How to Write a College Book Analysis

Reflecting on the plot, characters and setting as you read will help you write a strong analysis essay.
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An analysis is not a summary. Rather than retelling a story, analyzing a book entails asking critical questions about the author's and the characters' motivations and messages. Aspects to consider when writing a college-level book analysis include context, setting, plot, character development and theme. You should reflect and take notes on the book as you read to deepen your understanding of the text and to strengthen your essay.

1 The Author

One aspect of a book that you can analyze is the author's biography and overall body of work. In your essay you can discuss what aspects of the author's life experiences and values shaped the characters and story line. You also can analyze how the book compares to other works in the author's catalog. Sometimes examining other texts the author has written can offer a better understanding of common themes in the author's work. For example, Tennessee Williams' plays often contain the themes of madness and wounded women.

2 Characters

Characters in a book often undergo conflicts or face problems that reveal their limitations, values and priorities. It often is in these critical moments in the text that the reader can gain a deeper understanding of the characters and what aspects of human experience they symbolize. Your essay should include quotations from the text to support the analysis of the characters. Make certain your analysis and your evidence support the essay's overall point.

3 Setting

Setting -- temporal, cultural, historical or geographical -- can be crucial to the analysis of a book. For example, the temporal setting of "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald is the 1920s, when the squandering of extreme wealth was juxtaposed with the hard labor and struggle of poverty. Thinking critically about the setting of a book can reveal important points about themes and characters. Ferrum College suggests asking, "Why has the author chosen to emphasize certain details of the setting? Does the setting simply provide a realistic backdrop or does it contain symbolic details?"

4 Theme and Thesis

A thesis statement is the main point of the essay. It is contained in a single sentence and is usually drawn from a particular theme in the literature. It argues a point about how that theme is manifested and how it relates to human nature and society in general. Gordon State College states that "your best bet in writing a thesis sentence that depends on a literary device is to mention both the literary device and how the literary device illustrates the theme." Examples of themes in literature include coming of age, crisis in marriage, the importance of family, the inevitability of aging, the value of self-expression and the cost of vengeance.

Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.