Literary Essay Introductions

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These are the whats of the work—what happens, where it happens, and to whom it happens.

When you’ve examined all the evidence you’ve collected and know how you want to answer the question, it’s time to write your thesis statement.

Literary analysis involves examining all the parts of a novel, play, short story, or poem—elements such as character, setting, tone, and imagery—and thinking about how the author uses those elements to create certain effects.

A literary essay isn’t a book review: you’re not being asked whether or not you liked a book or whether you’d recommend it to another reader.

A thesis is a claim about a work of literature that needs to be supported by evidence and arguments.

The thesis statement is the heart of the literary essay, and the bulk of your paper will be spent trying to prove this claim.

But until then, here are seven basic steps to writing a well-constructed literary essay: When you’re assigned a literary essay in class, your teacher will often provide you with a list of writing prompts. You’ll have a much better (not to mention easier) time if you start off with something you enjoy thinking about. Take a deep breath and start by asking yourself these questions: What struck you?

If you are asked to come up with a topic by yourself, though, you might start to feel a little panicked. Did a particular image, line, or scene linger in your mind for a long time?

Ask yourself why the author chose to write about that character or scene the way he or she did and you might tap into some important insights about the work as a whole. Is there a phrase that the main character uses constantly or an image that repeats throughout the book?

If you can figure out how that pattern weaves through the work and what the significance of that pattern is, you’ve almost got your entire essay mapped out. Great works of literature are complex; great literary essays recognize and explain those complexities.

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