Literary Analysis and Writing a Good Essay
To remember all of this when writing an essay, there's a handy acronym, known as "OCEA." It stands for:
“O” stands for orient. This includes but is not excluded to introduction and context. This means consider the time and place in which the piece was written or takes place.
“C” stands for claim, this is in essence the thesis, but may include other topic sentences.
“E” stands for evidence. This is rather self explanatory. Use evidence to support your thesis, and examine the evidence given.
“A” stands for analysis. This is the point at which you will examine the evidence, claims, and context given in order to support your claim. You must be sure to take in analysis as far as possible, farther than you think is necessary.
In literary analysis the goal is to break the piece down into parts in the hopes of understanding the whole. There are two questions that you should ask when analyzing all writing (and perhaps art in general):
What is this about?
What is this really about?
You have to think about the purpose of the piece, the message the author is trying to convey, the underlying themes of it all, and then, if you're writing an essay about it, come up with a thesis.
Your thesis is the foundation on which you build your essay. It's your argument and the sum of your entire message condensed into one sentence in the opening paragraph. It's the key part: everything after it is just evidence supporting it. But what is it then? The thesis often addresses the themes of the book, and therefore how they affect the human psyche. It explains the significance of the piece and how it achieves this significance.
If the thesis is the most important part of the essay, then what comes afterward? Well, what remains is to prove it. After all, anyone can make any claim at any time -- the challenge comes in convincing others that you're correct.
Analysis means that you tear the piece apart and look at each individual aspect of it, its meaning / significance, and then you relate all of that back to your thesis.
Evidence is bundled into analysis as your method of proving your thesis. It's your way of showing that you're thoughts aren't just coming from anywhere; their source is right here in the book.
Gathering evidence essentially consists of finding passages, scenes, or quotes in the book which support the claims you made in your thesis. You validate your claim by showing the areas in the reading that demonstrate these ideas. Because of how important evidence is, and how difficult it can be to find it on a whim, it's best to use post-its or annotations to indicate these key moments while you're still reading the book. That way you may find and cite them more easily in the future because trust me, you'll be writing an essay on it later.
Orienting the Reader
This is mentioned last because it's less related to your thesis and analysis and is more related to writing a good essay. Orientation is essentially your introduction paragraph, where you explain the background of the book, or novel, or theme, or author, or some / all of the above. You give context to the writing, and it's the reader's first impression of you, meaning they'll decide whether they want to keep reading or not. If they're required to read it and the intro is of poor quality or leaves them confused, then they'll be biased against you from the onset, and your grade and their mood will suffer.
Often, you don't have to write the intro paragraph first: you can skip to your thesis, evidence, analysis, etc. and return to write it, because rather than your essay depending on the intro, the intro should be based on the rest of your writing. If you're stuck, leave some space at the top of the page and come back to it afterward, because the rest of the essay is where the majority of your content is located.
Your essay doesn't have to be long. A great piece of writing isn't lengthy but rather dense: everything is packed in and nothing superfluous remains. On the flip side, English teachers often say there is nothing worse than a long, mediocre essay. Don't artificially lengthen your writing with useless fluff; just keep what is necessary.
It was mentioned above, but you can write your introduction after the majority of your essay, since it should be based on the content of the rest of it.