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Programmes & qualifications, cambridge international as & a level english - literature (9695), syllabus overview.

Learners following the Cambridge International AS and A Level English syllabus will study a range of texts in the three main forms: prose, poetry and drama. Set texts are offered from a wide range of different periods and cultures.

Learners will develop skills of reading and analysis of texts, and are encouraged to undertake wider reading to aid understanding of the texts studied. They will learn skills of effective and appropriate communication including the ability to discuss the critical context of texts.

Changes have been made to this syllabus for examination from 2021 onwards. Please see the 2021-2023 syllabus for detailed information.

The syllabus year refers to the year in which the examination will be taken.

Syllabus support

Syllabus updates

We worked with teachers, subject expert panels and universities around the world to update our Cambridge International AS & A Level English subject group as part of our on-going review process. Following the review, we have made some changes to Cambridge International AS & A Level Literature in English for examination in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

Many teachers told us that they offer more than one English subject from this group, so we have made some changes so that the syllabuses work together regardless of whether a student is studying one or more subject from this group. To make it clearer for teachers, we have separated this syllabus (Cambridge International AS and A Level English – Literature 9695) from our other Cambridge International AS & A Level English syllabuses.

How has the syllabus changed?

Cambridge International AS & A Level Literature in English is available for examination in 2021, 2022 and 2023.

How has the assessment changed?

When do these changes take place?

The updated syllabus is for examination in June and November 2021, 2022 and 2023. It is also available in March 2021, 2022 and 2023 (India only). Please see the 2021-2023 syllabus above for full details.

Coming soon

We are developing a wide range of support to help you plan and teach the 2021-2023 syllabus.

Look out for a comprehensive range of materials to help you teach the updated syllabus including a scheme of work, Example candidate responses, Learner and Teacher Guides as well as specimen paper answers. These resources will be available from April 2019 onwards (before first teaching) through our School Support Hub .

Endorsed resources

A Level Literature in English (Collins)

Introduce key concepts and skills for advanced level literary study and focus on developing effective writing from the start. Give students a toolkit for responding to unseen texts and exploring the set texts in depth.

Read more on the Collins website

ASAL Computer Science

Through exploring wide ranging texts, students will find they are building essential skills – such as the ability to write clearly and effectively, construct an argument, manage information and analyse complex pieces.

Read more on the Cambridge University Press website

Important notices

We are withdrawing Cambridge International AS & A Level Literature in English (9695) from the March exam series. The last March series for this syllabus will be March 2026. 

From 2027, we will only offer this syllabus in the June and November exam series.

We communicated this change to schools in September 2022.

Find out more about our range of English syllabuses to suit every level and ambition.

For some subjects, the syllabus states that Grade Descriptions will be made available after first assessment in 2020, 2021 or 2022.

Publication of grade descriptions was paused in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the temporary changes to the grading standard that have been in place for 2020, 2021 and 2022. We are currently working on producing these grade descriptions. This work will make sure that grade descriptions reflect examination outcomes appropriately and are based on the more stable grading standard that we expect to have in place for June 2023 onwards.

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We provide a wide range of support so that teachers can give their learners the best possible preparation for Cambridge programmes and qualifications. For teachers at registered Cambridge schools, support materials for specific syllabuses are available from the School Support Hub (username and password required).

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As and a level english literature - h072, h472 teaching from 2015, question papers, mark schemes and reports, 2022 - june series.

2021 - November series

2020 - November series

2019 - June series

2018 - June series

Sample assessment materials

Marking instructions are included at the beginning of specimen assessment material mark schemes and were accurate at the time of publication. Marking instructions may be revised in live papers as appropriate during the lifetime of the qualification.

We're currently revising our SAMs to update third-party copyright agreements. For question examples see our question papers, marks schemes and reports.

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2017 - June series

Candidate style answers

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Assessment guides

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AS and A level English Literature Past Papers

Complete as and a level english literature past papers.

Learners following the Cambridge International AS and A Level English syllabus will study a range of texts in the three main forms: prose, poetry and drama. Set texts are offered from a wide range of different periods and cultures.

Learners will develop skills of reading and analysis of texts, and are encouraged to undertake wider reading to aid understanding of the texts studied. They will learn skills of effective and appropriate communication including the ability to discuss the critical context of texts.

English Literature – 9695 – AS and A level – Syllabus

English Literature – 9695 – AS and A level – 2009

English Literature – 9695 – AS and A level – 2010

English Literature – 9695 – AS and A level – 2011

English Literature – 9695 – AS and A level – 2012

English Literature – 9695 – AS and A level – 2013

English Literature – 9695 – AS and A level – 2014

English Literature – 9695 – AS and A level – 2015

English Literature – 9695 – AS and A level – 2016

English Literature – 9695 – AS and A level – 2017

English Literature – 9695 – AS and A level – 2018

English Literature – 9695 – AS and A level – 2019

151729 – learner guide for as and a level literature

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A* A level English Literature Essay Examples

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How To Write A Literature Essay

Content of this article.

1. How To Write A Literature Essay

Literature is pleasurable and at the same time entertaining. Literature analysis, therefore, gives you the chance to escape from the real world and venture into a zone that is free of stress and sadness. Literature essay writing provokes the thoughts of the readers and turns them intellectually. Experiences are imparted to the readers through literature analysis. An excellent way how to write a literature essay is by focusing on the elements that are fundamental to the topic of the essay . Literature essay writing also needs to be unique so as to stand out. There are various types of literature essays.

They include:

The world is going digital, and anything can be accessed on the internet. If writing proves difficult, you can turn to the internet and search for a literature essay tutorial that will give you a detailed guideline on how to go about writing the article.

2. Literature Essay Structure

The structure of a literature essay will give you clear instructions on how to go about writing the literature essay.  The literature essay structure can be divided into the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. The literature essay draft should go in line with the topic which the writer has chosen. The literature essay outline is as illustrated below:

Outline sample

The literature essay introduction is the most crucial part of the article, as it will determine whether the readers will want to read more about the piece or not read it. The introduction for a literature essay should illustrate what is being argued in the essay. For an introduction to be successful, the contents need to be brief and accurate. Another professional way how to start a literature essay introduction is by including the names of the authors, the texts, the performance, and publications as well as the explanations of the contents. You can also highlight the book or piece that you intend to deal with.

Literature essay thesis

The thesis should be structured in a succinct and brief style. The original idea of writing the thesis is to provide the reader with a summary that is general and at the same time engaging. Introduce the main ideas you want to discuss and highlight in the organization as well. The thesis writing for a literature essay needs to be refined so as to support the introduction of the article. The core purpose of the thesis is to give the reader a trailer of the literary piece.

A literature thesis example:

Through the contrasting shore and river scene, Twain of Huckleberry and Finn proposes that to find the American ideals, you need to abandon the civilized society and return to nature.

The body is the main part of the literature essay. The body covers most of the article. A common way how to write a literature essay body is by using at least three paragraphs.

Literature essay conclusion

The conclusion of the essay should be firm and sum up the whole article. The conclusion is a formal way how to end a literature essay. The conclusion restates the points for emphasis and makes the final argument clear. This section also gives you the chance of drawing connections between the context and the genre. The conclusion for a literature essay also gives room for you to show your engagement with the literature on a personal ground.

The structure of a literature essay can, therefore, be summarized as:

3. Finalizing literature essay

Do a revision once the article writing is complete. Revising gives you the chance of identifying spelling and grammatical errors that can be avoided. There is nothing as bad as spelling mistakes and errors. Proofreading, therefore, gives you the chance to go through the work and correct mistakes left behind. Such errors can make ‘literature essay writing look unprofessional. You can also give the article to another person to go through the work. A friend will identify the areas that don’t rhyme and can assist in making the piece exemplary.  Revision gives you the chance to check if the article is in line with the literature essay writing guide assigned.

4. Topic choice

The topic of an article determines the points that will be used. This, therefore, means the ideas for a literature essay are dependent on the topic selected. Ensure that you fully understand what the topic expects of you and create a literature essay checklist that will assist you in preparing an excellent piece. If the topic selection becomes difficult, you can create a literature essay topic list that will assist in settling on the most suitable topic to tackle.

Below is a list of good literature essay topics that can be used:

as level english literature essay example

as level english literature essay example

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Sample Essays

Click on the links below for examples of essays that have been written by students studying Frankenstein:

Essay 1 -  How are female characters portrayed in the opening chapters of Frankenstein?

Essay 2 - ‘Originally conceived as a ghost story, Frankenstein is far more – it is a story of alienation.’ Examine Shelley’s portrayal of the Creature in the light of this comment.

as level english literature essay example

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Example student response and examiner commentary

Below you will find an exemplar student response to a Section B question in the specimen assessment materials, followed by an examiner commentary on the response.

Sample question

'Women characters are presented primarily as those who suffer and endure.'

By comparing two prose texts, explore the extent to which you agree with this statement.

Band 4 response

Stereotypically, women are portrayed as the weaker sex in pre-1900 literature and they often suffer and endure unhappy marriages because of the inequality of the sexes. In post-1900 literature, however, women are shown as more equal and so writers don't focus on their suffering alone but also on the suffering of male characters in relationships. This is true of The Great Gatsby and The Rotters' Club where women do suffer and endure but arguably men are presented as suffering even more.

The Great Gatsby focuses on the main character of Jay Gatsby and his unrequited love for Daisy whereas The Rotters' Club includes many relationships. There are, however, similarities between Gatsby's suffering and that of Benjamin Trotter and Sam Chase, although the outcomes are different, and so this essay will focus on those male characters.

Gatsby's suffering is emphasised by Fitzgerald because he withholds it from the reader to begin with. Fitzgerald suggests Gatsby is successful and popular before we meet him through his house parties where 'champagne was served in glasses bigger than finger bowls' so his lovesickness is a surprise to the reader. We learn, that 'Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay' and Fitzgerald uses the symbolism of the green light Gatsby can see at the bottom of Daisy's land to show how he is pining for her: 'he stretched out his arms toward the dark water…I could have sworn he was trembling.'

Having loved Daisy from afar for five years, Gatsby engineers afternoon tea at Nick's to reacquaint himself with her and Fitzgerald presents Gatsby as so desperate to impress her that he becomes very nervous with 'trembling fingers' and 'a strained counterfeit of perfect ease'. In the same way, Benjamin is presented as 'anxious' to know whether Cicely still loved him after her stay in America and his 'yearning' and 'nervousness' is 'transparent.'  Where we see Gatsby's lovesickness through Nick's narration, Coe gives Benjamin a 36-page sentence to narrate his and his rambling style emphasises how he has suffered through loving Cicely from afar:  'I had tried not to doubt her during that time, but once or twice, it's inevitable I suppose, you find yourself wondering, not about other men, I was never worried about that, but feelings fade, it happens all the time, or so I'm told, or so I've read.'

Having been reunited with their loves, Gatsby and Benjamin are unable to relax and believe that everything will be alright. Although 'consumed with wonder at her presence' in his house, Gatsby is presented as 'running down like an over-wound clock' because 'he had been full of the idea so long, dreamed it right through to the end, waited with his teeth set…at an inconceivable pitch of intensity.' Where Gatsby is obsessed with turning back time to recapture the five years they lost, Benjamin has a 'fear of the past, fear of how the past might have turned out, because we came within a whisker, Cicely and I, of missing each other altogether…and the thought of that, the thought that we might never have reached this point at all, oh, it was almost unbearable, unsupportable.'

The outcomes for Gatsby and Benjamin are, however, very different. By the end of the novel, Cicely and Benjamin are together and Coe effectively expresses Benjamin's relief and joy: 'suddenly it's as if everything refers to me and Cicely, everything is a metaphor for the way we feel, somehow the entire city has become nothing less than a life-size diagram of our hearts'. Gatsby's dream, however, crumbles, Firstly Daisy doesn't enjoy Gatsby's party, which he believed would impress her, and this leads to 'his unutterable depression' where he stops the parties and sack his servants 'so the whole caravansary had fallen in like a card house at the disapproval of her eyes.' Undeterred, however, Gatsby continues to pursue Daisy to the point of humiliation. When Daisy admits to having loved Tom, 'the words seemed to bite physically into Gatsby' but he still takes the blame for Myrtle's death to protect Daisy and then pitifully sits outside Daisy's house until 4 a.m. in a misguided belief he is protecting her from Tom when he is 'watching over nothing.'

Like Gatsby, Sam Chase is humiliated in The Rotter's Club but by his wife's affair with their son's art teacher, Miles Plumb, who seduces Barbara with his academic language. As with Gatsby, this could be seen as a class issue where Plumb is educated and Sam believes he needs to enlarge his vocabulary to win his wife back. Coe amusingly sets Barbara's reading of Plumb's love note against Sam's attempts and failure to master the 'quick and easy crossword.' Barbara is struggling to understand Plumb's compliments such as ''callipygic enchantress, apogee of all that is pulchritudinous in this misbegotten, maculate world'. At the same time, Sam makes mistakes such as: 'It's not exactly Doctor Chicago is it?' and makes such a mess of the crossword that Barbara asks:  'Giving up again?' and 'with just a hint of a taunt in her voice.'

Unlike Gatsby, who loses his confrontation with Tom and so loses Daisy, Sam wins Barbara back after a humorous phone call to Miles Plumb. Coe shows the absurdity of the situation where, feeling that 'he had to meet this man on his own terms,' Sam practises insults to use such as 'you are a temerarious poltroon, a rebarbative mooncalf, a pixilated dunderhead' but when it comes to it Sam can't get the words out. Humiliated and angry with himself, he 'screwed his eyes tight shut, and instinctively, without thinking about it, blew the longest and loudest raspberry he had ever blown in his life', which had the desired effect on Miles Plum.

For Gatsby, however, the ending is more tragic not only because of his death but also because right before he is shot he still hopes he can win Daisy: 'I suppose Daisy'll call too. He looked at me anxiously, as if he hoped I'd corroborate this.'  In the end, 'he must have felt that he had…paid a high price for living too long with a single dream'.

Examiner commentary

This is a logical and thorough argument where ideas are presented coherently. There is appropriate use of concepts and terminology and expression is accurate.

The candidate shows a thorough understanding of a range of ways in which meanings are shaped although analysis is often implicit rather than explicit. Discussion is supported purposefully with relevant textual evidence.

The candidate makes the literary presentation of women characters as the primary sufferers relevant to the period in which these texts were written; the focus instead on the suffering of male characters is supported by well-chosen examples.

The candidate makes a number of logical comparisons between the texts and shows an awareness of the wider presentation of characters as suffering and enduring for love.

The candidate engages thoroughly with the debate set up in the question in the focus on the suffering of male characters in these texts and in the discussion of different forms of suffering.

Overall: Coherent and thorough: this response seems to fit the Band 4 descriptors.

This resource is part of the Love through the ages resource package .

Document URL https://www.aqa.org.uk/resources/english/as-and-a-level/english-literature-a/teach/love-through-the-ages-example-answer-and-commentary-3-as-b2

Last updated 16 Dec 2022

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In previous articles, we’ve given you lots of advice on how to write the perfect essay.

You should also read…

However, the skills we’ve discussed up to now have been generic, and have not taken into account the fact that different subjects require different skills when it comes to writing excellent essays for them. In this article, we look at the particular skills needed to write great essays for individual A-level subjects, so that you can familiarise yourself with what you need to do to excel in whatever A-levels you happen to be studying.

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Good English literature essays revolve around intelligent interpretation. The problem many students have with this is organising their interpretations into a tightly structured essay that flows well; many simply let their ideas run wild and flit aimlessly between one point and the next. To combat this problem, you need to consider the writer’s overall aims and then show how they have conveyed those aims, paragraph by paragraph, with each paragraph devoted to a particular technique or focus. A good structure to use is as follows:

Good English essays pay close attention to detail, noting specific words, phrases and literary devices a writer has used, and to what effect. They quote liberally from the text in order to support each point, deconstructing the writing and analysing the use of language; they look at different interpretations, seeing beyond the surface and picking up on possible deeper meanings and connotations. But they also consider the meaning of the piece as a whole, and the overall effect created by the specific details noted. All this should be considered within the framework of the genre and context of the piece of writing. For instance, a poem by William Wordsworth would be considered within the context of the Romantic poets, and might be compared with work by contemporary poets such as Shelley or Keats; the historical background might also be touched upon where relevant (such as the Industrial Revolution when discussing the poetry of William Blake).

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Though it’s also a humanities subject, History requires its own very particular set of skills that differ to an appreciable degree from those expected of you in English. A history essay is unequivocal about its writer’s opinion, but this opinion must be based on a solid analysis of evidence that very often can’t be taken as fact. Evidence must be discussed in terms of its reliability, or lack thereof. The good historian considers what biases may be inherent in a source, what vested interest the source might have, and what viewpoint that source was written from. For instance, you might analyse a source by discussing whether or not the person was present at the events they are describing; how long after the events they were writing (and therefore whether they are remembering it accurately if they were there, or whether they are getting their information second or third hand from someone else; and if so, how reliable the original source is); whether they are trying to show evidence to support a particular political view; and so on. So, each time you make a point, back it up with evidence, and consider the strengths and weaknesses of that evidence. A good history essay makes connections between what’s been written about, considering how issues interrelate, so think about how what you’re writing about ties in with other things; what was the impact of the event you’re discussing, did it happen in isolation, and what were the events that led to it ?

Image shows a painting of workers in a factory.

It’s vital to look at both sides of the argument – or, where many possible viewpoints exist, to acknowledge these nuances. It’s fine to contradict yourself, provided you do so consciously; that is, you can build up an argument and then turn it on its head, observing that you are doing so (for example, “So far, so compelling; but what about the less well-known evidence from such and such?”). You can use quotes from historians you’ve read, but use these in the context of discussing scholarly opinion. Don’t quote a historian’s words as evidence of something, because this is only someone’s opinion – it’s not proof. Finally, where possible, use specialist terms to show that you know your stuff (“proletariat” instead of “workers”, for example).

The primary task that lies ahead of you in writing a French essay is, of course, to demonstrate your superior language skills. Keep the content itself very even-handed, sitting on the fence rather than presenting a forceful opinion that could distract attention away from the quality of your use of French. Focus on using as wide a variety of vocabulary and tenses as you can. It will help your essay if you can learn how to say more sophisticated phrases in French, of the sort you would use if you were writing an essay in English. This useful document from RealFrench.net, Writing Essays in French, will give you numerous useful French phrases to help you put together an impressive essay, including the vocabulary you need to present a balanced argument.

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Geography is a subject that crosses the divide between the sciences and the humanities , considering both physical processes and human activities (and their effects on the world around us). Essays for Geography may differ depending on which of these focuses the essay is discussing, and the evidence you might include in your essay could vary from phenomena observed and data gathered in the natural world to the results of population censuses. To write a good Geography essay, you’ll need to include both theory and detailed, real-world case studies to support your answer. Mention specific places by name, and communicate the facts accurately. Your teacher will be assessing not just your knowledge, but your ability to support what you say with relevant information that proves it. You shouldn’t just rattle off everything you know about a particular case study; you should deploy relevant facts from the case study to support a specific point you’re trying to make. Keep linking each point back to the question, so that you’re always working towards answering it; this also helps you ensure that everything you include is actually relevant to the question. Showing that you’ve thought about an issue from multiple perspectives, and that you appreciate how they interrelate, is important in Geography. You can do this by organising the content of your essay into categories, considering different factors in turn, such as the scale of the issue, and the timeframe and environment involved. Discuss the various factors involved logically, one by one, such as the environmental impact of climate change or a natural disaster (such as a tsunami or volcanic eruption), followed by its physical, economic, social and political implications. Acknowledging the numerous nuances of the situation will demonstrate your appreciation of its complexity and show that you are thinking at a high level.

Classical Civilisations

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As the study of the ancient world (primarily ancient Rome and Greece), Classical Civilisations combines archaeology and history, looking both at what survives materially (from small finds, to art and sculpture, to temples) and what survives in the way of texts by ancient authors. A good essay for this subject analyses, evaluates and interprets. The historical elements of the subject will require the same set of skills we discussed for History earlier, while the archaeological components of this subject require slightly different skills. With your archaeologist hat on, your job becomes similar to that of a detective, piecing together clues. Archaeology crosses over into science, and with that comes scientific considerations such as how archaeological evidence has been gathered – the methods used, their reliability, whether or not they could have been tampered with, how accurately they were recorded, and so on. You’ll look at a variety of different types of evidence, too, from the finds themselves to maps of the local topography. As with Geography, for which you’re required to learn lots of detailed case studies and names, you’ll need to learn plenty of examples of sites and finds to use as sources of evidence in building up a picture of the ancient world. And, as with any subject, looking at both sides of any argument is crucial to good grades. If the evidence you’re discussing could show one thing, but it could also show another, don’t just present one possibility – show that you’ve thought in depth about it and consider all the possible interpretations.

Science subjects

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The sciences – Biology, Chemistry , Physics and Mathematics – are generally less essay-focused, so we’re grouping them together here because the essay skills required for each of these subjects are very similar. While the fundamentals of scientific essay writing are the same as any other subject – having a logical structure, well-developed argument, and so on – there are a few subject-specific considerations to bear in mind, and some common pitfalls to watch out for. The first is that there is no room for opinion in a scientific essay; unless you’re specifically asked for it, leave your own thoughts out of it and focus instead on a completely objective discussion of the evidence gathered through scientific research, which will most probably be quantitative data. Avoid vague language such as “it is thought that…”; be as precise as possible. Start with a hypothesis, and then discuss the research that supports or disproves it. Back up every statement you make with solid data; it’s not enough simply to drop in the name of the research, so briefly describe what the findings were and why they prove the statement you’ve just made. Another mistake many students make is to confuse cause and effect; this arises because of the tendency to assume that correlation implies causation, which is a common logical fallacy. Just because two things appear to be related, it doesn’t mean that one caused the other, and committing this error in an essay is a major faux pas that will lose you marks. It’s also a good idea to ensure that you’ve included every piece of research that could be relevant; if you don’t, you could be leaving out a crucial piece of evidence. Finally, mention any limitations there may have been with the methodology used to gather the data you discuss.

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Psychology essays are best approached with a scientific mindset, but it’s far more difficult to prove anything in this subject – and this should be acknowledged in your essay. The task becomes one of assessing which theory is the more probable one, based on an analysis of the data from various studies. Make liberal reference to named and dated psychological experiments and research, but acknowledge the fact that there may be more than one theory that could account for the same set of results. When these experiments are quoted as evidence, this should be done with reference to any possible limitations of how the experiment was conducted (such as a small sample size). If you’ve reached the end of this article, you’re now equipped with the knowledge to write fantastic essays guaranteed to impress your teachers. You’re also well on the way to thinking in the right way for university-level essays, so keep working on these skills now and you’ll find it much easier to make the leap from sixth former to undergraduate.

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English Literature Essays

The essays below were written by students to help you with your own studies. If you are looking for help with your essay then we offer a comprehensive writing service, provided by fully qualified academics in your field of study.

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How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay | A Step-by-Step Guide

Published on January 30, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on September 2, 2022.

Literary analysis means closely studying a text, interpreting its meanings, and exploring why the author made certain choices. It can be applied to novels, short stories, plays, poems, or any other form of literary writing.

A literary analysis essay is not a rhetorical analysis , nor is it just a summary of the plot or a book review. Instead, it is a type of argumentative essay where you need to analyze elements such as the language, perspective, and structure of the text, and explain how the author uses literary devices to create effects and convey ideas.

Before beginning a literary analysis essay, it’s essential to carefully read the text and c ome up with a thesis statement to keep your essay focused. As you write, follow the standard structure of an academic essay :

Table of contents

Step 1: reading the text and identifying literary devices, step 2: coming up with a thesis, step 3: writing a title and introduction, step 4: writing the body of the essay, step 5: writing a conclusion.

The first step is to carefully read the text(s) and take initial notes. As you read, pay attention to the things that are most intriguing, surprising, or even confusing in the writing—these are things you can dig into in your analysis.

Your goal in literary analysis is not simply to explain the events described in the text, but to analyze the writing itself and discuss how the text works on a deeper level. Primarily, you’re looking out for literary devices —textual elements that writers use to convey meaning and create effects. If you’re comparing and contrasting multiple texts, you can also look for connections between different texts.

To get started with your analysis, there are several key areas that you can focus on. As you analyze each aspect of the text, try to think about how they all relate to each other. You can use highlights or notes to keep track of important passages and quotes.

Language choices

Consider what style of language the author uses. Are the sentences short and simple or more complex and poetic?

What word choices stand out as interesting or unusual? Are words used figuratively to mean something other than their literal definition? Figurative language includes things like metaphor (e.g. “her eyes were oceans”) and simile (e.g. “her eyes were like oceans”).

Also keep an eye out for imagery in the text—recurring images that create a certain atmosphere or symbolize something important. Remember that language is used in literary texts to say more than it means on the surface.

Narrative voice

Ask yourself:

Is it a first-person narrator (“I”) who is personally involved in the story, or a third-person narrator who tells us about the characters from a distance?

Consider the narrator’s perspective . Is the narrator omniscient (where they know everything about all the characters and events), or do they only have partial knowledge? Are they an unreliable narrator who we are not supposed to take at face value? Authors often hint that their narrator might be giving us a distorted or dishonest version of events.

The tone of the text is also worth considering. Is the story intended to be comic, tragic, or something else? Are usually serious topics treated as funny, or vice versa ? Is the story realistic or fantastical (or somewhere in between)?

Consider how the text is structured, and how the structure relates to the story being told.

Think about why the author chose to divide the different parts of the text in the way they did.

There are also less formal structural elements to take into account. Does the story unfold in chronological order, or does it jump back and forth in time? Does it begin in medias res —in the middle of the action? Does the plot advance towards a clearly defined climax?

With poetry, consider how the rhyme and meter shape your understanding of the text and your impression of the tone. Try reading the poem aloud to get a sense of this.

In a play, you might consider how relationships between characters are built up through different scenes, and how the setting relates to the action. Watch out for  dramatic irony , where the audience knows some detail that the characters don’t, creating a double meaning in their words, thoughts, or actions.

Your thesis in a literary analysis essay is the point you want to make about the text. It’s the core argument that gives your essay direction and prevents it from just being a collection of random observations about a text.

If you’re given a prompt for your essay, your thesis must answer or relate to the prompt. For example:

Essay question example

Is Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” a religious parable?

Your thesis statement should be an answer to this question—not a simple yes or no, but a statement of why this is or isn’t the case:

Thesis statement example

Franz Kafka’s “Before the Law” is not a religious parable, but a story about bureaucratic alienation.

Sometimes you’ll be given freedom to choose your own topic; in this case, you’ll have to come up with an original thesis. Consider what stood out to you in the text; ask yourself questions about the elements that interested you, and consider how you might answer them.

Your thesis should be something arguable—that is, something that you think is true about the text, but which is not a simple matter of fact. It must be complex enough to develop through evidence and arguments across the course of your essay.

Say you’re analyzing the novel Frankenstein . You could start by asking yourself:

Your initial answer might be a surface-level description:

The character Frankenstein is portrayed negatively in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein .

However, this statement is too simple to be an interesting thesis. After reading the text and analyzing its narrative voice and structure, you can develop the answer into a more nuanced and arguable thesis statement:

Mary Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as.

Remember that you can revise your thesis statement throughout the writing process , so it doesn’t need to be perfectly formulated at this stage. The aim is to keep you focused as you analyze the text.

Finding textual evidence

To support your thesis statement, your essay will build an argument using textual evidence —specific parts of the text that demonstrate your point. This evidence is quoted and analyzed throughout your essay to explain your argument to the reader.

It can be useful to comb through the text in search of relevant quotations before you start writing. You might not end up using everything you find, and you may have to return to the text for more evidence as you write, but collecting textual evidence from the beginning will help you to structure your arguments and assess whether they’re convincing.

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as level english literature essay example

To start your literary analysis paper, you’ll need two things: a good title, and an introduction.

Your title should clearly indicate what your analysis will focus on. It usually contains the name of the author and text(s) you’re analyzing. Keep it as concise and engaging as possible.

A common approach to the title is to use a relevant quote from the text, followed by a colon and then the rest of your title.

If you struggle to come up with a good title at first, don’t worry—this will be easier once you’ve begun writing the essay and have a better sense of your arguments.

“Fearful symmetry” : The violence of creation in William Blake’s “The Tyger”

The introduction

The essay introduction provides a quick overview of where your argument is going. It should include your thesis statement and a summary of the essay’s structure.

A typical structure for an introduction is to begin with a general statement about the text and author, using this to lead into your thesis statement. You might refer to a commonly held idea about the text and show how your thesis will contradict it, or zoom in on a particular device you intend to focus on.

Then you can end with a brief indication of what’s coming up in the main body of the essay. This is called signposting. It will be more elaborate in longer essays, but in a short five-paragraph essay structure, it shouldn’t be more than one sentence.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, protagonist Victor Frankenstein is a stable representation of the callous ambition of modern science throughout the novel. This essay, however, argues that far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as. This essay begins by exploring the positive portrayal of Frankenstein in the first volume, then moves on to the creature’s perception of him, and finally discusses the third volume’s narrative shift toward viewing Frankenstein as the creature views him.

Some students prefer to write the introduction later in the process, and it’s not a bad idea. After all, you’ll have a clearer idea of the overall shape of your arguments once you’ve begun writing them!

If you do write the introduction first, you should still return to it later to make sure it lines up with what you ended up writing, and edit as necessary.

The body of your essay is everything between the introduction and conclusion. It contains your arguments and the textual evidence that supports them.

Paragraph structure

A typical structure for a high school literary analysis essay consists of five paragraphs : the three paragraphs of the body, plus the introduction and conclusion.

Each paragraph in the main body should focus on one topic. In the five-paragraph model, try to divide your argument into three main areas of analysis, all linked to your thesis. Don’t try to include everything you can think of to say about the text—only analysis that drives your argument.

In longer essays, the same principle applies on a broader scale. For example, you might have two or three sections in your main body, each with multiple paragraphs. Within these sections, you still want to begin new paragraphs at logical moments—a turn in the argument or the introduction of a new idea.

Robert’s first encounter with Gil-Martin suggests something of his sinister power. Robert feels “a sort of invisible power that drew me towards him.” He identifies the moment of their meeting as “the beginning of a series of adventures which has puzzled myself, and will puzzle the world when I am no more in it” (p. 89). Gil-Martin’s “invisible power” seems to be at work even at this distance from the moment described; before continuing the story, Robert feels compelled to anticipate at length what readers will make of his narrative after his approaching death. With this interjection, Hogg emphasizes the fatal influence Gil-Martin exercises from his first appearance.

Topic sentences

To keep your points focused, it’s important to use a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph.

A good topic sentence allows a reader to see at a glance what the paragraph is about. It can introduce a new line of argument and connect or contrast it with the previous paragraph. Transition words like “however” or “moreover” are useful for creating smooth transitions:

… The story’s focus, therefore, is not upon the divine revelation that may be waiting beyond the door, but upon the mundane process of aging undergone by the man as he waits.

Nevertheless, the “radiance” that appears to stream from the door is typically treated as religious symbolism.

This topic sentence signals that the paragraph will address the question of religious symbolism, while the linking word “nevertheless” points out a contrast with the previous paragraph’s conclusion.

Using textual evidence

A key part of literary analysis is backing up your arguments with relevant evidence from the text. This involves introducing quotes from the text and explaining their significance to your point.

It’s important to contextualize quotes and explain why you’re using them; they should be properly introduced and analyzed, not treated as self-explanatory:

It isn’t always necessary to use a quote. Quoting is useful when you’re discussing the author’s language, but sometimes you’ll have to refer to plot points or structural elements that can’t be captured in a short quote.

In these cases, it’s more appropriate to paraphrase or summarize parts of the text—that is, to describe the relevant part in your own words:

The conclusion of your analysis shouldn’t introduce any new quotations or arguments. Instead, it’s about wrapping up the essay. Here, you summarize your key points and try to emphasize their significance to the reader.

A good way to approach this is to briefly summarize your key arguments, and then stress the conclusion they’ve led you to, highlighting the new perspective your thesis provides on the text as a whole:

By tracing the depiction of Frankenstein through the novel’s three volumes, I have demonstrated how the narrative structure shifts our perception of the character. While the Frankenstein of the first volume is depicted as having innocent intentions, the second and third volumes—first in the creature’s accusatory voice, and then in his own voice—increasingly undermine him, causing him to appear alternately ridiculous and vindictive. Far from the one-dimensional villain he is often taken to be, the character of Frankenstein is compelling because of the dynamic narrative frame in which he is placed. In this frame, Frankenstein’s narrative self-presentation responds to the images of him we see from others’ perspectives. This conclusion sheds new light on the novel, foregrounding Shelley’s unique layering of narrative perspectives and its importance for the depiction of character.

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Edexcel English Literature A Level - Poetry Example Essays

Edexcel English Literature A Level - Poetry Example Essays

Subject: English

Age range: 16+

Resource type: Assessment and revision

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As a student, I am uploading revision resources that were useful to me. I write most of my notes myself, but often use revision guides and websites to help guide my revision. I achieved A*A*A at A level and using the revision materials I have uploaded helped me to secure these grades.

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This is a document containing four example essays designed for Edexcel English literature A level.

Explore the ways in which childhood is portrayed in Ode: Intimations on Immortality and one other poem. (Romantics) Explore how death is presented in As The Cold Air Slept Below and one other poem. (Romantics) Compare the methods both poets use to represent Childbirth and Childhood. (Poems of the decade) Compare the methods both poets use to present and explore the nature of suffering. (Poems of the decade)

This resource is tailored for students who are studying the Romantics and poems of the decade.

For reference, I achieved an A* at A level.

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This document contains every English Literature resource I have uploaded to TES. The bundle contains resources for Hamlet, A streetcar named Desire, Wuthering Heights, A Thousand Splendid Suns, the Romantics and Poems of the Decade. For reference, I achieved an A* at A Level.

EDEXCEL A Level English Lit Poetry Bundle

This resource contains all the resources I have uploaded to TES concerncing the Edexcel A level poetry spec. I studied the Romantics and the Poems of the Decade spec. For reference, I achieved an A* at A level.

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How to write a thesis statement (with examples)

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What exactly is a thesis statement?

What if I told you that one sentence in your essay or thesis could be the difference between a First and a Fail?

It may sound absurd – perhaps even unfair – but it’s true. I refer, of course, to the thesis statement. A thesis statement is your entire essay if it were condensed into a single sentence. If your essay title is a question, then your thesis statement is the one-sentence answer.

It tends to arrive near the end of the first paragraph of a thesis.

Let’s take a look at an example from a Master of Education degree thesis:

Thesis title What constitutes ‘good writing’ for GCSE students of English?

Thesis statement The examination rubric by which GCSE English writing performance is assessed, influenced by a long history of variable ‘tastes’, may now be said to describe ‘good writing’ as that which is grammatically accurate, sophisticated, and suited to purpose, genre and audience.

(The thesis statement would be located in paragraph 1, after a brief overview of the subject).

Why is a thesis statement important?

As I mentioned, the way your thesis statement is written can be the difference between a First and a Fail. But how?

To answer that, let’s think about what ‘thesis’ means. From the Greek thésis, meaning ‘proposition’, your thesis is your main argument.

It is the position you have to support and defend for the remainder of your essay. Without something clear to defend, the fortress you build will crumble and the army you deploy will run about like headless chickens.

In essence: without a clear thesis statement, you don’t have an essay.

“Establishing a clear thesis at the start of your essay is crucial for both you and your examiner. For your examiner, it’s evidence that you have answered the question. For you, it can function as an essay plan.”

For both of you, it’s a litmus test for the quality of the argument: if you can’t fit your essay’s arguments into a sentence, they are too diffuse; and if you can’t stick to your thesis statement’s focus throughout your essay, you are not focused.

A precisely focused and well-grounded essay is more worthy of a First Class grade than one with a scattergun approach.

as level english literature essay example

What should a thesis statement include?

What your thesis statement includes is determined by three things:

1. The subject and topic of the essay. 2. The purpose of the essay. 3. The length of the essay.

Let’s examine each of those in more detail to see how they can help us refine our thesis statement.

The subject and topic of the essay

Look at this real-life title from an undergraduate Sports Science essay:

What are the key differences between training recommendations for maximising muscular strength and maximising muscular hypertrophy?

The first task is, of course, to determine the subject of the essay.

In this example, that would be ‘training recommendations for maximising muscular strength and training recommendations for maximising muscular hypertrophy’.

Knowing that means that I know I will need to deploy my knowledge about those two similar but distinct areas. It also means that I should be using the specialist terminology relevant to the field, such as load, isotonic and volume.

Next, I need to determine the topic.

Here it would be ‘the key differences’ between training recommendations for those two goals. That phrase ‘key differences’ is likely to be at the heart of my thesis statement, to show that I’m on track.

With that in mind, my thesis statement might look like this:

Whilst both training outcomes require resistance training centred upon isotonic contractions, it is likely that the absolute load requirements may need to be higher for strength purposes, whilst the total training volume may need to be higher for hypertrophy purposes.

It is by no means a complete essay, but it states clearly what the ‘short answer’ to the question is, whilst paving the way for the ‘long answer’ to follow.

But what if the essay isn’t just looking for the facts organised into a specific order? What if the essay is asking for analysis? Or an argument?

The purpose of the essay

Different essay purposes require different thesis statements. Fortunately, there are only three main essay purposes, and they’re pretty easy to recognise:

1. The expository essay: This is an essay type that asks for the key facts on a subject to be laid out, with explanations. The Sports Science question above is an example of this. It asks for the WHAT and HOW of something.

2. The analytical essay: This essay type asks you not only to lay out the facts, but also to analyse and deconstruct them to better understand them. It is typical in subjects such as English Literature and Fine Art. It asks for the WHY of something.

3. The argumentative essay: This type of essay asks you to use the facts available, to analyse them for value, and then to provide a point of view about the subject. It moves more quickly through the WHAT, HOW and WHY of a topic through to: WHY DOES IT MATTER?

All of the above essay types need a thesis statement that includes a proposition (a statement which answers the question or addresses the title).

Beyond that, these three essay types all require different additions.

For the expository essay , you need to add an overview of the details of the conclusion. Let’s look at an example:

Expository essay title: What are the key differences between training recommendations for maximising muscular strength and maximising muscular hypertrophy? (BSc in Sports Science)

Expository thesis statement: Whilst both training outcomes require resistance training centred upon isotonic contractions, it is likely that the absolute load requirements may need to be higher for strength purposes, whilst the total training volume may need to be higher for hypertrophy purposes. (The basic conclusion is that both approaches need isotonic resistance training; the details are teased out in bold.)

For the analytical essay , you need to add an overview of the analysis performed. Here’s an example:

Analytical essay title: Why did England and Wales vote to leave the European Union? (BA in Politics)

Analytical thesis statement: A close consideration of the voter demographics, the populist nature of political messages leading up to the referendum, and the history of Britain’s status in the EU, will demonstrate that Brexit was primarily motivated by the machinations of the Right.

(The basic conclusion is that Brexit was influenced by politicians; the analytical approach is in bold.)

For the argumentative essay , you need to add an overview of your reasoning. Another example:

Argumentative essay title: To what extent do you consider the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays to be in question? (BA in English Literature)

Argumentative thesis statement: Shakespeare’s authorship of his plays is beyond question, given both the entirely unconvincing nature of any counter-theories and the relatively unstable conception of the playwright’s identity as it stands. (The basic conclusion is that Shakespeare did write his plays; the reasoning is in bold.)

As you can see from these examples, the purpose of the essay gives a very clear demand for something beyond a simple answer.

But, there’s more!

The length of the essay

The prescribed length of the essay also defines what you need to do with your thesis statement.

Your thesis statement is a microcosm : a miniature, compressed version of your whole essay.

So, it makes sense that the length of the actual essay is going to impact upon the content of the thesis statement.

If, for example, your essay is expected to be 800 words long and on the subject of Eve in the Bible, then it would be overly ambitious for your thesis statement to say: ‘through comprehensive study of the Bible and extant criticism’. For an 800 essay, more precision will be necessary. It would be better for your thesis statement to say: ‘with due awareness of the complexity of the issue, focusing on feminist readings of Genesis .’

“Matching the scope given in your thesis statement to the depth you provide in your essay is a very effective way to ensure precision.”

Contrastingly, if your essay is expected to be 80,000 words long (a PhD thesis, for example), on the subject of stop-motion animation, it would be rather unambitious to suggest that the essay will ‘provide a visual analysis of Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers’, only. For a PhD, we would expect more content to be covered, and multiple approaches to analysis to be considered.

Indeed, matching the scope given in your thesis statement to the depth you provide in your essay is a very effective way to ensure precision.

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So, to summarise, how do I write a thesis statement?

It’s a simple, three-part process:

1. Identify the question in the title (or make a question from the statement). 2. Answer that question in as few words as possible. 3. Complete the sentence by providing an overview of the foundation behind your answer.

Easy, right? It can be!

That said, there are plenty of traps that essayists can fall into with this part of the essay. Let’s look at some of these pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Pitalls to Avoid

Pitfall #1: amateurish style.

This is common throughout academic essays written by beginners. It’s not just the thesis statement that falls foul of sounding amateurish. There are plenty of ways this happens, which are beyond the scope of this argument, but the following example is a prime example: In this essay, I will explore the various pieces of evidence before concluding.

This is amateurish for a few reasons. Firstly, it doesn’t actually say anything. You could otherwise word it, ‘I will write an essay which answers the question’ – a rather wasted sentence. The next, and more forgivable issue is the use of the first-person. We want to get a sense that an individual wrote this essay, but we never want to hear them mentioned! Make sense? No? Sorry.

This should instead read more like:

This essay considers evidence from X in light of Y which ultimately reveals Z at the heart of the issue.

(It focuses on the specifics, X, Y, and Z, and is devoid of any mention of its author.)

Pitfall #2: empty phrasing

This is similar to amateurish style. However, empty phrasing is not just amateur-sounding; it’s manipulative-sounding.

Using phrases such as “in order to” instead of, simply, “to” – or “due to the fact that” instead of just “as” – look like attempts to fill up the word count with waffle rather than content. The same goes for phrases that can be substituted for one word: ‘it is evident that’ can (and should) become ‘evidently’.

Watch this thesis statement from a GCSE essay on Music go from hideous to tolerable:

Beethoven was unable to hear his work, due to the fact that he was deaf, so it is evident that he musically conceptualised the notes in order to compose. (Wordy!)

Beethoven was unable to hear his work, as he was deaf, so it is evident that he musically conceptualised the notes to compose. (Slightly less wordy.)

Beethoven’s deafness made him unable to hear his work, so evidently he musically conceptualised the notes to compose. (About as concise as such a complex sentence will get…)

Do not mistake wordiness for sophistication. Your ideas should be sophisticated; your writing should be clear.

Pitfall #3: non-standard grammar

For an examiner, the English language is not just a vehicle for your ideas. It should be, but the academic process always involves the assessment of your expression.

So, to satisfy our examiners’ prescriptive tastes, we need to adhere to the basic tenets of Standard English.

Take a look at the following thesis statement example from an A Level Sociology essay: Considering the status of BAME in Internet culture, the demonstrably racist treatment at the hands of the police, and the energy behind the BLM protests, concluding that there is hope for the future.

This sentence has no finite main verb, so it is technically not a sentence. To become a grammatical sentence, we would need to make ‘concluding’ finite: ‘it can be concluded’, or ‘we conclude’.

The writer got lost in this example because the sentence was so long!

Long sentences can also lead to a failure to make subject and verb agree, like in the next thesis statement example from a school Geography essay:

The most populous municipalities of Spain, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, and Zaragoza, does not rank in the top ten most dense populations of the country, with the exception of Barcelona.

Because the subject ‘municipalities’ is separated from the verb ‘does’ by eight words, it is easy to forget that they do not agree. It should, of course, be ‘do, not ‘does’.

Final words

The thesis statement, as I said at the start, can be the difference between a First and a Fail. So, take your time with it.

Write it carefully.

Then redraft and refine it several times, until it’s as good as you can make it.

The payoff is a slick, coherent thesis statement that paves the way to a great essay that really impresses your examiner.

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