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

  • Where to Find the Question
    • This lesson will cover the prose essay from the 2010 free-response questions. (ap-2010-english-literature-free-response-questions.pdf)
    • The question appears on page 3 of the PDF.
    • The passage is an excerpt from the novel Belinda by Maria Edgeworth.
    • You are asked to “analyze Clarence Hervey’s complex character”, paying particular attention to “such literary elements as tone, point of view, and language.”
  • Reading the Passage
    • Remember, you are asking yourself two questions:
      • What’s the point of this passage?
      • How does the author get that point across?
    • What’s the point of this passage? Clerence is a gifted and intelligent young man, but overly concerned with appearing gifted and intelligent This causes him to change along with his company, and to suspect other people (most notably Belinda) of being likewise changeable.
    • How does the author get this point across?
      • Point of view: The author lingers in third-person limited POV (Clerence) to show his inmost thoughts and why he behaves as he does.
      • Tone: The passage’s tone is wry and a bit disapproving.
      • Language: The author uses a lot of parallelism and repetition to get her point across. Note the adjectives.
  • Outlining the Essay
    • A typical essay on this passage might go like this:
    • Thesis: In this passage, Edgeworth uses a limited point of view, a wry tone, and elaborately constructed sentences to convey the character of Clarence Hervey—a man too intelligent for his own good, one concerned with appearances above all and consequently willing to change himself at any moment to suit whoever he’s with.
    • Point of View: A paragraph about point of view would focus on how the author describes Clarence’s POV, particularly in lines like “he imagined that, as such, he was entitled to be imprudent, wild, and eccentric”. Look also at “even when he felt himself most charmed by her powers of pleasing, he was most inclined to despise her, for what he thought such premature proficiency in scientific coquetry.” This is someone who attributes his own faults to others, and the point of view indicates that.
    • Tone: The first impression of this passage’s tone is that it is wry and slightly disapproving. To support that, look at phrases like “supposed to be a favourite,” which indicates that he wasn’t actually all that popular, just perceived as such. Notice also that he thinks of Belinda has “having the misfortune” of her aunt’s involvement in her marriage prospects—many people would consider that a plus, but not Clarence! Thus Edgeworth uses an ironic tone to show Clarence’s changeability. He can’t take things at face value, even though in Belinda’s case he should.
    • Language: A paragraph about language might focus on all those long, lovely 19th-century list-sentences. For example: “He was not profligate; he had a strong sense of humor, and quick feelings of humanity; but he was so easily led, or rather so easily excited by his companions, and his companions were now of such a sort, that it was probable he would soon become vicious.” Note also the author’s use of contrasts within sentences, usually involving conjunctions like yet and but. This description of Clarence is all about qualification and contradiction. Focus on that.
    • Conclusion: While writing this essay, the contradictory nature of Clarence Hervey became more evident (especially in the language paragraph). Thus, the conclusion would focus on those contradictions—how Clarence’s intelligence clashes with his willingness to bow to social pressure and be whatever other people want him to be, and how this causes him to assume both that other people are equally changeable and that he himself is not (another contradiction!). Thus, the conclusion brings the essay full circle while expanding on the thesis.
  • 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!

Prose 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 0:12
  • Where to Find the Questions 0:30
    • From the 2010 free-response questions
    • Page 3 of PDF
    • Belinda by Maria Edgeworth
    • What are you being asked to do?
  • Reading the Passage 1:04
    • What's the point of this passage?
    • How does the author get that point across?
  • Reading the Passage, cont. 1:12
    • The answer to: What's the point of this passage?
    • The answer to: How does the author get that point across?
    • Point of View
    • Tone
    • Language
  • Outlining the Essay 2:16
    • Thesis
    • Point of View
    • Tone
    • Language
    • Conclusion
  • Tips and Tricks 7:37
    • Get mechanics right
    • Make first paragraph perfect
    • Perfectly structured essays are boring
    • Don't restate the prompt
    • Don't summarize
    • Use clear transitions and topic sentences
    • Don't pad, don't ramble
    • Have a hook and conclusion
  • The Ultimate Essay Secret 9:23