How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay

To know how to write a literary analysis essay one must include all the structural elements which are normally associated with a traditional essay format. That is, the essay must contain an introduction, a main body and a conclusion. In this form of essay, the basis of the argument is usually prescribed by the title. For example, In what ways does Frankenstein’s monster symbolise the emergent industrial landscape?

There are two main errors which students make when addressing the issues surrounding a text. Firstly, a student may waste valuable word count by giving a detailed description of the author’s background. In most cases, this is superfluous to the remit of the brief. Secondly, the writer may embark on a retelling of the plot in an attempt to demonstrate a ‘good knowledge’ of the novel they are studying. Again, this is usually misguided in that it doesn’t represent an ‘analysis’ of the text but rather demonstrates a shallow understanding.

The way, therefore, to successfully write a literary analysis essay is to analyse a section of text which is directly related to the theme the writer is concerned with. Some of the most successful literary essays are those which analyse only a very small section of text.

A good methodology, therefore, would be to read the novel through to develop a familiarity of the plot and then to subsequently read it again and record instances which are relevant to the given title. In the case of our Frankenstein example, the writer would locate parallels between the idea of the monster and how ‘man’ had created a monster in the emergence of the industrial revolution.

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Following a discussion of the main character, the writer should demonstrate more detailed analysis skills which may cover elements of symbols, themes and other literary devices which coalesce to compound and reinforce the writer’s argument.

Writing a literary analysis essay

To know how to write a literary analysis essay one must realise that there is no correct answer to an essay question. In fact, any stance on a text is essentially an opinion which is as valid as any other as long as it can be sufficiently justified with the use of quotations from the text which are convincing. This will often involve locating examples from other sections of the novel which either bolster or negate an opinion depending on what the writer is aiming to achieve.

To write an effective literary analysis, try not to make the mistake of using an apologetic voice when arguing a theory. This gives the impression that the writer does not adequately believe in his theory. For example, when ‘summing up’ in the conclusion, don’t write: ‘It could be argued that…’ but write: ‘It is now clear that…’

A good way of convincing a teacher or lecturer that your knowledge of the subject extends further than the novel in question is to allude to other works without actually quoting from them. For example, Victorian literature or poetry published around the time of ‘Frankenstein’ could be referred to as a demonstration that you have ‘read around’ the subject beyond the requirements of the course.

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