Directions: The following outline explains how to organize the writing of timed essay questions that require analysis (FRQ#1 and FRQ#2 on the AP English Literature Exam). Remember that this is just an idea to help you organize your thoughts. There is no perfect outline that guarantees a score of 8-9!
- Use the first sentence or two to define the meaning of the poem/passage. You can also start a general statement involving the theme of the poem/passage. You should probably mention both the title of the poem/passage and the poet/author somewhere in the beginning. Show the reader that you understood what was going on in the poem/passage! You can also allude to something here you might discuss in the concluding paragraph.
- In the third or fourth sentence, discuss some of the language/rhetorical devices you see as playing an important role in the poem/passage and what they reveal or show throughout the poem/passage (they must relate to bigger picture). Examples: syntax, tone, diction, figurative language, narrative pace, etc. Be sure to use adjectives before each device such as morose diction and stygian tone. This is your thesis; you will aim to prove this throughout your entire essay.
*Important reminders: Poems are in quotes, novels are underlined. Speakers are in poems, narrators are in prose passages.
Example of a prompt:
Read the following poem carefully. Then, in a well-organized essay, indicate how the poet uses images and symbols to link the predicament of the lost boy to the domestic situation of the speaker.
Example of an intro. to that prompt:
Sometimes reading a book can be a therapeutic activity, but other times it may remind a person of lugubrious events in his/her own life. Such as is the case of the speaker in Michael Waters’ poem, “The Mystery of the Caves,” wherein a small boy’s confusion during his parent’s vociferous fight is compared to a book he is reading which portrays another young boy who is lost among the crevices of the earth. Waters correlates the two boys’ stories through an array of images and symbols to reveal that the two boys may be in different situations yet share the same feeling of being lost.
Body paragraphs: (Sometimes two, sometimes three)
First choose what device(s) (the how) plays the most important role and focus on that device in the first body paragraph. Be sure to revisit your T-Chart and annotation to decide what device to discuss first.
- The topic sentence (TS) should define what the author/poet does first to establish a specifically stated attitude, accomplish part of the specifically stated purpose, or create specifically stated meaning(depends on prompt). You are basically telling the reader what device is used and what it reveals or contributes to the meaning of the work. Try not to use the word “use” (yes, that’s ironic!). Try “employs, utilizes, manipulates, applies, etc.”
Example: Michael Waters employs vivid imagery to connect the boy’s disarrayed and disoriented domestic situation to the predicament of the boy who is lost in a cave (this must relate to the prompt and thesis).
- The rest of the body should use specific examples from the actual poem/passage to show how the device plays an important role in revealing a character’s complexity, revealing the narrator’s attitude, revealing a theme; it depends on the prompt (here is where you use embedded quotes or paraphrase from the actual poem/passage). You must have a good combination of textual evidence and commentary to show how it reveals the meaning. Define what the author does, and analyze how the author does it.
Example: Although the boys are not in similar situations, they both feel lost which is depicted through descriptive imagery such as in lines 9-12 “I couldn’t stop reading the book because I had to know the answer, because my mother was leaving again—the lid of the trunk thrown open, blouses torn from their hanger, the crazy shouting among rooms.” The image of chaos and helplessness is revealed, and it is obvious that the young boy in the domestic situation is looking for a way out of this chaos just as the boy in the cave is “wandering a labyrinth of caverns” hoping to escape a desperate situation. The boy reading the book so desperately wants the “hero” to find a passage to safety, just as he would like to “know the answer” to his own family’s issues. Waters also uses the images of torn clothes and trunks thrown open and “crazy shouting among rooms” to connect the disordered house to a labyrinth of caverns. Both are extremely difficult to follow and seem to lead nowhere.
- Once you have fully discussed everything concerning the most important device, move onto the next paragraph. What will you tackle next? Choose another device that plays a strong role in the development of the poem/passage. (tone, diction, imagery, figurative language, etc.) Once again, revisit your T-Chart to make sure you are on track and fulfilling the prompt’s requirements.
Example: Waters also utilizes symbols to represent both parallel narratives. In line 7, the speaker says about the lost boy, “would he float upward toward light? Or would he somersault forever in an underground black river?” This is the same question he is asking about himself, only in his case he will metaphorically somersault into his parent’s divorce. The poet…
Conclusion: (the worst part of the essay!)
- End the same way the passage ends.
- Tie up the loose ends established in the introduction by making conclusions about how the message of the work just analyzed applies to overall human experience.
Example: The poem, “The Mystery of the Caves,” reveals many of the issues some young, children face today. The only escape from listening to their parents abusive fighting is to get lost in a book before they get lost in their parents’ issues. It is their only escape.