How to Write a Literary Analysis on African American Literature

Writing guide
Posted on February 24, 2016

When you are writing a literary analysis on African American literature, your goal is to analyze a particular piece of literature by reviewing the characters, plot lines, and literary devices employed by the author in order to make their point.

A “Literary Device” is a storytelling and/or literary technique that uses an identified set of characteristics or patterns common to the genre or sub-genre. For example, comedies use juxtaposition to create a sense of ridicule towards a stuffy or rigid character.

Whether you are discussing an author or a playwright for your literary analysis on African American literature you can be sure that each will use all kinds of “devices” to create a desired response. For example, if you are watching a comedic play you are going to see and hear an array of jokes or witness that helps to move the story forward. The same can be said of the tragedy or the drama as well, with the exception being that they use alternative devices.

“Subordinate Character” is another useful technique you might use to analyze a piece of literature for your next literary analysis on African American literature. When we speak of main characters we tend to mean the heroes or the characters, who drive narrative or action of the story. The “subordinate” characters tend to actually give the main characters a bit more definition or dimension by interacting with them in a positive or negative manner.

How exactly would a subordinate character’s interactions with the main character affect the plot? Usually, there are different ways that these characters will “speak” to the hero or heroes of a story. They include:

  • Internal and External Conflicts – the subordinate character may physically represent some sort of internal conflict with which the main character is struggling, or they may actually be the external conflict that is driving the plot. A good example of this is the group of “suitors” against whom Telemachus is struggling in “The Odyssey”. Their presence in the boy’s home drives him to behave in certain ways.
  • Motivations – subordinate characters might also serve to motivate the main characters to behave in a way that deeply drives the plot of the story too. For example, in “Romeo and Juliet”, we see Juliet’s father forcing her to marry Paris as one of the primary motivators behind her actions with Romeo.
  • Relationships – the relationship between a main and subordinate character can also serve to drive the plot. Again, in “Romeo and Juliet” we can see that the relationship between Romeo and his best friend Mercutio leads him to slay one of the Capulets and initiates the story’s tragic conclusion.
  • Influences – there are also ways in which the subordinates can influence the plot too. Consider the famous tale “Great Expectations” and how Miss Havisham so persistently influences the plot of the story through her manipulation of both of the main characters of Pip and Estella.

Finally, “Character Traits” are the very specific qualities of any literary character are displayed through the “traits” the reader or viewer witnesses. For example, the character of Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet” is a bit wild and careless and this is the ultimate reason that the reader or viewer will anticipate and accept his untimely death.

Many authors and playwrights use words spoken directly by characters in order to help the reader or viewer to define that character and to make the story clear. The ways that characters “speak” are called narration, dialogue, monologue and soliloquy. These are all literary devices that all modern readers are used to and readily accept.

All of these items are useful devices to analyze when writing your paper next time. We hope that they will help you. We have also prepared a set of 20 topics followed by 1 sample essay and 10 facts on African American literature analysis.

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