Literary Essay Writing: Break Down and Analyze

The basic idea behind a literary essay is the breaking down and analyzing of a literary work. It is important for you to look critically at the work that has been chosen (or provided) and take a position that can be supported with evidence in the text. A literary essay is not a book report and often plot is only used to begin the essay or to quickly explicate a point. Focus on other elements like theme and personification. A literary essay is about giving and defending your opinion about something that was read. It can also be safely assumed that the reader of the essay has also read the text. The evidence comes from elements of the reading and from your careful examination of the evidence.

How to Write a Literary Essay

Being very familiar with the work that is being written about is extremely important. Read the work as many times as necessary in order to totally understand the literary elements that are present and highlighted. It might not be a bad idea to take notes on the work. Remember to keep in mind that plot is not the focus but a tool to allow further analysis.

Once you begin writing, make sure that the thesis statement is clear and can be defended by evidence from the text. The thesis should reflect a discovery of the author from the reading of the text. The supporting arguments should be broken up into separate paragraphs. Do not try to do too much with each paragraph, but rather keep them simple and clear. Be straightforward and assume that the reader will need to be led step by step through the analysis.

Outline template


  • Possible quick summary
  • Present thesis making a claim about the work


  • Explain various literary elements that are used in text
  • Defend thesis with specific example from the text
  • Be clear and concise


  • Highlight key points
  • Reiterate thesis
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