English 3201

Writing the Literary Analysis Essay


The best pattern to follow for writing any kind of school essay is the five-paragraph essay model – introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. As your essay-writing skills mature, you can certainly move beyond this model (and by the time you do university courses, you will be expected to do so), but it’s a good basic model to start with.


An expository essay is an essay that explains or gives information about a topic.  In this type of essay, each of the three body paragraphs introduces one major piece of information about the topic, so that the essay as a whole makes three main points.


An analytical essay is a particular type of expository essay, the purpose of which is to explain or give information about a work of literature.  In this type of essay, each of the three body paragraphs will contain one main example from the text to support the essay’s thesis.


INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPH: This paragraph should tell the reader what your paper is going to be about.  The following information (not necessarily in this order) needs to be included in an introductory paragraph:


1.    a way to draw the reader in, create interest

2.    author of the text

3.    title of the text (underlined or italicized for novels and plays; in quotation marks for short stories and poems)

4.    general statement about the literary work

5.    necessary background information about the story (very little)

6.    thesis statement (your main idea – this should be closely linked to the essay question you are answering.


For example, you might be assigned the following question about Macbeth:


Explore the idea of “manhood” in Macbeth.  What does it mean to “be a man” in this play?


Your opening paragraph might read something like this.  The numbers in brackets show where the items from the list above have been included in the paragraph:


Real men don’t cry … or watch soap operas … or wear pink.  Or do they? Every society has certain ideas attached to what it means to be “manly” or “womanly.” (1) Shakespeare’s great tragedy Macbeth, the story of a Scottish lord who kills the king in order to become king himself, is no exception. (2, 3, 4, 5).  Throughout this play, characters constantly make reference to manhood and the idea of “being a man.”  In Macbeth, manhood is always associated with physical courage and sometimes even with cruelty. (6)


BODY PARAGRAPHS: These should answer the question “why?” by giving more information about your topic.  Each paragraph should be between three and six sentences long and each should have one single, clear main idea. 


Each paragraph needs to include specific examples and direct quotes from the work of literature you’re discussing.  A body paragraph should include:


1.    topic sentence – like a mini-thesis statement, explaining what the main point of this paragraph will be

2.    context of the quote you are using (where in the story does it appear? in what situation? etc.)

3.    introduction to the quote – who says it? To whom are they speaking? Use a comma before the quote, and enclose the entire quote in quotation marks.

4.    the quote itself followed by a page number in parenthesis (for a Shakespearean play, you can give act and scene number instead of page number).

5.    explanation of the quote in your own words.

6.    analysis of the quote – why it is important and how it relates to your thesis.  Be specific about how the quote connects to your thesis.  Analysis should be the largest part of your paragraph.


For example, imagine that you are continuing the Macbeth essay on manliness with the first body paragraph.  You might write something like this:


Lady Macbeth uses the idea of “manliness” to motivate her husband to commit murder. (1) Before Macbeth murders King Duncan, he begins to have doubts about what he is doing. (2) Lady Macbeth challenges him by saying, (3) “When you durst do it, then you were a man” (Act I, Sc. 7) (4). She says that when Macbeth was willing to kill Duncan, then he was acting like “a real man” in her opinion (5).  It is clear that Lady Macbeth associates manhood with courage – specifically, the courage to kill.  She follows this up by saying that she would even be willing to kill her own infant while nursing it if necessary – demonstrating that her “womanly” feelings can be overcome by “manly” courage.  Manhood, to Lady Macbeth, means physical courage and violence, and she uses this view to motivate her husband. (6)


The next two body paragraphs for this essay might include the following examples:


·         Paragraph 3: Macbeth uses the idea of manliness to motivate his hired murderers to kill Banquo.

·         Paragraph 4: Macbeth demonstrates “manly” courage by fighting to death at the end of the play even when all is lost.


It is always wise to create a brief outline with point-form summaries of each paragraph before you begin to write.  Make sure each paragraph sticks to its main point.


CONCLUDING PARAGRAPH: Restate what you told the reader and leave him/her with something to think about.  Your conclusion should include:

·         a restatement of your thesis

·         summary of your main points

·         statement that leaves the reader thinking about the ideas in your essay