Analysis means figuring out what things mean, and presenting your evidence to support that thesis. We need this independent thinking skill for all the important events of our lives. In literary analysis, we practice this skill using stories of other people’s lives.
Here is the structure for a literary analysis essay with basic explanations in parentheses:
Title (wordplay blending thesis, book title)
- Grabber (anecdote, quote from another book and/or big idea)
- Orient the reader (Author, Title, 1-2-sentence plot summary)
- Thesis (intended moral/point/lesson of the story)
Every body paragraph: (Evidence of Thesis)
- Claim (topic sentence)
- Context (key plot points for those who haven’t read book)
- Quote (to help tell the context; incorporated into context sentence)
- Commentary (connect the above to the thesis)
- Greater context/counterpoint
Now here is the same structure with more thorough explanations:
Title: The name of your assignment (e.g., Literary Analysis Essay, or The Great Gatsby Essay) is not the paper’s title; the assignment name goes under your name and the date on the right side of the top of your paper. Your title should blend your theme or thesis with the book title in some clever, concise way (e.g., The Great Mistake). The title will be in bold, centered, below the name stuff but two or three line breaks above your introduction.
- Catch the reader’s attention with an anecdote, a quote that’s not from the book, a bit of thematically related history and/or a philosophical question or thought—all worded in an engaging voice.
- Orient the reader. In 1-2 sentences, provide the book title (italicized, with each word over 3 letters capitalized), author’s name, and a plot summary.
- The most important part of your thesis is that it’s original, not a rewording of an idea you got from the internet or someone else. Analysis, again, is about what stuff means—its context, its significance. If you can’t think of the meaning of events by yourself, who cares if you can structure an essay?
- The thesis does not mention characters or plot. A thesis in literary analysis says what the main theme of the book is AND WHAT THE AUTHOR’S POINT ABOUT THAT THEME IS. The author’s point is the moral of the story, the lesson for all readers to take away. While the theme will be general—e.g., race, class, gender, change, grief, love, growing up—the point will be specific. Fill in the blanks: The author’s central theme is ____________________________. His/her point about this theme (the moral of the story) is that ____________________________________________________.
- A good thesis either will typically include the word “should” (“When growing up, people should…” “To succeed at love, one should…”) or say that certain kinds of actions lead to certain consequences (“Greedy people go insane.”; “Sticking up for the poor is suicidal but worth it.”).
- A good thesis must be an argument, not a truism; a sane person must be able to disagree. (“People go through great changes when growing up” or “life is full of hard times and lessons” do not work: these are just true for all books and people.)
Every body paragraph:
Every body paragraph is evidence proving your thesis. So your thesis will have some “keywords” that you will find yourself repeating a lot. Every body paragraph will have the same components (which will not be labeled or separated by line breaks):
- Although you put it first, it might be best to write it last.
- The claim is the topic sentence for your paragraph. Because every paragraph is built to prove your thesis, your claim will be a subcategory of your thesis. You’re not covering the whole book in every paragraph, just part of it. The claim says what part.
- Like every good thesis, many good claims will not mention characters or plot. If you drew a Venn Diagram where your thesis was in one circle and the subject of this paragraph was in the other, the claim would fall in the football in the middle. For example, if your thesis is “Crime doesn’t pay,” your claim for the paragraph about the protagonist’s childhood might say, “At first, crime seems romantic,” and the claim for the paragraph about the protagonist as a teen might say, “One’s first crime is often thrilling,” and the paragraph about the protagonist as a middle aged man might say, “Crime eventually becomes routine,” and the paragraph about him in the nursing home might say, “All crime catches up to you eventually.” The specific plot evidence follows.
- If a claim does mention characters or plot, it should be on the level of interpretation or insight or overviews, not specific plot points. For example, maybe you want each paragraph in your “Crime doesn’t pay” essay to focus on how the thesis applies to a different character. So your claim for one paragraph might be, “Crime makes Maria rich but so paranoid it’s not worth it,” and for the next might be, “Sylvio actually makes less as a criminal than he would have as a legitimate businessman,” and etc.
- Context is what happens. The facts. Specific plot points: who does what, how, when. You must retell the story (in present tense: things happen in books, not happened because you’re done reading them) for someone who has not read the book. Never mention a character or event without supplying the background necessary to understand it. Include only the events that function as evidence proving your thesis. Of course, because your thesis is about the point of the book, it makes sense that all the big things that happen in the book should be included (retold by you).
- “Quote” means an excerpt of the writer’s words—not necessarily characters’ dialogue. As you are describing the big events that are key to the meaning in the book, you should mix in the writer’s own description of those events.
- Include the page number in parentheses after each quote.
- Quotes should not just stand alone, following a period and ending with a period, but should be incorporated into your own sentences in one of the following ways:
- By splicing your sentence with the writer’s (i.e. your subject, their predicate) so that it flows as a correct sentence. For example: Holden especially loves how Jane “kept all her kings in the back row.” (p. 29)
- By using a colon instead of a period between the context and the quote. For example: Nick Carroway is an unreliable narrator: “I have been drunk just twice in my life and the second time was that afternoon, so everything that happened has a dim hazy cast over it…” (p.33)
- Most quotes support the thesis just because they show the key events that support your thesis. But some quotes support the thesis because the narrator or a speaker directly addresses the book’s theme. For example, when a book’s title appears in the text, it’s usually an example of this. A good analysis paper will have quotes narrating all the big events and at least one of these kind of quotes.
- When quoting dialogue, always be clear who is speaking, when, why, and what their words mean.
- As far as formatting goes, indicate any words you leave out with an ellipsis in brackets. And quotes inside of quotes become single quotes: “’You’re crazy, Nick,’ he said quickly. [ . . . ] ‘I don’t know what’s the matter with you.’” (p. 187)
- Connect the evidence from this paragraph clearly to your thesis. Your thesis will have some key words in it that you will use again here, in a fresh way each paragraph. Really spell it out; it’s better to be clear than to avoid repeating yourself.
- Greater context/counterpoint. Now that you’ve spent multiple (5 is a good number) body paragraphs supporting your idea of the writer’s point, it’s time to step back and ask, and maybe answer, So what? So this writer took a theme and used a novel as a parable to express a point about that theme—now that we understand the point they were trying to make, let’s forget the book and think about the point itself. If everyone believed this writer’s point, what would the world look like? What would one or more counterpoints be? What other writers used what other books to disagree, or support, or revise this writer’s point? Consider this book, and get your reader to consider this book, as one line of dialogue in an eternal conversation (or debate) about this theme.
Literary Analysis Essay
You use the internet or friends to construct a level 2-4 thesis, or independently make one that summarizes the plot, not theme.
You independently construct a thesis that identifies a broad theme in a reading.
You independently construct a thesis that identifies an author’s general point about a broad theme.
You independently construct a fitting thesis that identifies an author’s narrow point about a broad theme.
You use the internet or others for help to summarize plot and/or include a quote.
You independently find and summarize plot facts and find quotes that relate to your thesis.
You independently construct two paragraphs of good evidence for your thesis that each include a topic sentence (claim), context for one who hasn’t read the book, a quote (with page number) and a connection to your thesis.
You independently construct four or more body paragraphs of well-organized, key evidence proving your thesis. Each includes an insightful topic sentence (claim), detailed context for one who hasn’t read the book, a quote (with page number if possible) incorporated into a context sentence, and how all this supports your thesis.
Title, Intro, Conclu-sion
You label the assignment up top, write what you’re going to write beforehand about and what you wrote about afterward.
You title the assignment up top, include the book title and author name and a thesis in the first paragraph, and summarize your thesis in the last paragraph.
You label the assignment and title it; include the author name, correctly capitalized and italicized book title, a 1-2-sentence plot summary, and your thesis in the first paragraph; and an insightful summary in the last paragraph.
You label the assignment beneath your name and date at the right top of the page and title it centered in bold using wordplay referencing book title and thesis; include 1-2 “grabber” sentences (an anecdote or deep or surprising thought), the author name, the correctly capitalized title in quotes if a story and italics if a book, a 1-4-sentence plot summary, and your thesis in the first paragraph; and a conclusion that considers the idea of the thesis outside the book, comparing/ contrasting the moral with a different story or event.
Literary Analysis Essay Building Worksheet Name: _________________________________
Story title: ________________________________ Author: ___________________________________
Your thesis: The writer’s message about the theme (moral of the story): __________________________
Part of thesis or story to address first:
A quote that supports it:
Part of thesis or story to address second:
A quote that supports it:
Part of thesis or story to address third:
A quote that support it:
Part of thesis or story to address fourth:
A quote that supports it:
Part of thesis or story to address fifth:
A quote that supports it:
Another specific event or story that has the same theme: ______________________________________
Compare/contrast the message/moral of that event or story:
Literary Analysis Essay Sample (Abridged)
Lyndsay Hughes 4th Period Am. Lit. March 6, 2001 Mr. Doherty Literary Analysis Essay
God in the Bucket
“Cast your bucket down where you are!” were the words of Booker T. Washington that resounded in the heads of thousands of black Americans in the years of and following Reconstruction. During this time, many people shared Washington’s philosophy of upward class mobility and the gradual progression of the black race towards the standards of white society. In her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston defies this philosophy of essentially striving to become “white.” She brilliantly portrays a vibrant black society that stands alone; her political message is subtle – it lies in the complete absence of whites throughout most of the book. She does not address the white population, because it is not part of her message. Although including white society for comparative purposes may have strengthened her message, Hurston succeeds without doing so. She stresses group solidarity in the black community and this message is emphasized in every part of the book: in the varying lifestyles and communities, the rich language, the sense of patriotism and being American. Hurston celebrates this vital culture and by not attacking white society, she gains a respect for the everyday life and culture of African-Americans.
While working for her husband Joe Starks in the general store in Eatonville, an all-black town, Janie admires the humorous and satirical conversations lead mainly by Sam Watson and Lige Moss as they sit on the front porch. They can make a grueling argument out of just about anything: “Whut is it dat keeps a man from gettni’ burnt on uh red-hot stove – caution or nature?” (p. 60) Their heated debates are entertainment for the entire town. This scene of men talking and laughing on the front porch of the town store is All-American – one of patriotism and pride in community – and it illustrates well the rich culture of African-Americans.
Janies’s days in the Everglades with her third husband and true love, TeaCake, are filled with dancing, singing and red hot gambling. Janie loves her new life that is meager and simple, yet daring, adventurous and so much more real than her comfortable life with Joe Starks in Eatonville. She feels like an equal: she works hard everyday alongside her husband, but it is different ffrom what she experienced with Joe. When TeaCake asks Janie if she is happy with the work she tells him, “Clerkin” in dat store wuz hard, but heah we ain’t got notin’ tuh do bit do our work and come home and love.”(p.127)
Hurston emphasizes the thriving culture of the working class: content with their situation, and taking pride and pleasure in their work rather than constantly working to get ahead. By contrasting Janie’s feelings with Joe Starks and TeaCake, Hurston accentuates the theme of solidarity in the black working class and the thriving culture beraft of the influence of oppression and striving towards “whitehood.”
Janie feels more a part of the black community out on the muck that she has ever felt before: “Sometimes Janie would think of the old days in the big white house and the store and laugh to herself. What if Eatonville could see her now in her blue denim overalls and heavy shoes? The crowd of people behind her and a dice game on her floor! She was sorry for her friends back there and scornful of the others…” (p.127) As a child, Janie has felt isolated because of her partial white lineage and then later in life because of her status in Eatonville as the mayor’s wife. Amongst the working class and being with Teacake, however, Janie feels proud in her blackness and togetherness with the other African Americans. Hurston again uses Janie’s feelings of unity with her race and her observations of the flourishing culture in the black working class to emphasize her message.
Mrs. Turner is a mulatto Negro who idolizes the white race. Her husband owns an eating-house in the everglades and during the off season she comes to visit Janie often. In one of their conversations, Mrs. Turner tells Janie her opinion of Booker t. Washington: “All he ever do was cut de monkey for de white folks… ah didn’t do nothin’ but hold us back-talkin’ ‘bout work when de race ain’t never done nothin’ else. He wuz de enemy of us, dat’s wut. He wuz a white man’s nigger.” (p.136) Mrs. Turner’s stun Janie-to her this is sacrilege. She replies, I wuz raised in de notion dat he wuz uh big man.” Hurston uses Mrs.Turner to express her views on the philosophies of Booker T. Washington. She believes that these philosophies of hard work and strife in oppression to become white only hindered African Americans further.
Although Mrs. Turner voices this essential message, she is hypocritical because she herself hates the black race and strives toward ‘white hood.’ In fact, Mrs. Turner attaches herself to Janie because of her white characteristics, which she worships. “She felt honored by Janie’s acquaintance and she quickly forgave and forgot snubs in order to keep it. Anyone who looks more white folkish than herself was better than she was in her criteria…” (p.138) Mrs. Turner hates TeaCake for his blackness as much as she loves Janie for her whiteness. Janie observes “…it was so evident that Mrs. Turner represents what disgusts Hurston. Instead of attacking white society, Hurston includes Mrs. Turner in the novel as a jest towards it. Mrs. Turner lives precariously between two races, hating one and worshiping the other, and as a result she remains isolated from both.
Despite her white lineage, highlighted by fair skin and light hair, Janie develops a sense of black pride and feels part of the black race. Janie had the experience of essentially being ‘white’ when Joe shut her up in a big house with everything material she could ever want and she didn’t enjoy it. Her position as the Mayor’s wife isolated her from the rest of the town: “It sort of made the rest of them feel that they had been taken advantage of. Like things have been kept from them… it was bad enough for white people, but when one of you r own color could be so different it out you on a wonder… (p.45) Booker T. Washington felt that a distinct class structure within the black race would push a small minority of African Americans closer to the desired ‘white hood’ and lead the way for the rest to follow. Through the isolation and resentment that Janie encountered in Eatonville, Hurston effectively shows that this class structure only cause disunity and dislike amongst fellow African Americans. Hurston illustrates the ideal solidarity in her vital portrayal of the vivacious and lively working class.
Hurston includes some of the white population at the end of the novel. This is done not as an attack on white society, but as a sort of trial that Janie must face to prove her blackness. The hurricane uproots the thriving black community living out on the muck and carries away the life that Janie loves. But she is still with Teacake and tells him “Ah’m wid mah husband in uh storm, dat’s all… if you kin see de light at all. Ah wuz fumblin’ round and God opened de door.”(p.151) her love for TeaCake is so strong- he has given her a life of love, equality and adventure. The events at the end of the book test the love and Janie must prove her dedication to TeaCake to end his miserable rabid state, Janie feels the wrath of the ‘boys’ from the back of the courtroom. They forgive her later, however, when they realize that what she did was best and that she truly lives TeaCake. Janie’s decision to return to Eatonville with her newfound selfhood shows the solidarity that she feels with the black community and the words of Mrs. Turner made her forget her white lineage and love her blackness. Janie’s to selfhood is also a journey through the varying lifestyles and communities of the thriving African American culture.
Hurston succeeds in portraying a political message through her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Instead of attacking white society, she shows the thriving black society that stands alone, exempt from white puppetry, and gains a respevt for the everyday life and culture of the African Americans. Flouting the well-loved philosophies of Booker T. Washington, Hurston stresses black pride and group solidarity. For ‘throwing that bucket down’ doesn’t do much good if there is gold in the bucket.