must clearly state everything it intends to achieve and what its aim is before proceeding with the actual analysis itself.
- Read more about: poem explication essay .
In order to do this properly, you will need to state the purpose of your poem analysis essay at the beginning. This part of your essay should be just one paragraph long and it should clearly explain what you intend to do in your research. You might, for example, want to show how an author uses a particular literary technique or structure in their work.
Another reason why you might be asked to write a poem analysis essay is that you wish to argue about something connected with poetry such as whether there are gender differences between poetry written by men or women and what these differences are.
You must also take care when writing a poem analysis essay because you could be writing about any type of verse from sonnets (14 lines) through haikus (3 lines) to limericks (5 lines). Your topic might, for example, be a piece of free verse that is written in blank verse.
You might also need to write about how an author uses poetic techniques such as alliteration or metaphor in their work. If you do this then you will have to study and understand these key concepts. You should also consider the tone used by the poet in their poem because it can tell you a lot about what they are trying to achieve through their writing.
It is vitally important that when you write your essay, you include plenty of examples from the poetry itself of what you are discussing so that your essay makes more sense to your reader. You also have to remember that when you write about poetry, you should go into as much detail as is necessary in order to analyse the work effectively.
Poem analysis essays need to be well-researched so if you are looking for free information online regarding a particular poem you are studying and its author, then make sure what you find has been written by an authoritative source such as a University or College website.
It is also vitally important that before writing your essay or even starting any research on it that you read the poem first several times over. This will help ensure your essay conveys all of the relevant details clearly and accurately.
How to start a poetry analysis paper
A poetry analysis paper is about the literary form and aesthetic qualities of a poem. It also entails an interpretation of the poet’s attitude, thoughts, or emotions based on the text. In addition to a comprehensive analysis, you may also include your own response to the poem. In any case, a poetry analysis essay is centered on the poem alone.
Poetry analysis essays vary in length depending on the specific assignment and your writing style. You may want to follow some suggestions in order to make your paper more organized and easier to write.
First, pick out all of the important information from the poem you are analyzing. This will help you structure your paragraphs clearly and logically as you compose your paper’s body–essentially creating an outline which will then guide your overall writing. Once you have this basic framework built, fill it in with details about how the poet conveys his/her message by making use of different literary devices like rhyme scheme, metaphor, etc., using examples from the text itself as needed. When you are done, you will have a complete and authentic poetry analysis essay.
There’s no definite formula for writing a winning poetry analysis essay. You can create an original piece of work as long as you follow your teacher’s guidelines and include the needed information he/she provided (if any). As this is a subjective assignment, it may be challenging to find specific writing tips that apply to every student.
However, given below are some general pointers that should help:
First, read the poem several times over to get familiar with it before proceeding with your research. Try to relate what you understand about the poetic form with its overall meaning (also try to remember the moods or emotions conveyed by the poem while doing this). This will help you gain a better understanding of the whole.
Once you’ve read it enough times, try to understand the perspective and point-of-view of the poet by viewing it from different angles. Then look into some background information about the poem such as its publication history and any criticisms or reviews written about it. This will give you an idea of what readers have felt while reading that particular piece.
Then make a list of all literary devices used inside the poem (mainly ones which can help reveal the author’s message). Discuss why they are chosen; also include general observations about how these tools were utilized strategically within the text in order to represent certain meanings or ideas effectively.
You should also look at other poems in this collection to get more specific ideas on how the poet writes. Poets may also belong to a specific poetic movement or school of thought and you should make brief comments on that as well.
You can also give your own thoughts about the poem if you like, however, it is not required in order for you to get an excellent grade. You may ask yourself questions like: How does this make me feel? Or what emotions do I associate with this text? Your responses will definitely come from your heart and are most likely very genuine (which will help readers relate with your analysis better).
In any case, remember that the final decision remains exclusively with your instructor when he/she evaluates and grades your essay based on his/her own standards and preferences. If you follow the above guidelines, you will get a good grade without having to worry too much.
You should also make sure that you cite any sources from where you found these background details by including notations at the end of your paper. It is important to credit them since they helped you expand your understanding while writing this analysis.
If you are still struggling with the topic sentence and thesis statement , then look for examples in other student essays which may help give you some ideas on how to present a well-structured paper that follows an ideal format (i.e., deciding whether or not to use quotes is one such decision that can be easier with prior knowledge). Once again, depending on what type of paper you have been asked to write will help your understanding greatly.
With the right tools and enough experience, you will be able to write excellent poetry analysis essays on your own in no time at all. Remember that it is better if you understand what your instructor expects before writing. If not, check out this example of a good poetry analysis essay for some ideas: poem analysis essay sample .
Good luck with your essay! Are there any specific problems or questions that you would like to ask? Post your task now for help now!
Poem analysis essay structure
A poem analysis essay should have an introduction, body and conclusion. The introduction includes the poet, title of poem, and why it is significant to you or society. The body should include a summary of the poem with specific examples that show how it relates to your thesis statement (a claim about what you will prove by analyzing the poem). In addition, there should be evidence from the text that supports this claim. The final paragraph of the essay should talk about how this body evidence supports your thesis as well as restate what your thesis was in order to finish off on a strong closing claim.
Here is an example on how to structure a poem analysis essay :
Sample Poem Analysis Essay Outline: “Autumnal Equinox”” By Robert Frost
Robert Frost was born in 1874 and died 1961. He was an American poet. The poem “Autumnal Equinox” describes the beauty of man and nature interacting with each other in perfect harmony.
Summary: The poem tells a story about two men walking down a road on their way to work. They encounter two women who are doing the same thing. One woman is dressed modestly, carrying her lunch basket. The other one is more provocative, wearing shorts and flirting with the men as they walk by her. The first man (with whom you identify) admires then ignores the sensuous looker because he has Mary, his wife at home to love him honestly for himself; while the second man lusts after her because he is married to a woman who does not appreciate him for who he is. The first man then imagines what it would be like if people were able to see through the characters they present and bestow upon them the love that they deserve.”
Evidence: When you meet a stranger/person you may give your true self or a façade of yourself. You may also have an effect on other people through your personality, body language and style. This poem illustrates the different types of love humans can experience by showing two men encounter two women dressed differently on their way to work in nature, where we are meant to feel whole without pretense: “And each kept wholly to himself” (lines 13-14). One man admires her sensuous look, while the other ignores her all together. Then you are invited to imagine what it would be like if we could see through the characters that people present and discover who they truly are in order to grant them love: “But as he drew her near/ To touch his arm she went” (lines 17-18).
Robert Frost is excellent at describing how people interact with each other without pretense because nature is where we feel whole. You could not tell by looking at this woman or man that she was mean or generous, a loving person or one seeking pleasure; but when either of them came close enough for someone else to touch their arms, you discovered who they were and gave them true love. In conclusion, people need to look at each other past the exteriors and see who they are on the inside before judging others.
Poem analysis essay format / outline
Format for poem analysis essay should include:
- Introduction: background information on the poem
- Body / Analysis of poem: discuss the layout and style of writing (analyze poetic devices, imagery, etc.) This is where you get down to actual criticism. This can be a minimum of one page. An essay about one page long with no additional examples cited supporting your claims is fine.
- Conclusion : To conclude a poem analysis essay, the following may be helpful: Summarize your critical findings and discuss how you interpret the poet’s intended meaning and to whom it is directed.
- Works Cited / Reference Page (At least two sources must be cited.) Use a citation style specific to your discipline when citing sources in an essay.
Read: how to structure an essay .
Summary of poem analysis essay format:
The introduction is only one paragraph, but, to gain credit for an introductory paragraph, provide background information on the topic and specific title of work being studied. The important thing about this section is that it sets up the rest of the paper by explaining why someone would want to study the topic and what you hope to show by writing your paper.
The meat of the essay is in its body, which should be a minimum of one page. Each paragraph should have some kind of transition sentence or phrase at the beginning so that it is clear how each new aspect will relate to previous information. One of the most common mistakes made when writing papers is not tying together all parts with transitions between paragraphs and sentences; don’t make this mistake!
Your conclusion can summarize what was accomplished in the essay or further explore ideas presented throughout the piece. If you use an outside source for research, cite it using a proper citation style.
In short, poem analysis essays are longer than opinion papers because they require greater research and depth as to content. They include a lot of information on the poet, work being analyzed and your understanding of said content.
Poem analysis essay outline example:
Introduction (Background Information) : “The Great Depression” by John Steinbeck is an autobiographical account of the author’s experiences during The Great Depression which occurred from 1929 to 1939 in the United States. An estimated 33 million Americans were unemployed during that period due to low demand for goods and services which greatly hurt many families financially. This event caused many people to be homeless or live below subsistence level conditions until World War II began pulling the nation out of its economic slump with military spending placing many people back in jobs earning high wages and purchasing new consumer goods like cars, electric appliances even though many were just barely scraping by.
Body (In-depth Analysis):
The writer’s style is clear and simple which allows the reader to focus on the content of the poem rather than trying to understand complex vocabulary or difficult sentence structure.
Description: To describe an event, place or person, it is helpful to start with details that are specific and concrete like colors, shapes, sizes.
It is also important to include comparisons (e.g., larger than a pencil) that help fully envision what you are describing; this draws in your audience so they can see for themselves what you are talking about instead of having to make it up in their imagination or skim over the passage while trying to guess what it might be. Imagery:
Imagery is when words suggest sensory information like smells, tastes and sights. The use of “yellow” to describe a sunrise implies that the sun appears yellow when it first rises in the morning sky.
In other poems (like “Ode on a Grecian Urn”), imagery serves another purpose by introducing symbolism which is when objects refer to ideas beyond their physical properties (e.g., the urn refers not only to a pot for holding ashes but also to an idea of love being untouchable).
Conclusion: Steinbeck’s true personality comes out in this poem as he recounts his own experiences with poverty and how much they affect many people’s lives. It shows how valuable one event can be even when it triggers a chain reaction to other events that have no purpose other than causing further disaster.
Poetry analysis essay example
This is a sample poem analysis essay. The poem in question here is “Lost” by Alexander Pope. This essay was submitted as a sample by a student after using Tutlance to lean how to structure a poem analysis essay from our tutors. You can use this sample to write
The poem, “Lost” by Alexander Pope, tells the story about a man who is searching for his lost love: “Whilst she from Him still hears some faithful fame/ And thousand kisses to her name addressed…he grows old alone.” (Pope 8). He does not know where she went and what happened to her. In this piece of literature, he describes how much he misses his love. Aside from that, Pope tells us something else. He put aside his love for his friend and he chose to be faithful to that woman: “And thousand kisses to her name addressed.” The poet wants us to understand how much he loves the girl; it is very true of a man who had loved his mate. Although he misses the love of his life, he feels lonely without her: “…when thou art gone where none but gossips come…” (Pope 16). He believes that she will never come back; it is impossible for them to meet again because she has left him too long ago. He remembers how they first met each other until here in this place, but then everything was lost when she disappeared. This hidden meaning reveals itself as we read further in the poem: “…and I feel thy want reviving my pains as much as ever.” (Pope 19). He thinks that if she is in the place where he or any person cannot see her, there will be no feelings of love between them.
In this poem, Pope uses several literary devices used to achieve his purpose; these devices are the metaphor, repetition and rhyme scheme. When she left him, it was like losing a part of himself. In the first two stanzas of this poem, Pope describes how lonely he felt without her. He explains that when he goes out with friends, they do not understand what happened to him but his heart: “But then your absence makes me all too known/ How steep that hill with steps how high you drawn!”(Pope 10-11). The poet is saying that when she left him, it was like climbing the highest mountain in the world. Pope wants us to understand how much he loves her. He uses these images of mountains and steps “to describe how difficult it is to be apart from his love.”
In this poem, Alexander Pope uses repetition three times because it helps create a rhythm and rhyme scheme. In the first stanza, he repeats an image: “…my dull eyes with wandering to and fro…” (Pope 1). Then he repeats what he said before: “…and make delays as lovers do…”(Pope 2) The last time Pope repeats words are when we read the last two lines of each stanzas: “…come live with me and be my love… …let us make haste to live…” (Pope 3-4). The poet makes no change when he repeats this twice.
“…when she from Him still hears some faithful fame/ And thousand kisses to her name addressed.” (Pope 8)
The last quotation of this poem is the most important one because it tells how much Pope loves his beloved: “…when thou art gone where none but gossips come…”(Pope 16). In this line, Pope uses onomatopoeia for several times. He describes that she has disappeared a long time ago, but she hasn’t lost someone who really loves her so deeply inside of him; it is like he knows what happened to her just by intuition: “…But gossips all my faith would have betrayed…”(Pope 16). Even though he could not see her, Pope is still faithful to his love.
This poem tells us that we should value and appreciate the things around us because they are gone forever if we do not do anything about it. Since you’ve read this article, you probably understand that in life there will come a time when we lose something or someone very important to ourselves; I was sure that this topic must be important for everybody no matter who you are or where you come from: “Lose something every day… Accept the flusteration.” (Stevens). This piece of literature can teach us how to face all problems in our lives. We will find solutions to all problems as long as we focus our minds and hearts on it.
I also would like to recommend you to read the other works of Pope; he is an amazing writer, so his work is very interesting for any reader. It was one of my favourite poets, and I’m sure that after reading this article not only you but others will love him too.
How to write a poem evaluation essay
In a poem evaluation essay, you will be offering a critical analysis of the artwork (usually a poem) you are evaluating. You will also be revealing your opinion on this art form, provide an explanation for your conclusion and suggest what else can be done to improve upon it.
Critical analysis is a literary technique that involves the examination and evaluation of an artwork.
In a poem (or any form of art) evaluation essay, you are expected to analyze the qualities of various aspects or elements within the work of art. The problem with writing such an essay is that it may be quite difficult to decide exactly where to begin analyzing the work.
You will need to do some research on your own before beginning your essay and draft out an outline for your essay. Once you have done this, try working on each section individually before adding them all together into one cohesive piece.
How to structure a poetry analysis essay?
This is a difficult question, because poetry can be written in many different ways. However, I’ll share some ideas that might work.
First, you could discuss the use of language in the poem and how it shapes meaning. You could talk about the tone of the poem, and how it changes over time. When discussing structure you might consider: where the poem moves from one idea to another (how does a transition happen?), how much time passes or changes between two sections of a poem, or what causes an action to start? You could also talk about how a particular technique shapes meaning in a poem–for example, when line length affects meaning. This would be relevant for poems with fixed line lengths (like haiku) but might not apply to free verse. Another technique to discuss would be rhyme–both the kinds of rhyming used in a poem (and why it’s chosen) and how meaning is affected by using different types of rhymes.
As for style, this could take many forms as well. For instance, you might consider: what kind of language or diction is the poem written in? How are these words arranged on the page, and how does that affect meaning? To examine syntax, you might look at how lines are connected–how do they flow together when read aloud? Is there repetition within a section or between sections; what causes one part to end and another part to begin? You could also consider imagery–what images are presented and how they might affect meaning.
All of these elements are important to poetry, and this is just a short list I’ve compiled. For more ideas you could look at this list of poetic terms from a university level course (though it focuses on poems in English).
These are some useful terms to know when writing a poem analysis essay: form, structure, style, tone, imagery, syntax and diction. You should also keep in mind that there’s no strict definition for what a poem “is”–for example, some genres break rules or mix together different kinds of language. This means that you can talk about why poets would make such choices even if the poem isn’t strictly following traditional expectations.
As far as sources go, you might look at the poems themselves. There’s also a wide variety of academic sources about poetry (you could search for them using keywords like “poetry analysis” to find more). It might be helpful to read through some examples of poem analysis, as they’ll give you practice on how to structure your own essay. You should always use credible sources. If you’ve found a useful book or article, it will probably have a Works Cited in its back matter which lists where the author got her information from–and this is an important part of an academic paper.
You can often find these online by searching for a title and author; if not, the library can help you locate one that matches.
Poem Analysis Essay Writing help
To conclude, if you are having problems writing a poem analysis essay, then it might be wise for you to consider using the services of an essay writing service such as Tutlance. These types of companies employ professional writers who have years of experience in writing academic essays and term papers so they are more than capable of helping you with your assignment. They also use software that is designed specifically to detect plagiarism when they write essays or create them from scratch if necessary.
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How to Write Literary Analysis
When you read for pleasure, your only goal is enjoyment. You might find yourself reading to get caught up in an exciting story, to learn about an interesting time or place, or just to pass time. Maybe you’re looking for inspiration, guidance, or a reflection of your own life. There are as many different, valid ways of reading a book as there are books in the world.
When you read a work of literature in an English class, however, you’re being asked to read in a special way: you’re being asked to perform literary analysis. To analyze something means to break it down into smaller parts and then examine how those parts work, both individually and together. Literary analysis involves examining all the parts of a novel, play, short story, or poem—elements such as character, setting, tone, and imagery—and thinking about how the author uses those elements to create certain effects.
A literary essay isn’t a book review: you’re not being asked whether or not you liked a book or whether you’d recommend it to another reader. A literary essay also isn’t like the kind of book report you wrote when you were younger, where your teacher wanted you to summarize the book’s action. A high school- or college-level literary essay asks, “How does this piece of literature actually work?” “How does it do what it does?” and, “Why might the author have made the choices he or she did?”
The Seven Steps
No one is born knowing how to analyze literature; it’s a skill you learn and a process you can master. As you gain more practice with this kind of thinking and writing, you’ll be able to craft a method that works best for you. But until then, here are seven basic steps to writing a well-constructed literary essay.
- 1. Ask questions
- 2. Collect evidence
- 3. Construct a thesis
- 4. Develop and organize arguments
- 5. Write the introduction
- 6. Write the body paragraphs
- 7. Write the conclusion
1 Ask Questions
When you’re assigned a literary essay in class, your teacher will often provide you with a list of writing prompts. Lucky you! Now all you have to do is choose one. Do yourself a favor and pick a topic that interests you. You’ll have a much better (not to mention easier) time if you start off with something you enjoy thinking about. If you are asked to come up with a topic by yourself, though, you might start to feel a little panicked. Maybe you have too many ideas—or none at all. Don’t worry. Take a deep breath and start by asking yourself these questions:
What struck you?
Did a particular image, line, or scene linger in your mind for a long time? If it fascinated you, chances are you can draw on it to write a fascinating essay.
What confused you?
Maybe you were surprised to see a character act in a certain way, or maybe you didn’t understand why the book ended the way it did. Confusing moments in a work of literature are like a loose thread in a sweater: if you pull on it, you can unravel the entire thing. Ask yourself why the author chose to write about that character or scene the way he or she did and you might tap into some important insights about the work as a whole.
Did you notice any patterns?
Is there a phrase that the main character uses constantly or an image that repeats throughout the book? If you can figure out how that pattern weaves through the work and what the significance of that pattern is, you’ve almost got your entire essay mapped out.
Did you notice any contradictions or ironies?
Great works of literature are complex; great literary essays recognize and explain those complexities. Maybe the title Happy Days totally disagrees with the book’s subject matter (hungry orphans dying in the woods). Maybe the main character acts one way around his family and a completely different way around his friends and associates. If you can find a way to explain a work’s contradictory elements, you’ve got the seeds of a great essay.
At this point, you don’t need to know exactly what you’re going to say about your topic; you just need a place to begin your exploration. You can help direct your reading and brainstorming by formulating your topic as a question, which you’ll then try to answer in your essay. The best questions invite critical debates and discussions, not just a rehashing of the summary. Remember, you’re looking for something you can prove or argue based on evidence you find in the text. Finally, remember to keep the scope of your question in mind: is this a topic you can adequately address within the word or page limit you’ve been given? Conversely, is this a topic big enough to fill the required length?
“Are Romeo and Juliet’s parents responsible for the deaths of their children?”
“Why do pigs keep showing up in Lord of the Flies ?”
“Are Dr. Frankenstein and his monster alike? How?”
“What happens to Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird ?”
“What do the other characters in Julius Caesar think about Caesar?”
“How does Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter remind me of my sister?”
2 Collect Evidence
Once you know what question you want to answer, it’s time to scour the book for things that will help you answer the question. Don’t worry if you don’t know what you want to say yet—right now you’re just collecting ideas and material and letting it all percolate. Keep track of passages, symbols, images, or scenes that deal with your topic. Eventually, you’ll start making connections between these examples and your thesis will emerge.
Here’s a brief summary of the various parts that compose each and every work of literature. These are the elements that you will analyze in your essay, and which you will offer as evidence to support your arguments. For more on the parts of literary works, see the Glossary of Literary Terms at the end of this section.
Elements of Story
These are the whats of the work—what happens, where it happens, and to whom it happens.
Elements of Style
These are the hows —how the characters speak, how the story is constructed, and how language is used throughout the work.
Structure and organization
Point of view, figurative language, 3 construct a thesis.
When you’ve examined all the evidence you’ve collected and know how you want to answer the question, it’s time to write your thesis statement. A thesis is a claim about a work of literature that needs to be supported by evidence and arguments. The thesis statement is the heart of the literary essay, and the bulk of your paper will be spent trying to prove this claim. A good thesis will be:
“ The Great Gatsby describes New York society in the 1920s” isn’t a thesis—it’s a fact.
Provable through textual evidence.
“ Hamlet is a confusing but ultimately very well-written play” is a weak thesis because it offers the writer’s personal opinion about the book. Yes, it’s arguable, but it’s not a claim that can be proved or supported with examples taken from the play itself.
“Both George and Lenny change a great deal in Of Mice and Men ” is a weak thesis because it’s obvious. A really strong thesis will argue for a reading of the text that is not immediately apparent.
“Dr. Frankenstein’s monster tells us a lot about the human condition” is almost a really great thesis statement, but it’s still too vague. What does the writer mean by “a lot”? How does the monster tell us so much about the human condition?
Good Thesis Statements
Question: In Romeo and Juliet , which is more powerful in shaping the lovers’ story: fate or foolishness?
Thesis: “Though Shakespeare defines Romeo and Juliet as ‘star- crossed lovers’ and images of stars and planets appear throughout the play, a closer examination of that celestial imagery reveals that the stars are merely witnesses to the characters’ foolish activities and not the causes themselves.”
Question: How does the bell jar function as a symbol in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar ?
Thesis: “A bell jar is a bell-shaped glass that has three basic uses: to hold a specimen for observation, to contain gases, and to maintain a vacuum. The bell jar appears in each of these capacities in The Bell Jar , Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel, and each appearance marks a different stage in Esther’s mental breakdown.”
Question: Would Piggy in The Lord of the Flies make a good island leader if he were given the chance?
Thesis: “Though the intelligent, rational, and innovative Piggy has the mental characteristics of a good leader, he ultimately lacks the social skills necessary to be an effective one. Golding emphasizes this point by giving Piggy a foil in the charismatic Jack, whose magnetic personality allows him to capture and wield power effectively, if not always wisely.”
4 Develop and Organize Arguments
The reasons and examples that support your thesis will form the middle paragraphs of your essay. Since you can’t really write your thesis statement until you know how you’ll structure your argument, you’ll probably end up working on steps 3 and 4 at the same time.
There’s no single method of argumentation that will work in every context. One essay prompt might ask you to compare and contrast two characters, while another asks you to trace an image through a given work of literature. These questions require different kinds of answers and therefore different kinds of arguments. Below, we’ll discuss three common kinds of essay prompts and some strategies for constructing a solid, well-argued case.
Types of Literary Essays
Compare and contrast.
Compare and contrast the characters of Huck and Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn .
Chances are you’ve written this kind of essay before. In an academic literary context, you’ll organize your arguments the same way you would in any other class. You can either go subject by subject or point by point . In the former, you’ll discuss one character first and then the second. In the latter, you’ll choose several traits (attitude toward life, social status, images and metaphors associated with the character) and devote a paragraph to each. You may want to use a mix of these two approaches—for example, you may want to spend a paragraph apiece broadly sketching Huck’s and Jim’s personalities before transitioning into a paragraph or two that describes a few key points of comparison. This can be a highly effective strategy if you want to make a counterintuitive argument—that, despite seeming to be totally different, the two objects being compared are actually similar in a very important way (or vice versa). Remember that your essay should reveal something fresh or unexpected about the text, so think beyond the obvious parallels and differences.
Choose an image—for example, birds, knives, or eyes—and trace that image throughout Macbeth .
Sounds pretty easy, right? All you need to do is read the play, underline every appearance of a knife in Macbeth , and then list them in your essay in the order they appear, right? Well, not exactly. Your teacher doesn’t want a simple catalog of examples. He or she wants to see you make connections between those examples—that’s the difference between summarizing and analyzing. In the Macbeth example above, think about the different contexts in which knives appear in the play and to what effect. In Macbeth , there are real knives and imagined knives; knives that kill and knives that simply threaten. Categorize and classify your examples to give them some order. Finally, always keep the overall effect in mind. After you choose and analyze your examples, you should come to some greater understanding about the work, as well as your chosen image, symbol, or phrase’s role in developing the major themes and stylistic strategies of that work.
Is the society depicted in 1984 good for its citizens?
In this kind of essay, you’re being asked to debate a moral, ethical, or aesthetic issue regarding the work. You might be asked to judge a character or group of characters ( Is Caesar responsible for his own demise ?) or the work itself ( Is Jane Eyre a feminist novel ?). For this kind of essay, there are two important points to keep in mind. First, don’t simply base your arguments on your personal feelings and reactions. Every literary essay expects you to read and analyze the work, so search for evidence in the text. What do characters in 1984 have to say about the government of Oceania? What images does Orwell use that might give you a hint about his attitude toward the government? As in any debate, you also need to make sure that you define all the necessary terms before you begin to argue your case. What does it mean to be a “good” society? What makes a novel “feminist”? You should define your terms right up front, in the first paragraph after your introduction.
Second, remember that strong literary essays make contrary and surprising arguments. Try to think outside the box. In the 1984 example above, it seems like the obvious answer would be no, the totalitarian society depicted in Orwell’s novel is not good for its citizens. But can you think of any arguments for the opposite side? Even if your final assertion is that the novel depicts a cruel, repressive, and therefore harmful society, acknowledging and responding to the counterargument will strengthen your overall case.
5 Write the Introduction
Your introduction sets up the entire essay. It’s where you present your topic and articulate the particular issues and questions you’ll be addressing. It’s also where you, as the writer, introduce yourself to your readers. A persuasive literary essay immediately establishes its writer as a knowledgeable, authoritative figure.
An introduction can vary in length depending on the overall length of the essay, but in a traditional five-paragraph essay it should be no longer than one paragraph. However long it is, your introduction needs to:
Provide any necessary context.
Your introduction should situate the reader and let him or her know what to expect. What book are you discussing? Which characters? What topic will you be addressing?
Answer the “So what?” question.
Why is this topic important, and why is your particular position on the topic noteworthy? Ideally, your introduction should pique the reader’s interest by suggesting how your argument is surprising or otherwise counterintuitive. Literary essays make unexpected connections and reveal less-than-obvious truths.
Present your thesis.
This usually happens at or very near the end of your introduction.
Indicate the shape of the essay to come.
Your reader should finish reading your introduction with a good sense of the scope of your essay as well as the path you’ll take toward proving your thesis. You don’t need to spell out every step, but you do need to suggest the organizational pattern you’ll be using.
Your introduction should not:
Beware of the two killer words in literary analysis: interesting and important. Of course the work, question, or example is interesting and important—that’s why you’re writing about it!
Open with any grandiose assertions.
Many student readers think that beginning their essays with a flamboyant statement such as, “Since the dawn of time, writers have been fascinated with the topic of free will,” makes them sound important and commanding. You know what? It actually sounds pretty amateurish.
Wildly praise the work.
Another typical mistake student writers make is extolling the work or author. Your teacher doesn’t need to be told that “Shakespeare is perhaps the greatest writer in the English language.” You can mention a work’s reputation in passing—by referring to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as “Mark Twain’s enduring classic,” for example—but don’t make a point of bringing it up unless that reputation is key to your argument.
Keep your introduction streamlined and to the point. Don’t feel the need to throw in all kinds of bells and whistles in order to impress your reader—just get to the point as quickly as you can, without skimping on any of the required steps.
6 Write the Body Paragraphs
Once you’ve written your introduction, you’ll take the arguments you developed in step 4 and turn them into your body paragraphs. The organization of this middle section of your essay will largely be determined by the argumentative strategy you use, but no matter how you arrange your thoughts, your body paragraphs need to do the following:
Begin with a strong topic sentence.
Topic sentences are like signs on a highway: they tell the reader where they are and where they’re going. A good topic sentence not only alerts readers to what issue will be discussed in the following paragraph but also gives them a sense of what argument will be made about that issue. “Rumor and gossip play an important role in The Crucible ” isn’t a strong topic sentence because it doesn’t tell us very much. “The community’s constant gossiping creates an environment that allows false accusations to flourish” is a much stronger topic sentence— it not only tells us what the paragraph will discuss (gossip) but how the paragraph will discuss the topic (by showing how gossip creates a set of conditions that leads to the play’s climactic action).
Fully and completely develop a single thought.
Don’t skip around in your paragraph or try to stuff in too much material. Body paragraphs are like bricks: each individual one needs to be strong and sturdy or the entire structure will collapse. Make sure you have really proven your point before moving on to the next one.
Use transitions effectively.
Good literary essay writers know that each paragraph must be clearly and strongly linked to the material around it. Think of each paragraph as a response to the one that precedes it. Use transition words and phrases such as however, similarly, on the contrary, therefore, and furthermore to indicate what kind of response you’re making.
7 Write the Conclusion
Just as you used the introduction to ground your readers in the topic before providing your thesis, you’ll use the conclusion to quickly summarize the specifics learned thus far and then hint at the broader implications of your topic. A good conclusion will:
Do more than simply restate the thesis.
If your thesis argued that The Catcher in the Rye can be read as a Christian allegory, don’t simply end your essay by saying, “And that is why The Catcher in the Rye can be read as a Christian allegory.” If you’ve constructed your arguments well, this kind of statement will just be redundant.
Synthesize the arguments, not summarize them.
Similarly, don’t repeat the details of your body paragraphs in your conclusion. The reader has already read your essay, and chances are it’s not so long that they’ve forgotten all your points by now.
Revisit the “So what?” question.
In your introduction, you made a case for why your topic and position are important. You should close your essay with the same sort of gesture. What do your readers know now that they didn’t know before? How will that knowledge help them better appreciate or understand the work overall?
Move from the specific to the general.
Your essay has most likely treated a very specific element of the work—a single character, a small set of images, or a particular passage. In your conclusion, try to show how this narrow discussion has wider implications for the work overall. If your essay on To Kill a Mockingbird focused on the character of Boo Radley, for example, you might want to include a bit in your conclusion about how he fits into the novel’s larger message about childhood, innocence, or family life.
Your conclusion should suggest new directions of thought, but it shouldn’t be treated as an opportunity to pad your essay with all the extra, interesting ideas you came up with during your brainstorming sessions but couldn’t fit into the essay proper. Don’t attempt to stuff in unrelated queries or too many abstract thoughts.
Avoid making overblown closing statements.
A conclusion should open up your highly specific, focused discussion, but it should do so without drawing a sweeping lesson about life or human nature. Making such observations may be part of the point of reading, but it’s almost always a mistake in essays, where these observations tend to sound overly dramatic or simply silly.
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