Writing a Literary Analysis
Your professor has just assigned you a literary analysis. You have no idea what that is, let alone how to write one.
The first thing to understand is that a literary analysis involves literature and the discussion of some aspect of it. For example, if you have been assigned a literary anaysis on Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, you may want to write it on Sydney Carton's role as a Christ figure in the novel.
The second thing is that a literary analysis involves some kind of literary criticism. It also involves analysis of the literary work you are writing about for your essay. Roane State Community College's "Types of Papers: Literary Analysis" is a good link to visit when writing a literary analysis, because it offers useful things to think about that will help you as you write your essay.
Thirdly, a literary analysis can be about any aspect of a literary work, particularly aspects that interest readers, and that help center the work and/or carry its message. These aspects include characters, theme(s), imagery, the use of symbolism, language, and plot. All of these are good to analyze and write about in a literary essay because they tend to be the major parts of a literary work, and keep it together and communicate its message. For example, if you are writing about Toni Morrison's Sula, the themes and characters are major parts of the novel, and you may want to write about and analyze them in your essay for this reason. As another example, if you are writing about Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, the themes and characters are not only major aspects of that novel, but imagery plays a strong role in conveying its message, and you may want to analyze the imagery in it as part of writing your literary essay to show how it conveys the novel's message.
You will need to use outside sources, such as literary criticism, to support points you make in your essay, and you will need to cite and document those sources in order to give the scholars who created them credit for them, and to avoid plagiarism. MLA (Modern Language Association) style is the preferred citation and documentation style to use in the humanities, including English. You can find out more information on MLA and how to use it at the Modern Language Association's page on MLA style, "What Is MLA Style?", and at the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab). You can also read MLA Handbook Eighth Edition, for more information on how to use MLA style to cite and document your sources in your literary analysis and other papers, and also how to format your paper. It can be found at any bookstore, brick-and-mortar, as well as online, including at Amazon.com, and in any library.
When looking for outside sources, use your college or university's library and the article databases on its website to find them. Article databases to use to search for literary criticism include JSTOR and Academic Search Complete, to which most college and university libraries subscribe, and which feature numerous articles dealing with literature and literary criticism from which to pick and choose in your research. You can also use print books and ebooks for your research. If you are unable to find something, or you have no idea of what to look for, do not be afraid to ask a librarian for help. Librarians know what resources exist for your subject, and can help you find the right sources for your essay. If you find mention of a source that is not held at your library, use Interlibrary Loan to obtain it. Interlibrary Loan obtains materials from other libraries for a library's users, and putting in a request with it for a source you need will ensure that it gets to you.
When writing your literary analysis, follow the format of introduction (with thesis statement), body, and conclusion that you use for other essays. This gives your literary essay structure and a backbone, and puts your ideas in an easy-to-read form. Organizing your ideas for the essay in an outline before writing it can help you know how to proceed. A visit to your college or university's writing center will help you with creating an outline for your essay if you have never attempted one before, as well as with other aspects of essay writing from start to finish, including properly citing and documenting your outside sources.
More sources that can help you with writing your literary essay are Northeast Alabama Community College's "How to Write a Literary Analysis" and North Carolina State University's "Never Written a Literary Essay Before? Literary Criticism Research Guide". Check out Marshall University Libraries' English LibGuides for a list of books on literature and literary criticism that may also be available at your library.
All of the sources listed will prove helpful to you as you research for and write your literary analysis. They may also provide more sources for you to obtain and use as you write it.
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