Analytical Writing

More on Analytical Writing
There is more than one way to analyze a piece of literature. The technique on this handout is the basic
approach that we will use throughout the course. As you advance, you will use this technique as a
When you write an analysis, you should ask yourself the following questions:
What does the author use (narrative element/ tools of the trade)?
What is the function of the narrative element?
What is the value of the relationship that you identified (why should we care? What do readers
gain by examining this connection? The value can exist in the realm of the text or in reality.)?
A literary analysis explores the function of a specific narrative element and then assigns that function
value. When writers publish an analysis, they use the general formula: context + evidence +
interpretation + anchor. This is not a fixed formula- writers can play with the order, but it’s important for
the pieces to stay together.
Tools of the Trade: You know that list of literary terms you studied last year or the year before? Those
literary elements fill an author’s tool box. Author’s use those tools to build a narrative. Imagery
(repeated or contrasting), figurative language (synecdoche, simile, metaphor, hyperbole, etc.), tension,
sentence manipulation (repetition, inversion, etc.), word play, archetypes, irony, etc. are all tools
authors use to enrich a story- they are the difference between an interesting yarn (simple, well told
story) and a narrative.
Functions include (but are not limited to):
o In the context of structure, the element may, for example, function to:
 build tension that heightens the climax
 accentuate a specific type of conflict
 Establish a particular tone
 Establish the author’s point of view
 An analysis that explores connection between the narrative element
and the narrative’s structure will explore and support the cause-effect
 Speed or slow the plot’s pace
Reader reaction
 Author intentionally or unintentionally evokes a particular emotional or
intellectual reaction from the reader.
 An analysis that explores the connection between the narrative element
and the intended emotional or intellectual reaction will explore and
support the cause- effect relationship
Experiencing catharsis is an example or an emotional response while
experiencing an epiphany is an intellectual response
Social Commentary
o Author uses the specific narrative element to highlight a particular point associated with
a specific social issue.
Note on Function: sometimes authors unintentionally reveal social views or their beliefs through a piece
of writing. It doesn't always have to be a conscious effort or motivation to achieve an end - sometimes it
just happens because the idea or perception is ingrained in them.
Categorizing Value:
A work may have entertainment value (may provide an escape from something specific; create a sensory
experience; thrill the reader); social value (prompts readers to re-evaluate a specific, firmly held belief or
pushes the indecisive reader towards a conclusion); artistic value (generates a new literary movement or
style; transforms or enriches an existing literary movement or style; shows the need for an existing
literary movement or style).
Note on Value: Establishing value is a matter of the reader’s experiences and perception, as well as a
reader’s cultural, social, and academic awareness; therefore, one piece of literature will have a range of
Comparative Analysis Practice:
Step 1: Let’s practice these skills using ‘The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.’ Draw three columns down a
lined sheet of paper: Tools, Accomplishments, Value. Fill the columns with details from ‘R&J.’
Step 2: Repeat the process from Practice 1 with the tragedy you used to complete page 42 of your
‘Things Fall Apart’ packet.
Step 3: Review your response to Practice Parts 1 & 2. Circle the similarities. Use the most compelling
similarities to write a thesis statement for a comparative analysis based on ‘The Tragedy of Romeo and
Juliet’ and your selection from page 42.
Application Side Note:
Your response to the “Dark Continent” writing prompt should examine the author’s language; explore
the author’s motivation for using the phrase; establish the impact of his language; impart value of the
examination (tried to help you here by adding in the bit about Achebe’s work- for example, you may
understand that Achebe wrote to challenge similar perceptions, etc.).