Great Books with Essay Prompts

Great Reads with Essay Prompts

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Prompts

Abe Woman in the Dunes

Describe how Abe’s novel is a surreal description of love or marital relationships.

Alternatively, discuss Abe’s novel as an existential work of alienation, similar to Camus, Ellison, or Kafka.

Achebe Arrow of God

Consider Ezeulu’s dilemma as it relates to the religious conflict between the whites and Ibo in Things Fall Apart. What points of comparison do you find and what is their significance?

Contrast the depictions of Christianity in AofG and TFA. How are they different? Is this because of Achebe’s story needs or another reason (which you would identify!)?

Achebe No Longer at Ease

Achebe writes that “it’s not very exciting when monstrous characters cause trouble. When an ordinary man causes havoc, that is more ominous.” How could such a statement apply to this work, and to what extent does this irony relate to the novel’s political themes?

Achebe Things Fall Apart

Several critics of Achebe have written interpretations of Things Fall Apart, ranging from reviews of the novel to feminist interpretations, and from New Critical approaches to post-colonial investigations. Write a critical response to any one of these critics, either affirming and extending the arguments, qualifying them, or refuting them.

Okonkwo has been called a tragic character in the style of Oedipus. Describe the similarities or differences between Okonkwo and Oedipus and tragic heroes.

Women in TFA, while fairly marginalized, have a distinct role from men amongst the Ibo. Examine the roles of two women and argue for or against their power in Ibo culture.

How does Okonkwo’s parallel story of Genesis (sacrifice of Isaac) alter the meaning of either?

What complications does Achebe encounter through offering Ibo culture through the medium of the English language? How successful is he at communicating the morals/ethics of the Ibo? (post-colonialism)

Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide

Adams parodies contemporary society through absurd humor. How does his choice of perspective (relating the story through a “normal” human) contribute to the success of the parody?

What common motifs or techniques does Adams employ across all three of his novels? Discuss how these motifs/techniques contribute to the mood of his works.

Ai poetry

Using at least three of Ai’s works, propose a common theme, motif, or motive behind them.

Akutagawa Kappa

If the world of the kappa is, as in Carroll or Abbott, a satire on his society, what conclusions might be made about turn-of-the-century Japan?

Albee Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Explore Albee’s notion of a personal hell and how it is reflected in the play. (Btw, Albee said he found the title of the work from graffiti he saw on a men’s room wall!)

Albee The Sandbox

What is the sandbox? Is it an image of the grave, with suggestions that life is meaningless and sterile? Or is it an image only of the sterility of life in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century? Does the fact that Grandma was married to a farmer suggest an alternative way of life?

Of the four characters in the play, which do you find the most sympathetic?

In what way is Mark Esslin’s quotation below helpful to understanding the play?

Ultimately … the Theatre of the Absurd does not reflect despair or a return to dark irrational forces but expresses modern man’s endeavor to come to terms with the world in which he lives. It attempts to make him face up to the human condition as it really is, to free him from illusions that are bound to cause constant maladjustment and disappointment…. For the dignity of man lies in his reality in all its senselessness; to accept it freely, without fear, without illusion—and to laugh at it.

Allende House of the Spirits

To what extent are the superstitions of the women essential to understand the larger themes of the work?

Discuss the novel a one of extremes. Which opposites does Allende set up? In what sense do these extremes create the political result of Chilean history?

Angelou I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

How do the authors of Western tradition impact Angelou’s own understanding of African-American identity?

Contrast Angelou’s ideas of the struggles of blacks with Ellison’s.

Atwood Alias Grace

Atwood mixes fiction and truth in the novel, but to what effect? The lawyer Mackenzie says, “Did Scheherazade lie? Not in her own eyes; indeed, the storied she told ought never to be subjected to the harsh categories of Truth and Falsehood. They belong in another realm altogether” (377). How are we to understand the purpose of Atwood’s novel if truth and falsehood are ambiguous?

Consider the parallels of any three of the following characters beyond the plot itself: Grace, Mary, Simon, Jeremiah, Nancy, Rachel, MacKenzie, Rev. Verringer. You may examine the parallels through motivation, psychology, internal conflicts, biases, ignorances, etc. Why might Atwood have drawn these parallels?

Atwood Wilderness Tips

Contrast the inter-relatedness of the stories in Atwood’s work to those in Joyce’s Dubliners. You may consider theme, structure, character psychology, or conflicts to discuss.

Atwood A Handmaid’s Tale

Consider the complex psychology of the protagonist. How are her notions of freedom, motherhood, or sexuality affected by the apocalyptic setting of the novel?

Are the questions raised by the novel peculiar to its fantastic setting? To what extent are these same questions important today? Why might Atwood have chosen such a setting?

Austen Pride and Prejudice

Victorian language is often marked by intentional deferment–that is, socially sensitive topics are avoided, euphemized, or otherwise talked “around” rather than referred to directly. Describe how Austen’s language of deferment adds to the meaning of the novel, how linguistic obscurity is critical to the theme.

Beckett Waiting for Godot

How does the relationship between Lucky and Pozzo reflect that between Didi and Gogo?

Alternatively, how might one find optimism amidst the hopelessness of the play?

Bible (see also New Testament, Old Testament)

According to the Bible, on what is morality based? Identify three or more stories or incidents which illustrate this answer.

Blake poetry

Blake’s mysticism, his antinomian beliefs, often slide their way into his work. From his poetry Blake has constructed his own personal mythology, in a sense. Describe the mythology that Blake has created and show it across three or more of his works.

Bradbury Something Wicked This Way Comes

Examine the effectiveness of Bradbury’s poetic techniques within his prose work.

Contrast the characters of Will and Jim. Does Bradbury create two characters who differ in their innate natures or merely in their choices? What might Bradbury imply by these differences?

Bronte Jane Eyre

Discuss the psychology of women as seen by Bronte through her characters in Jane Eyre.

Burger Sphereland

How does Burger “correct” Abbott’s view of Victorian women? Is this approach satisfying or ill-considered?

How does Burger alter the mathematical concepts which underlie Abbott’s work (i.e. a curved universe)? Do these alterations in any way undermine Abbott’s theological argument?

How does Sphereland address an Einsteinian universe?

Burgess A Clockwork Orange

Traditionally, authors attempt to foster a reader’s sympathy for a protagonist. Discuss the pathos created for the narrator of A Clockwork Orange and the impact this has on any other aspect of the novel. (Hint: consider irony and/or the anti-hero)

How does Burgess’ use of puns in CO contribute to the mood or theme of the novel?

Burroughs Naked Lunch

How might Burroughs’s work be considered self-reflexive; that is, the work speaks to itself or about itself? (Hints: to the extent that it is autobiographical or reflective of the writing process, it may comment on itself)

Butler, Octavia Parable of the Sower

Outside of the obvious Earthseed name, explore the links Butler creates between religion and agriculture.

Why does Butler need to place her theme of “God is Change” against a dystopia?

Calvino Mr. Palomar

Expose the inventiveness of style in Calvino’s work and measure its effectiveness.

Capote In Cold Blood

What elements of Capote’s work blur the lines between a factual account and a fictional retelling? You may wish to discuss Capote’s use of figurative language, of detail and omission, or of tone. Does the work suffer or is it enhanced by this blurring of genre?

Explore a psychological literary interpretation of the novel.

Carroll Alice’s Adv. in Wonderland

Carroll and Abbott both create social satires. Compare and contrast how both authors use faulty logic/reasoning in their works to mock their Victorian society.

Carroll Through/Looking Glass

Consider the inversions or reversals of logic in Carroll’s work. Discuss their effectiveness as absurd humor or social satire.

Caucasia

Many writers offer fantastic societies, utopias and dystopias, to forward a political or social or behavioral commentary.

a) Discuss the political philosophy developed in Caucasia; or, alternatively,

b) Contrast the effectiveness of commentaries offered in Caucasia and Flatland

Chaucer Canterbury Tales

Each of the stories is framed, first by a Prologue, and then by brief prologues to each tale. At times we see other glimpses into the characterizations of the various narrators–they even argue with one another. What might be the literary function of such interludes? Why didn’t Chaucer simply write the tales without framing?

“The Miller’s Tale” is fairly unique to the collection. Ironically, the fabliau is told by the Miller after the Monk is asked to tell a story. In addition, it is one of the more ribald stories, seemingly without much merit beyond amusement. Why might Chaucer have included such a tale? How does it complement or contrast the other stories?

“The Wife of Bath’s Tale” might be described as an early feminist story. Argue for or against its contribution to feminism, employing contemporary deconstructive techniques.

Chekhov stories

Across 3 or more of Chekhov’s work, identify the common pathos of his characters as they struggle to understand/communicate with each other.

Chopin The Awakening

How do the different women of Chopin’s novel address the question of freedom and self-identity?

Examine how Edna’s language choices affect her awakening consciousness.

Cisneros House on Mango Street

Discuss Cisneros’ work as poetry.

How does Cisneros deal with adult themes such as rape? How does her use of narrator make these situations more or less powerful?

Clarke Childhood’s End

Examine Clarke’s use of mythological references in the novel. Consider one or more of the references and examine how its historical meaning impacts the larger theme(s) of the novel.

Clarke Fountains of Paradise

Discuss the novel’s thematic conflict between the progressive forces of technology and the conservative forces of religion. How does Clarke’s ambiguous resolution enhance his theme?

Clavell King Rat

Discuss Clavell’s portrayal of the Japanese and their culture through the filter of his American prisoner protagonist and own American authorship. Consider a Postcolonial critical approach in approaching the discussion.

Collins poetry

Consider Collins’s use of diction to reveal ironic images of humanity across three or more of his works.

Deconstruct a single image from one of Collins’s poems, and then apply that deconstructive “lesson” to two other poems.

Crichton Andromeda Strain

Does Crichton portray his protagonist as a sympathetic character? How does your answer affect the mood and power of the novel?

cummings poetry

cummings experiments with words and forms, delimiting the possibilities for meaning. Discuss the effect of his “play” on the themes or attitudes of five or more of his works.

Dante Inferno

Describe the work through the eyes of Campbell’s monomyth. How is our hero’s journey through hell a journey seeking Truth, toward understanding who we are as mankind and how we should live?

Dante is responsible for our Western image of Hell. Contrast the Christian view of Hell prior to Dante’s time with the text from Inferno. Identify one or more differences between the text and history and speculate on the significance of Dante’s revision.

Dickens Oliver Twist

Through his characters and their motivations, Dickens offers a link between poverty and crime, poverty and morality. What are his messages on each pair? How do the conflicts and resolutions of his characters (Dodger, Oliver, Monks, etc.) work to make these points?

Dickens Great Expectations

Although seen as Dickens’ masterwork by many, the ending of the novel has been sharply criticized (as compared to a less happy original). In what sense does the novel’s resolution harm any of Dickens’ themes?

How might a feminist address the creation and portrayal of Miss Havisham?

Dickens short stories

Trace Dickens’ use of characterization or detailing techniques across three or more of his works, noting the similarities in technique and their effect on the tone or theme of the works.

Dickinson poetry

Much of Dickinson’s poetry is of the microcosm which reflects the macrocosm. What does this statement mean and how is it true in 3 or more of Dickinson’s poems?

Dickinson uses a number of techniques (rhythm, dash, enjamb, capitalization, etc.) that are uniquely her own. Analyze her use of any one technique across three or more poems. What effect does it have on her work or on readers?

Dostoevski Brothers Karamazov

Part One. Examine the psychology of Alyosha or one of his brothers and the dramatic effect his character has on the work thus far.

Part Two. Approach the novel through any of these lenses:

Historicist: Trace the novel as an illustration of any 19th-century Russian trend. You may wish to look at

a. Politics as seen through Ivan and Rakitin

b. Ideas of the socialist utopia

c. Late 19th century judicial reforms as seen through the trial of Dmitry

d. Critiques of Russian orthodoxy, especially as seen through Zosima (who is perhaps the voice of the author)

Psychological: Examine the natures of the corrupt but ashamed Fyodor, the mental disintegration of Ivan, or the growing pains of Kolya.

Dostoevski Crime and Punishment

Discuss the religious symbolism in the novel and how it relates to the psychological epiphanies of Raskolnikov. Alternatively, discuss the beating of the horse and how it serves as a symbol for the theme of the novel.

Dumas Count of Monte Cristo

Some critics have suggested that the novel resonates with Freudian and Jungian symbolism as Edmond’s adventures grow. Trace one or two of the more significant moments in the novel as archetypal or as symbols of the unconscious motive and relate their significance to the theme as a whole.

Eggers Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (nf)

The book is a meta-narrative—that is, Eggers is aware that he is writing it and points this out throughout. How does this approach help/hinder the concept of a man buried in a media culture?

How is Egger’s honest and painful tone established? Look in particular at his discussion of raising his brother, his desire to get on Real World, or his work with Might magazine. Does irony play a role in establishing his tone?

Eliot Wasteland

How does Eliot portray a despairing soul’s struggle for redemption in the poem?

Eliot poetry

What common motif/theme do you find across 3 or more of Eliot’s works? Discuss how he presents that theme.

Discuss Eliot’s use of the objective correlative across 3 or more poems.

Ellison Juneteenth

Compare and contrast the senator in Juneteenth to Norton in Invisible Man.

Examine the role of sermons across Juneteenth and Invisible Man, in particular how they affect the development of the narrator in IM and Bliss in J.

Ellison Shadow & Act

Re-read/interpret any scene from Invisible Man in light of one or more of Ellison’s essays on art, music, or black history and culture.

Emerson Self-Reliance

Describe how Emerson’s use of epigrams (or epigram-like statements) make his work more persuasive (either in discovering Nature and God or in trusting self).

Erdrich Love Medicine

How does Erdrich’s descriptions of exterior scenes and behaviors reflect the internal psychology of her characters? Select one or two characters for a focus.

Faulkner short stories

Analyze Faulkner’s use of syntax across three of more stories. What is the effect of his sentence structure on meaning?

Describe Faulkner’s technique of characterization across two or more stories, noting in particular contrasting results in character through similar technique.

Faulkner Sound & The Fury

The sections relating Benjy’s and Quentin’s struggle to relate the events of the novel are problematic as each character is limited by his language in distinct ways. What might Faulkner be suggesting about language’s limitations as a theme to the overall work? What impact does this limitation does this place upon the reader’s ability to understand this theme, as well?

Ferlinghetti poetry

A major part of the Beat Movement, a rejection of middle class values but a promotion of pacifism, reverence for nature, and even transcendentalism, Ferlinghetti’s work is often politically raw. At what point does poetry become politics? Can the two exist together, and does Ferlinghetti succeed in the venture?

Fitzgerald Great Gatsby

How is Nick Carraway seen as the ironic perceiver/narrator of this novel? (Many novels of Realism—early 20th century—pose a narrator as an “objective observer” who detaches himself from the action of the story. Nick almost fulfills this role, but in the process of observing, reaches an epiphany. . . )

Frost Poems

Uncover common themes between 3 or more of Frost’s works (at least two not previously discussed in class. What broader theme/statement can we deduce from these works? What patterns do we find in his writing?

Gibran Meditations

Compare and contrast the style/techniques of Gibran to those of Khayyam. Though each are offered in translation, which appears the superior writer? Alternatively, discuss which translator is better at balancing style and meaning.

Gibran works

Across several of his prose pieces, consider the effectiveness of Gibran’s use of imagery, particularly metaphor and allegory.

Gilgamesh

Describe the role of Enkidu in the myth. What function does he serve for the conflict, theme, or other essential element of the story?

Ginsberg poetry

Using Ginsberg’s poetry as a basis, examine the role of poetry as a vehicle for political action or justice. Is art compromised or enhanced by its motive? Employ 5 or more of Ginsberg’s works to justify your point.

Golding Lord of the Flies

Describe the novel as a psychological allegory of id, ego, and Superego.

Who is the Lord of the Flies? What tactics does he/it use to affect the human spirit?

What statement does Golding make about the role of civilization?

Grass The Tin Drum

How is the picaresque structure of the novel essential to Grass’ theme?

In what sense do Grass and Heller use comedy differently to argue a deeper point?

Graves Mythology

Greek mythology is often referenced across Western literatures. Demonstrate any of the following:

1.      How a single story/character in mythology is used in three or more other works;

2.      How three different Greek allusions are employed in one outside work;

3.      How a thicker understanding of a particular allusion affects an outside work

Greene Power and the Glory

Describe Greene’s critique of the Church and religion. Is the main character a hero or a villain, everyman or a victim?

Griffin Black Like Me (nf)

What is a “hate stare”? How does Griffin’s coining of the phrase underline the theme of the text?

Griffin’s writing is at times sparse and factual, at others rich with sensory detail. How does his use of detail affect the emotional impact of his experience? Of the reader’s?

In what sense is this work now dated? Speculate on contemporary parallels between Griffin’s experiences and contemporary minority positions (ableness, age, religion, etc.).

Hamilton Mythology

Greek mythology is often referenced across Western literatures. Demonstrate any of the following:

1.      How a single story/character in mythology is used in three or more other works;

2.      How three different Greek allusions are employed in one outside work;

3.      How a thicker understanding of a particular allusion affects an outside work

Heaney poetry

Compare 3 or more of Heaney’s works in order to form a summative statement that describes Heaney’s style as unique from other poets. (Your statement may need to be figurative in language in order to accomplish this; your statement should not be a evaluation of style—i.e. good, overblown—but merely description.)

Heinlein Stranger in a Strange Land

Examine Heinlein’s use of neologism as a means to reveal a new sociological/ psychological idea. How successful is this technique in his novel?

Heller Catch-22

Agree, disagree, or qualify any one of these assertions of the novel’s theme:

1.      War is immoral and absurd (well, duh)

2.      War speeds up the mechanization and depersonalization of modern society.

3.      We are governed by abstract goals and functions rather than human ones

4.      Our institutions are corrupt and our goals hypocritical (again, duh)

5.      Communication is broken and language is inadequate (note Yossarian’s empty “There there, there there”)

6.      Mankind is alienated existentially (Read essay on existentialism!) from others, society, self, and God

7.      Because of depersonalization and alienation, we are in a state of anxiety (who wouldn’t be?)

8.      God is dead. (Which explains why we’re alienated, I guess)

9.      There is a Higher Morality than the State (though few recognize it and such recognition only increases our despair)

10.  There is a critical need for a New Hero. (Would this be Yossarian?)

Reject any of the above themes by employing any post-structuralist literary theory.

Heller Closing Time

To what degree has Heller’s style changed between the two Yossarian-based novels? Is one more literary than another? Contrast the two works from an analysis of style.

Describe the novel in terms of existentialist philosophy. Alternatively, describe the novel from a postmodern viewpoint.

Heller Something Happened

Heller’s novels often portray dysfunctional protagonists trapped in an absurd world. Measure the truth of this assertion in Something Happened and Catch-22, contrasting their satires of society.

Heller We Bombed in New Haven

Contrast Heller’s approaches in writing of the absurdity of war across the genres: novel vs. theatrical production. In what sense does the structure of each enhance the theme?

The absurdist notion of a play within a play raises the question about the line between the illusion and the real. What is Heller saying about our own society, in this sense?

Hemingway A Farewell to Arms

Define Hemingway’s hero as portrayed in AFtA.

Hemingway Old Man and the Sea

Contrast the differing motives of the protagonist and the young boy. For which are readers intended to have sympathy? What is Hemingway’s purpose in drawing this contrast?

Discuss the various symbolic meanings of the fish Santiago desires and what they collectively imply about the theme of the work.

Hemingway The Sun Also Rises

Examine Jake’s psychological/biological limits. To what extent do they impact the external conflicts of the novel?

Hesse Siddhartha

Hesse’s novel is classified as a bildungsroman, a novel of education. What is taught?

Discuss why Hesse’s main character must experience both profligacy and asceticism to find his answers to the nature of wisdom.

The novel’s closing act is ambiguous: does Haller’s killing of Hermine represent his denial of his feminine mirror-self (anima), or is it a reintegration of it? Has he become cold or enlightened? Is it an extension of his own guilt and anger? How are we to read/understand this act and what impact does this have on the theme of the work?

Homer Iliad

Consider the problem of Achilles in the work. What function does he serve in the story? How is he archetypal of later heroes? In what ways is his character non-heroic? What impact does this have on the story?

Homer Odyssey

Draw a parallel between Homer’s work and any of the following novels: Invisible Man, Dubliners, Murakami’s works. Note specific allusions or references to Homer or motifs/archetypes.

Hosseini The Kite Runner

Discuss the novel’s use of dualism in balance: of the two boys, of boy and father, of the figures the protagonist must confront. How does the dualistic nature of the novel inform the theme?

Without ever naming it precisely, Hosseni offers a kind of universal spiritualism (“It can be right again.”). Explore the nature of Hosseini’s spiritualism in the novel and how it is/is not religious.

Hughes poetry

Examine the language choices Hughes makes across three or more of his works. In what sense might his poetry be considered street slang? Where might it be considered educated? Speculate on the effects of his language on audiences of Harlem and beyond.

Hugo Les Miserables

Hugo believed that the poet should be both public and prophetic. How might LM be described in this fashion?

Research the Battle of Waterloo. How does Hugo’s melodramatic retelling of this event impact his readers’ image or understanding of history? (New Historicism)

Hugo is a king of Romanticism. Describe what elements of the novel make this quintessentially Romantic.

Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God

Through her three marriages, Janie experiences different kinds of oppression. Many have seen the final marriage to Tea Cake as one of liberation. Argue against Tea Cake as a liberator of Janie; does the novel in this light reveal an optimistic or pessimistic outlook for Janie? (Consider a feminist perspective of the work.)

Hurston stories, folklore, essays

Hurston’s work is often described as “earthy.” What does this term mean, and how does it apply to Hurston’s style in any genre of her work?

Ibsen, Henrik Enemy of the People

Ibsen’s morality play at first may seem formula or stilted, but consider the characters as each having a functional responsibility for the play’s theme. Consider any two characters (except Stockman himself) and analyze that character’s function.

Irving, John Ciderhouse Rules

Discuss Irving’s characterization of the protagonists and antagonists in the novel’s abortion debate. Does his portrayal establish an unfair bias? In other words, is the novel literary philosophy or mere propaganda?

Irving, John Prayer for Owen Meaney

How does Irving’s humor in the novel also support the heavier religious themes?

How the do the subplots of the novel form an indictment against US foreign policy?

Izumo No Longer Human

Elucidate alienation as a theme in Izumo’s No Longer Human.

Discuss the theme of alienation in Dazai’s work; does the author create a character with whom readers can empathize or one they will despise? What elements of the novel lead you to say so?

James, P.D. The Children of Men

Explore the differing ideas of power between The Warden and Theo. What role does emotional sensitivity play in James’ view of power?

Joyce Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Joyce uses stream of consciousness to reveal Stephen’s quest for identity as an artist. How does the structure of the novel (non-chronological narrative) contribute to this quest for artistic identity?

 

 

Prompts

Kafka Amerika

Examine how Kafka’s ideas of existentialism are reflected in the novel. Look in particular at the six points of existentialism: existence over essence, absence of the rational, alienation, free will, angst, and the encounter with nothingness.

Compare the protagonists of Kafka’s The Trial and Amerika. What differences exist between them? How do these differences each underline a common theme between the works?

Kafka Metamorphosis

Read the “Primer on Existentialism.” How does The Metamorphosis fulfill the qualities inherent in existentialism?

Deconstruct the language of Kafka, examining especially inverted images or reversed expectations. How do these complement or conflict with the larger them of the work?

Kafka Trial

Of what is K. guilty? (Consider this question as one of psychology.)

Kawabata Snow Country

In what sense does Kawabata write haiku in prose?

Discuss the geisha and dilettante’s relationship through its implied and unspoken dialogue, not its explicit dialogue? In what way is the center of the novel’s power not in the text?

Kerouac poetry

Kerouac described the poetry of his time as “a kind of new-old Zen Lunacy poetry, writing whatever comes into your head as it comes, poetry returned to its origin, in the bardic child, truly ORAL as Ferling said, instead of gray faced Academic quibbling….SF is the poetry of a new Holy Lunacy like that of ancient times (Li Po, Hanshan, Tom O Bedlam, Kit Smart, Blake) yet it also has that mental discipline typified by the haiku (Basho, Buson), that is, the discipline of pointing out things directly, purely, concretely, no abstractions or explanations, wham wham the true blue song of man.” Explain how three or more of Kerouac’s works typify the author’s explanation of them, considering especially the role of discipline, oral literacy, and holy.

Kesey One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

This stream of consciousness novel defines oppositions of sanity/insanity and freedom/responsibility. Examine the relationship between these two oppositions and what they might imply about the novel’s theme.

Kesey Sometimes a Great Notion

Discuss Kesey’s complex theme of loyalty in the novel. How does it work to complicate the conflicts of his characters?

Khayyam Rubaiyyat

What poetic techniques are employed to establish the mood/tone of the work? (Hint: first establish what the mood/tone of the work is, then proceed to discuss how it is achieved.)

Kingsolver Poisonwood Bible

Assuming a feminist approach to the novel, describe how Kingsolver’s language or story structure is distinct from male writings and how this style impacts the overall effect or theme of the work.

Kingston Woman Warrior

Discuss the effect of Kingston’s portrayal of gender roles in the novel. Is her attitude more a result of her being a female writer, her cultural background, or neither?

Kipling “Man Who Would Be King”

Examine Kipling’s work through a post-colonial perspective across three or more of his works from The Phantom Rickshaw, including “The Man Who Would Be King.” (Alternatively, examine Kipling’s portrayal of women across three or more works from a feminist perspective.)

Koestler Darkness at Noon

Conduct an historical investigation of the Stalinist Terror and how Koestler parallels the actions of the novel with the events of the Soviet Union.

How might the work be considered a spiritual drama?

LeGuin Left Hand of Darkness

What questions does LeGuin raise about masculinity and femininity, especially in regards to its role if forming individual and cultural identity?

Lewis That Hideous Strength

Discuss how The Hideous Strength operates as Christian allegory, citing appropriate religious texts where necessary.

Lewis Screwtape Letters

Wormwood’s humans are described by his uncle as “patients.” What are the implications of Lewis’ diction in this case?

SL is seen as a work of Christian apologetic–that is, a defense of Christianity. In what sense does it succeed or fail?

Machiavelli The Prince

Discuss the patriotism and republicanism of Machiavelli as reasonable political philosophy. (In essence, argue against the stereotype that Mach. is wicked or amoral.)

MacInerny Bright Lights, Big City

Traditional authors expect readers to sympathize with their protagonists. MacInerny creates a wholly unsympathetic protagonist yet ironically forces the reader to connect. Describe the experience of this reading as demanded through MacInerny’s use of second person narration. (Reader-Response)

Mailer Why Are We in VietNam?

As a social critic, how does Mailer’s use of wit make his political commentary effective or ineffective in establishing his theme? Alternatively, compare and contrast the wit of Mailer and Heller.

Maguire Wicked

How is evil produced? To what extent is it a product of experience or a product of innate morality? In what sense is it external or internal?

How is Maguire’s work an indictment of contemporary political practices?

Malamud “The Magic Barrel”

Leo needs a wife before he can gain a congregation as a rabbi; what does he need in terms of himself? What is missing from Leo’s life?

Is Salzman just a human being, or is he somehow a flawed and fallible angel, fulfilling the task of leading Leo Finkle to life?

Marquez Love In the Time of Cholera

Marquez’s work is not a part of the traditional literary canon. What elements of Love in the Time of Cholera might contribute to such exclusion? Alternatively, what artistic elements of his work may have been unjustifiably overlooked by the canon?

Marquez 100 Years of Solitude

Marquez’s work is not a part of the traditional literary canon. What elements of 100 Years of Solitude might contribute to such exclusion? Alternatively, what artistic elements of his work may have been unjustifiably overlooked by the canon?

Discuss Marquez’s use of the miraculous or magical in a work which is largely realistic. Does this enhance or compromise his theme/purpose?

Martel Life of Pi

Early on in the text, the word “bamboozle” is used. How does this particular word establish the theme of the text at one or more levels?

How does Martel’s use of gory detail enhance or detract from the work’s theme?

McInerny Bright Lights, Big City

When does a graphic novel cross from being literature to simply being depressingly vulgar? Where does BLBC fall in this continuum?

How would the novel be altered if told in first or third person? Analyze the effects in one or two key scenes.

Miller Canticle for Leibowitz

Discuss Miller’s theme of the nature of mankind and whether Canticle is optimistic or pessimistic about our future.

Morrison Bluest Eye

Discuss the many levels of “beauty” in Morrison’s novel. In particular, note whether Morrison feels the aspiration for “blue eyes” is a positive, negative, or ironic dream.

Morrison Beloved

Discuss the relationship between mother and daughter in the novel. On what is it based? What is Morrison’s attitude toward her characters in regards to this relationship?

Discuss Morrison’s use of the surreal and how it places the reader in a state of interpretive vertigo.

Morrison Sula

What does it mean to be both white and black? Contrast this struggle of identity in Sula with any black character with a similar struggle from the works of Morrison or Ellison.

How does Morrison contrast the simplicity of language to the complexity of characters and/or relationships? Discuss the impact of one or more characters in the novel whose language belies the complexity of pesonality.

Morrison Tar-Baby

Discuss the links between Morrison’s work and the authentic Uncle Remus tale of the “Tar-Baby.” What parallels between the works does she make? Alternatively, what important new themes or messages does Morrison add to the traditional story?

Murakami General prompts

Murakami’s fist person narrator in Japanese is “boku,” an “I” which is internal, introspective, personal–versus the “I” which is used in formal or even family settings. To what extent is this narrator choice necessary to the plotting or mood of his novels?

Murakami Hard-Boiled Wonderland & The End of the World

The two storylines parallel one another. While this becomes clear at the plot level near the end, what techniques does Murakami employ to weave the two storylines together at the front of the book? How do these techniques become more relevant later?

Murakami Norwegian Wood

How successful is Murakami at capturing female psychology? Describe his language choices between his narrator and the women of the novel.

Is this a love story? If so, how do its differences thwart/enhance the meaning of love?

Murakami Wild Sheep Chase

Psychologically, what is the relationship between the starred sheep and The SheepMan? To what extent do they balance one another? To what extent do they serve the same function?

Mythology Greek

Greek mythology is often referenced across Western literatures. Demonstrate any of the following:

1.      How a single story/character in mythology is used in three or more other works;

2.      How three different Greek allusions are employed in one outside work;

3.      How a thicker understanding of a particular allusion affects an outside work;

Nash poetry

Examine Nash’s use of irony across three or more of his poems.

New Testament

Consider the moral alignment of any one Gospel to another book in the New Testament. In other words, where are their parallels between the word of Christ and the ideas of other writers? Where are their seeming dissimilarities? How can these contrasts be reconciled?

O’Brien The Things They Carried

Evaluate the effectiveness of O’Brien’s use of physical objects to represent the characters and themes from his work.

Oe Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids

Describe the differences between Oe and Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Outside of the difference of setting, how might you account for the differences culturally?

Old Testament

Consider the Old Testament as history. In what sense is it effective at rendering an account of early Judaism? In what significant ways does it differ from typical historical texts? Look at the effect across three or more books from the Old Testament.

Orwell 1984

To what extent is Orwell accurate in predicting today’s use of language? Cite incidents from the novel specifically which do or do not relate to contemporary language acts.

What is Winston’s tragic flaw? Is he a sentimental character or one readers reject?

Orwell Down and Out in Paris

How might Orwell’s work be described as a sort of “political slumming” or the rich journeying among the poor? Is such an accusation fair or does it undermine the impact of the work’s themes?

Piercy poetry

Piercy says that whether she is writing about politics, nature, feminism, or any other subject, she is writing all about one thing; it’s all a part of the same vision. Find three poems which seemingly work at different levels or approach different subjects, then defend how they are “all a part of the same vision.”

Plath The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar is largely autobiographical. In what ways does the psychology of its protagonist impact the theme of the work?

Plath poetry

Identify a common motif across 5 or more of Plath’s works; what common approaches or tones does Plath adopt around the motif? What conclusions might you make about Plath’s psychology or philosophy?

Poe poetry

Examine Poe’s use of language across three or more of his works. How do the sounds of images affect tone or mood?

Potok The Chosen

How does Potok reveal the complications or conflict between living a life of religion or a life of art?

Quinn Ishmael

Discuss Quinn’s method in persuading readers to consider his controversial theories; how is it effective or ineffective?

Discuss the impact of the title’s allusion to the rest of the work.

How does the structure of Ishmael’s oral teachings parallel that of ancient Greeks like Socrates? To what degree is this an effective or ineffective method to teach Quinn’s particular lessons?

Examine Ishmael’s re-interpretation of Genesis; using the text of Genesis, evaluate how compelling/justifiable his interpretation is.

Quinn Story of B

Describe Quinn’s rhetorical technique in persuading readers of his argument. Note, in particular, how readers are cued to respond to the various positions argued throughout the text and the novel’s conclusion.

Rand Anthem

Attempt one of the prompts from the Anthem essay contest.

Alternatively, describe, in Freudian terms, the role of Rand’s id and superego in a world devoid of ego.

Rand Atlas Shrugged

Consider Rand’s solution to the dilemma of building an objectivist society. What about her crafting of the novel makes her answer plausible or implausible?

Respond to a common critique of Rand’s work that its melodrama weakens its impact as both novel and philosophy.

Rand Fountainhead

Attempt one of the prompts from the Fountainhead essay contest:

Alternatively, examine Rand’s problematic definition of love between characters governed by ego.

How can love exist in a world of individualism? Does Rand see love as possible or impossible, or does she redefine it?

If these aren’t working for you (time is running out), note that Rand forwards how her individualism/objectivism would work with individuals. How does the Fountainhead address or fail to address its effectiveness for society at large?

Describe this novel as a psychological quest. What elements of it parallel traditional or classic hero quests of ancient times?

Reed Mumbo Jumbo

Reed practices “Neo-Hoodoo,” an effort to force (or “magick”) black culture from its European ideological prisons. How does Mumbo Jumbo reflect his efforts, either in its structure or its themes?

Reed poetry

Reed’s language slides from standard English to black dialects to hip jargon, almost seamlessly. What are the impacts of this approach on the meaning of his poetry? Discuss this impact on three or more of his works.

Remarque All Quiet on the Western Front

Discuss Remarque’s account of war phenomenologically; that is, describe how the theme of the work is found in the author/narrator’s perception of war as opposed to some outside or cold analysis of language.

Robbe-Grillet Jealousy

To what extent must the reader be involved to impose meaning on Robbe-Grillet’s work? How does he facilitate or hinder this process?

Roth Portnoy’s Complaint

Compare Roth’s use of humor to Heller’s; how does each underline a heavier point differently?

Many have accused this novel of being offensive or misogynistic; assess the truth of these accusations and whether or not these traits have any literary value.

Salinger Catcher in the Rye

Discuss the theme of alienation in the novel. If you wish, compare Holden’s isolation from society with that of the narrator from Invisible Man.

Salinger Franny & Zooey

Discuss the effect of colloquialisms in the novel.

Alternatively, contrast the characterization of adults vs. adolescents in the novel.

Samyn Poetry

Examine three of Samyn’s works and how they relate to themes of marginality, either psychologically or politically.

Segal Jonathon Livingston Seagull

Describe this novel as a psychological quest. What elements of it parallel traditional or classic hero quests of ancient times?

Sexton poetry

Measure the effectiveness of one or more techniques Sexton employs across three or more of her poems.

Shakespeare Julius Caesar

While Brutus is the political muscle and actor in the play, Marc Antony manipulates the drama. Analyze Antony’s speeches and actions to determine how he steals power from Brutus. What is Shakespeare suggesting, then, about the behavior of politics?

Shakespeare Taming of the Shrew

Discuss Shakespeare’s opinion of women based upon his portrayal in TofS. Account for psychology, behavior, and “heroic” or ennobling qualities in females.

Discuss Shakespeare’s use of humor, identifying its type(s) and accessibility to various audiences.

Shapiro poetry

Explain, using at least three of his poems, Shapiro’s adherence to or rejection of poetic forms.

Shelley Frankenstein

Shelley has both Frankenstein and the monster employ similar metaphors to describe their experiences, most notably the use of “light” and “dark.” Discuss how both characters’ similar use of light helps us understand their differences.

Discuss the ambiguous roles of victim and oppressor in the work.

Siedel poetry

Examine how Siedel explores similar themes or motifs across three or more poems.

Silko Ceremony

Discuss the effect of Silko’s portrayal of gender roles in the novel. Is her attitude more a result of her being a female writer, her cultural background, or neither? .

Smith A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Discuss a pattern of imagery which Smith uses across the novel and what the pattern contributes to the novel’s theme or to a character’s conflict.

Solzhenitsyn One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch

Using a New Historicist approach, what effect might the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s novel have had on power relations in the former Soviet Union? (Be sure to discuss S’s craft/tone in establishing the effect of the novel.)

Sophocles Greek drama

Discuss the craft of tragedy in ________. (Hint: structure of conflict/plot)

Sophocles Antigone

According to Sophocles, on what is humanity finally based? How is this revealed in the play?

Sophocles Oedipus Rex

Describe Sophocles’ use of irony in the work, especially in the motifs of vision/blindness.

Stafford poetry

Stafford poses questions often philosophical in nature. How does his poetry resolve or fail to resolve such questions? Compare and/or contrast 2 or 3 of Stafford’s works in this regard.

Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath

Consider Steinbeck’s use of language (diction, imagery) to create pathos in the novel.

Discuss the impact of Rose-of-Sharon’s final act on the novel: what was Steinbeck’s goal in creating such a controversial scene and did he succeed?

Rage Against the Machine covered the original Bruce Springsteen “Ghost of Tom Joad” in 2000 which included the lyrics:

The shelter line stretchin’ around the corner
Welcome to the New World Order
Families sleepin’ in their cars out in the Southwest
No job, no home, no peace, no rest
No rest!

Find two incidents or images from the novel and trace them to contemporary society’s New World Order. Be certain not to overlook direct discussion of Steinbeck’s text.

Steinbeck Of Mice and Men

Steinbeck makes much use of contrast in the novel, from settings to characters, aspirations and motives to sense images. Discuss one of these contrasts, noting the language employed to create it. Describe how Steinbeck’s language of contrast underlines a key idea of the novel.

Reader sympathies quickly go to Lenny’s fate in the book. However, it might be argued that George suffers the greatest burden and tragedy in the novel. Argue for the power of tragedy as it relates to George and describe how Steinbeck underlines its importance.

Stoker Dracula

Elucidate the meaning(s) of the symbol of blood in the novel.

Alternatively, use a historicist approach to explain what elements of the novel might be “too wild” for the Victorian temperament.

Tanizaki Some Prefer Nettles

Examine the psychology of Kaname in SPN; how is his internal conflict related to Japan’s own identity confusion?

Timrod poetry

Timrod’s poetry is often quite emotional, but is ironically captured in classical forms. What is the effect of this combination? Discuss the seeming conflict between form and idea across 3 or more of his works.

Tolkien Fellowship of the Ring

Tolkien suffered writer’s block upon the entrance of the fellowship to the Mines of Moria. He was able to write again upon the bombing of London during WWII. How might FotR be seen as an allegory of World War II?

Alternatively, how does the novel fulfill Campbell’s Monomyth? (!!)

Turgenev Fathers and Sons

Turgenev pits Romanticism and traditionalism against Nihilism. Based on his portrayals of the characters and the novel’s resolution(s), which side does Turgenev take in the debate? (Btw, Turgenev was driven from Russia after this novel was published because proponents of both sides believed he was against them!)

Twain Huck Finn

Many have claimed that the novel’s ending is disappointing, being overly romanticized instead of the more realistic critique of society that the rest of the work suggests. Is this claim justified? If so, how might Twain have written the ending to be more effective? If not, how do you account for the sensational and unrealistic efforts to save Jim and Huck’s seeming complacency about it?

The novel is described as picaresque in form. What does this mean and how does such a description help us better follow the work’s theme?

Voltaire Candide

“All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds” (Leibnitz). How does the language of Candide’s novel (rather than the mere circumstances of plot) satirize this philosophy?

Candide says to Pangloss’ optimism at the end of the novel, “We must cultivate our garden.” What is meant by this response? How does its ambiguity help or hinder Voltaire’s purpose?

What might it mean to be called a Pangloss today? As allusion, identify two or three contemporary or historical Panglosses.

Vonnegut Breakfast of Champions

Vonnegut’s style has often been described as child-like or paratactic. Is this an accurate portrayal for this novel and is this a weakness in his writing?

Vonnegut Cat’s Cradle

What is a Cat’s Cradle? How does it serve as a symbol for the theme of the work?

Alternatively, compare the social commentaries of Vonnegut and Heller in Cat’s Cradle and Catch-22.

Vonnegut Jailbird

Vonnegut’s style has been described as childlike and “paratactic.” What is meant by this as it applies to Jailbird? What effect does such an approach have on the effectiveness of his work?

Vonnegut Sirens of Titan

How does Vonnegut dispense with the notions of divinity and Hell in the work? What does this leave us as a governing force for the universe?

Vonnegut Slaughterhouse Five

Examine the structure of the novel. How does Vonnegut’s atypical approach to chronology and setting enhance or otherwise affect the novel’s theme?

Walcott poetry

Discuss the rhythmic structure of Walcott’s work across three or more of his poems, especially as it contrasts to traditional Western/British forms.

Choose a theme which crosses three or more of Walcott’s works.

Walker The Color Purple

Discuss the link between spirituality and sexuality that Walker creates.

Explore Walker’s theme of the human need for love. Does she argue for one form of love as preferred over another?

Warren All the King’s Men

At the end of the Mastern chapter, Warren’s narrator remarks, “But I (who am what Jack Burden became) look back now, years later, and try to say why.” This point-of-view shift from third person to first person is likely significant in the novel. Trace the causes and effects of Jack Burden’s transformation in the novel and how this change impacts the theme of the work

Wells Time Machine

A number of writers forward theories of utopia/dystopia in order to advance a statement of politics or human behavior. What comment does Wells make in offering his future society?

Wharton Ethan Frome

Compare the physical setting of the novel to the emotional qualities of its characters.

Examine specifically the language used to describe Zeena and Mattie. What patterns does Wharton create? What might these patterns suggest about the moral choices which Ethan faces?

White, T.H. Once and Future King

Discuss the Jungian archetypes found through the novel. What richer meanings are thus found?

Examine the theme of chaos in the works as revealed in its characters and settings. How does the force of chaos work upon the moralities of other characters?

Wilde Picture of Dorian Gray

Examine the work for a gender studies perspective. What is the relationship between the males of the book? Noting Victorian understatement and intentional obscuration, what might we infer from their dialogue? How might the work’s theme be altered as a result?

Discuss the relationship between Dorian’s physical self, his moral self, and his soul. How do the roles of two minor characters in the work help us further define this relationship?

Woolf To the Lighthouse

Discuss Woolf’s portrayal of Mr. Ramsay as the “typical male.”

The novel, stream-of-consciousness and symbolic, is as much poem as narrative. Discuss the effect of Woolf’s structure and style on the meaning of the work.

Examine the symbol of the Lighthouse itself. Alternatively, examine Lily Briscoe’s painting and Woolf’s beliefs about art.

Wright Black Boy

In what ways beyond title is Ellison’s Invisible Man a response to Wright’s novel?

Sometimes the black man can act as his own enemy. How is this explored as a theme in Black Boy, and does Ellison address the same theme in Invisible Man?

Black Boy is largely autobiography. To what extent is the main character (Richard Wright) similar or different from the naïve narrator in Invisible Man?

Wright Native Son

How is Ellison’s Invisible Man a response to Native Son?

Discuss the moral conflict in Wright’s protagonist. How does this conflict reveal the theme?

Yeats poetry

Discuss Yeats’s use of imagery across 3 or more of his poems. How does Yeats’s technique distinguish his writing from that of other poets?

Yevteshenko poetry

Discuss the structure of Yevteshenko’s work across 3 or more poems. How does he create a tone through arrangement of ideas, stanza use, and/or other structural device?