How do I begin a literary analysis of Malcolm X's "Literacy Behind Bars?"

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literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A literary analysis asks readers to determine and justify how and why a text was written. A good literary analysis will examine and explain the choices an author makes regarding word choice, use of literary/rhetorical devices, and character (including characterization and actions/thoughts). 

In order to construct/begin a literary analysis of Malcolm X's essay "Literacy Behind Bars," a reader must be aware of his historical importance and ideologies. His lack of a formal education, no formal education "beyond the eighth grade," proves curious (given his eloquent and powerful language). This said, what appeals to you as a reader must be the focus of a literary analysis. 

In order to begin, choose what you would like to focus upon. A literary analysis can focus upon language, connotations (emotional meaning of words), diction, imagery, point of view, or tone. Depending upon which idea you focus upon, the support necessary to substantiate the point being made can be either direct (openly stated) or indirect (inferred by the reader). 

Given the essay opens with a discussion about words, a literary analysis upon the meaning Malcolm implies in his word choice would be thought provoking. 

The steps to conducting a literary analysis are as follows: 

1. Read the text.

2. Identify which elements "speak to you" (what you would like to focus upon).

3. Identify how the "parts" of this element act singularly and as a whole (throughout the text). 

4. Define meaning, reasoning, and use (as interpreted by self). 

5. Begin writing: Include name of article/author, any necessary background information (on author or text), summarize the work, and define analysis.