After the description of each kind of essay--critical analysis, personal response, and societal or general analysis-- I have included student essays as examples. When I was a student, I found it easier to write a paper if I read examples beforehand; I then had a guide to ways the assignment could be fulfilled and a better idea of what my professors expected.

I hope that you too will find examples of the assignment helpful. Also, I hope you will enjoy reading these essays as much as I did.

I have also included general instructions on writing an essay, in case you want to review the basics of essay-writing. The links to these instructions are at the bottom of this page.

I. Critical analysis

    Discuss an aspect of one of the assigned works, such as theme, characterization, symbolism, structure, imagery or figurative language, narrative techniques, or style. Possible topics include...
  • Hamlet's failure to act immediately (analysis of character),
  • his relationship with his mother and/or with Ophelia (analysis of character),
  • the dreamer in Keats's poetry (analysis of character and theme),
  • Dickinson's portrayal of loss (analysis of them),
  • the role of class in Hedda Gabler (analysis of theme),
  • Hedda Gabler as a liberated woman (analysis of character),
  • Ibsen: a feminist in Hedda Gabler? (analysis of theme),
  • Jane Eyre's spiritual growth (analysis of character),
  • Jane Eyre's search for family (analysis of theme),
  • the role of fire in Jane Eyre (analysis of imagery),
  • the role of flowers in The Bluest Eye (analysis of imagery),
  • blue eyes in The Bluest Eye (analysis of symbol).
  • the use of the primer in The Bluest Eye (analysis of structure),
  • becoming American in The Joy Luck Club (analysis of theme).
Minimum length: 3 pages. Click here for Sample critical essays.

II. Personal response

    Choose a character, a statement, a theme, an occurrence, an image, or a scene in a novel, play, or poem and write a personal essay developing your response to your choice. There are two ways to develop this paper. (1) You may make a point by point comparison and/or contrast between the work and yourself. (2) You may refer to the work briefly and then devote the rest of your essay to your own response. For example, you could refer to the novel only once, at the beginning of the paper, using the reference to the novel as a jumping off point for your discussion; or you could refer to the work in your conclusion, to wrap up your topic.

    What kinds of topics could you write about? Hamlet's disillusionment with his mother may remind you of a disappointment with one of your parents or some other significant person in your life. Keats's "To Autumn" may resonate with your love of nature or your experiences in nature (positive or negative). Dickinson's poems on death may connect with your feelings about death in general or the death of a particular person. Jane's religious development may remind you of a religious conversion or a loss of faith; her relationship with Rochester may inspire you to write of a romantic relationship which you have, you had, or you would like to have. The relationships of the children in The Bluest Eye may remind you of some childhood experience. If you are an immigrant or the child of immigrants, the immigrant struggle of The Joy Luck Club may have special meaning for you.

Minimum length: 3 pages. Click here for sample personal response essays.

III. Societal or general analysis

    Choose a character, a statement, a theme, an occurrence, an image, or a scene in a novel, play, or poem which leads you into an analysis of some aspect of society today. Keats' turning, even if only temporarily, to alcohol as a release from pain may lead you think about alcoholism or drug addiction. The Bluest Eye may lead to a discussion of incest or of child abuse; The Joy Luck Club, to discussion of conflict or misunderstanding betwen your generation and your parents' generation; Hedda Gabler, to an analysis of the treatment of women by society; Jane Eyre, to abuses in the educational system; Keats, to the need for contact with nature in a technological society.

Minimum length: 3 pages. Click here for Sample societal or general analysis essays.

IV. Short story

    Write a short story of any kind, such as a thriller, a romantic tale, or science fiction. A short story is not merely a three-page statement of the action or conversation. Characters must be individualized, physically, emotionally, morally, spiritually, etc.; they must have some sort of relationship to others, their environment, and/or their society (note: one kind of relationship is the inability to form attachments). They must be placed in a physical world, which is described or presented, however briefly. The story must also have a point to be made and/or an effect to be achieved. This means that a short story will be considerably longer than assignments 1 through 3. How long does the short story have to be? As long as it needs to be to achieve its purpose(s). Successful student short stories have ranged from ten pages to nearly fifty. (I do not mean to encourage length by sticking in unnecessary words. Wordiness and redundancy are serious flaws in any kind of writing.)

V. Web project as the equivalent of a paper

    You may prepare an online segment for one of the authors or works; you don't need to know how to put the segment online. Or, if you are computer proficient, you may redesign one of my online lessons to be more effective. This assignment requires my permission; we would consult about a project and talk periodically, if only briefly and by e-mail.
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