Literary Essays

Literary essays analyze a written work and interpret literary elements such as imagery, symbolism and theme. Your interpretation of these elements is supported by quotes from the work and scholarly research.

Literary Essay Format

Literary essays use the standard, three-section essay format:

  • Introduction – Draw your reader in with a capitivating introduction and give them a glimpse of the rest of your essay with a clear, concise thesis statement.
  • Body – The body of a literary essay is used to present your topics and supporting evidence. Each paragraph contains one main idea, followed by supporting research and opinion. There are three body paragraphs in a standard essay, but they can also be longer depending on the depth of your assignment.
  • Conclusion – The last paragraph of a literary essay is for your conclusion. Revisit your thesis statement and finish the essay with a strong, decisive opinion on the work you’ve analyzed.

Literary essays can encompass other essay types as well. A persuasive literary essay, for example, will give your opinion on the meaning of the book. You can also write a comparison essay between several works, or an expository essay presenting the prevailing opinion of critics and scholars.

Literary Essay Tips

At first glance, literary essays can seem confounding. How do you discuss a piece of literature without it sounding like a book report? Here are some tips:

  • Assume your audience is already familiar with the book. You don’t need to summarize the plot, characters or main idea. Only describe aspects of the book that support your thesis; for example, mentioning a character trait because it is relevant to the point you’re making about the character.
  • Familiarize yourself with expert opinions. There is no “right” way to interpret a piece of literature as long as you provide supporting evidence. But if you’re really stuck, do some light research into the popular interpretation of the work. While you may not share these opinions, it can give you a fresh look on the work.
  • Use quotes to support your opinion. There is no better supporting evidence for a literary essay than the work itself. Use properly-formatted quotes to authenticate your opinion.