Essay Topics English Literature

Literature Topics and Research


This handout provides examples and description about writing papers in literature. It discusses research topics, how to begin to research, how to use information, and formatting.

Contributors:Mark Dollar, Purdue OWL
Last Edited: 2013-09-28 12:15:24

What kinds of topics are good ones?

The best topics are ones that originate out of your own reading of a work of literature, but here are some common approaches to consider:

  • A discussion of a work's characters: are they realistic, symbolic, historically-based?
  • A comparison/contrast of the choices different authors or characters make in a work
  • A reading of a work based on an outside philosophical perspective (Ex. how would a Freudian read Hamlet?)
  • A study of the sources or historical events that occasioned a particular work (Ex. comparing G.B. Shaw's Pygmalion with the original Greek myth of Pygmalion)
  • An analysis of a specific image occurring in several works (Ex. the use of moon imagery in certain plays, poems, novels)
  • A "deconstruction" of a particular work (Ex. unfolding an underlying racist worldview in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness)
  • A reading from a political perspective (Ex. how would a Marxist read William Blake's "London"?)
  • A study of the social, political, or economic context in which a work was written — how does the context influence the work?

How do I start research?

  • The Internet

    Once you have decided on an interesting topic and work (or works), the best place to start is probably the Internet. Here you can usually find basic biographical data on authors, brief summaries of works, possibly some rudimentary analyses, and even bibliographies of sources related to your topic.

  • The library

    The Internet, however, rarely offers serious direct scholarship; you will have to use sources found in the library, sources like journal articles and scholarly books, to get information that you can use to build your own scholarship-your literary paper. Consult the library's on-line catalog and the MLA Periodical Index. Avoid citing dictionary or encyclopedic sources in your final paper.

How do I use the information I find?

The secondary sources you find are only to be used as an aid. Your thoughts should make up most of the essay. As you develop your thesis, you will bring in the ideas of the scholars to back up what you have already said.

For example, say you are arguing that Huck Finn is a Christ figure; that's your basic thesis. You give evidence from the novel that allows this reading, and then, at the right place, you might say the following, a paraphrase:

According to Susan Thomas, Huck sacrifices himself because he wants to set Jim free (129).

If the scholar states an important idea in a memorable way, use a direct quote.

"Huck's altruism and feelings of compassion for Jim force him to surrender to the danger" (Thomas 129).

Either way, you will then link that idea to your thesis.

List Of Good Essay Topics For Your Literature Class

The first step is to pick an appropriate topic when you are creating an essay on Literature. However, there are so many subjects to write about that it could be troublesome to make a decision. In addition, there are a few considerations to keep in mind in order to choose an adequate heading. For instance, you should consider the possibilities of the research behind certain matters, the relation with the topics in your study plan and so on. In this article, we propose some good titles for your upcoming assignment.

  1. Ernest Hemingway's the Old and the Sea. This is most likely one of the most remarkable works I read when I was in high school. This story mixes a good narration with a strong message. You ought to do what you ought to do; you will not regret writing about this book.
  2. Oscar Wilde's Canterville Ghost. This is probably the most hilarious book I've read in English by far. Despite the initial fun, the story switched to a drama and reached delicate issues. It was quite a change of style but it went swiftly and suited the plot. It's a masterpiece.
  3. Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. Any book by this author is a breeze in your mind. You will get rushed by ideas that end up being connected in ways you could imagine before. Beyond good and evil has a strong message to the current society despite being written more than one century ago.
  4. Literature in the 21st century. Review the current Literature tendencies. What is different in the style of the books at this moment? What has is behind the success of some well-known contemporary works? Do you think that the authors have drastically changed their way of telling a story?
  5. E-books. What is going on with the new technologies regarding Literature?
  6. Martin Luther King's I have a Dream. One of the most remarkable speeches about human rights in the fight for equality.
  7. 20th century most outstanding authors. Make a list about the best writers in the past century. Why did you choose them?
  8. The effect of the new technologies in writing habits. Do you think that gagdets help us communicate better?
  9. The evolution of the language. Discuss whether our language develops faster than before due to the existence of the Internet and other factors.
  10. How to become a Literature writer. Could anyone become an author by working hard?

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