Literature courses are usually all about reading and then writing about what you have just read. Sometimes, it’s quite hard to comprehend what you are reading about, let alone to write an essay and analyze everything. Luckily for you, this article will summarize all the literary analysis topics and ideas you might come across and it will provide insights that will help you a lot when you start writing a good-quality literary essay.
Before we go to the themes and topics you can approach when writing a literary essay, let’s first take a quick look at some basic rules that you need to keep in mind when writing about literature. It’s nothing too complicated but remembering these rules and applying them when writing could definitely change the end result. Here are 3 things you’d want to take into consideration:
One final thought before jumping into the subject of topics and ideas for your literary essays. Keep in mind that the topics and fine details are important but you need to have a strong understanding of the basics in order to have a good product. In other words, you need to have a straightforward introduction, a well-defined body, and a strong and comprehensive conclusion.
If you’re studying English, there’s no way in the world to do that without going through the work of William Shakespeare and that’s the main reason we will be starting this article with a list of Shakespeare-based essay topics. Romeo and Juliet is perhaps the most used topic by students all over the world, however, there are still a lot of good essay examples that you can use. Here are some helpful topics if you need to write a Shakespearean literary analysis essay.
Romeo and Juliet
Even though there are a lot of essay examples on this subject all over the internet and the feeling is that you can’t possibly find a new topic on the subject, here are some ideas that you can use to start your paper.
Fate’s Role in Romeo and Juliet
It’s common knowledge that Romeo and Juliet are the first star-crossed lovers in literature. And there are all kinds of clues that Shakespeare introduced all over the text that their love story was, up to a point, sealed by fate.
Dark and Light in Romeo and Juliet
Light and dark, both from a contrast point of view but as well as moments of their love story are present throughout this literary piece. Actually, it is embedded in the entire language of the play and even the character of Romeo has these characteristics present while dealing with contradictory feelings.
Time in Romeo and Juliet
Another very interesting subject for a good-quality essay is the matter of time and the love story between the two characters. Romeo comes to visit during the night and always makes promises of a return in the future. All these happen in a play that has a total timeline of around a week, symbolizing how short our time really is.
Love in Romeo and Juliet
Even though it might seem to be a predictable topic at first glance, love is and will be the ultimate theme and symbol of Romeo and Juliet. The tragic destiny is that the bond of the couple has become a theme for romantic fatalism and that’s the reason it is the number one topic in the literary essays written about Shakespeare’s work.
The competition between Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet in which piece of work of Shakespeare is the most assigned in English courses is tight, however, we’d like to consider Hamlet to be in the second place simply because of the sheer volume of essays written on Romeo and Juliet. If you’re going to focus on this monumental play written by the English genius, here are some topics that should help.
Hamlet and Mortality
If you look closely at Shakespeare’s work, you will notice that a lot of the characters end up dead. Hamlet makes no exception to this rule and there’s so much to analyze and speculate about mortality in this play that you should be just great and write a pretty big essay on this topic.
Misogyny and Women in Hamlet
The play takes place in a time when women did not have too many rights or a certain place in society. You can clearly see that in characters like Ophelia or Gertrude that are not treated well at all. They’d make the main subject of an essay regarding the place of women in the society of those times.
Hamlet and the Theme of Madness
If you’re going to write an essay on Hamlet, you can’t leave out the motive of madness. Just like an essay on Romeo and Juliet couldn’t go without the theme of love, madness is one of the essential characteristics of the play.
The shortest of the mandatory Shakespearean plays, Macbeth is just as full of symbols and meaningful themes and motives that can easily turn into a good literary essay. Here are just a few that you can focus on when writing a piece on Macbeth.
Ambition and Its Corrupting Influence
The main character of this play is in the middle of a quest and there are several moments when he alone decides that the ends justify the means, a theme that can be exploited as an essay topic. Alternatively, you can focus on Lady Macbeth that has quite the same philosophy when it comes to her goals.
Witchcraft in Macbeth
The prophecies issued by the three witches are the main reason why Macbeth is set into action. This theme is often left aside when considering good essay topics in the favor of Lady Macbeth sleepwalking. You could really build something interesting if you choose such a topic since the world of the supernatural is always appealing and attractive.
Another great play by Shakespeare that can be the base of a lot of essay topics. Many of those that had the honor to play the king in this piece have sustained that it’s one of the most intriguing roles due to the king’s slow descent into madness, making him one great essay topic. Apart from that, madness itself is a great approach if you’re going to write a literary essay based on King Lear.
You wouldn’t consider a sonnet to be a good essay topic, however, Sonnet 18 is so succinct and rich in meaning that it can actually give you at least two or three essay topics. First of all, you have adoration and love, which can be a very inspiring topic. Besides that, you have the ever-present theme of jealousy that can, again, make a great topic.
It’s natural that the literature world doesn’t end with Shakespeare but it certainly starts there. In the following rows, we will analyze other relevant essay topics derived from big titles of other famous English writers.
Night by Elie Wiesel
This memoir of the holocaust and the events that surrounded it is quite difficult to read for students, the reason why it is often avoided. But what can you do when your teacher requests a Night essay? Well, obviously, you need to start looking for some good topics that will help you develop the structure of the piece you’ll be writing. We’ll give you a helping hand with that by letting you know that you definitely have to touch the subjects of religious faith and the inhuman side of people that are put in extreme situations. When you’re not dealing with fictional literature, it may seem easier to find good topics so the list can go on.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The story of the 22-year-old McCandless Christopher also known as Alex Supertramp, who decides to abandon society and the modern world to take a 2-year trip into the wilderness of the US. There are a lot of topics and themes that can be extracted from this book. Among them, the escape from society, rebellion against the rules, and sheer power of nature are the favorites when deciding to write a literary essay.
The literature from those times gained a timeless stamp due to the fact that it is so old and is still present in the educational system and did not lose any of its value. From another perspective, since thousands of years have passed between the time these works were written and the moment you have to write an essay on them, the vast majority of topics have already been approached in other works. But even so, there are some things that can be done to bring something new into literary essays based on ancient books.
The Republic – Plato
Plato is, without a doubt, one of the most influential philosophers in the Western World so you can imagine that writing a paper on his very powerful ‘The Republic’ is not at all an easy task. Before you start writing anything, you should take some time and understand the philosophic approach that Plato had. After that, you will be able to find a lot of topics about ‘The Republic’ such as human nature, fight for power, and hierarchy.
Antigone – Sophocles
Another great mind of those times, Sophocles had some really interesting views that he shared in his masterpiece ‘Antigone’. If you’re looking for topics and themes to write about, you can easily go with civil disobedience, human law, and even faithfulness and honor.
The subject of race was of a great interest to a lot of writers and a lot of books have this subject as a central piece. If you’re looking to write an essay that touches the subject of race, you should definitely take the following works into consideration.
Waiting for the Barbarians – J.M Coetzee
‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ is quite a powerful piece of work that even brought the author a Nobel Prize for Literature. Talking about such an award-winning work, if you were to do a summary of it, you should definitely approach the topic of tension between the fictional town-colony and the surrounding population.
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
This is the story of Marlow and his journey on the Congo River. On his journey, he meets an ivory trader called Kurtz and there are a lot of themes being explored in the book: imperialism, racism, and even how civil the western society is compared to the indigenous population.
Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
Mark Twain is very famous for his fictional pieces that really appeal to a lot of true characteristics that can be found in the society. Huckleberry Finn makes no exception and it includes a lot of characters that depict the political class and the struggle that the population was left with. If you were to write a piece on this book, themes like slavery versus freedom or man versus nature are a must.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
This is another example of a great classic. Like a lot of other great pieces of the 20th century, Harper Lee’s book is focused on the South of America and it explores a lot of subjects of justice and race.
We approached this subject a bit when we were discussing Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, but it’s time to go deeper into the subject and check out some books dedicated to gender and the place of women in society.
The Works of Alice Walker
Alice Walker is a great literary figure of the 20th century, being the author of a lot of notable books and short stories. From all her portfolio, two works are the musts when it comes to literary analysis.
The Color Purple
Perhaps the most famous work of Alice Walker, this book won a lot of awards for the way it approaches themes like racism, sexism, and modification of traditional gender purpose in the society. All these topics can be successfully used for in-depth literary essays as well.
This is a short story that approaches the subject of heirloom possessions that are being passed from one generation to another. These are also the main themes and topics that can be used if we are talking about essays since the differences between generations are something quite hot nowadays.
Jane Austin’s Works
Even though she departed early, the talent she has shown was tremendous and the breakthroughs she managed to obtain were incredible for a woman living at the end of the 18th century. She explored the role of women in that society and focused on how much hard work they had to do in order to secure respectable places in society.
Pride and Prejudice
Wealth and social position are just two of the main themes and topics of this book that follows the story of Elizabeth Bennet that must choose between two men. One is a better individual from a moral and physical point of view while the other has a better social position. The topic here is clearly about how wealth can change someone’s standards and it also makes a good essay starting point.
Yet another book that fits perfectly in the pattern we were discussing above, Emma is the tale of a woman that is more interested in seeing her sisters married. This book explores the constraints placed upon women in that period and the symbolism of marriage in that society.
A lot of the literary works that are now studied by English students were completed in the golden era that included the 19th and the 20th centuries. Everything from extraordinary novels to short poems is providing insight into topics that define the Anglophone world and can as well be used in a lot of literary essays.
Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Part of ‘The Adventures of the Speckled Band’, Sherlock Holmes arose as a very influential character among teachers and students. Essays on the topics of good versus evil and overall order in chaos are among the favorites when writing an essay on this short story.
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Yet another awesome example of what the golden period of writing had to offer to readers and essay writers alike. The topics approached in this title are shaping around the dangers of group thinking and how irrationality and rationality are sometimes in conflict that is then expanded into morality or immorality.
The Princess Bride – William Goldman
A very entertaining book that was also transformed into a movie touches the topics of the arbitrary nature of history and time and how love tends to conquer all in the end.
The Rocking Horse Winner – D. H. Lawrence
Lawrence is one of the geniuses of the 20th century in literature and this short story is the best demonstration of his skill. It tells the story of a family that struggles and the main themes that are being explored are greed, money, and a bit of fiction.
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
This book captures the struggles of medium-class individuals during the Great Depression. The central theme is the following of dreams and how powerful the human spirit is when it has a clear goal to fight for.
A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams
Considered by most the best-known American dramatic play, it approaches the themes of fantasy and reality in an eternal conflict as well as the era’s tendency of women to depend on men.
Stephen Crane gave the world ‘War is Kind’, a collection of poems that touched deep and powerful themes such as war, violence, and human greed and all the inspiration came from his personal experience with the American-Spanish and Greco-Turkish wars.
John Donne, a total opposite of Stephen Crane, focused his work on sonnets that approached the topics of love, death, religion, and social criticism. It’s true that they lived in different times as well.
If you’re thinking it’s a pity you were born in these times because no good books are written anymore, you are mistaken. What we now consider big classics were not so hot during their times either and that’s the cycle of literature, to become valuable a certain time after the book is released. So, if you want to go with contemporary literature for your essay, here are some suggestions.
Reservation Blues – Sherman Alexie
Depicting the story of a young group of men that get their hands on an enchanted guitar that once upon a time belonged to a legendary bluesman, the book touches sensitive subjects of the Native American life such as endurance, overcoming everyday obstacles, and poverty.
Montana 1948 – Larry Watson
Set in Western American state of Montana, this novella is about a family that struggles to survive in the tough conditions they have to face. Themes of loyalty, family obligations and bonds or even justice are approached by Watson and they can be great sources of inspiration for good essays.
The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
This book follows the story of Susie, a young woman that dies but her spirit leaves the body and watches over the investigation of her case. Obviously, the recurrent themes here are justice, mortality, and grief.