Chapter Analysis vs. Summary
Before you learn how to write a good chapter analysis, you need to know what an analysis is. Let’s begin by telling you what it’s not: an analysis is not a summary. While a summary is a stripped down rehash of a chapter covering the main plot points, an analysis involves using specific evidence from the text and explaining how it relates to a particular theme of what you’re reading. It also involves explaining the author’s purpose for using specific elements of literature.
One Step at a Time
I’m going to make this easy for you with a step-by-step process for writing a good chapter analysis.
Step 1: Read the chapter. I sincerely hope you’ve already done this, especially if the assignment’s due in 15 minutes.
Step 2: Read the chapter and annotate. “But wait,” you protest. “I’ve already read the chapter. Now you want me to do it again?” You clicked here because you want to write a good chapter analysis. If you want to write a bad chapter analysis then go to YouTube, listen to your favorite song, and write your analysis without my help.
This time, read the chapter with a critical eye. Highlight and mark things you feel are important. This is called annotation. Knowing how to annotate (although the link is for annotating a poem, it will help you annotate non-poems, and yes, you should read it) will provide years of good grades in English class.
Step 3: Create a thesis statement. If you don’t know how to write a thesis statement, now would be the perfect time to learn (you’ll thank me for this). Your thesis statement must contain a subject and an opinion. The subject is the chapter you’re analyzing. Your opinion must contain how the chapter contributes to the overall theme of the work or what the author’s purpose is in using certain literary devices.
You probably want examples. Here they are:
- Chapter 4 of The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier uses an ironic relationship between Trinity High School’s most feared teacher and Trinity High School’s most disobedient student to foreshadow the imminent destruction of all that is good at the school.
- The final chapter in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows firmly establishes Harry as a Messianic figure and a symbol of hope in a world of darkness.
- Chapter 5 of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men resolves the novel’s main conflict–the individual vs. society–with society crushing the individual.
Do not overlook the importance of creating a sound thesis statement. Everything you write from this point forward hinges on its success.
Once you’ve written thesis statement, you can begin the outline.
Plan Your Success With an Outline
Learning how to write a good chapter or book analysis means learning how to write a good outline.
Step 4: Make an outline – “But wait,” you protest. “You want me to write an outline? I just want to get this thing done.” Once again, you want to write a good analysis, right? Here are the steps to making a good outline. We’ll assume the outline is for a multi-paragraph essay.
I. Your thesis statement goes here. For the sake of this example, we’ll use the one above from The Chocolate War.
A. Write a topic sentence for your first body paragraph here. Your topic sentence must support your thesis statement. If you don’t know how to write a topic sentence, now would be a good time to find out (you’ll thank me for this, too). Example: Brother Leon’s association with the Vigils undermines his ability to provide a safe environment for his students.
1. Write your first piece of evidence here. Your evidence, by the way, comes from the chapter. It can be a direct quotation, a specific fact, or a brief summary. Don’t bog the reader down with unnecessarily long quotes or useless facts. Example: Brother Leon gives tacit approval and open support for the most dangerous student organization at his school in return for their support of the annual chocolate sale.
a. Give an explanation of how your fact supports the topic sentence. This explanation can be an opinion, insight, interpretation, analysis (it’s a good idea to have analysis in your analysis paper), analogy, or anecdote. Example: This would be the equivalent of a high school principal enlisting the help of the neighborhood Bloods or Crips to ensure attendance at the school’s choir concert.
b. Continue your explanation or provide an additional related explanation. Example: This new alliance will eventually yield tragic results.
2. Write your second piece of evidence here. Example: Brother Leon claims the importance of the chocolate sale is to keep the school afloat financially.
a. Provide an explanation for fact #2. Example: If Brother Leon truly cared about the school, he would not lend his support to the school’s most malicious organization.
b. Continue your explanation or provide an additional related explanation. Example: Most likely, Brother Leon will receive a personal financial benefit from the sale of the chocolates.
3. Write a concluding sentence here that transitions into the next paragraph. Example: Brother Leon thinks he’s manipulating Archie, but the reader knows otherwise.
B. Here would be the topic sentence of your second body paragraph. Judging by the concluding sentence of your first body paragraph, this paragraph will treat Archie’s ability as a leader and manipulator and its likely potential for tragedy. This paragraph and each succeeding paragraph will follow the same exact pattern as the first body paragraph.
The more thorough your outline, the easier it will be to write your chapter analysis.
Now that your outline is complete, it’s time to write.
You’re Almost Done
If you’ve done steps 1-4 correctly, you’ve almost guaranteed yourself an insightful analysis and a very good grade.
Step 5: Write the First Draft – If you wrote a good outline, this part is easy. Begin with an attention grabber in the introduction. Your best bet here would be to provide a brief summary of the chapter on which you’re writing–a couple of sentences should be sufficient–followed by your already written thesis statement (Your thesis statement should be the last sentence of your introduction). Your body paragraphs are practically written already. Add transitions for fluency. Reword, if necessary. Add words for clarity. Subtract words, if possible (just because it’s in the outline doesn’t mean it has to be in your paper).
Step 6: Edit and Revise – Proofread for grammar and punctuation errors. Other things to check when revising include:
- making sure you haven’t written a summary.
- making sure what you wrote makes sense.
- making sure your body paragraphs support your thesis statement.
- making sure you’ve covered all aspects of the assignment.
Step 7: Turn it in. If you’ve followed these steps, you can turn it in with a smug look on your face. Sit up straight and let the class know how awesome you are.
Congratulations, you’ve just succeeded at one of the hardest assignments you’ll get in an English class.
The author has taught English for 13 years.
This post is part of the series: Writing Made Easy
- How to Make an Outline: Components of the Writing Process
- How to Write in the Active Voice & When to Write in Passive Voice
- Getting Technical With Technical Writing
- Analyze This: Write a Chapter Analysis that Will Amaze Your Teacher