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For more information, please see full course syllabus of AP English Literature & Composition
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Open Essay Walkthrough

  • Where to Find the Question
    • This lesson will cover the open essay from the 2010 free-response questions.(ap-2010-english-literature-free-response-questions.pdf)
    • The question appears on page 4 of the PDF.
    • You are asked to choose a work of literature in which a character is exiled—separated from his or her homeland—and “analyze how the character’s experience with exile is both alienating and enriching, and how this experience illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole.”
  • Choosing the Work
    • Luckily for me, my favorite book EVER works for this passage! (No, I didn’t screen the question in advance.)
    • The first work that popped into my head—and it’s even on the list of suggested works—is Homer’s Odyssey.
    • Odysseus is away from his home for 20 years and must find his way back, despite many obstacles. Bingo!
  • Brainstorming
    • So how does Odysseus fit this question? How is his exile both alienating and enriching?
      • Well, for one thing, he’s literally an alien—he’s an outsider in almost every place he visits, forced to adapt to strange cultures (and sometimes slay monsters and/or refuse marriage to local princesses).
      • How is it enriching? He comes back from his travels a deeply changed man, fully prepared to take on the suitors who have taken over his house. His absence has also prompted Telemachus’ search for him, which grows the kid up quite a bit.
      • How does it illuminate the meaning of the work? “I myself, I know no sweeter sight on earth than a man’s own native country …” (9.31)
  • Outlining the Essay
    • A typical essay on this theme might go like this:
    • Thesis: In the Odyssey, Homer explores the notion of exile in intimate detail, for good and ill. Odysseus’ journey makes him stronger and more self-aware, and the long separation forces Telemachus to grow into a hero in his own right, yet Homer is unflinching in his portrayal of the family’s misery at being parted from one another. Coupled with the description of Ithaca as a scrubby, largely insignificant island, Odysseus’ desire for a homecoming conveys Homer’s primary theme—that a man’s own native soil is the sweetest possible sight to him, and the one place in all the universe where he belongs.
    • Hook: A painted house with an oar in the garden …
      • Alienation: A paragraph about alienation would talk about the many inhospitable places Odysseus visits, and all the trouble he gets into there.
        • Calypso’s island—why is he crying?
        • Encounter with Polyphemos—is there anything more alienating than fighting for your life?
        • Journey to the underworld—can Odysseus be more out of place than as the lone living soul in the land of the dead?
        • Telemachus and Penelope are alienated, too--don’t forget them!
      • Enrichment: A paragraph on how the journey has enriched Odysseus might focus on how he comes out of the experience a stronger and more capable character—and with a better son in Telemachus.
        • He gets a long rest on Calypso’s island, which he needs after ten years of war.
        • The journey with Athena forces Odysseus to constantly sharpen his skills—both martial (the encounter with Polyphemos) and mental (all that talking and con artistry).
        • Talk about Telemachus, too—how growing up without Odysseus eventually makes him a hero.
        • Constantine Cavafay’s “Ithaka”.
      • Theme: I’ve always been drawn to the question of why Odysseus must return to Ithaca when Ithaca’s obviously nothing special. I believe the theme is summed up in 9.31: “Mine is a rugged land but good for raising sons—and I myself, I know no sweeter sight on earth than a man’s own native country.”
        • Being gone so long sharpens Odysseus’ desire for Ithaca.
        • He is constantly asked why he wants to go to Ithaca, of all places, and must answer for himself.
        • When he does return, kill the suitors, and reunite with Penelope, the world is set aright—Athena makes the island peaceful again.
    • Conclusion: While writing this essay, the opposition between the negative and positive effects of Odysseus’ exile became more prominent to me (alienation and enrichment, get it?). My conclusion, therefore, would probably talk a bit more about the fact that Odysseus will never get back his two lost decades, but that as Cavafy pointed out, “Ithaka gave you the journey.” Homer’s point is that you can’t separate the good from the bad in a journey like this, but that bittersweetness is what makes the final homecoming so precious. The journey makes Ithaca valuable, and Ithaca gives Odysseus the journey.
  • Tips and Tricks
    • Get your mechanics right—neat handwriting, correct grammar/spelling/punctuation, etc.
    • Make your first paragraph perfect.
    • Don’t wed yourself to your structure. If your ideas change as you’re writing, work it in. Perfectly structured essays are boring (and anything good written in just 40 minutes will not be perfectly structured).
    • Don’t restate the prompt. Paraphrase.
    • Don’t summarize. Use quotations to support your points, but analyze more than you quote.
    • Use clear transitions and topic sentences.
    • Don’t pad, and don’t ramble.
    • Have a hook and a conclusion.
  • The Ultimate Essay Secret
    • Be confident in your writing—no matter what you’re writing about!

Open Essay Walkthrough

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Lesson Overview 0:14
  • Where to Find the Question 0:32
    • Essay from the 2010 free-response questions
    • Page 4 of PDF
    • What are you being asked to do?
  • Choosing the Work 1:20
  • Brainstorming 2:02
    • How does Odysseus fit this question?
    • How is his exile both alienating and enriching?
    • How does it illuminate the meaning of the work?
  • Outlining the Essay 4:16
    • Thesis
    • Hook
    • Alienation
    • Enrichment
    • Theme
    • Conclusion
  • Tips and Tricks 12:10
  • The Ultimate Essay Secret 14:03