To analyze literary works, including fiction (novel or short story), means to look critically at the work in order to understand how the parts contribute to the whole. To analyze a fiction, one’s understanding of the details of the work of fiction are extremely important, a fullest understanding about the work can only be attained by paying close attention to the fictional elements that built it. Thus, when analyzing a short story, you need to consider elements such as the characters, plot, setting, literary devices, point of view and themes.
Analysis is a trial to find truth. Literary analysis is not merely a summary or review, but rather an interpretation of the work and an argument about it based on the text by using relevant theories. The process of analysis is to divide a problem into various parts, which may then be examined more easily; their natures, functions, and interrelationships may be more fully understood when they are examined one by one. For example, if you have the problem in chemical qualitative analysis of discovering the elements in a chemical solution, you can make only one test on the solution at a time. Because if you tried to make all your tests at once you would not be able to control or distinguish your results.
Although the work of literature you are to analyze is an entirety, you must make separate inquiries to discover its full meaning and to appreciate it fully. You could not talk about everything in Hemingway’s Cat in the Rain at once, for example, without being guilty of the greatest superficiality. It is better to narrow the scope of your topic by talking about the theme(s), characterization, plot, setting, or the style. Never attempt to discuss the whole elements in a single analysis written in less than ten pages! To try to discuss everything at once would certainly distort something and omit others. Thus, the first thing to consider in analyzing a short story is to make the subject small enough so that you can go deeply into it.
A serious objection sometimes arises about literary analysis. Although scientific analysis is necessary, it is said that too much literary analysis ‘spoils’ appreciation of a work, or in that making an analysis, you `murder’ literature as you ‘dissect’ it. This objection is not valid, for the purpose of analysis is not to cut up literature like a frog and leave it in pieces. No matter how completely you analyze a work, the work will remain healthy and untouched. For example, the theme or setting of Orwell’s Animal Farm has not been changed by all the critical essays that have been written about them. But what has changed is what people see or perceive about them. Critics at one time saw evidence that Orwell hated communism for the novel is basically considered as a satire towards Russia. More recent analysis of the work, however, manages to show that what Orwell criticizes in the work is the misuse of power in ruling a country. The effect of these and other analysis has been to uncover the work’s rich complexity and its basic affirmation of life, and ultimately to rise it in critical esteem. Such is the real business of literary analysis. By pointing out the author’s insights into problems of life, and by describing various aspects of his skill, literary analysis aims at the appreciation of literary excellence.
It is therefore important for you to keep literary analysis in perspective: analyzing a work is a means toward appreciation and evaluation, not an end in itself. It is an honest attempt by you, the reader, to discover the truth about a work and to base your appreciation on your thought and discovery, no on a vaguely aesthetic reaction. If you analyze the work to know and to like it better, you have really dismissed the entire objection.
Another way to think of literary analysis is that it is a way of fulfilling the objectives of good reading. If you had a choice, you would no doubt prefer to be a good reader than a bad reader. Once you have finished the writing and literature classes, you may never again have to write a literary analysis. Invariably, however, you will continue reading and also talking about what you have read. If you establish a good reading habit now, reinforced by the exactness of mind required for writing, then your future discussions will be forever improved. The topics you write today will have a residual impact on your future reading habits.
As you think about what to put in your topic of theme, remember that literary analysis is a way of getting at the heart of the work. To this end, you may decide to explore one of these areas: (1) theme (2) plot, (3) character, (4) style, and (5) background and influences. Usually there will be overlapping among these; for instance in writing about the theme (idea) of the work you may have to relate it with point of view and characterization employed in the work. In my analysis of Greene’s The Third Man (click the sample links on the bottom of this page to view the article), for instance, I argue that the theme is presented through the plot and characterization. I also prove that the author uses the first person point of view of Calloway, a policeman, to emphasize that the theme must be interpreted through the viewpoint of a police or keeper of laws. To take another example, in the analysis of the plot of Buckley’s Gold-Mounted Gun, it is shown that the plot is effectively used to present the theme.
To sum up, the topic of an analysis of fiction should be particular and has a relation to the work. The analysis is supposed to focus on one of the elements of fiction. However, relating it to other elements in order to support an idea is highly recommended. Since a literary analysis is an interpretation of the work and an argument about it based on the text by using relevant theories, anytime you state an idea, it is a must to support it by using literary evidences (citations from the work) or logical arguments.Analysis Samples (click the title to read the text) The Plot of Buckley’s “Gold-Mounted Gun” The Main Theme of Graham Greene’s “The Third Man”