How to Analyze a Literary Piece

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What do we do when a piece of literature is given to us? A few of us read it, a few more just keep it aside, a few ignore it and a few others abhor it!

Have we ever tried to see what does it contain to give us? Have we ever tried to understand it to enjoy it better? Now the next question that would pop up would be how do we go about understanding it? Let us try and answer this question.

Any literary piece would revolve around four major domains. They are the Setting, The Characterisation, The Language Used and the Theme.

If we are able to grasp these four domains in the piece given to us, then we are there with the appropriate analysis of it which there by contributes to absolute understanding of the piece. Let us see how we can do it.


This is where we get to know the place and time of the action or sequence of the happenings. This also tells us about the time period in which the piece is set. This helps in evaluating the people, their actions, responses and reactions.  This there by helps us in understanding the practices that were of us during that time.

 Setting is easily divided into two as extended setting (the United Kingdom) and immediate setting (London). When extended setting talks about the place at large, time period  ( early middle age)and society ( Nobles, Knights, Royalty and Peasants), the immediate setting will talk about the place in which the actions are set, the people and the atmosphere that is established.


Here we talk about the characters involved in the piece. They may be major or minor depending upon the role they play. We have the protagonist and the antagonist alongside the other characters. How do we get to know more about understanding these characters? Through their actions and reactions to situations.

 How do we understand a character better? The character could be understood better by the following dimensions:

Physical- this includes the appearance and physical traits (well dressed; long tress cascading her shoulders)

Social: how the person is viewed by the society, what is the person’s occupation etc and

Emotional: here we talk about the person’s traits aas an individual which again complements his/ her actions and reactions.( Eg: Lady Macbeth was ambitious- She wanted her husband to be the King at any cost.)

Language used:

Here we talk about the ways and means that the writer uses to present the piece. This can include rich vocabulary pertaining to the concept/ theme discussed, figurative device used to highlight the effect of actions, words, people and the setting, it can be the tone that could contribute to add to the piece, it can be the genre used to present the piece etc.


Here we try to identify the under lying moral that could be useful to us. It may be one that is obvious or one that we configure through our understanding. (Eg:  In a story where a liar faces dire consequences, we can say that the underlying theme is , one mustn’t lie and the one we try to coin can be situations are the criminals and not the people, depending upon the character’s actions and struggle)

Whatever said and done, a literary work needs to kindle enjoyment, create a sense of content and establish close association with the reader. That is when it truly becomes inspirational.

Posted By: Sripriya Manuel Category: Literature

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About Sripriya Manuel

Mrs Sripriya Manuel, born in Mumbai, India, is an English Language Teacher currently based in Bangalore, Karnataka, India. She has been into to teaching career for about two decades now. Currently she works as the Principal, Kuvempu Adarsha Public School,RMV 2nd Stage, Bangalore. She has her B Ed from Indira Gandhi National Open University(IGNOU), and her Masters from Annamalai University, Tamilnadu. Apart from her academic actvitiess, Ms Manuel has also published her writings in well known magazines and newspapers including Times of India, All etc. Some of her poems have been made part of academic curriculum in the schools in Bangalore.

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