How to Analyze a Literary Passage

By Mary Smith. Updated: December 4, 2017
How to Analyze a Literary Passage

Conducting a textual analysis or literary commentary is not a simple matter. This type of essay should be an interpretation of a literary passage, and not simply a retelling of it. It requires prior knowledge and application of a series of specific steps with regard to the context, author, structure and form. For these reasons, at At oneHOWTO we explain how to analyze a literary passage. With the tips that we provide, it will be much easier to perform a literary analysis successfully.

The first thing to keep in mind is that a literary analysis should have the structure of an essay. We suggest you also read the article on how to write an essay before beginning your analysis.

You may also be interested in: How to Read Faster


Any literary passage is subdued to a moment when it was created. This context can become a literary movement, with its own traits and specific characteristics, or belong to the author's individual universe.

In both cases you should analyze the characteristics of this historical moment in which the text was written and compare them to the text,as well as citing influences from this period that you may find in the text.


The introduction of your literary passage analysis should:

  • Immediately capture the reader's attention with a catchy first sentence
  • Include the full title of the work in question and its author's name
  • Include the historical context in which it was written
  • State your main thesis/topic sentence.

Your topic sentence should be your main argument of interpretation, from which all arguments will revolve around. Example: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a critique of the duality that exists in every human.


There are a great number of literary passages that may be anonymous but most of them are related to a certain author. This is why, when you analyze a literary passage or text from one of the author's works, you should also add some information on biographical aspects that may be relevant and related to the text.

These components are not limited to citing his place of birth and personal career, but you should explain those milestones that can be found in the text and that influenced it.


Every literary work revolves around a main theme from which the plot is derived. It is imperative you state the main theme or themes that the text explores and the methods used by the author to elaborate on that theme.

It's important to also explain the rest of the themes present in the book, how they interact with each other and with the central theme.

There will likely be many metaphors and symbols in the text that you are analyzing, and it is important to highlight them and interpret them in a way that you see fit. Remember that your interpretations should always relate to your main thesis topic. Use paraphrasing and quotations to strengthen your arguments.

Formal Aspects

Rhetoric is an essential component to analyze a literary passage, which is why it's important to know the figures of speech that are included in the text.

You may also want to include some other elements to enrich your text, such as:

  • Imagery: The description of people and places that the author provides can help prove your argument
  • Speaker: The narrator is an important element of a literary text. Think about why the author chose the narrator that he did.
  • Structure: Ponder on how the story is structured. Does it begin in the future then go back in time?
  • Tone: The tone of a text can be optimistic, sarcastic, morbid or worried. The tone has a huge influence on the reception of the text.

For more advice, you may also find our article How to write a report in English helpful.

If you want to read similar articles to How to Analyze a Literary Passage, we recommend you visit our Learning category.

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How to Analyze a Literary Passage
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