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Selecting topics for literary analysis

Selecting topics for literary analysis

Author: Dan Reade
  1. Explain how to comment on the relationship between concrete characters, setting, or plot with abstract themes, symbols, motifs, style, characterization, or effect on the audience.

  2. Explain how to comment on the way in which themes and ideas are developed in one or more literary works.

This packet should help a learner seeking to understand how to write an analysis and who is confused about how to select an appropriate topic. 

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Terms of Literary Analysis

Literary analysis is a subject that features a wide variety of terms, many of which are not regularly seen in other situations. In order to fully understand literary analysis, it is helpful to know many of the common words and phrases used in this discipline. The PDF below provides definitions of many of those terms.


Source: Creative Commons: Roane State Community College

The Basics of Literary Analysis

Literary analysis can be a complex undertaking. Indeed, some people spend their professional lives studying the work of just one author. However, literary analysis can also be enjoyable, particularly when it provides a deeper understanding of what a particular novel, short story, poem, play or other written work means. The guide below provides a basic summary of how to start a literary analysis and some pieces to use when building an argument.


Source: Dan Reade

An Example of Literary Analysis: Hills Like White Elephants

"Hills Like White Elephants" is a famous short story by Ernest Hemingway. In the story, a man and a woman-who are a couple-discuss a very important decision. One of the ways in which the story is distinct is that the topic of the discussion is never directly disclosed; instead, it is up to the reader to determine. The literary analysis below argues that the topic the two are discussing is the possibility of an abortion. The analysis focuses on the story's use of setting and symbolism in order to make its argument.


Source: Creative Commons: Mauricio

An Example of Literary Analysis: The Road Not Taken

The video below provides a literary analysis of Robert Frost's famous poem "The Road Not Taken." In the video, the narrator shows how the poem, which is often thought to talk about the value of individualism, is actually about the human tendency to not make choices when unsure of what to do. The narrator explores the poem's use of language and symbolism to develop a strong analysis of the poem's real meaning. When watching, note how every piece of the poem, not matter how small, is used by the narrator to support his thesis.

Source: via


Literary analysis is the act of examining a written work for its deeper meaning. This activity is common in just about any English class, but it is worth mastering for more than just academic purposes; knowing how to get the most out of a written work can provide a lifetime of enjoyment. 

In this lesson, you've:

  1. Learned common literary analysis terms
  2. Reviewed the basics of literary analysis
  3. Watched literary analysis in action

With these tools, you should be prepared to examine literary works with greater skill and ability.

Source: Dan Reade