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Literary Analysis: Writing a Critical Essay

October 20, 2012

Unfortunately, I have not had much time lately to write creatively, and my editing is progressing rather slowly. However, one of the English classes I am currently taking focuses on literary analysis, so I thought I would share what I have learned.

The key to good literary analysis is to identify patterns and anomalies in a work. If something is often repeated (be it a phrase, a color, a style of writing, etc.), it will typically say something about the work as a whole. A jarring break from these patterns can reveal just as much, if not more. Once these patterns are found, their significance must be determined. How do they relate to the work, the characters, and the themes? Might they broaden the reach of the work or create a depth to the characters? Every pattern can be made to reveal something, even if the author did not necessarily intend it to be seen in such a way. The trick is to relate literary analysis back to the work itself, rather than attempting to illuminate some secret message left by the author for the readers to decode. If something seems to be a bit of a reach, it probably is. Many times someone attempting to write a critical essay will look too much into some aspect, creating wild claims with little real basis. Literary analysis should expand upon the content put forth in a work, not conjure up a new world the author never envisioned.


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