How to Analyze Two Books in an Essay

Comparing Two Books

Comparing and contrasting two books in one essay or paper can get pretty complicated. Organization is key!
Comparing and contrasting two books in one essay or paper can get pretty complicated. Organization is key! | Source

How to Write an Essay Comparing Two Books

One of the most important skills to have as one who studies English literature is understanding how to analyze a book, or even two books, in one essay. When it comes to analyzing two novels, whether it is for discussion or in an essay, things can become tricky fast. Analysis doesn't necessarily mean that one compares two books, rather that you explore the two, find connections, and then go in depth about those connections with a focus on what you find to be the most important. It takes practice to get really good at analyzing books but, with time and some good advice, you can get there in no time.

The very first step in writing your essay about two books and analyzing books is obviously to read both of the books that you've been assigned or that you have decided to analyze. For each novel, ask yourself some basic questions, such as the following:

  • What is the theme?
  • What symbols appear in the text?
  • What is the style?
  • What motifs are used?
  • How are the characters developed?

There's a chance that you've already been given your essay topic or have decided on one but if you haven't, these questions may help you get started by helping you focus on a certain aspect of the novels you are writing about. What you're trying to do is look at the basics of each novel before you go into analyzing the book. The overall goal here is to find connections and patterns patterns between the two novels that you can analyze under the umbrella of a solid thesis.

How to Write a Thesis About Two Books

Now that you've finished reading both novels with questions in mind that are relevant to the overall topic you're focused on, it's time to find your thesis. This is easier said than done, especially when analyzing two books in an essay. Remember, a thesis isn't just a question or an observation, it is part of analyzing the novels in your essay and bringing light the new and interesting aspect of the novels you have discovered and are about to share with your audience.

Your thesis about analyzing two books in your essay should be introduced in your first paragraph and serve as the focus of your analytic argument. My favorite university professor once said that it is the "thread that ties together your interpretations of all the significant moments, patterns, developments, changes, and/or contradictions that you will develop in the body of your paper." Think of your essay's thesis as a promise to your audience about what kind of analysis you have made for the books and make it specific. This way you can find specific evidence within the text to support it and you don't lose focus on what your thesis has already committed your paper to cover.

There are three basic components of a great thesis: what, how, and why.

The "what" component asks that you cover what specific claim you are making about the two books you are analyzing. The "how" asks exactly how you're going to support this claim, using specific literary devices, themes, etc. When it comes to the "why," you just want to think to yourself "okay, so why would someone care about this topic?" My professor liked to ask "so what?" Prove to your reader this is worth reading before they get into it. Otherwise they might lose interest before it even gets started. Don't be general about it. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to prove it in your essay.

Some important things to remember about a thesis that many don't realize are that it can be more than one sentence, a strong thesis addresses a potentially opposing viewpoint, and that it must address the three questions listed above in order to be successful. Creating a solid thesis is a great start to getting on your way to understanding how to analyze two books in an essay and doing it successfully.

Writing an Outline for an Essay Analyzing Two Novels

An outline is essential when analyzing a book or two in an essay. It is important to provide equal support from both novels for your thesis to keep a balanced argument but also to keep it organized enough so that your reader doesn't get lost. This balance between two novels is why it can be difficult understanding how to analyze two books in an essay. An outline helps you keep this balance because it ensures that your argument will be presented in an organized fashion, with equal support for your analysis for both books.

The thesis for your essay is your starting point and should be at the top of your outline. After that, you want to branch out to the different arguments supporting your thesis and the analysis you made for both novels. Each of these arguments should be divided into separate paragraphs. I like to think of each topic sentence of each paragraph as a mini thesis. Just like the main one of your essay, it acts as the introduction for the topic you are about to discuss and reminds the reader why this is important. It's also a promise to the reader for what your paragraph is about to cover so remember to stick to exactly what you said you're going to talk about.

Basically, at this point, you want to have an outline with a main thesis on top, with a few topic sentences below, signifying different paragraphs within your text. Now you get to the next step before finishing your outline, which is finding the evidence for support. Outlines are essential when analyzing two books in an essay because they keep your thoughts focused and organized. Without an outline, it can be easy to get lost since you have to put equal focus on two books under one thesis for your essay.

Analyzing Two Books

The most important thing not to do when writing a paper in which you analyze two books is to avoid any summaries unless they are absolutely necessary. When your essay requires a summary for one or two books that you are analyzing, try to make them as concise as possible.

Evidence for Comparing Two Novels

The next big step is to find evidence within the text to support your thesis and each little mini thesis below it. This usually consists mainly of quotes but can also be scenes within the two books you are analyzing that you can reference to without quoting.

This doesn't mean you should reread the two novels you are writing your essay about. You should've been taking notes as you read each book with highlighting, underlining, or marking significant passages somehow as you read and kept those earlier questions in mind. This way, you could go back to each "dog-eared," yellow besmeared, or line covered page and find out which ones are the most significant for your argument.

Here, it's best to just take notes of all of the relevant quotes, then narrow it down to the ones that you believe are the strongest support for your claim and each mini thesis. You don't want to use too many quotes but you still want enough to make a compelling argument. Yes, this takes time but it's worth it. Once you have your support from each of the two books you are analyzing in your essay narrowed down, you can move to the final step.

Advice on Writing an English Essay on Two Books

Now that you have your quotes, put them in your outline. For each paragraph, have your mini thesis, the quote you want to use, and then the points for each quote. One basic rule of thumb is that for each quote, you want two sentences after as well as one before it that introduces it to the reader. Don't just put in a quote straight after your topic sentence without any kind of transition to it introducing it or you will drive your professor nuts. This also goes for any scenes you may reference.

At this point, you want your outline to include that you want X quote here, and you will support it by saying Y and Z. I like to use two pieces of evidence for each paragraph. When analyzing and comparing two books in an essay, this makes it easy because each piece of evidence can come from each novel. Or you can switch off paragraphs going from one book and how it supports your thesis to another paragraph about the other book and how it does (or does not) do the same thing. Once you have finished your outline, you can begin writing your analytic essay.

Begin Writing

So, you've finished your introduction paragraph and got started on writing the meat of your essay. For each topic sentence for each paragraph of the body, you will have evidence to support that mini thesis of yours that supports your thesis. Yes, it's like a train that never ends and you're the one directing it. Have no fear, your outline should help make things easier.

Each sentence that you write after the quote is an explanation to the reader for why you chose this quote. Does it best show us how a specific symbol was used in the text? Is it key to the development of a character? Tell us. Then go into analyzing it for us in terms of the big picture, aka your thesis.

At the close of each paragraph, summarize what you just said with the main idea that you just proved and transition to the next paragraph and the next point you will make. Repeat until you get to the conclusion. All of this may sound like learning how to write an essay analyzing two books is too complicated but, once you get into the swing of things, it will become easier.

Concluding Your Essay About Two Books

The most difficult part of your essay, besides comparing two books and analyzing those two books in one essay, is the conclusion. The best way to start is to rephrase your introduction and especially your thesis. You're basically working backwards to remind the reader what your main argument was and how you proved it. The most essential piece here is the "why" portion, just like what you had in the thesis. Why was it so important for the reader to read this? How does it help their understanding of the novel or change it in some way? The most effective conclusions leave the readers with a thought that sticks with them for a period of time after they put your work down.

© 2012 LisaKoski

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Comments 4 comments

diamond1mo profile image

diamond1mo 4 years ago from Arizona

Good topic, I will eventually write a hub on the compare and contrast essay formats- do you mind if I link?


LisaKoski profile image

LisaKoski 4 years ago from WA Author

No I definitely don't mind. In fact, I take it as a compliment. Thank you for reading.


collegedad profile image

collegedad 4 years ago from The Upper Peninsula

I wish I would have read this before I took English Lit. Good job!


satomko profile image

satomko 4 years ago from Macon, GA

Good suggestions. Let's just hope the students listen to them.

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