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How to Write an Essay About a Piece of Literature

by Nadia Archuleta, studioD

Constructing an essay about a piece of literature means writing about writing, as the Purdue Online Writing Lab states. As a reader, you examine and even evaluate a work of literature; as an essayist, you write about your understanding of the piece. To do this you must interpret how elements of the piece work together, introduce your analysis, debate a point and conclude your interpretation.


Essayists must start not by writing, but by figuring out what interpretation they want to offer. An interpretation of a piece of literature centers on literary concepts such as plot, characterization and point of view. Analyzing figurative language such as metaphor and symbolism can add to your interpretation. According to the Purdue OWL, your analysis is based on how the various elements of the piece of literature relate to each other. For example, when analyzing "Moby Dick," you might decide to discuss the symbolism of the whale and how Ahab's obsession relates to that symbol.


The introduction of any piece of writing sets the stage for the entire work. For an essay about a piece of literature, you want to grab your reader's attention and also introduce the main points of your interpretation. Gwynedd Mercy College, on a web page with advice to writers, suggests that appropriate attention-getters are a quotation, provocative question, personal anecdote or startling statement. Most importantly, the essay centers around an interpretive idea stated in the thesis statement; this statement must be arguable.


When writing an essay on a piece of literature, you argue that your interpretation is correct. The argument focuses on the elements of literature you identified and your interpretation of them. To debate the point made in the thesis statement, defend your interpretation using reasons and evidence from the text. The Purdue OWL suggests using direct quotations, summaries of scenes and paraphrased text. Using a combination of these, place your main points in paragraphs with clear topic sentences and discussion that interprets the evidence to argue your thesis.


Once you have argued your interpretation, it is time to drive the point home. Readers remember what they read last, so the conclusion of an essay is a powerful spot. The Purdue OWL advises that you readdress rather than restate your thesis. You want the reader to reconsider your original point in light of all the evidence you have produced and discussed. Do not introduce new material, but do leave the reader something to think about: the interpretive conclusion you have drawn or how your point relates to the wider world.

About the Author

Nadia Archuleta has a B.A. in English writing. She spent five years working abroad and has traveled extensively. She has worked as an English as a Foreign/Second Language teacher for 12 years.

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