There are several ways to analyze a work of literature. Two of the most common are below:
1. A formal approach–which examines one (or more) of the literary elements in a work and explains how it relates to the whole, thus contributing to a text�s overall meaning or significance. Possible elements to consider include plot, character, theme, setting, conflict, structure, point of view, genre, style, tone, imagery, symbolism, irony, narrator, foreshadowing, paradox, allusion, metaphor, rhythm, rhyme, etc.
2. A critical approach–which examines a work by relating it to the historical, social, cultural, or political situations in which it was written to show how the author was influenced by personal experiences, events, prevailing attitudes, or contemporary values.
Each of these approaches requires careful reading of the primary text, as well as a debatable claim that will need to be supported or “proved” with evidence (direct references, quotations) from the text. Remember, writing about literature is a way to broaden your own understanding and to share your own reading experience. While the second option (a critical approach) will obviously involve some background reading, you should not be going to outside sources with the idea of creating a “cut and pasted” paper of others’ ideas. Your primary concern for either approach should be an examination of the work of literature you selected.
Example of a poor thesis: �Trifles is a play about a woman who murders her husband.” (not debatable)
Example of a good thesis with a formal approach: “Mrs. Wright’s bird is the symbolic key to “unlock” the reason why she killed her husband. (debatable! Requires textual support to “prove.”)
Example of a good thesis with a critical approach: “Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale share experiences from their own lives as country wives that make clear why they are empathetic to Mrs. Wright’s situation and right to withhold their discovery from their investigators.” (debatable! Requires feminist analysis of story to “prove.”)
Because you are essentially arguing that your perspective is a valid one, you have to support it effectively with evidence from the primary source that you select (direct references to specific quotations, lines, passages, scenes, etc.). Remember that an analysis is not driven by plot. It’s driven by the “idea” that you want to communicate about the story or poem. If you consult secondary sources, be sure that quotations from them do not dominate your essay. You are not writing an informational report but rather a literary analysis that requires a close reading of the text.
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