Analysis of Literary Elements



We often tend to look at literary elements separately: structure (plot), symbolism, point-of-view, setting, theme, etc. In general, though, it’s often wise to combine these elements in an analytical essay. You may also write about character as long as you are combining it with an analysis of one or more of the above elements. Therefore, you can choose to focus on one of these elements, or you can write an essay which considers two or more of these elements. Which element(s) you choose to write on is entirely up to you, but if you choose to combine elements, you must show how these elements are related (for example, how setting helps us to understand how a character acts).


Consider how Antigone and Creon illustrate particular traits that drive their lives to tragedy. Also consider how you as the audience feel about them. Ask yourself, what is the author trying to tell me here? You probably want to begin by formulating a question, then answering that question in your thesis [Heads Up: your thesis will use the idea of martyr and tyrant. Consider who’s who in your perspective.]


Ways to think about analyzing: you can analyze how the story’s setting impacts the plot; the effect of a certain point of view upon the narrative; how the chorus reinforces the themes presented; how a central symbol functions in the story; why the story is structured oddly or non-chronologically; and so on.


No plot summary allowed; thesis and topic sentences must all be related analytical assertions; all assertions must be supported with textual evidence.


General Questions to Consider

Below are some general questions that you can apply to any work of fiction, although you can come up with your own questions or approach. On a separate word document, please answer as many of the questions as you can.


I. Analysis of Structure tells us how a work’s organization influences (or is influenced by) the plot and theme or the work. Analyze the episodes and odes what each contains. How does this influence the play’s overall message? Recreate the plot graph, consider how the story is developed from each perspective, and the timeline. Structural analysis usually involves one or more of the following considerations:

A. Why is chronological order adhered to or violated? Why? To what effect?

B. How is the central conflict presented and resolved?

C. How does the author use structure to evoke an emotional response? Consider the chorus’ role, the scene changes, etc.

II. Analysis of Imagery and Symbolism involves telling us why an author chooses to use one or more dominant, recurring images or symbols. You may want to analyze the ship metaphor, for instance. Look for reoccurring images, metaphors, symbols. Consider if these symbols help to

A. Evoke emotions

B. Establish mood

C. Reinforce characterization

D. Help convey the theme

III. Characterization is how the author chooses to present a character through his or her actions, words, and what others say about him or her.

A.     Why does the narrator choose certain language, report the details that he/she does, reveal the characters in the manner that he/she does, offer or not offer interpretive comments, and/or tell the story in a certain order?

B.     How do the others feel about him or her? What is the chorus’ reaction to this person?

C.     What is the character’s flaw? Why is this a problem?

D.     What is the character’s strong feature?

E.      How does the character react to setbacks?

IV. Analysis of Setting and Atmosphere attempts to explain how and why a work’s time and place affects the events and/or the characters of the work. Often you will want to consider setting as part of another form of literary analysis. Here are some things to consider:

A. Why is the work set during a certain era, season or time of day?

B. Is any part of the setting symbolic?

C. How well does a character "fit in" with the setting? Explain.

D. Does the setting establish atmosphere or mood?

V. Analysis of Theme involves determining the concept, thought, opinion or belief that the author is expressing. Again, it is very common (and helpful) to consider theme when analyzing another aspect of literature. Consider the idea of moral law vs. man’s laws, choices, the problem with stubbornness or pride, etc.. What else do you think the author was trying to say?


Two main questions to consider are:

A. Does it seem like the author is making a value judgment?

B. How does the author convey his/her ideas? Is it through:

1. Direct statements

2. Imagery and symbolism

3. A character’s thoughts or statements

4. A character who stands for an idea or

5. The total impression of the work?