The Literary Analysis Essay
Standard Guidelines for Literary Analysis
The Intro Paragraph:
For the most part, the essays you write for this class will follow the traditional five-paragraph format. The first
paragraph is an introduction to the paper and should contain the following things:
1. an attention-getter (hook)
2. theme with background information you are analyzing
3. a thesis statement
The attention-getter should be a very general statement about the topic of the paper. Asking a
rhetorical question is ok, but a better option is to begin with a quote. For example, if the topic of your
paper is hatred you might begin your paper like this:
British poet Thomas Gray once stated that “Ignorance is bliss.” This phrase by
perfectly describes the state of mankind in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Because people in
this futuristic world of banned books are kept uninformed and constantly entertained, they
are kept from the harsh realities of their world…
The second sentence (in bold) is essential, as it transitions from the quote to the topic of the essay.
The theme in your introduction should bridge the gap between the very general attention-getter and
the thesis statement, which is the most specific sentence in your paper.
The thesis statement is essential to a well written paper. Without a clear thesis, the paper has nowhere to go
and nothing to say. Think of a thesis as the engine that drives your paper. A good thesis has two parts: a topic
and a position. The topic is what you have chosen to write the paper about. The position is the original
statement you have chosen to make on that topic. Your first step in this is to go to your notes and highlight
ideas, themes, or literary techniques you have been tracking. Then proceed to pull them out, reflect on them
and set up your thesis. Here’s an example of the standard 3-part thesis:
Ex: In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury demonstrates how censorship causes a loss of societal growth, individual
thought, and personal happiness.
However, you can also explain theme without breaking your thesis up into 3 parts:
Ex: Bradbury reveals the destructive effects of censoring knowledge throughout Montag’s journey to
enlightenment in Fahrenheit 451.
You can also focus on a literary technique and how it affects:
Literary Technique creates Ideas which create an Effect (rational or emotional) on the reader.
Ex: Through the use of the metaphor of fire, the speaker in the novel Fahrenheit 451 demonstrates the
creative power of the inner flame of passion and forces the reader to question what imprint they may one day
leave on the world.
Ex #2: Religious symbolism of baptism and wandering in the wilderness shows that Montag has been reborn
into the fullness of being and the reader is left to juxtapose the new Montag and the old to determine the
magnitude of his evolution.
The Body Paragraphs:
In general, the body section of your paper should have three paragraphs, but it is not inconceivable that you
might have to have more than that on occasion. Everybody paragraph should contain the following elements:
1. a topic sentence which relates to the thesis
2. between 2-3 pieces of support for that topic (textual evidence)
3. a closing sentence
Each topic sentence should identify a part of the thesis that will be examined in a paragraph. It is very
important that each topic sentence begin with a transition so the reader can easily see the
relationships between each paragraph. While transitions such as “First. . . Next. . . and Finally” are
acceptable, mature writers should be striving for more sophisticated transitions.
Example: “When the motif of hands first appears in the novel, it serves as a metaphor for
Montag’s buried self.”
The evidence to support your topic sentences will come in the form of quotes from the text. Summary
and paraphrase should be avoided, as it weakens your arguments. You must deal with the author’s
exact words to show how your thesis is accurate.
Quotes must be copied exactly as they appear in the original text, but, whenever possible, you
should excise unnecessary material. In a paragraph which attempts to prove Captain Ahab’s
(from Melville’s Moby Dick) larger-than-life stature, one might use this quote from the book:
“His whole high, broad form seemed made of solid bronze and shaped in an
unalterable mold, like Cellini’s cast Perseus” (Melville 119).
Though this is not a long quote, only the last part of it is really needed. In a paper you might
say, Captain Ahab is described as looking “like Cellini’s cast Perseus.” This is all that is really
necessary, and allows you to deal specifically with the most important words in the quote.
While it is of vital importance to choose relevant quotes to prove your thesis, it is of equal
importance to then explain how the quote you have chosen does what you say it does.
Therefore, you need to follow up the quotes you include with explanations — NOT A
SUMMARY– OF WHAT THE QUOTE SAYS. These explanations should be more than 1 sentence.
Look at the example below (related to Melville’s Moby Dick) that relates to the previous
BAD example: Captain Ahab is described as looking “like Cellini’s cast Perseus”
(Melville 119). This is saying that he looked like a statue.
GOOD example: Captain Ahab is described as looking “like Cellini’s cast Perseus”
(Melville 119). By comparing Ahab to a statue of a hero of Greek mythology, the