Online Writing Lab

Writing for Literature

An essay involving analysis of a work of literature (novel, short story, poem, film) can be difficult for many students because it is quite different than essays written for other classes.  Generally, the main purpose of a literary analysis essay is to analyze one or more of the major themes that is presented through the particular work. 

The most common problem, and the one that all writers attempting this type of essay should avoid, is simply summarizing the piece that is being written about.  The reader does not need to know what happened in the fictional piece in order to understand your interpretation of it (not to mention that your reader has probably already read the piece you are analyzing).  Instead, focus on interpreting the different techniques that are used in the work of literature and providing a sound analysis for the effects these techniques have on the reader.   For instance, when analyzing a novel, focus on how one part of the novel enhances the novel as a whole and/or adds to the other parts of the story. 

Essentially, most essays analyzing a work of literature are similar to an argument essay.  The writer is taking a position about the structure or effects of a particular work and defending that position with specific evidence from the piece. 

All writers need to avoid the tendency to turn a literary analysis paper into a book report.   Well supported analysis is more effective and interesting than pure summary.

View a sample essay for literature