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AP Literature & Composition


Conestoga HS (Ebarvia)

Attitude. Approach this research paper with open arms. Consider this paper to be your opportunity to
explore those 'big ideas' that make literature so interesting and gratifying to read. Honor the complexities of
the novels you've read; this is your opportunity to examine the craft of writing - the author's and your own.
Writing this paper will be more satisfying if you choose a topic that stimulates you intellectually. If you are a
senior, this paper serves as the final "act" in your high school English career - how will you end it?

You have several resources available to you - online databases and yes, countless books (those things on the
shelf) on literary criticism. You may only use scholarly research in writing your paper. With that said, you
should consider yourselves as scholars. If you are having trouble getting started, consider your peers as
resources, especially since many of you have read the same books. And as always, don't forget to ask me for

Based on our class discussions this past year, I know that the ‘big ideas’ exist in each of you. It's time to pull
them out and get working. I know each of you is capable of creating something wonderful; I look forward to
reading your work. Good luck!


Below are just some ideas to help you get started. The list is meant to inspire your own ideas, so don't just
cherry-pick a topic from below. Make the topic your own. Note that some of the topics below allude to
Thomas Forster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor. For additional information on his work, here's a
useful outline. I also have a copy of his book (you may consider photocopying relevant chapters).

• Consider the use of a particular symbol, common to your three novels. Or consider a common theme
or concern that is represented through symbols in the novels and compare/contrast.
• According to Thomas Forster, “every trip is a quest” (3). How? Consider—then compare—a specific
aspect of “the quest” story that may be particularly significant in your novels.
• What role does food—particularly as symbols for acts of communion (or not)—play in the novels?
• Consider intertextuality. Discuss the significance of allusions in the novels you’ve read. For example,
consider how your novels may reflect or allude to Shakespeare or the Bible.
• Consider some of the universal themes/concerns we’ve already discussed in relationship some of the
works of literature we’ve studied this year—paralysis in Joyce and Hamlet; feminism in Allende,
Bronte, Atwood; sanity versus insanity in Kesey and Hamlet; codes of honor in Shakespeare; free will
in Huxley; the social contract in Huxley, Kesey, and Atwood; reason versus passion in Bronte,
Shakespeare, and Atwood.
• Compare/contrast the use and development of setting as a tool to develop characters and themes.
Setting is more than time and place—it can be as big as the greater historical/cultural context as the
novel or as specific as the season or even particular weather.
• Apply a lens of literary criticism to your novels: historical, feminist/gender, psychoanalytic, Marxist,
new criticism, archetypal, etc.
• Consider the types of violence found in literature, and how its effects/purposes may vary.
• Forster also claims that all literature is political. Apply his criteria in Chapter 13 of How To Read
Literature Like a Professor to your reading.
• Consider the big, abstract ideas—freedom, love, justice, revenge.
• Consider religious allusions or motifs—acts of baptism, the role of a Christ figure, moments of
spiritual purification, etc.
• Think about the similarities/differences among your protagonists—are they heroes or anti-heroes?
How are they “marked for greatness” (Forster)?
• Examine the connections and relationships between the physical and the spiritual/intellectual—how
is blindness, for example, a physical, spiritual, and intellectual condition? Consider how the poison in
Hamlet takes on a psychological and moral dimension—what kind of parallels do you see in your
novels? Consider the physical and psychological diseases or illnesses that plague your characters.
• What about irony? How does irony relate to theme, author purpose, reader interpretation, etc.?
• Consider ideas discussed in other disciplines and how they translate into your novels (i.e. the
gnomon in Joyce).
• Still need ideas? Check out the complete list of the AP Lit & Comp open works prompts.