To read a literary work critically using it as a foundation for support

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Writing a Literary Analysis

Writing a literary analysis is a process of discovery that offers a deeper understanding of a written work.

ChesapeakeCollege Writing Center has an excellent site to help you with a literary analysis:

Objectives of the assignment:

  • to read a literary work critically using it as a foundation for support

  • to utilize writing skills to express and support views

  • to document sources utilized in research within text using parenthetical citations and on Works Cited Page using MLA Documentation Style

  • to use technology to research and produce a well-written, coherent analysis

A Step by Step Plan
Research thoroughly. Reread carefully. Take time to organize your thoughts. Use your pre-writing skills! Write to show how much you have learned. Document carefully. Proofread for errors.

  1. Develop a thesis statement that clearly states your focus and viewpoint.

  2. Develop a general plan (outline) of ideas you wish to use to support your view.

  3. Reread text to find appropriate references for support either by way of paraphrase or limited direct quotes.

  4. Re-analyze and tie these textual references to ideas from research which you wish to use as support or to contradict.

  5. Let the critics help you, but be sure they are reliable sources.

  6. In writing the rough draft, make sure all paragraphs state the general point you wish to make to support your thesis sentence.
  7. Stimulate interest by creating an intriguing introduction and clearly stating literary element(s) on which you will focus and your view regarding it in thesis sentence.

  8. Conclude by stating the significance of what you discovered.

  9. Cite your credible sources as you use them within text and on Works Cited Page.

An Excellent Critical Essay Fulfills the following:

  1. Introduction provides background information related to topic and leads into clear statement of purpose (thesis) which indicates type of critical study: character, symbolism, theme, setting, genre, etc.

  2. Body clearly focuses on one major critical problem (unity)

  3. Uses logical not chronological order

  4. Makes generous use of author’s own words (relevant quotes) to provide analysis of striking, revealing, or memorable quotations in support of thesis and topic sentences

  5. Makes reference by way of paraphrase or summary to defend thesis with supportive details in text where quotations are not essential

  6. Makes reference to critical opinions (research) and incorporates them into student’s own viewpoint and documents them both within text and on Works Cited Page

  7. Shows understanding of author’s intent and method

  8. Uses proper grammar, spelling, and mechanics

  9. Uses transitions within and between paragraphs and smooth lead into quotations

  10. Conclusion gives sense of finality, relates back to thesis, and states significance of understanding acquired by thorough research

Tips for Writing the Literary Analysis
Ideas from

1. Write in the present tense.

2. Use the third person (no I or you).

3. Avoid summarizing the plot.  Assume your reader is very familiar with the work.

4. Include a clear thesis statement which addresses something meaningful about the literature, often about the theme.

5. Use literary terms to discuss your points (i.e., character, theme, setting, rhyme, point of view, alliteration, symbols, imagery, figurative language, protagonist, and so forth).

6. Do not confuse characters' (in fiction or drama) or speakers' (in poetry) viewpoints with authors' viewpoints.

7. Support your points with many quotations and paraphrases, but write the majority of your paper in your own words with your own ideas.

8. Cite prose, poetry, drama, critics, and any other sources used according to specialized MLA standards. (See the current edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.)



Hills Like White Elephants
Help for "Hills Like White Elephants"

If you do not have a copy of the text with the story “Hills Like White Elephants,” you may access a copy of the story at this Website:

Sites that can help you analyze Hills Like White Elephants

Sample Literary Analysis


Josh DeMarre
Mary Hyatt
Eng 201
May 26, 2003

Landscape in “Hills like White Elephants”

 E. Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” lays out a verbal battle, a contest of wills, and a poignant place in time and space, internal and external to the main characters.  The reader is asked to extrapolate much of the information in the story from indirect means, the use of symbolism and imagery, the words the characters share and don’t share. The natural landscape contains the entire tale, offering the vivid and natural images that contain the greatest amount of interpretive insight to the story. Beginning with the title “Hills like White Elephants” and through subsequent description of the terrain surrounding the couple the reader can sense the internal struggle between the two over the issue of whether Jig will agree to have an abortion.

 The setting puts the couple at a crossroads, or at least a literal stopping place in their journey through not just Spain, but through their lives as well.  “On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun.” Placing the stage for the drama in such a conspicuous locale really grabs the readers’ attention, drawing our eyes down from above to witness the unfolding of events.  The dualistic interpretation of the significance of the hills that look like white elephants to Jig is important. On the one hand white elephants at the time of the story were a euphemism for an unwanted gift which the reader can see as the

Americans point of view regarding the possible birth of a child.  Another interpretation could be that of the white elephant as a fertility symbol as it is held by some cultures, again bringing the gift of a child.  Jig seems to regard the hills in the distance as bearing the signs of promise, while the man sees only complications to their existence.           The landscape of barrenness on the one side and fertility on the other in the form of “fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro” also reflect the two sides of the couple's current situation. Jig is found looking out at the fields of possibility and pondering whether “we could have all this, and we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible.” This leads the reader to ask the question, “Who is we?” Does Jig mean herself and the man, or the possibility of herself, her child, and her man? The fields of grain and the water in the river suggest that Jig may be pondering her future as a mother at this point in the story.

 After another stint of conversation with the man however, the glance that Jig throws far away across to the dry, lifeless, side of the valley suggests that her thoughts have been turned either by the manipulations of the man, or because of her own resignations and doubts.
 In both of these cases the landscape has definitely given the reader as much or more to go on than the dialogue which is short and repetitive.  Physical descriptions in this story which are also rather short and repetitive still have a greater power to suggest the state of the mostly internalized struggles between Jig and the American man. The setting, imagery, and dialogue are in great synthesis in the story, but would not work nearly as well at telling the tale without one or the other being present.

                                        Works Cited

Hemingway, E. “Hills like White Elephants.” May 26, 2003.


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