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Even people who love reading can find the idea of a literary analysis to be challenging. This is unfortunate, because the whole goal of a literary analysis is for the reader to consider how and why a work was written. What message was the author trying to convey? Why did he or she want to convey that message? However, because there are quite a few elements expected in a literary analysis, many students find themselves overwhelmed by those expectations. While our library of study guides, which break down some of the world’s most famous works of literature by some of the world’s best authors, can be a tremendous help for students-in-need, we also want to make sure you understand all of the steps of a literature analysis.

The first step in a literature analysis is to understand the characters and the role that they play in the novel. Characterization is clear in some works of literature. For example, Shakespeare’s play Othello features Iago, who may be one of the most straightforward examples of a villain in all of literature. Other works of literature may be more challenging. While Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl became the modern standard for the unreliable narrator, the classics are actually full of equally unreliable narrators or characters. When a character’s true motivations and actions are not revealed until the end of a work, or possibly remain ambiguous even at the conclusion of the work, then characterization can be more of a challenge. It can help to break the analysis down into steps. Who is the protagonist? Many people mistakenly believe that the protagonist has to be a “good guy,” but it is more accurate to think of the protagonist as the main character. Who is the antagonist? What roles do they play in the book? How do they interact with the other characters? What tools has the author used to help bring the character to life? What does the character look like? What kind of language does the character use? How do the author’s choices impact how you feel about the character?

The second step in a literature analysis is to understand the plot. The plot is the storyline of the work. Many students find it difficult to condense a large work down and create a concise description of the plot, because they either want to include all of the little details that enhance the story or because they eliminate critical plot points in a desire to keep their plot overview concise. Most, but not all, plots follow a rising action up until the story’s main conflict, a crisis, and then a falling action as the story concludes. A description of the plot should contain all of the elements necessary to understand this rising and falling action.

In addition to plot and characterization, some other elements can be critical to understanding a story. Exposition and foreshadowing can provide critical information for the reader, not only letting them know about the background of the characters, but also providing a glimpse of what the characters will do later in the story. Another important concept is allegory; many great works of literature have survived the test of time because they talk about a larger lesson or meaning in life. The imagery that the author uses to create a vivid image is also critical; many works are as famous for their imagery as they are for their plots or characters.