Writing Help: Literary Analysis

What is a literary analysis?

A literary analysis is an analysis of how various literary devices in a work of literature function to create meaning, and to emphasize the work's theme.

A literary analysis evaluates the use of important literary concepts such as:

  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Narration/point of view
  • Characterization
  • Imagery
  • Metaphor or simile
  • Tenor and vehicle
  • Genre
  • Irony/ambiguity
  • Diction
  • Rhythm and meter
  • Rhyme scheme

A literary analysis may also analyze outside influences on a text, such as:

  • Historical context
  • Social, political, religious contexts
  • Ideology

A few tips on literary analysis

Literary analysis means you analyze a work of literature! If your essay consists of little more than plot summaries, you will not get a good mark.

That is, do not simply paraphrase the story, book, poem, or section thereof. You don't need to tell your professor what happens in the work—chances are extremely good he or she will have read it already.

Needs revision:

The narrator attempts to describe the imposing building to the blind man but cannot figure out how to do it: "You'll have to forgive me," he says. "It just isn't in me to do it" (485).  Then the blind man gets an idea. "I got an idea," he says. "Why don't you find us some heavy paper? And a pen. We'll draw one together  (485).
      The narrator goes off in search of a pen and paper, and when he finally finds what he needs, he sits down and tries drawing one but has trouble with this too...

Much better:

The narrator's sense of futility and apathy is emphasized again when he and the blind man "watch" a show that mentions men devoting their lives to building the enormous churches without ever seeing their life's work completed. In contrast, when the narrator merely tries to describe the buildings, he quickly gives up. "You'll have to forgive me," he concludes, after saying they are massive, and built of stone and marble. "It just isn't in me to do it. I can't do any more than I've done" (485).


Analysis means analyze the evidence in the literary work: don't make stuff up about the characters' emotions, motivations, or future. The evidence is what's in the text—the words, the literary devices, and the structure of the work.

Needs revision:

The narrator thinks that marrying a blind man is incomprehensible because he cannot envision a way of life different from his own.

Much better:

The narrator scorns the notion that the blind man could not even see what his wife looked like: "I found myself thinking what a pitiful life this woman must have led. Imagine a woman who could never see herself as she was seen in the eyes of her loved one" (479).

Needs revision:

The narrator is afraid that his wife feels more emotionally attached to Robert, and that his wife might fall in love with Robert.

Much better:

The narrative voice is not entirely reliable: while the narrator explains that his discomfort with Robert's coming into his home is due to Robert's blindness, his dismissive comments about the physical and intellectual intimacy that Robert and the narrator's wife share suggest his negative reaction is also informed by jealousy or distrust of their relationship.


Literary analysis means analyze the literature as writing. Personal anecdotes simply don't belong in a literary analysis.

Needs revision:

I recently asked a friend of mine, who is blind, to help me get a better perspective on what it's like to be blind. As we were sitting in a café, I tried to describe the surroundings to him but I realized I had no vocabulary to effectively describe the colours of the room, or the objects in it, or even the expressions and attitudes of the people around us. It was then that I understood what the author was getting at in this story.

Much better:

When the narrator attempts to describe the buildings, he realizes he cannot adequately express their appearance. The narrator is a man who seems to value outward appearances, as evidenced by his "pity" for a woman whose husband cannot see what she looks like. However, he cannot describe the appearance of the buildings other than to say they are large, and made of stone and marble. Neither can he express the spiritual and communal significance of these structures: "In those olden days, God was an important part of everyone's life," he explains. "You could tell this from their cathedral-building" (485). One of the ironies of the story is that it is the blind man who helps the sighted narrator to "see" the buildings.