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Open Essay Prompts 1971-1997
Advanced Placement English Open-Essay Questions
1971 The significance of a title such as The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn is easy to discover. However, in other works the full significance of the
title becomes apparent to the reader only gradually. Choose two works and
show how the significance of their respective titles is developed through
the author's use of devices such as contrast, repetition, allusion, and
point of view.
1972 In retrospect the reader often discovers that the first chapter of a novel
or the opening scene of a drama introduces some of the major themes of the
work. Write an essay about the opening scene of a drama or the first
chapter of a novel in which you explain how it functions in this way. In
your essay do not merely summarize the plot of the work you are
1973 An effective literary work does not merely stop or cease; it concludes.
In the view of some critics, a work that does not provide the pleasure of
significant closure has terminated with an artistic fault. A
satisfactory ending is not, however, always conclusive in every sense;
significant closure may require to the reader to abide with or adjust to
ambiguity and uncertainty. In an essay discuss the end of a novel or play
of acknowledged literary merit. Explain precisely how and why the ending
appropriately or inappropriately concludes the work. Do not merely
summarize the plot.
1974 Choose a work of literature written before 1900. Write an essay in which
you present arguments for and against the work's relevance for person in 1997.
Your own position should emerge in the course of the essay. You
may refer to works of literature written after 1900 for the purpose of
contrast or comparison.
1975 Although literary critics have tended to praise the unique in literary
characterization, many authors have employed the stereotyped character
successfully. Select a work of acknowledged literary merit and, in a
well-written essay, show how the conventional or stereotyped character or
characters function to achieve the author's purpose.
1975B Unlike the novelist, the writer of a play does not use his own voice and
only rarely uses a narrator's voice to guide the audience's responses to
character and action. Select a play you have read and write an essay in
which you explain the techniques the playwright uses to guide his
audience's respnses to the central characters and the action. You might
consider the effect on the audience of things like setting, the use of
comparable and contrasting characters, and the characters' responses to
each other. Support your argument with specific references to the play.
Do not give a plot summary.
1976 The conflict created when the will of an individual opposes the will of
the majority is the recurring theme of many novels, plays, and essays.
Select the work of an essayist who is in opposition to his or her society;
or, from a work of recognized literary merit, select a fictional
character who is in opposition to his or her society. In a critical
essay analyze the conflict and discuss the moral and ethical implications
for both the individual and the society. Do not summarize the plot or
action of the work you choose.
1977 A character's attempt to recapture or to reject the past is important in
many plays, novels, and poems. Choose a literary work in which a
character views the past with such feelings as reverence, bitterness, or
longing. Show with clear evidence from the work how the character's view
of the past is used to develop a theme in the work.
1978 Choose an implausible or strikingly unrealistic incident or character in
a work of fiction or drama of recognized literary merit. Write an essay
that explains how the incident or character is related to the more
realistic or plausible elements in the rest of the work. Avoid plot
1979 Choose a complex and important character in a novel or a play of
recognizedliterary merit who might, on the basis of the character’s actions alone,
beconsidered evil or immoral. In a well-organized essay, explain both how and
whythe full presentation of the character in the work makes us react more
sympathetically than we otherwise might. Avoid plot summary.
1980 A recurring theme in literature is the classic war between passion and
responsibility. For instance, a personal cause, a love, a desire for revenge,
a determination to redress a wrong, or some other emotion or drive may conflict
with moral duty. Choose a literary work in which a character confronts the
demands of a private passion that conflicts with his or her responsibilities.
In a well-written essay show clearly the nature of the conflict, its effects
upon the character, and its significance to the work. Avoid plot summary
1981 The meaning of some literary works is often enhanced by sustained
allusion tomyths, the Bible, or other works of literature. Select a literary work
thatmakes use of such a sustained reference. Then write a well-organized essay
inwhich you explain the allusion that predominates in the work and analyze how
itenhances the work s meaning.
1982 In great literature, no scene of violence exists for its own sake. Choose a
work of literary merit that confronts the reader or audience with a scene or
scenes of violence. In a well-organized essay, explain how the scene or scenes
contribute to the meaning of the complete work. Avoid plot summary.
1983 From a novel or play of literary merit, select an important character who
is avillain. Then, in a well-organized essay, analyze the nature of the character s
villainy and show how it enhances meaning in the work. Do not summarize plot.
1984 Select a line or so of poetry, or a moment or scene in a novel, epic poem,
orplay that you find especially memorable. Write an essay in which you identify
the line or the passage, explain its relationship to the work in which it is
found, and analyze the reasons for its effectiveness. Do not base your essay on
a work that you know about only from having seen a television or movie
production of it. Select a work of recognized literary merit.
1985 A critic has said that one important measure of a superior work of
literatureis its ability to produce in the reader a healthy confusion of pleasure
anddisquietude. Select a literary work that produces this healthy confusion.
Write an essay in which you explain the sources of the pleasure and
disquietude experienced by the readers of the work. You may base your essay on
a work from the list below or choose another work of comparable literary merit.
Do not base your essay on a movie, television program, or other adaptation of a
1986 Some works of literature use the element of time in a distinct way. The
chronological sequence of events may be altered, or time may be suspended or
accelerated. Choose a novel, an epic, or a play of recognized literary merit
and show how the author s manipulation of time contributes to the effectiveness
of the work as a whole. Do not merely summarize the plot.
1987 Some novels and plays seem to advocate changes in social or political
attitudesor in traditions. Choose a novel or play and note briefly the particular
attitudes or traditions that the author apparently wishes to modify. Then
analyze the techniques the author uses to influence the reader’s or audience’s
views. Avoid plot summary.
1988 Choose a distinguished novel or play in which some of the most
significantevents are mental or psychological; for example, awakenings,
discoveries,changes in consciousness. In a well-organized essay, describe how
the authormanages to give these internal events the sense of excitement,
suspense, andclimax usually associated with external action. Do not merely
summarize the plot
1989 In questioning the value of literary realism, Flannery O Connor has
written, am interested in making a good case for distortion because I’m coming to
believe that it is the only way to make people see. Write an essay in which
you make a good case for distortion, as distinct from literary criticism.
Base your essay on a work from the following list or choose another work of
comparable merit that you know well. Analyze how important elements of the
workyou choose are distorted and explain how these distortions contribute to
theeffectiveness of the work. Avoid plot summary
1990 Choose a novel or play that depicts a conflict between a parent (or a
parentalfigure) and a son or daughter. Write an essay in which you analyze the
sourcesof the conflict and explain how the conflict contributes to the meaning of
thework. Avoid plot summary. You may base you essay...
1991 Many plays and novels use contrasting places (for example, two
countries, twocities or towns, two houses, or the land and the sea) to represent
opposedforces or ideas that are central to the work. Choose a novel or play that
contrasts two such places. Write an essay explaining how the places differ,
what each place represents, and how their contrast contributes to the meaning
of the work. You may base your essay...Tess of the D Urbervilles, Wuthering
Heights, A Midsummer Night s Dream, Merchant of Venice, A Tale of Two
Cities,Huckleberry Finn, Heart of Darkness, Mansfield Park, Jane Eyre....
1993 The true test of comedy is that it shall awaken thoughtful laughter.
(GeorgeMeredith) Choose a novel, play, or a long poem in which a scene or
characterawakens thoughtful laughter in the reader. Write an essay in which you
showwhy this laughter is thoughtful and how it contributes to the meaning of the
work. Choose from one of the following authors....Aristophanes, Lord Byron,
Chaucer, Fielding, Moliere, Twain....
1994 In some works of literature, a character who appears briefly, or does not
appear at all, is a significant presence. Choose a novel or play of literary
merit and write an essay in which you show how such a character functions in
the work. You may wish to discuss how the character affects action, theme, or
the development of other characters. Avoid plot summary. Select...Huckleberry
Finn, Bleak House, The Color Purple, Hamlet, J.B., Moby Dick, Obasan, The
Turnof the Screw, Waiting for Godot...
1995 Writers often highlight the values of a culture or a society by using
characters who are alienated from that culture or society because of gender,
race, class, or creed. Choose a play or novel in which such a character plays a
significant role, and show how that character’s alienation reveals the
surrounding society’s assumptions and moral values. Do NOT write on a short
story, poem, or film. You may choose from the following...An American
Tragedy,The Awakening, A Doll House, The Grapes of Wrath, Great
Expectations, JaneEyre, The Merchant of Venice, Middlemarch, Othello, Wise
1996 The British novelist Fay Weldon offers this observation about happy
The writers, I do believe, who get the best and most lasting response
fromreaders are the writers who offer a happy ending through moral
development. Bya happy ending, I do not mean mere fortunate events:a marriage
or a last-minuterescue from death;but some kind of spiritual reassessment or
moralreconciliation, even with the self, even at death.
Choose a novel or play that has the kind of ending Weldon describes. In a
well-written essay, identify the spiritual reassessment or moral
reconciliation evident in the ending and explain its significance in the work
as a whole. You may select a work from the list below or another novel or play
of literary merit. Huckleberry Finn, Candide, Ceremony, The Color Purple,
Crime and Punishment,Cry, the Beloved Country, Emma, Great Expectations,
Heart of Darkness,Invisible Man, Jane Eyre, King Lear, Major Barbara, Moby-
Dick, The PianoLesson, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Praisesong for
the Widow, ARaisin in the Sun, Song of Solomon, The Stone Angel, The
Tempest, Their EyesWere Watching God, Twelfth Night, Wuthering Heights....
1997 Novels and plays often include scenes of weddings, funerals, parties, and
othersocial occasions. Such scenes may reveal the values of the characters and
thesociety in which they live. Select a novel or play that includes such a scene
and, in a focused essay, discuss the contribution the scene makes to the
meaning of the work as a whole. You may choose a work from the list below or
another novel or play of literary merit. The Age of Innocence, The Awakening,
The Birthday Party, Bless Me, Ultima, Ceremony, The Color Purple, Daisy
Miller,The Dead, Delta Wedding, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, The Glass
Menagerie, Hamlet, Invisible Man, Jane Eyre, Julius Caesar, The Joy Luck Club,
The Member of the Wedding,...Romeo and Juliet, The Shipping