What is analysis and what is literary analysis?

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The word analysis is thrown around often and appears to imply numerous ways to understand one particular thing and in no particular discipline, which is okay because academia is all about how you define a term as long as you define it.

Unfortunately, though, analysis is one of the words that reminds me of a scientist in a lab coat who has a vial of blue liquid.

“Yes,” he says, rubbing his chin. “This analysis is going well.”

Yet, outside of the strange connotative qualities, analysis is integral to more communities than just stereotypical scientists in big-budget, end-of-the-world pictures. In fact, if you read and write, analysis is a big part of your life; that is, every short story and every novel and every poem that you read or write is analyzed by you yourself whether you know it or not. Our brain is always analyzing, but sometimes it doesn’t know what to look for when in the moment.

So, today I want to look at the definition of this word to see if it can help some of us think or reflect on our own analyses with a little more clarity…especially if we know what to look for in the text.

The definition of analysis

The definition of analysis as defined by Merriam-Webster is, “a careful study of something to learn about its parts, what they do, and how they are related to each other.” Likewise, the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy defines analysis as, “The process of breaking a concept down into more simple parts, so that its logical structure is displayed.”

As such, we already have a definition that might defy some of your understandings. Analysis isn’t an umbrella term that covers just studying something and poking it with the eraser of a pencil. In fact, according to definitions, it’s about learning about a particular subject’s moving parts and how they relate.

What does this mean in the context of literary analysis?

Understanding analysis helps us understand something you are probably aware of that appears in academia: literary analysis.

As literary analysis has been defined, it is “not merely a summary of a literary work,” but rather “an argument about the work that expresses a writer’s personal perspective…” Thus, it’s not just our opinion, but our perspective on a work using our own background and understanding.

“This is accomplished by examining the literary devices, word choices, or writing structures the author uses within the work. The purpose of a literary analysis is to demonstrate why the author used specific ideas, word choices, or writing structures to convey his or her message (Germanna).

Think about it.

We could analyze a single author’s works just by looking at literary conventions such as form and tone.

I am unabashedly a big fan of Ray Bradbury, and I know that his work and tone differ from book to book because I have read a great deal of his work. For example, if you read The Martian Chronicles, then you will know that this book is a collection of short stories (form) that is filled with curiosity and imagination (tone). However, if you read Something Wicked this Way Comes by the same author then you will see that it’s a full-length novel (form) that is dark and mysterious (tone). This is a surface-level interpretation but I can also use my own experiences with imagination, wonder, horror, and mystery to inform my analysis.

Our quick examination, and comparisons and contrasts, help us analyze the text by understanding a subjects’ form and tone (short stories, novels, or poems); yet, we can look at any literary conventions of a text (aside from form and tone), whether that be the characters, the plot, or the theme (or whatever) to conduct our own analysis.

Works Cited

Academic Center for Excellence. “Writing a Literary Analysis Paper.” Germanna Community College, Feb. 2AD, germanna.edu/wp-content/uploads/tutoring/handouts/Literary-Analysis.pdf.     

Analysis > Definitions and Descriptions of Analysis (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). plato.stanford.edu/entries/analysis/s1.html#1.

Definition of ANALYSIS. 20 Nov. 818, merriam-webster.com/dictionary/analysis.