Pellissippi HOME | Library Site A-Z

Literary Criticism: Comparing/Contrasting Works, Characters, or Authors

Comparing/Contrasting Literary Works, Characters, or Authors

Comparing Literary Works

  • Consider which works you want to compare/contrast.
  • Reread your selections taking notes as you go.
    • You could make a list of themes from each work and compare them side by side.
    • Free writing is also a great way to get your ideas on paper.
    • Spend time brainstorming- those who explore their ideas often have better essays in the end.
  • Try to determine the central theme of the work you are considering. 
  • Look for a second work that has a similar theme 

Common Themes

  • Good vs. Evil
  • Coming of Age
  • War and its perils
  • Individual vs. Society
  • Love
  • Heroism 
  • Corruption

These are only some of the themes out there. You can explore many other options for your paper!

Questions to Ask

  • What is the overall message of the work? 
  • Does the main character evolve as the story progresses?
  • What was the main conflict in the work? 
  • Is the work trying to convey a message about society?
  • How do symbols tie into or help to develop the theme?
"War is Kind" by Stephen Crane and "The Man He Killed" by Thomas Hardy are two poems that depict the lunacy of war and the grief they bring. Crane's poem focuses on the heartache families endure as they lose loved ones. Contrarily, Hardy focuses his work on the despair that accompanies a living soldier as he recalls the dreadful memories of killing an enemy soldier. When these works are contemplated together they paint a picture of grief and senselessness for soldiers in action and their family members remaining at home.

Character Analysis

  • Select two characters you would like to analyze.
  • Reread text and focus in on these characters, taking notes as you go.
  • Make a list of traits for each character and compare/contrast them side by side.

Questions to Ask

  •  What important traits do the characters possess? 
  •  Is the character a main protagonist or antagonist?
  •  Look at the characters actions- how can they be interpreted?
  •  How does the character interact with others?
  • How does the character interact with the world they live in?
  • Do you see changes in the character as the plot progresses?
Example: Hamlet's revenge of his uncle Claudius for murdering his father, is a popular and obvious theme throughout the play. Deeper inspection reveals though, that Hamlet and Claudius are both equally capable of committing the same kind of atrocities. They both have an unparalleled drive to achieve what they want, even it means committing murder to attain it. One could ponder if Hamlet's hatred of Claudius reveals a deep seeded fear of recognition of these parallels. 


Author Analysis 

  • You can also focus your compare/contrast criticism on two authors.
  • Reread the authors works you will be critiquing 
  • Take notes about the authors as you read

Questions to Ask

  • What does the text say about the Author?
  • What kind of message is the Author trying to convey to their audience?
  • Does the author's life and background effect the themes of their works?
  • Do historical events influence the authors?
Example: The short stories "The Story of an Hour", by Kate Chopin and "The Jury of Her Peers", by Susan Glaspell examine gender roles and self-identity for women living in the late 18th century. It is clear that Chopin and Glaspell's works reflect the times in which they live. Both are female authors in a society in favor of men. Notably these authors are a proponent of women and their equality within society. Both authors demonstrate this by focusing their themes on the struggles women face which also coincides with the early women's movement in the United States.