Writing the Literary Analysis
Brought to you by the Purdue University Writing Lab
Author: Brian Yothers
Literary Analysis Due Dates!
• 1/23 – Friday – Thesis Statement Due
• 1/30 – Friday – Source Cards Due
• 2/9 – Monday – Rough Draft Check
• 2/11 – Wednesday – Final Draft Due
Part I: Defining the Literary Analysis
• It’s literary
• It’s an analysis
• It’s . . . an argument!
• It may also involve research on and analysis of secondary sources (required for our class).
How is it “literary”?
• Usually, a literary analysis will involve a discussion of a text as writing, thus the term literary, which means “having to do with letters”
• This will involve the use of certain techniques that are very specifically associated with literature
Important literary techniques• The Basics
– Plot– Setting– Narration/point of
view– Characterization– Symbol – Metaphor– Irony/ambiguity– Literary
• Other key concepts– Historical
context– Social, political,
– Ideology– Multiple voices– Various critical
What is an Analysis?
• An analysis of a literary work may discuss– How the various elements of an individual
work relate to each other– How two separate literary works deal with
similar concepts or forms (not applicable to this class)
– How techniques and elements in literary works relate to larger aesthetic, political, social, economic, or religious contexts
Part II: Writing the Thesis Statement
How is a literary analysis an argument?
• When writing a literary analysis, you will focus on specific attribute(s) of the text(s).
• When discussing these attributes, you will want to make sure that you are making a specific, arguable point (thesis) about these attributes.
• You will defend this point with reasons and evidence drawn from the text. (Much like a lawyer!)
Which is the best thesis statement?
• Moby-Dick is about the problem of evil.
• Moby-Dick is boring and pointless.
• Moby-Dick is about a big, white whale.
• The use of “whiteness” in Moby-Dick illustrates the uncertainty about the meaning of life that Ishmael expresses throughout the novel.
A literary analysis paper requires you to pose an argument and provide detailed examples (support) from the text (and secondary sources) to support that argument.
1. The thesis must state your topic.
2. The thesis must convey what you will prove about your topic (your opinion about that topic).
What makes a valid & interesting opinion?
• Avoid the obvious! In other words, it won’t argue a conclusion that most readers could reach on their own.
Moby-Dick is about a big, white whale.
A thesis tells the reader what to expect:
• It is a precisely worded declarative sentence.
• It states the purpose of your analysis – the point you are trying to make.
WITHOUT A CAREFULLY CRAFTED THESIS, AN ESSAY/ANALYSIS HAS NO CHANCE OF SUCCESS!
Sample thesis statements:
• The fate of the main characters in Antigone illustrates the danger of excessive pride.
• The imagery in Jane Doe’s novel Escape from High School reveals the ambiguity of man’s relationship with nature.
• Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Twain's Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave "civilized" society and go back to nature.
• Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen conveys Elizabeth Bennet’s efforts to overcome her own proud behavior and discrimination towards Mr. Darcy, as well as how her family is affected by the haughtiness and preconceptions of the society around them.
• In "Sonny's Blues" Baldwin uses four female characters, three of whom are mothers and one of whom is an artist, to establish his theme that there's no way to avoid suffering in life.
Try this strategy to develop and narrow a thesis statement.
To write an effective thesis statement, start with a general idea and then sharpen your focus.
• Choose a topic:
e.g., the novel, Huck Finn
Focus the topic:
e.g., satire in Huck Finn
Narrow the topic further by posing it as a question.
e.g., Why does Mark Twain employ satire in Huck Finn?
Answer the question. The answer is your thesis statement.
e.g., In the novel Huck Finn, Mark Twain uses satire to mock American cultural and religious values.
Thesis Statement Finale
• Your thesis statement should be clear and direct and should entice your audience to read further.
• Each subsequent paragraph in the body of your paper should support your thesis statement and prove your claim.
Part III: Primary & Secondary
How do I support a thesis statement?
• Examples from the text:
– Direct quotations
– Summaries of scenes
• Historical and social context
• Other critics’ opinions (secondary sources)
What is a secondary source?
• A book or article that discusses the text you are writing about
• A book or article that discusses a theory related to the argument you are making
• A book or article that discusses the social and historical context of the text you are writing about
• NO INTERNET SOURCES ALLOWED!
How do I find secondary sources?
• MLA International Bibliography
• Dictionary of Literary Biography
• Discipline-specific sources
• A bibliography that is part of your text
• Ask someone who knows
Integrating secondary sources
• When you use secondary sources, be sure to show how they relate to your thesis.
• Don’t overuse any one secondary source, or for that matter, secondary sources in general.
• Remember that this is your paper, your argument—the secondary sources are just helping you out.
• Never, never, never plagiarize! See the OWL handout on plagiarism for more information.
Overview of Literary Analysis
• When writing a literary analysis:– Be familiar with literary terms– Analyze specific items– Make an a argument– Make appropriate use of secondary sources– Consult teacher and media center specialists for
help when needed
How Can I Learn More?
• There are various handbooks of literary terms available in most libraries.
• There are numerous introductions to literary criticism and theory that are widely available.
• Example: A Handbook to Literature. Harmon/Holman
• I have several books which you are most welcome to borrow.
Where can I go for more help?
• The Purdue University Writing Lab (online)
• “Helpful Links” Handout given to you in class
• After school tutorial with Mrs. P. or Mrs. Hicks! (see front board for tutorial dates)