Creative Writing: Literary Analysis
A literary analysis is an essay in which the writer responds to a literary work—a poem, short story, or novel. In the response, the writer closely examines one or more literary elements, such as setting, theme, plot, character, or meter, as well as literary devices such as similes and metaphors. The writer also comments on the quality and significance of the work and provides his or her own interpretation of the meaning of the work.
Basic Structure of Literary Analysis
- Identification of the work or works being discussed (title and author)
- Writer’s general opinion of the author
- Thesis statement (usually includes the general opinion of the work)
- Retelling of relevant parts of plot
- Interpretations of the work
- Support for the writer’s interpretation through clear examples and quotations from the work (interpretations can come before or after the examples and quotations)
- Precise, descriptive language describing opinions or judgments, based on a close examination of one or more of the literary element(s) of setting, theme, plot, character, and meter (see Language Bank below)
- Clear and effective organization
- Summary of the writer’s overall opinion of the work and the author
Words Related to Literary Analysis
analysis the careful examination of something in order to understand it better
conflict a situation in a book or play in which different characters or forces oppose each other in a way that causes or influences the action of the story
interpretation the way in which someone explains or understands what someone else has written
literary device the special use of words in literature to achieve an effect, for example an idiom, metaphor, or simile
metaphor a way of describing something by comparing it to something else that has similar qualities, without using the words like or as:
She was boiling with anger.
meter the way the words of a poem are arranged into a pattern of weak and strong beats
narrative the description of events in a story
perspective point of view
plot the events that form the main story of a book or play
protagonist the most important character in a book or play
setting the place or time that the action of a book or play happens
simile an expression in which you compare two things using the words like or as:
He is as clever as a fox.
theme the main subject or idea in a piece of writing, speech, or other work
Model Text 1: Short Story
Read the short story once. Try not to be distracted by unfamiliar vocabulary. Just try to get a “feel” for the story and the characters. You will look more carefully at the vocabulary later.
I See Him
BY LOU BEACH
I SEE HIM from the kitchen window. He is in the backyard standing beneath the maple tree, dirty and bearded, wearing a knit cap and the grimy uniform of the homeless. He is barefoot in the grass. I open the backdoor and yell “Hey, what are you doing here?” puffing up my chest and looking as menacing as I can in my plaid bathrobe and slippers, imbued with the self-righteousness of the homeowner, indignant. He grins and points at the birdhouse Tina and Josh made at camp, painted red and yellow. His eyes seem to work independently of each other, like a gecko’s, and I glance at his fingers to see if the tips are flat and round. “I’m calling the cops,” I shout and he continues to grin and ambles out the side gate. I put on jeans and a t-shirt, get the baseball bat from the hall closet and go out the front door. On the lawn, in the middle of the big pile of leaves that the kids had raked together, he is asleep, curled like a lock of Tina’s hair, hands beneath his head near the worn shoes that hold a comb and socks, matches, a pack of cigarettes and a small mirror.
Model Text 2: Literary Analysis
A LOU BEACH is a B talented writer who has written a book of extremely short stories: A 420 Characters: Short Stories. Most of the stories are 300 words or fewer. B In the space that many of us would need for a shopping list, Beach is able to deliver everything that we expect from a well-told story: a conflict, strong characters and descriptions, and a satisfactory ending. Beach’s stories do not have titles—he leaves those to the reader’s imagination. B C A story that I have titled “I See Him” demonstrates Beach’s power as a masterful storyteller.
2 Body Paragraphs
D The story opens when a homeowner, looking through his kitchen window one morning, discovers a homeless man standing in his back yard. E The window serves to divide the characters and their very different worlds: E the society insider—the homeowner—and the social outcast—the homeless man. G The homeless man’s outsider status is emphasized by a reference to the F “birdhouse Tina and Josh made at camp;” G in this world, birds have houses, but human outsiders do not.
The story is told from the homeowner’s perspective. G His self-description reveals a man determined to protect his family and property, yet at the same time aware of his own vulnerability. F “I open the backdoor and yell ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’ puffing up my chest and looking as menacing as I can in my plaid bathrobe and slippers.” G His choice of the words “puffing up my chest” is deliberately comical; we envision a small bird trying to make itself look bigger and more threatening. The fact that he is dressed in a F “plaid bathrobe and slippers” G is another comical element; how menacing can someone really be in one’s pajamas? Both of these descriptions make it clear that G the homeowner is vulnerable, perhaps frightened, but at the same time determined to chase away the outsider. F “‘I’m calling the cops,’ I shout and he continues to grin and ambles out the side gate. I put on jeans and a t-shirt, get the baseball bat from the hall closet and go out the front door.”
The other character in the story is the homeless man. E At first, his “otherness” is stressed. F “He is in the backyard standing beneath the maple tree, dirty and bearded, wearing a knit cap and the grimy uniform of the homeless. He is barefoot in the grass.” G By describing the homeless man as being dressed in a “uniform,” the protagonist shows his judgmental attitude toward the homeless: that homelessness is somehow a choice—a job—rather than an unfortunate circumstance. In a sentence that is G deliberately strange, the homeowner further emphasizes the homeless character’s otherness, by comparing him to a reptile. F “His eyes seem to work independently of each other, like a gecko’s, and I glance at his fingers to see if the tips are flat and round.”
E However, this sense of otherness quickly disappears D when the homeowner steps outside and truly “sees” the homeless man in the autumn leaves. G Beach accomplishes this transformation by placing the stranger in an unprotected space created by the homeowner’s children. F “On the lawn, in the middle of the big pile of leaves that the kids had raked together, he is asleep, curled like a lock of Tina’s hair.”
G Comparing the stranger to a lock of the protagonist’s daughter’s hair strengthens the connection between the two men, while at the same time evoking the image of a helpless, trusting creature. E In this way, the stranger’s vulnerability is revealed, and he is transformed from “the other” into a defenseless man/child in need of protection.
D The narrative closes on a description of the homeless man’s possessions: F “a comb and socks, matches, a pack of cigarettes and a small mirror”. G In this short phrase, the writer communicates the stranger’s dignity as a human being, despite the difficult circumstances in which he finds himself. Thus the E shared humanity of the characters comes into focus. In the end, H thanks to Beach’s fine writing, we do indeed “see him.”
In a literary analysis, specific verbs are used to interpret the meaning of the text. The most common verb in this category is the verb show. To avoid repetition, the writer of the analysis will often use a variety of these verbs, in both the active and (where appropriate) passive form. These verbs do not all follow the same pattern, nor do they all mean exactly the same thing.
|the author/the text +||show||+ noun or noun clause||noun or noun clause +||be shown|
A story that I have titled “I See Him” demonstrates Beach’s power as a masterful storyteller.
Beach’s power as a masterful storyteller is demonstrated by a story that I have titled “I See Him.”
|the author/the text +||accomplish||+ noun||noun +||be accomplished|
|evoke an image of|
Beach accomplishes this transformation by placing the stranger in an unprotected space …
This transformation is accomplished by Beach by placing the stranger in an unprotected space …
|the author/the text +||serve||+ infinitive form of verb||No passive form|
The window serves to divide the characters and their very different worlds.
Simple present – used for reviewer’s comments, opinions, interpretations, and recommendations.
Simple present and present progressive – used to talk about the action taking place in the work.