Short Essay

Short Essay Prompts. CHOOSE ONE, approximately 5 pages, double-spaced.

Address the question directly.

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Do not generalize. Use the text to make your points.

Feel free to argue and offer your perspective, BUT IT MUST BE BASED ON THE TEXT.

Work out the concepts and issues as presented by the author.

Quote from the text, but don’t just quote. Interpret and work with the passage. Demonstrate why that passage is important and why you chose it in the first place.

Do not summarize or attempt a laundry list of all that is going on in the text.

Be selective and develop a thesis.

One way to do this is to brainstorm after you have chosen a topic. Map out all the important ideas with reference to the text.

Identify specific passages and ideas in the text and connect them towards a thesis.

Explain and do justice to the ideas and concepts developed by the authors.

Let your thesis develop seamlessly, from paragraph to paragraph.

Please use your notes to enrich your essay, and incorporate as much as you can that is relevant from the lectures and discussion sections.

Be careful and deliberate with your writing: Style, vocabulary, grammar, and diction.


1. A critical appreciation of Frederick Douglass’s 4th of July Speech. Please identify and explain the themes. How does Douglass develop them? What are his arguments? Account for changes in tone and register in his address. How would you sum it up?

2. Address the question of Douglass’s audience. How does he position himself? What is his overall perspective on America: optimistic, pessimistic, a mix?

3. What is the significance of the Slave’s point of view for white America? What lesson is Douglass delivering to America, from the point of view of the Slave?

4. Sources of hope and sources of despair in Douglass’s speech.

5. Evaluate the significance of Douglass’s speech in support of Women’s Rights. How does he work the intersectionality of Slave’s rights with Women’s Rights?

6. Identity Politics and The Politics of Representation: with these themes in mind, attempt an appreciative critique of Douglass’s speech on Women’s rights.

7. What is Baldwin’s overall vision for America? Is it a vision for Black or White America, or both?

8. Account for the tone and rhetoric in Baldwin’s text. Do you read optimism, pessimism, neither?

9. What are the different themes swirling around in Baldwin’s text: spiritual, religious, ethical, political, anger and indignation, love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. How does he braid them together?

10. A close reading of Langston Hughes’s poem, Theme for English B. Pay attention both to themes addressed in the poem and to the structure and rhetoric of the poem.

11. An analysis of the Hughes poem in conjunction with his essay on Race and the Negro writer.

12. What does Du Bois mean by “double-consciousness?” Explain, define, and interpret.

13. A reading of the Hughes poem in conjunction with Du Bois’s notion of “double-consciousness.”

14. Who is Du Bois’s audience, and how does he position and craft his argument?

15. Compare and contrast any two of the authors studied so far.

16. Explain the theme of “invisibility” in Ellison with special reference to the Preface.

17. What does it mean for an African American to have his or her own language. Explore this concept with reference to any one or two of the texts studied.

18. A critical analysis of the Preface and the Prologue of Invisible Man.

19. Choose a few important situations and conjunctures in Invisible Man and explain the significance of each situation: for example, the Trueblood episode, the episode of the accident and the consequent interrogation of the Invisible Man, the violent conflagration that ends the novel, the Brotherhood and its impact on the protagonist.

20. Invisible Man as a journey, both political and psychological, towards total Black Emancipation.

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