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Not Just a Book Report: Topics for Analysis Essays

An analysis essay is NOT a summary.

"Great," you say, "Then what do I talk about for _____ words?"

I understand. In junior high, I read Pride and Prejudice and had to write an essay over it. I was in tears! I couldn't even summarize it.

"Nothing happens!" I wailed to my mom. "It's all gossip!"

I didn't read another Austen novel until college where a professor explained the nuances of culture, how characters exemplified either pride or prejudice, and how symbols (such as carriages) showed class differences.

His analysis of Austen's writing gave me context and a deeper understanding of the book and made it more enjoyable to me.

That's what you and your teen will be doing with analysis. You can focus on several big ideas to provide plenty of content (of the non-fluff kind) for your analysis essay.

Here are five of those ideas among many many others.

1. Theme. My working definition of theme is "what the author is trying to communicate about life." The author might be writing about love, but the theme is more specific: "True love conquers all" or "Love is fickle" or "Love is blind."

2. Character, specifically character development. This gets tricky; sometimes you'll end up writing summary again. Always reinforce the fact that you're showing HOW a character evolves, not just what happens to the characters.

3. Literary devices: The ones I usually recommend focusing on are symbols, motifs, images, and metaphors, but following the use of any literary device is excellent for close reading.

4. Structure: If your teens like concrete ideas, structure is an excellent choice for a topic. They can look at how the author uses flashback, foreshadowing, cliff hangers, and the traditional plot structure to create suspense or surprise.

5. Combinations: I tend to focus on how an element of the story shows the theme. This type of combination helps me as a teacher to see if a student actually understands the theme.

Of course, you have many other options, but these five categories will be familiar enough to your teen to avoid overwhelm.

If your teen complains these ideas are boring or childish, wonderful! Have them develop something with greater depth that shows a grasp of the above concepts but goes deeper.

Have any questions? Post them in the comments!

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