Analysis means to break something down in order to better understand how it works. To analyze a literary work is to pull it apart and look at its discrete components to see how those components contribute to the meaning and/or effect of the whole. Thus, a literary analysis argument considers what has been learned in analyzing a work (What do the parts look like and how do they function?) and forwards a particular perspective on their contribution to the whole (In light of the author’s use of diction, for example, what meaning does the novel, as a whole, yield?).
Consider, once again, the literary analysis arguments presented in this book so far:
Marion Velis (Chapter 2): “At first glance, Theodore Roethke’s poem ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ may seem like a poem about a boy’s fear of his controlling, abusive, alcoholic father. But the poem goes much deeper than that. Roethke uses specific rhythm, word choice, and a controlling metaphor to give the poem a reminiscent tone that looks back on the father in love.”
Bill Day (Chapter 5): “Through the metaphors of Jake’s wound and the tainted Pamplona fiesta, the novel [The Sun Also Rises] conveys the possibility that we can dangerously disrupt the cycle of renewal.”
Katherine Jones (Chapter 5): “Brett, as she is developed in the novel [The Sun Also Rises], has been painted in different lights, depending on the interpreter, ranging from a sympathetic view to one of condemnation. The portrait of her that I will attempt to show is one of a human being, caught between the ideologies of two eras.”
Each of these essays engages in analysis of the text in question, pointing to and considering plot events, images, character traits, dialogue, and other components of the work to understand the meaning of the text as a whole. Although in her thesis, Katherine does not list the “parts” that her paper investigates, she goes on to focus on Brett’s specific behaviors and expressions that support the essay’s interpretation of The Sun Also Rises.