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Language Analysis in Literature: Overview & Examples

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  • 0:00 Literary Analysis: What Is It?
  • 0:29 Literary Tools
  • 3:46 Literary Analysis In…
  • 5:44 Poem Analysis
  • 6:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Anderson
In this lesson, you'll learn how to analyze literary language. In no time at all, you will be able to skillfully spot stand-out-moments in any given literary text. Then you'll learn how to dissect these literary nuances, making meaning out of complex literature.

Literary Analysis: What Is It?

Literary analysis is, quite simply, the process of breaking literary details down into smaller parts. A piece of literature can include the following genres: poetry, novels, dramatic works, short stories, memoir and personal essay. Literary analysis requires you to articulate your own ideas about a piece of literature. You will base your ideas upon a close examination of the author's use of language.

Literary Tools

Here is what literary analysis looks like:

'Because Little Red Riding Hood is dressed in red, this suggests the red hood is symbolic of danger.'

Symbolism is the look at symbols. For example, in the passage about Little Red Riding Hood we saw how red was a symbol for danger. Another symbol for danger is fire. On the other hand, white often represents purity, while water promises redemption. Remember that with literary writing, the author has carefully constructed his/her work, so you must never take any detail for granted. It could be something as obvious as the season of winter representing death or something as subtle as a shadowed street representing mystery.

Authors also use allusions in their work. Allusions are references to other writers, books, and thinkers. Here are some common types of allusions: historical allusions, biblical allusions, mythological allusions, and cultural allusions. Allusions allow the author to add context and meaning to their writing. It might be something as in-depth as an exploration of a biblical passage, or merely a passing reference to something like the Minotaur in the labyrinth; it doesn't matter as long as it's enhancing the descriptions.

Close literary analysis also requires a deep attention to the author's use of diction, (word choice), syntax (sentence structure), and punctuation. How an author writes is just as important as what the author writes. Short sentences might signal that the narrator's thoughts are choppy, while long sentences might convey that the author is describing something of great value or significance.

Also be on the lookout for figurative language, which is the author's use of the five senses. For example, use of our sense of sight is a popular sense to analyze. The image of a red rose might symbolize romance, while the image of red blood generally symbolizes danger.

Metaphors are a key aspect to analyzing literature. Metaphors are comparisons of two unlike objects that still manage to create a sense of likeness. Here's a really quick example of a metaphor:

'Since Brian lost his wife and job, his life was now one big hurricane of strong uncontrollable forces, the wind tugging him away from all that was familiar.'

Obviously Brian's life is not literally a hurricane; rather, the metaphor aptly describes how Brian feels about his life.

Tone is the author's attitude about his subject. Tone words are adjectives, so I might look at a poem about death and say the tone is mournful. If I were reading a story about someone's view of the past, I might say the story had a nostalgic feel.

Finally, theme is the most commonly analyzed feature in a literary work. A piece of literature can have more than one theme. Themes are general ideas about the work as a whole. Popular themes include: man versus himself, man versus nature, or man versus technology. Some themes might cover the loss of innocence, coming-of-age, marriage and divorce, or other familiar stories.

Literary Analysis in Action: Short Story

Remember this when tackling literary analysis: You want to explain the what and the how. Going back to Little Red Riding Hood, the what is the danger lurking beneath the surface. The color red is how that danger is exposed.

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