Guidelines and topics for the second 5-page essay
A. You are asked to write an argumentative essay. Before you start your essay consult the following resource: Dr. Charles Darling’s website Guide
to Grammar and Writing at Capital Community College:
Find information on how to write an argumentative essay on the CCC website:
This website is a fantastic resource. Make sure to consult the principles of composition on how to write an effective thesis statement, how to
organize your ideas and hold them together, and how to move smoothly from one point to another. Also pay close attention how to create a sense of
interior debate, allow your own voice and other voices their say, and maintain an equilibrium among those voices.
B. Choose an essay topic from the list below or create your own topic that relates to one or two texts you have read in this course starting with
C. Include the thesis statement at the end of the introductory paragraph. Underline your thesis statement. The introduction must also contain the
name of the author(s) and the title of the text(s) you will be examining.
D. Use elements of the plot summarily and only to support your analysis. It is advisable to include a short plot summary at the beginning of the
second paragraph, to provide some background information before you embark on your own analysis. Do not assume knowledge of the primary text with your
reader. Write as if for an uninformed audience.
E. Avoid general and vague statements. Support your claims with evidence from the text.
F. Come up with an interesting title for your essay. Do not announce your topic. Avoid phrases like, “In this essay I will examine/discuss …”
G. No research is required for this essay. Do not search the internet for a paper on your topic. Work with the primary text(s) and let your own
voice be heard in this essay. This is your argument, your point of view, your essay! Own it!
H. If, however, you decide to consult secondary sources, include a bibliography at the end of your essay. Reference all citations according to
the MLA style.
I. Avoid a direct address of the reader in phrases such as “let us consider,” “as you can imagine,” “asyou see,” etc.
J. The essay must be no less than 5 full pages, double-spaced, and using a font of 12. The bibliography, containing the primary text and any
secondary sources, should you have any (although not required), must be included on page 6.
Topics for Candide by Voltaire:
1. Consider Voltaire’s examination of evil and suffering in the world of Candide. Discuss the techniques Voltaire uses to entertain his readers
(ridicule, irony, and sexual playfulness) while he simultaneously forces them to confront difficult philosophical issues.
2. Unfounded optimism, religious intolerance, and war are chief targets of Voltaire’s satire. Examine and bring support from the text.
3. Compare and contrast the philosophical views of Pangloss and Martin. Where does Candide situate himself in relation to these two thinkers?
Support with textual evidence.
4. Examine the world of Eldorado. Does it represent Voltaire’s vision of a good society? How does Eldorado differ from the European societies of
the eighteenth century? Be sure to describe the moral and religious beliefs of the people of Eldorado. How do these resemble or contradict
Christianity? If Eldorado is such a great place, why does Candide decide to leave it? In what special way does the Eldorado episode serve in the
author’s attack on optimism?
5. Examine these two quotations central to an understanding of Candide: “All is for the best . . . in the best of all possible worlds” and “We
must cultivate our garden.” These two statements frame Voltaire’s short novel, as one is found at the beginning of the novel and the second at the
very end. Examine terms and issues.
6. Which parts of Candide would an eighteenth-century monarch, a Jesuit, the pope, a protestant, an aristocrat, and an army general find most
disturbing? Support your claim(s) with textual evidence.
7. Is happiness possible in the world of Candide? If so, define “happiness.” Support your viewpoint with evidence from the text.
8. Your own topic.
Topics for Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
1. Examine the themes of love and marriage in Austen’s novel. Compare and contrast male and female attitudes toward marriage. Include textual
2. Examine some of the ways in which Jane Austen reveals character in Pride and Prejudice. Discuss the importance of dialogue to character
3. Examine the role of women in the text. How are mothers represented? Compare and contrast the roles of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mrs.
Bennet. What about single/independent women?
4. The novel is embedded within a set of domestic concerns over property, money and status that highlight the changing social landscape of late
eighteenth and early nineteenth-century England. Examine how Austen portrays the gentry, a broad social class that includes those who owned land (the
country or landed gentry) and the professional classes (lawyers, doctors and clergy) who did not.
5. The late eighteenth century witnessed a transformation in the conception of women’s rights following the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s
Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792. In the Vindication, Wollstonecraft argues, in the language of
Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke, that women should be treated as the rational equals of men. Examine Elizabeth Bennett as a paradigmatic
example of the conflicting transformations in women’s roles that occurred in the late eighteenth century. Support with textual evidence.
6. Your own topic.
Topics for The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
1. “Ivan Ilyich’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.” Examine Ivan’s life, including his spiritual crisis,
in light of this quote. Provide textual evidence.
2. What existential questions does Ivan Ilyich raise? Is the answer to his questions in the text, including in-between the lines?
3. Examine the theme of illness and alienation in Tolstoy’s novella.
4. Examine the relationship between Ivan and Gerasim. What does this relationship convey about Tolstoy’s views of aristocracy and the peasants of
his day? Compare to Ivan’s other relationships. Provide textual evidence.
5. Examine Tolstoy’s use of irony. What is “it”? Analyze this pronoun focusing on a close reading of the text. Show how Ivan and other characters
relate to the event of death.
6. Examine the structure of the novella and how it relates to Ivan’s social ascent and moral fall, on the one hand, and his physical degradation
and spiritual enlightenment, on the other hand.
Topics for Mrs. Dalloway by Woolf
1. Identify major themes in the novel and examine them.
2. Clarissa’s movements through London, along with the comings and goings of other characters, are given in some geographic detail. Do the
patterns of movement and the characters’ intersecting routes establish a pattern? If so, how do those physical patterns reflect important internal
patterns of thought, memory, feelings, and attitudes? What is the view of London that we come away with?
3. As the day and the novel proceed, the hours and half hours are sounded by a variety of clocks (for instance, Big Ben strikes noon at the
novel’s exact midpoint). What is the effect of the time being constantly announced in the novel’s structure and on our sense of the pace of the
characters’ lives? What hours in association with which events are explicitly sounded? Why? Is there significance in Big Ben being the chief announcer
4. Examine Woolf’s depiction of time: the intersection of external time and internal time and the shifts between past and present.
5. Threats of disorder and death recur throughout the novel, culminating in Septimus’s suicide and repeating later in Sir William Bradshaw’s
report of that suicide at Clarissa’s party. Where do thoughts or images of disorder and death appear in the novel, and in connection with which
characters? What are those characters’ attitudes concerning death?
6. Examine the theme of mental health and war in the novel.
7. Examine female characters and relationships in the novel. What is Woolf’s purpose in creating a range of female characters of various ages and
social classes—from Clarissa herself and Lady Millicent Burton to Sally Seton, Doris Kilman, Lucrezia Smith, and Maisie Johnson?
8. Does Woolf present a comparable range of male characters? Examine some of the male characters and their relationships.
9. Compare and contrast Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith as counterpoint characters.
10. How does Virginia Woolfreveal character in the novel? Compare to Jane Austen’s way of revealing character.
11. What is the significance of stream-of-consciousness and free indirect discourse in the novel? What sort of a “feel” do you get from the
characters? The setting? The novelist? Can the narrator or the author fully disappear from the work? How does the stream of consciousness narrative
mode influence our reading of the book and our understanding of the characters?
12. Your own topic.