Composing Literary Analysis – A Sample of the Process

Composing Literary Analysis

Here is a sample of the process of engaging with a literary text, analyzing that text, and writing about that text.

Example:

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.” 
― Langston Hughes


Analysis Step-One

Read for meaning.

Read the text a few times and think about what the text is “saying.” What ideas are explored in the text? What are the main ideas?


Analysis Step-Two

Look for specifics and identify literary elements.

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.” 
― Langston Hughes

Personification – Dreams as living things  
Metaphor – Life is compared to a bird – Dreams are implicitly compared to wings  

Draft of Literary Analysis Paragraph

(Bullet Point Version)

  • By using personification and a metaphor Hughes communicates the importance of dreams in a person’s life.
  • Through a chain of metaphor, the poem compares dreams for people to wings for a bird, and states that life without dreams “is a broken-winged bird.”
  • Additionally, Hughes personifies dreams with the phrase “if dreams die,” implying that dreams are living things.
  • This personification underscores the message of the poem as it subtly by connecting dreams to the basic idea of life and living.

Draft of Literary Analysis Paragraph

(Standard Format Version)

By using personification and a metaphorical comparison Hughes communicates the importance of dreams in a person’s life. Through a chain of metaphor, the poem compares dreams for people to wings for a bird, and states that life without dreams “is a broken-winged bird.” Additionally, Hughes personifies dreams with the phrase “if dreams die,” implying that dreams are living things. This personification underscores the message of the poem as it subtly by connecting dreams to the basic idea of life and living.

We can Expand the Paragraph into Essay

The ideas in this paragraph can be further developed through a more elaborate discussion and thus turned into an brief essay looking at how Langston Hughes’ poem presents a comment on hope, dreams, and the costs of losing one’s hopes and dreams.

The thesis statement of that essay would still be identical to the one used in this draft:

By using personification and a metaphorical comparison Hughes communicates the importance of dreams in a person’s life.

Note that the thesis statement also reflects the larger process of composing literary analysis, which consists of an explanation of a text’s meaning using specific details from the text and applying literary terminology.

When composing a full essay, the same process is followed. Most body paragraphs in a literary analysis essay will discuss the relationship between the thesis statement and one specific detail or specific of the text.

In writing a brief essay on the four lines from Langston Hughes above, our outline might look like this.

Introduction – Thesis Statement & General Description of the Text

By using personification and a metaphorical comparison Hughes communicates the importance of dreams in a person’s life.

General description: This four-line poem suggests that a person’s hope, in the form of dreams, can be sustaining and even definitive of a person’s life. Dreams may be necessary for doing the work of living or achieving success.

Supporting Point 1 – Personification of Dreams

The connection of dreams to life and the essence of living is important to the meaning of the poem. By personifying dreams with the phrase “if dreams die,” Hughes begins to fuse the concepts of dreams and life.

Supporting Point 2 – Metaphor of life as a “broken-winged bird.”

Using metaphor, the poem compares life to “a broken-winged bird” and further insinuates an equivalency between the ideas of dreams and life or living.

Supporting Point 3 – Flight as an emblem for the essential aspects of life.

Flight, for the bird, is part of the basic nature of life. Without flight, the bird is not truly living. The metaphor here suggests that humans, similarly, rely on dreams as a basic aspect of life. Hope and living are fused here and implied to be nearly synonymous.

Conclusion – Explaining how dreams and hope are linked.

One question that has not yet been answered is how we should understand dreams in relation to a person’s current life. Generally, dreams are understood as positive visions of the future – or hopeful expectations.

Each of the supporting points will be developed into a full paragraph explaining how the specific detail addressed in that paragraph can be connected to the meaning of the poem. In other words, each body paragraph explains how specific elements of the text help to communicate a single theme.

A Whole Essay on Four Lines of Poetry?

If you were wondering if someone really could write a whole essay on a four line poem, hopefully you have seen that the answer is yes. This outline shows that a five paragraph essay on this four line poem is very possible. In fact, writing an essay any shorter than that would end up leaving out necessary explication.

The truth is, of course, that longer texts are often easier to develop essays on – because they present a greater number of details to discuss. But, again, the process remains the same for works of four lines, works of four pages and works of four hundred pages.

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