Literary Analysis: Essay Prompts, Outline, & American Literature Topics

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Overview

The literary analysis aims at solving the mysteries of a book using one’s critical thinking. When analyzing a novel, you can see how all those characters, places, objects, and events obtain new senses.

Any literature work consists of thousands of micro-details that require close reading in the first place. Mind that literary analysis or criticism it’s not the same as a summary! You won’t reveal narrative elements for a thorough investigation with shallow reading.

  1. 📚 Literary Analysis Definition
  2. 🧩 Elements of a Literary Analysis
  3. 📝 Literary Analysis Outline
  4. 💡 Literary Analysis Prompts
  5. 🤔 Topics for Literary Analysis
  6. 🗽 American Literature Topics
  7. ️ British & Irish Literature Topics
  8. 🌐 Classic European Literature Topics

It’s high time to discuss everything about literary analysis in detail!

📚 What Is Literary Analysis?

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Literary analysis (literary criticism) is the process of interpreting a piece of literature. It implies a critical look at a text to understand the author’s message.

In this assignment, you trace tiny symbols and puzzles left by the author. As a reward, you get to the main idea. It is essential to differentiate a literary analysis from a summary where you just restate ideas from a text. Here, you need to dig into them and interpret them. Here are the main steps of a literary criticism process:

  • Summary
  • Interpretation
  • Analysis

What Is the Purpose of a Literary Analysis Essay?

Literary analysis has several purposes. Here are some of them:

  • Understanding and interpreting the author’s point of view.
  • Looking deeper into the literary work canvas and finding new meanings in it.
  • Making up an opinion about the book.
  • Estimating a book in general, its strong and weak sides.

🧩 Elements of a Literary Analysis

The proper literary analysis includes many details. You should provide not a summary but an interpretation. In the end, it can be considered a separate work.

Brainstorming and observing the following aspects makes writing more manageable.

CharacterObserving the characters’ behavior helps understand their motives and what drives them. Define if a character is static or dynamic, flat or “round.”
PlotMark how events in the book unfold. Mention if they are in a logical order or not. Try to understand how the author shows suspense and twists.
ThemeThere can be several themes. Define one to three and present their meaning in the book. You can also mention how the author highlights a theme’s significance.
Narrative toneCharacterize a voice narrating the story. Try to spot the author’s attitude to the events and characters by the tone.
SettingA setting can give you a lot of hints for analysis. Examine the places and the time where and when the events took place.
DialogueIt is also essential to notice if the dialogues or monologues prevail. Define how conversations reveal characters and the author’s attitude.
Literary devicesWith the help of metaphors, oxymorons, and similes, authors create a whole world of meanings. Dive into them!
LanguageAnalyzing the characters’ language can do a lot for your literature critique paper. Pay attention to the speech, any language distortions, and deviations.
ConflictThe central idea of the book lies behind the main conflict. Define the nature of conflict and the author’s attitude towards it.
ClimaxTry to find the moment of the most intensive tension. Analyze the event before and after it, spotting the changes in the dynamics.
MoodNote the overall mood reflected in the book. It can change from chapter to chapter. The mood gives you the keys to understanding the other elements.
StructureObserve the structural patterns and frames in the analyzed work. Find out how the structure affects the narrative.
ImageryExplore and find images throughout the book. Try to figure out how the author manages to create them.

📝 Literary Analysis Essay Outline – 3 Parts

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We want to present you with a complete literary analysis outline. The parts from the section below will navigate you through writing your work.

Introduction of a Literary Analysis Essay

When writing a literary analysis, you examine the whole text and its components. So we recommend starting from the primary constituents. Here’s what you can include in your literary analysis essay intro:

  1. In many cases, there’s already a lot said in the title – look at it more precisely.
  2. Don’t forget to mention the author and give a piece of information about them.
  3. Get the reader’s attention with a good hook. It will make the audience interested in your writing.
  4. Give some background information about the book. For example, you can mention the context of when and where it was created.

Body of a Literary Analysis Essay

The body is the “fleshiest” part of your paper. Let’s see how to make it complete and exciting.

  1. Introduce the contents of the section in a topic sentence.
  2. Provide the reader with the evidence you’ve collected. It can be quotations, specific details from the book, or summarized sentences. Mind that you have to give your interpretations.
  3. Smoothen the transition to the next paragraph with a closing sentence.

Conclusion of a Literary Analysis Essay

To wrap up your analysis, you will need a proper conclusion. Let’s look at its components:

  1. A paraphrased thesis statement – reformulate your thesis preserving its main idea.
  2. A summary of your work – give a quick review of the most significant points.
  3. Only the information you already gave – don’t introduce any new facts.

💡5 Literary Analysis Prompts

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The section below gives you clues on building an excellent literary analysis. You can choose any of them to focus your work on something specific.

1. Analyze a Character’s Behavior, Choices, and Motifs

First, you have to choose a character who resonates with you. In that case, your analysis will be more profound. You will enjoy writing it. Use the following or similar questions to perform it:

What is the personality of the character?
What do they want to accomplish?
Have they got through any transformations?
What is the author’s attitude to the character?

2. Compare Internal Conflict Vs. External Conflict

There is often a conflict or several in a literary work. It is something that makes a story engaging. Try to find it and put it to the test. For example, answer these questions:

What is the point of the most intense tension?
Is the story interesting to read and explore? What makes it exciting?
What are the obstacles on the way to the characters’ happiness?

3. Focus on a Specific Sentence

An author can put a lot of significance even into one sentence. If you manage to find it, you’ll get the key to understanding the whole point of the work. Try to find a sentence or several that got your attention and made you reflect on them.

Why did you choose this particular excerpt?
What senses does it carry due to your vision?
Is there anything specific about the language the author used there?

4. Evaluate the Role of Setting

The setting often plays a significant role in a storyline. Look for the descriptions that may resonate with the characters’ state and the atmosphere.

How does the setting here resonate with the events?
What details does it include that create such an impression?
How do the characters interact with the setting?

5. Research the Background and Its Meaning

The majority of literary pieces resonate with historical or cultural contexts. You can use it for the analysis.

What historical events were taking place at the time the book was written?
Were there specific political or social circumstances?
How could the author’s personal life affect the literary work?

🤔 212 Literary Analysis Essay Topics

Consider the topics below for deep analysis. You’ll find titles to any taste, including American, British, and European literature.

Try our remarkable research title generator if these 200+ topics are not enough. It’s free and easy to use!

🗽 American Literature Essay Topics

  1. Analyze themes of the American Revolutionary period in literature.
  2. Devil’s presence in “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
  3. Is “The Power of Sympathy” the first American Novel?
  4. The moral education of early America in “The Power of Sympathy.”
  5. A disease of Marriage in “The Story of an Hour” by Chopin.
  6. The friendship in Moby Dick: should it be an example for others?
  7. Elaborate on race and enslavement topics pictured in Moby Dick.
  8. Kate Chopin’s background in “Story of an Hour.”
  9. Research the anti-slavery narratives in early American literature.
  10. Moby Dick: How did the sermon that Ishmael heard affect him?
  11. Marriage in “The Awakening” Novel by Kate Chopin.
  12. How does Walter Whitman use symbols in “Leaves of Grass”?
  13. Walt Whitman poetry: how to read and understand it?
  14. Walter Whitman: what are the controversial themes in “Leaves of Grass”?
  15. Plot analysis of “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway.
  16. What is the deistic influence in Walter Whitman’s poetry?
  17. What does “athletic friendship” mean in Walter Whitman’s poetry?
  18. An Eye For An I: Critical Analysis of Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart.”
  19. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain: a racist or anti-racist novel?
  20. Compare and contrast two characters of Mark Twain: Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.
  21. How to describe the American society in Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?”
  22. The concepts of good and evil in Young Lions by Irwin Shaw.
  23. Compare and contrast three main characters of Irwin Shaw’s “Young Lions.”
  24. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” vs. “Smooth Talk”: Connie’s character.
  25. How do Holden’s relationships with people differ in “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger?
  26. Analyze the imagery, structure, and syntax in Emily Dickinson’s poetry.
  27. Chinese and American Women in Joy Luck Club novel and film.
  28. The American decadence themes in Grapes of Wrath by J. Steinbeck.
  29. Crime and punishment in Theodor Dreiser’s “American Tragedy.”
  30. How is the process of growing up reflected in “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger?
  31. Can we see James Joyce’s influence in William Faulkner’s novels?
  32. To Kill a Mockingbird: the metamorphoses of Jem and Scout in the novel.
  33. “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams character review.
  34. What do Clyde Griffiths and Frank Cowperwood of Theodor Dreiser’s novels have in common?
  35. The Financier: can Frank Cowperwood be a role model for young and ambitious people?
  36. “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steve Covey: book concepts.
  37. The Sound and the Fury: how do four different perspectives of narrative help understand the novel?
  38. To Kill a Mockingbird: is Atticus a role model of a parent and a decent person?
  39. “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller: Willy Loman Character Analysis.
  40. Elaborate on the wide range of racist issues in the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
  41. How is American Dream depicted in “American Tragedy”?
  42. Symbolism in Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.”
  43. Signs of feminism in “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
  44. American ideology in Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense.”
  45. The American dream in the play “Death of a Salesman.”
  46. How does Margaret Mitchell show the war tragedy in Gone with the Wind?
  47. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray: does the book’s structure allow us to call it “a novel”?
  48. The importance of “The Making of a Quagmire” by David Halberstam.
  49. Explore transcendentalism topic in James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans.”
  50. Does The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have one main idea?
  51. The Song of Hiawatha: the struggle between vice and virtue.
  52. Gender relations on the example of “Trifle” by Glaspell.
  53. The Song of Hiawatha: the gap between reality and the ideal.
  54. Moral ambiguity in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”
  55. The horrors of war in Ernest Hemingway’s novel “Farewell to Arms.”
  56. Dave’s character in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” by Richard Wright.
  57. How does Harriette Stowe show the slavery horrors in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”?
  58. What are the symbols and settings that make Poe’s works recognizable?
  59. The hypocrisy of the civilized society in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
  60. “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair: the dark alleys of capitalism.
  61. Autobiographical motives in Jack London’s “Martin Eden.”
  62. Nietzschean individualism versus socialism in Jack London’s “Martin Eden.”
  63. Illusory of the distorted American ideals in Theodor Dreiser’s “Sister Carrie.”
  64. “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker: plot analysis.
  65. “American Tragedy” – a story about urbanization, modernization, and alienation.
  66. What is the idea of the “average” American way of life depicted in Sinclair Lewis’ “Babbitt”?
  67. How does Sinclair Lewis accomplish to create drama with the details?
  68. The life of black people in Nella Larsen’s ‘Passing.’
  69. What is the devastating cost of success in “The Great Gatsby” by F. S. Fitzgerald?
  70. Southern families issues in “The Sound and The Fury” by W. Faulkner.
  71. “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson: description of the book and its relation to business.
  72. “Light in August”: Complex and violent relations between men and women.
  73. “The Sound and the Fury: are there innocent characters in the Compson family?
  74. The rise and decline of the Southern aristocracy in “The Snopes trilogy.”
  75. “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner: the role of point of view.
  76. How are the themes of struggle, pride, and death revealed in “The Old Man and the Sea”?
  77. Emily Grierson in “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner.
  78. “In Cold Blood”: the context for the crime created in society.
  79. What Southern Gothic signs can we find in Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”?
  80. Explore the unique style of Kurt Vonnegut in “Slaughter House Five.”
  81. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross in “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien.
  82. Ethical problems in John Updike’s novel “The Centaur.”

️ British & Irish Literature Essay Topics

  1. What makes “Canterbury tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer a great piece of literature?
  2. What figures of speech does G. Chaucer use to create a humorous narrative in “Canterbury Tales”?
  3. The image of clergy in “Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer.
  4. Satire by Jonathan Swift in “A Modest Proposal” essay.
  5. If the “Faerie Queene” is a great “national” epic, what idea of the English nation does the poem create?
  6. Beowulf: is it a “perfect” hero from the Christian perspective?
  7. A separate individual and societal system in Dickens’ novel “Little Dorrit.”
  8. The Character of Leggatt in “The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad.
  9. Why did Edmund Spencer invent a poetic diction for his poem, and does that language work?
  10. Are Romeo and Juliet a play about revenge? Why?
  11. What racism issues are presented in “Othello”?
  12. Describe Othello as a tragic hero in Shakespeare’s play.
  13. Explore the imagery in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”
  14. Female characters in the novel “David Copperfield” by C. Dickens.
  15. Is the poem “Paradise Lost” morally conflicted? Why?
  16. Themes in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
  17. The images of fairies and elves in Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
  18. A system of moral standards in Robin Hood’s cycle of stories.
  19. Victor in “Frankenstein,” the novel by Mary Shelley.
  20. The hero and author images in P. Sidney’s “Astrophil and Stella.”
  21. Explore the imagery in John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”
  22. Thomas Heywood “A Woman Killed with Kindness”: family drama genre.
  23. Romeo and Juliet: the problem of love and freedom.
  24. Impact of gender in Shakespeare’s Othello.
  25. The image of the villain in Shakespeare’s “Othello.”
  26. What functions do the supernatural powers perform in “Macbeth”?
  27. The Merchant of Venice: the topics of justice and mercy in the play.
  28. Review of “The Victorian Internet,” the book by Tom Standage.
  29. The peculiarities of the author’s irony in John Donne’s “Songs and sonnets.”
  30. The symbolic images of dreams and thunderstorms in John Donne’s poetry.
  31. Arcadian motives in Andrew Marvel’s lyrics.
  32. “Othello” by William Shakespeare: racism problem.
  33. How is the image of Satan presented in J. Milton’s poetry?
  34. Compare the image of the lost innocence in Milton’s and Dante’s poetry.
  35. “The Alchemist” by Ben Jonson: the problems of style.
  36. Ophelia’s Character in Shakespeare’s Play “Hamlet.”
  37. The genre and method in the play “Volpone” by Ben Johnson.
  38. What unique features of the composition does the play “The Changeling” by T. Middleton include?
  39. “Perkin Warbeck” by John Ford: theatrical satire genre uniqueness.
  40. How is madness portrayed in William Shakespeare’s “Play King Lear”?
  41. The traveling theme in D. Defoe’s “The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.”
  42. J. Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”: utopia and dystopia in the novel.
  43. The satire in J. Swift’s pamphlet “A Tale of a Tub.”
  44. Different nations in “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift.
  45. A. Pope’s “Windsor-Forest”: specifics of the arcadian motives and plot.
  46. The primary functions of the “Don Quixote mask” in G. Fielding’s “Don Quixote in England.”
  47. “Middlemarch” by G. Eliot: the problem of cognition in the novel.
  48. Women in Shakespeare’s and Chaucer’s works.
  49. Ideals and symbols in “The Corsair” by Byron.
  50. The themes of literature and writing in the novel “The Black Prince” by I. Murdoch.
  51. Symbols in the novel “David Copperfield” by C. Dickens.
  52. Shakespearean Hamlet’s character analysis.
  53. “The Quiet American” by G. Greene: love and duty motives.
  54. The specifics of the sentimentalism in R. Burn’s poetry.
  55. English romanticism traditions in “The Wuthering Heights.”
  56. Romeo from “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare.
  57. The themes of unity and alienation in “The Wuthering Heights” by E. Bronte.
  58. The inner and outer beauty in Ch. Bronte’s “Jane Air.”
  59. “To Be or Not to Be”: Prominent Phrase Analysis.
  60. Egoism and altruism in “Oliver Twist” by C. Dickens.
  61. Social problematics in the novel “Bleak House” by C. Dickens.
  62. The themes of the ambitions and happiness in the novel “Big Expectations” by Charles Dickens.
  63. “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens: characters, themes, and stylistic choices.
  64. Gender issues in the novel “Big Expectations” by Charles Dickens.
  65. The issues of female emancipation in the novel “The Mill on the Floss” by G. Eliot.
  66. The narrator’s role in the novel “The Code of the Woosters” by P. Woodhouse.
  67. The role of the detective storyline in G. Greene’s “Brighton Rock.”
  68. Gender and Sexuality in William Shakespeare’s plays.
  69. Tradition and personality in the novel “1984” by G. Orwell.

🌐 Classic European Literature Topics

  1. H. Hesse “Steppenwolf”: the spiritual quest of the characters.
  2. Existential searching in the novel “The Glass Bead Game” by H. Hesse.
  3. Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” as a historical novel of a peculiar style.
  4. The meaning of laughter in Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose.”
  5. Is Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” a detective novel?
  6. The problematics of the book “Foucault’s Pendulum” by U. Eco.
  7. The image of Beatrice in Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”
  8. Oedipus: Sophocles’ character.
  9. Dante’s “Divine Comedy”: the system of characters and level of perception.
  10. The specifics of narrative style in M. Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.”
  11. The problematic characters in the novel “The End of the Night” by F. Mauriac.
  12. Therese Desqueyroux by François Mauriac: the image of family as a cage.
  13. “Oedipus the King” by Sophocles: fate versus character.
  14. The rebel against injustice in Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus.”
  15. The theme of alienation in Albert Camus’ “The Stranger.”
  16. The motives of doom of time and man in Gottfried Benn’s poetry.
  17. How does Thomas Mann show the decay of the burgher’s social class in “Buddenbrooks”?
  18. The genre of a family saga in Thomas Mann’s “Buddenbrooks.”
  19. Prophecy and fate. “Oedipus the King” by Sophocles.
  20. The creativity collapse in “Doctor Faustus” by T. Mann.
  21. The tragedy of the genius in B. Brecht’s “The Life of Galileo.”
  22. B. Brecht’s “The Life of Galileo”: the moral dilemma between genius and villainy.
  23. The theme of metamorphosis in the novel “The Trial” by F. Kafka.
  24. Autobiographical family drama in the novel “Metamorphosis” by F. Kafka.
  25. The themes of alienation and loneliness in Franz Kafka’s novel “Metamorphosis.”
  26. An individual in the society in the novel “A Man without qualities” by Robert Musil.
  27. Jaroslav Hashek’s “The Fate of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War”: the denial of war and perception of it as madness.
  28. The corruptive influence of the army in Jaroslav Hashek’s “The Fate of the Good Soldier Švejk During the World War.”
  29. Pacifistic motives in Karel Chapek’s work “Salamander War.”
  30. The prophecy of historical events in Karel Capek’s novel “Salamander War.”
  31. The theme of history in the poetry of Antonio Machado: Fields of Castile.
  32. Federico Lorca’s Poet in New York: the problematics and style.
  33. Federico Lorca’s Poet in New York: the image of New York and American reality.
  34. The Thousand & One Nights: folk collection overview.
  35. “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Becket: autobiographical experience of occupied France.
  36. “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Becket: the peculiarities of language, speech, and dialogues.
  37. Allegorical presentation of society in the play “Rhinoceros” by E. Ionesco.
  38. “In the Labyrinth” by Alain Robbe-Grillet: what meaning does the detailed description of things have?
  39. The features of anti-novel in the “Golden Fruits” by Natali Sarot.
  40. Patrick Suskind’s “Perfume” as a perfect example of a postmodernist novel.
  41. The levels of the novel “Perfume” by Patrick Suskind.
  42. Reflections on friendship and love in the novel “Hello Sadness” by Françoise Sagan.
  43. The tragedy of disunity and loneliness in “The Time of Indifference” by Alberto Moravia.
  44. “The Time of Indifference” by Alberto Moravia: why do the characters remain static?
  45. The image of Rome in the story cycle “Roman Tales” by A. Moravia.
  46. Magic realism in the novel “100 Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
  47. “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Servantes: the “insanity” of the main character.
  48. “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy: the concepts of love and duty.
  49. The peculiarities of women characters in “The Trial” by Franz Kafka.
  50. The theme of love in “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert.
  51. “The Dog in the Manger” by Lope De Vega: the specifics of Italian comedy.
  52. Voltaire’s “Candid”: forming of individual personality.
  53. The concept of the Enlightenment person in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Emile, or On Education.”
  54. Goethe’s “Faust”: biblical references.
  55. The peculiarities and imagery of F. Schiller’s poetry.
  56. The ideological and artistic uniqueness of H. Heine’s poetry.
  57. The genuineness of historical figures in “Danton’s Death” by George Buchner.
  58. The theme of love in “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque.
  59. The lost generation theme in “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque.

🔗 References

  1. How to write a literary analysis essay | Bucks County Community College
  2. A short guide to close reading for literary analysis; The Writing Center; UW – Madison
  3. University Writing Center – Literary Analysis
  4. How to write literary analysis – Sparknotes
  5. University Writing Center (UWC) – Analyzing Novels & Short Stories
  6. Writing Prompts for Analyzing Fiction // Purdue Writing Lab
  7. Summary vs. Analysis | UAGC Writing Center
  8. Teaching Literary Analysis | Edutopia
  9. Writing a Literary Analysis – English Resources – Resources by Subject at C. G. O’Kelly Library
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