Ap Literature Essay

The 2017 AP English Literature Free Response Questions focus on varying themes and are each structured differently. For an overview of the three prompt types that you may encounter, read The Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs. Here we discuss the third FRQ prompt, which allows you to choose a particular work of literature as the focus of your essay.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is a complex look at race, ideology, and stereotypes. Herein we will discuss how to determine if the given prompt is appropriate for this particular literary work and give you an idea of what to review before your exam.

Invisible Man AP English Lit Essay Themes

To choose a literary work to answer your prompt, it’s important to examine the themes which are outlined in the assigned essay. If the theme is not relevant or well established in a work, you will do well to choose another title to examine. The following are the main themes which you may discuss in your Invisible Man AP English Lit Essay.

Race vs. Individual Identity is a major theme explored throughout the story. The narrator is unable to reconcile his own conception of personal identity with his place in a racist society as a black man.

The Limitations of Ideology are illustrated in the novel with various scenarios. The narrator comes to realize that the ideologies of institutions, like schools, are too narrow-minded to allow for the variety of the human condition. Ultimately, the narrator feels that life is too rich and various to be bound by strict ideology.

The Folly of Adopting Stereotypes to Combat Stereotypes is another important theme within the story. The narrator is met with many different ideas of how black people should represent themselves in order to prove white stereotypes wrong. However, he asserts that these models only make it difficult to be truly free within your own life.

How to use Invisible Man for the 2017 AP English Literature Free Response Questions

Invisible Man is a complex literary work, with which you should be familiar. It may well be a viable choice for the AP English Lit free response question. However, that is dependent on the question. Each year the 3rd FRQ is different, and the CollegeBoard supplies a list of suggested books to reference for your essay. The absence of a book from the list does not disqualify it from use. That being said, it’s important to know how to choose which book to use for the given analysis.

In preparation for your exam, it’s a good idea to read previous years’ free response questions posted on CollegeBoard. The following review is for the 2016 FRQ prompt.

2016 FRQ 3: Many works of literature contain a character who intentionally deceives others. The character’s dishonesty may be intended to either help or hurt. Such a character, for example, may choose to mislead others for personal safety, to spare someone’s feelings, or to carry out a crime.

Choose a novel or play in which a character deceives others. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the motives for that character’s deception and discuss how the deception contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.

Invisible Man is on the suggested list for this prompt, and there are several reasons for its inclusion. The theme of deception is represented by various characters in the story, including the narrator himself. A possible thesis for Invisible Man is as follows. In Invisible Man, the narrator is deceived by Dr. Bledsoe after his expulsion from college. The doctor relies on deception to maintain his status at the college. The narrator is expelled for showing a white man something which the doctor has deliberately hidden from them. The treachery of Dr. Bledsoe reveals the contempt with which he sees other black people and the lengths he will go to continue his charade of servitude to the white world.

In support of this thesis, you can cite the various passages dealing with this subject matter. In the following quote, Dr. Bledsoe is adamant that the narrator should have lied in order to show the white men what they are supposed to see, not what they want to see. The doctor has fabricated a persona for himself and expects his students to represent that same persona in their behavior.

“He ordered you. Dammit, white folk are always giving orders, it’s a habit with them. Why didn’t you make an excuse? Couldn’t you say they had sickness – smallpox – or picked another cabin? Why that Trueblood shack? My God, boy! You’re black and living in the South – did you forget how to lie?” (6.24)

In the next quote, Dr. Bledsoe shows his true feelings towards white men, stating that the narrator shouldn’t lie to him. He also shows his contempt for his own race in the way he addresses the narrator

Nigger, this isn’t the time to lie. I’m no white man. Tell me the truth!” (6.34)

Herein, Dr. Bledsoe describes his thirst for power over men of all colors. The narrator, having heard this, should have known not to trust the letters he was given. However, the fact that he trusted the doctor blindly shows how naive he was about the world at that time.

“You’re nobody, son. You don’t exist – can’t you see that? The white folk tell everybody what to think – except men like me. I tell them; that’s my life, telling white folk how to think about the things I know about…But you listen to me: I didn’t make it, and I know that I can’t change it. But I’ve made my place in it and I’ll have every Negro in the country hanging on tree limbs by morning if it means staying where I am.” (6.76)

In the following excerpt, Dr. Bledsoe is asserting yet again how much power means to him, even at the price of respect. He asserts to the narrator that he doesn’t care what is said or done against him because it won’t be enough to bring him down from power.

“Tell anyone you like,” he said. “I don’t care. I wouldn’t raise my little finger to stop you because I don’t owe anyone a thing, son. Who, Negroes? Negroes don’t control this school or much of anything else – haven’t you learned even that? No sir, they don’t control this school, nor white folk either. True they support it, but I control it. It’s big and black and I say ‘Yes, suh’ as loudly as any burrhead when it’s convenient, but I’m still the king down here. I don’t care how much it appears otherwise. Power doesn’t have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming and self-justifying. When you have it, you know it. Let the Negroes snicker and the crackers laugh! Those are the facts, son. The only ones I even pretend to please are big white folks, and even those I control more than they control me. This is a power set-up, son, and I’m at the controls. You think about that. When you buck against me, you’re bucking against power, rich white folk’s power, the nation’s power – which means government power!” (6.73)

2015 FRQ 3: In literary works, cruelty often functions as a crucial motivation or a major social or political factor. Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.

Invisible Man is on the recommended list for this prompt. Cruelty takes many forms throughout the story. The most prominent example is the cruelty society perpetrates over black people the negro man. A possible thesis for the 2015 free response question is as follows. In Invisible Man, the everyday cruelty of society towards the black man is a central theme in the story. The narrator finds himself at odds with stereotypes and expectations from both white and black factions of the world. He comes to realize that no man can be categorized so narrowly and remain his own person. Thus, his eventual break from society which leads him to embrace his role as the Invisible Man.

To elaborate on this thesis and explain what it reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim, you will need to choose your examples and expand upon them. In the following excerpt, the narrator relates how the idea of freedom for slaves was so cruel. Since no man, who is not equal with his fellow men, can truly be free.

“I am not ashamed of my grandparents for having been slaves. I am only ashamed of myself for having at one time been ashamed. About eighty-five years ago they were told that they were free, united with others of our country in everything pertaining to the common good, and, in everything social, separate from the fingers of the hand. And they believed it. They exulted in it. They stayed in their place, worked hard, and brought up my father to do the same.” (1.2)

In the next quote, we can see how racial equality was not something to be discussed or achieved.

“’You weren’t being smart, were you, boy?’ he said, not unkindly. ‘No, sir!’ ‘You sure that bit about ‘equality’ was a mistake?’” (1.87-9)

After winning a scholarship to college, by the most humiliating of means, the narrator dreams that it is only another way for the white men to keep him running in place. Not untrue, considering the outcome of his scholarship.

“’To Whom It May Concern,’ I intoned. ‘Keep This Nigger-Boy Running.’” (1.105)

Due to the cruelty of racial inequality, the narrator feels he must speak to white men as if he is stupid and flatter them without reason.

“Of course I knew he was a founder, but I knew also that it was advantageous to flatter rich white folks. Perhaps he’d give me a large tip, or a suit, or a scholarship next year.” (2.18)

In the following quote, Trueblood recounts how the black community reviled him, for living up to negative white stereotypes for his race. And, how whites would help him no matter what he did because he was justifying their feelings of superiority.

“I went to see the white folks then and they gave me help. That’s what I don’t understand. I done the worse thing a man could ever do in his family and instead of chasin’ me out of the county, they gimme more help than they ever give any other colored man, no matter how good a nigguh he was…The nigguhs up at the school don’t like me, but the white folks treat me fine.” (2.254)

In the next passage, the Vet relates how both the narrator and Mr. Norton are feeding into racism, without even meaning to do so.

“But seriously, because you fail to understand what is happening to you. You cannot see or hear or smell the truth of what you see – and you, looking for destiny! It’s classic! And the boy, this automaton, he was made of the very mud of the region and he sees far less than you. Poor stumblers, neither of you can see the other. To you he is a mark on the score-card of your achievement, a thing and not a man; a child, or even less – a black amorphous thing. And you, for all your power are not a man to him, but a God, a force –” (3.314)

The narrator remembers how his grandfather had mistrusted whites and advised him to keep his distance. This is a consequence of racial segregation and the stereotypes which kept blacks from advancing. While whites felt superior and untrusting of the black community, black men couldn’t fully trust any white man, even if he seemed to regard them positively.

“…I remembered something my grandfather had said long ago: Don’t let no white man tell you his business, ’cause after he tells you he’s liable to git shame he tole it to you and then he’ll hate you. Fact is, he was hating you all the time…” (9.147)

Conclusion

Invisible Man has many themes you may find helpful for the last Free Response Question on the AP English Literature Exam. When reading the prompt and deciding on what literary work to use for your essay, remember to choose a subject where the theme outlined in the given instructions is prevalent. 

In the case of Invisible Man, race, ideology, and stereotypes are a few of the more prominent themes discussed. However, as we saw with the aforementioned prompt examples, this story has many underlying themes which you may examine for your Invisible Man AP English Lit Essay.

For more help preparing for your AP English Literature exam we suggest you readThe Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs and The Ultimate Guide to 2015 AP English Literature FRQs. And, for writing advice for the AP English Lit free response questions, Albert.io’s AP English Literature section has practice free response sections with sample answers and rubrics.

Looking for AP English Literature practice?

Kickstart your AP English Literature prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.

As we approach AP exam time, you’ll want to explore how to best prepare yourself for the AP English Literature free-response section of the exam. Free-response makes up 55% of your test score. In this section, you will write three essays regarding prompts from poetry, a selected passage, and a work of literary fiction you select.

Only 7.6% of AP English Literature students scored a 5, in 2016. Follow this AP English Literature study plan to improve your chances of a possible 5 on this year’s test. Included herein are best practices for studying, practice exams, and tips on writing extraordinary essays.

What is the format of AP English Literature?

The goal of the AP English Literature course is to familiarize students with complex literary works of fiction. Through analytical reading and a careful attention to detail, students learn critical analysis of creative writing. Writing is an integral part of the course and exam. Essay assignments focus on the critical analysis of provided literary works and can be expository, analytical or argumentative.

The exam takes 3 hours. It is comprised of three free-response essays and 55 multiple-choice questions. The free-response section accounts to 55% of your score.

You will be given two hours to complete three free-response essays. The first will be corresponding to a given poem. The second will be regarding an excerpt from prose fiction or drama. The third is centered around a literary work chosen by you, from a specified category.

Why is the AP English Literature Free-Response Important?

Scoring guidelines for the AP English Literature Exam show that essays are assigned grades from 1-9. A 9 is the best score possible. Each of your scores is then multiplied by 3.0556. This weighted score is added to your multiple-choice totals, and the sum is your score. Overall scores ranging 114-150 are required for a 5 on the AP English Literature Exam.

If you score a perfect 68 on the multiple-choice portion, you would need three solid 5’s on your essays to earn a 5, on your overall exam. Since, it’s unlikely for anyone to achieve a perfect multiple-choice score, you should aim higher on the free-response questions.

A reasonable goal to strive for, would be earning 7’s on your essays. This would allow you to earn a 5 for your overall score by answering 40 MCQs correctly.

What Content is Covered in the Free-Response Section of AP English Literature?

For the AP English Literature Free-response section you are required to write three essays. They may be argumentative, analytical or expository depending on instructions. This section tests your ability to read and interpret various literary works, as well as your ability to communicate your ideas in a stylized, coherent response.

The test questions and subject matter change yearly, however, the structure remains the same. There will be one poem, one passage from prose fiction (or drama), and one work that you choose from a given category. Each fictional work will be accompanied by a question that you must answer in your essay. These range from specific interpretation of a given line or literary device used, to overall understanding of a writer’s purpose, theme or style.

Literature represented may span the 18th to 20th centuries. Poets such as John Keats, Walt Whitman, and Gwendolyn Brooks are possible examples. In drama, you may see the likes of Samuel Beckett, Sophocles, or Tennessee Williams. And, in expository prose, you’ll find authors such as Gloria Anzaldua, George Orwell, or Edward Said.

How to Prepare for AP English Literature Free-Response

Managing your time, as the AP exams grow closer, is imperative if you want a perfect score. There are many resources available online to help get the most from your AP English Literature study plan, both on Albert.io and CollegeBoard. Whether you’re natural at writing and comprehending literature, or not, you’ll want to prepare for the coming exam. Here are some quick tips to help you get the most out of study sessions.

Practice Makes Perfect

You can find released exams and sample essays from previous years, on CollegeBoard. On Albert.io there are a multitude of helpful study resources including 15 Must Know Rhetorical Terms For AP English Literature, AP English Literature; 5 Essential Reads, and practice free-response essays for various works. If you’d like to follow a specific route the One Month AP English Literature Study Guide is helpful and comprehensive.

Focus on Critical Reading

Critical reading is essential for any AP English Literature review. It’s important to never skim through passages while studying. You will miss underlying themes and subtext which are important for answering the AP English Literature practice questions.

Always read at a normal pace in practice and during your exam. Repeat or elaborate passages to ensure you’ve understood them. Consider the following question as you read, “What is the meaning of this sentence, paragraph, stanza, or chapter?”

Utilize Your Syllabus

At the beginning of the year, collect as many of the books, poems and other works assigned for your AP English Literature course as you can. This will allow you to read at your own pace and save valuable time looking for assigned texts as they come up.

Take Notes as You Read

When reviewing any book, poem, essay or other literary work take careful notes which, can be used later. Include the exact title, author’s name and a paraphrasing of the preface or introduction. Also note important themes, styles, and content. When recording specific ideas related to a particular part include page, paragraph, and line number for easy re-examination at a later date.

Carefully Consider Principal Ideas

Take into account the key concepts in any reading assignment. What evidence or support does the author show? In the writings of journalists, identifying these ideas and reinforcing materials is easy. However, accomplishing the same task for a more subtle work, such as that of Sylvia Plath or F. Scott Fitzgerald, may prove challenging.

Explore the Context

Spending a short amount of time researching the context surrounding an author or their work can expand your understanding of issues they tried to address and how well they succeeded. For example, researching Berlin in 1935 will give you insight to better understand the motivations of Vladimir Nabokov, when he wrote The Gift.

Read out Loud

When reading complex passages or poetry it is helpful to read aloud. Often, this approach slows your reading and aids in your comprehension of underlying tones and themes.

Reread when Necessary

It is regularly advised to read a literary work more than once to fully understand complex issues and sophisticated expressions.

Consult Your Dictionary, Thesaurus or Encyclopedia

Take advantage of these invaluable resources at your local library or online to expand your knowledge of words and content that you are reading. Remember that many English and American texts require familiarity with the major themes of Judaic and Christian religious traditions and with Greek and Roman mythology.

Write, Review, and Rewrite Regularly

Writing quality essays takes practice. It’s not an innate ability we are born with. Proper use of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax are just as important as understanding the literature you’re analyzing. Refer to How To Score Your Own AP English Literature Practice Essay to review and improve your writing. For an in depth review of free-response strategies turn to 3 Ways to Tackle AP English Literature Prompts. Use of the Albert.io AP English Literature free-response practice questions will be invaluable to your study plan.

How to Answer AP English Literature Free-Response Questions?

Here are some basic guidelines for writing a cohesive free-response essay. For more specific details on writing an exemplary response, check out How to Score Your Own AP English Language Practice Essay. Also, head over to 11 AP English Literature Test Taking Strategies for exam insight.

Understand the Subject Matter

Before you begin formulating your answer, read the prompt and any corresponding passage thoroughly. Ensure you fully comprehend what is being asked of you.

Outline Your Essay

Begin answering any free-response question with a quick outline of your planned essay. An effective introduction will include a thesis statement. Your thesis statement and supporting ideas should be clear and well thought out. Remember to structure your points and end with a conclusion which summarizes your answer.

Write Clearly and Eloquently

As you craft your response pay special attention to structure, vocabulary, and grammar. A well written essay is essential. Be certain to answer the presented question fully with supporting evidence from the passage provided. Ensure that your tenses are in line, pronoun use is not messy, and read your essay for fluidity as you go. Conclude by restating your thesis and summarizing your argument.

What are AP English Literature Free-Response Questions Like?

The following are actual free-response questions from AP English Literature Exams of the past years. You can find many more released questions and responses on CollegeBoard, for reference.

Example One is from the 2016 exam.

“In this excerpt from Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Michael Henchard and his daughter Elizabeth-Jane are reunited after years of estrangement. During this separation, Henchard has risen from poor seasonal farm worker to wealthy mayor of a small country town, while Elizabeth has supported herself by waiting tables at a tavern.

Read the passage carefully. Paying particular attention to tone, word choice, and selection of detail, compose a well-written essay in which you analyze Hardy’s portrayal of the complex relationship between the two characters.”

When reading the passage, pay special attention to the relationship between the two characters. Note specific lines which give particular insight. Formulate your opinion and structure your essay to support it. A well-written response for this prompt would understand the many nuisances seen in this excerpt. Notable points to mention in an effective essay include the underlying hypocrisy of Henchard, the unhealthy relationship between the characters and the paradox wherein Elizabeth-Jane tries in vain to relate to her father, causing her own pain.

Take a look at some past responses for this prompt and the scores on CollegeBoard’s 2016 Scoring Guidelines.

Example two is from the 2015 exam.

“In literary works, cruelty often functions as a crucial motivation or a major social or political factor. Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.

You may select a work from the list below or another work of equal literary merit. Do not merely summarize the plot.”

Some of the choices given included Beloved, Oliver Twist, The Scarlet Letter, and The Crucible.

Select one of the given options or your own, based on your confidence that you remember and understand the plot, characters and details well enough to write a convincing and sophisticated essay. Examine how cruelty plays a role in the story, what that means for the victim and/or perpetrator, and any underlying themes which relate to cruelty. Use specific examples from the piece and support your argument clearly.

Take a look at a few past responses from this prompt and the scores on CollegeBoard’s 2015 Scoring Guidelines.

How can I practice AP English Literature Free-Response?

As you continue to prepare yourself for the AP English Literature free-response portion of the exam, take advantage of the many resources cited herein. Also, look on Albert.io for helpful AP English Literature practice questions, study tips and essay guides.

Don’t forget to check the quality of your writing as you practice by self-scoring your practice responses. Check out How to Score Your Own AP English Literature Essay for help.

Looking for AP English Literature practice?

Kickstart your AP English Literature prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.

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