Literature essay questions often conform to the categories outlined below. Unpicking what you are being asked is a useful starting point as you decide how to structure your response. Try to match the Categories in the first column with the Questions in the second column. Think about the following questions: Are you provided with a proposition to take a position for or against? Do you need to make a question out of a simple statement?
1. Simple proposition/question
2. Proposition/ question implying two possibilities
3. No proposition; single idea
4. No proposition; more than one idea
a) Does the verisimilitude of the characters or the setting enhance or detract from the overall dramatic effect of a literary work? Answer with reference to at least two texts.
b) ‘Marriage does not provide a satisfying conclusion in Cervantes’s novelas.’ Discuss.
c) Discuss the social impact of Russian industrialization strategies.
d) ‘Time in Cien años de soledad is not linear, but circular.’ Discuss.
e) Discuss the relationship between fantasy and memory in Martín Gaite’s El cuarto de atrás.
f) Discuss the significance of the links between TWO of the following with reference to TWO OR MORE authors: (i) identity; (ii) space; (iii) honour; (iv) gender.
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Activity: Structuring your answer
Different types of question might lead you to structure your essay in different ways. How would you approach each of these questions?.
- 'In Novel X, fashion is by no means trivial. Rather it is inextricably related to the representation (and the experience) of women in the novel. Discuss.
- 'Discuss the treatment of power in texts by TWO OR MORE authors.'
- 'Compare the importance of TWO OR MORE of the following in the poetry of Y:
- the soul;
- art, music, or poetry;
- appearances or illusions;
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Analyse the next essay question you are set. Does it fall into any of the categories described in this section? Without thinking yet about the actual points you wish to make, what kind of structure would be best for your answer?