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Dr. Stancliff - English 1101 &1102

Literary Analysis

Explore the Deepest WatersA literary analysis asks you to explore and to examine the overall meaning of literary work or certain aspects of a literary work such as plot, setting, theme and characters. This type of assignment encourages you to think deeply about a short story, poem, play, or novel. In the case of short stories, authors write with precision. Every literary element and literary device is carefully selected to convey meaning, create images and emotions in the reader. 

Remember to write your essay from your own perspective and focus on literary elements to convey your interpretation of the a short story, poem, or play. Yes, use the text for supportive details for your argument and/or idea. 

Library Tips:

  • Read your assignment 
  • Read your assignment again and keep the it handy while you work on your essay
  • Read the back history of the story (i.e. the preface) to help with your analysis
  • Write down ideas and insights you gain from reading the short story
  • What aspect of the story grabs your attention? Setting, Plot, Theme or Characters
  • Write your literary analysis on what interest's you about the short story


A short story is a love affair; a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.  - Lorrie Moore 

List of Literary elements 

Literary elements make a short story interesting. When you begin your essay, think about which literary elements stand out to you. Think back to short stories you have read in the past; what do you remember about these stories?

 Example: In Jack London's short story, To Build a Fire, a the nameless character sets out  to visit friends alone in subzero temperatures and slowly freezes to death. The setting plays a prominent role in the story as it is both a character and the setting.



Heart shaped locksLiterature Analysis: Theme

Finding the author's theme is a starting point in writing your paper. Themes are the author's big ideas that are woven throughout a story and expressed by using setting and characters. Many stories deal with more than theme, and some themes are more apparent than others. 

A few common themes in literature:

  • Good vs. Evil
  • Friendship
  • Love
  • Human Nature
  • Religion
  • Authority
  • Coming-of-Age
  • Death
  • Racism

A Cabin in the WoodsLiterary Analysis: Setting

Setting - is the place or location for action within a short story, poem, play, and novel. Setting is usually introduced at the beginning of a story and creates the historical, cultural and social context for characters. However, setting is not limited to place or time, it can symbolize the emotional state of characters ( Edgar Allan Poe's Fall of The House of Usher). Some settings are imaginary such as Mordor in J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of The Rings," the village in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," and the town of Castle Rock in Stephen King novels.


PlotLiterary Analysis - Plot

Plot forms a memory in the reader's mind. It follows a pattern or patterns to create a story line the reader can dive into and follow characters. Plot allows characters to come alive and affect the story line in order of events. Understanding key plot events will help you analyze, interpret and explain the story.

The standard plot pattern: Introduction (setting) - Rising Action - Climax - Falling Action - Resolution. 

"A plot is thousand times more unsettling than an argument, which may be answered."  -Eudora Welty



Literary Analysis: CharactersGirl wearing a colorful scarf

When writing about characters in a literature analysis, poise questions to help you gain a deeper insight into the characters and their importance in telling the story.

Think about the role a character plays in a short story:

  • Is the character the hero or anti-hero?
  • Is the character a minor character or flat character?
  • What are the character's personality traits? 
  • Why does the character behave or act at certain way?
  • How does the character relate to other characters in the story?
  • Why did the author create certain relationships among characters?

"The key to creating better plots rests in a deeper understanding of character." - Kristen Lamb, quote from Great Characters–The Beating Heart of Great Fiction


Pig with white wingsLiterary Devices 

Authors have a plethora of literary devices to choose from to convey meaning. They are the tools and techniques employed to enrich a story or poem to capture the attention of a reader.

A short and simple list of common literary devices:

  • Allusion
  • Foil
  • Foreshadowing
  • Irony
  • Symbolism
  • Imagery

Website: Literary Devices and Literary Terms: This website provides literary device and literary terms definitions and examples.