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Prompts based on literary works
Click each title to see a list of prompts.
1984 by George Orwell
- Is Winston brave or foolish to defy the Party?
- What role does fear play throughout the novel? How does it affect the characters’ actions?
- What role do women play in the novel?
- What is the connection between language and truth throughout 1984?
- Does Winston’s past excuse his betrayal of Julia at the end of the novel?
- Describe the significance of loyalty in 1984.
- Does Winston ever hold power over the Party?
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- What role does landscape play in the novel? How does the landscape affect characters’ actions?
- What role do female characters play in the novel?
- Describe the importance of parents in the novel. What effect, if any, do they have on their children’s personalities?
- What does water represent in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?
- According to the novel, what does it mean to be “free”?
- How do Tom and Jim fit in with their society? Where do they not fit in?
- Choose two characters from the novel and compare their views on what it means to be “civilized.”
Animal Farm by George Orwell
- What is the significance of Orwell’s choice to make his main characters animals?
- What are the major faults of Animalism?
- Explain the significance of the windmill. What might it represent?
- As the novel progresses, the animals adopt human-like habits. What does this suggest about humans? What does this suggest about power?
- Who is the most successful leader in Animal Farm?
- How does the meaning of “equality” change for the animals throughout the novel?
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- What role do women play throughout the novel?
- Where does Holden’s immaturity reveal itself? How does he try to hide it?
- How does Holden view adults?
- What do Holden’s lies reveal about his character? Why does he stray from the truth in certain moments?
- How does Holden’s narration affect the reader’s understanding of the novel? What is the significance of the author’s choice to frame Holden’s story as a flashback?
- Describe New York City as a character in the novel. Is the city friendly or hostile towards Holden?
- Explain the significance of Holden’s relationships with Phoebe throughout the novel.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- According to the novel, are moral standards flexible or inflexible? Defend your answer.
- Examine when Raskolnikov chooses to tell the truth and when he lies. What do these choices suggest about his character?
- According to Crime and Punishment, when is rule-breaking justified? Which rules are worth following?
- How does Raskolnikov change over the course of the novel? How does he stay the same?
Fahrenheit 451by Ray Bradbury
- According to the novel, what is the difference between innocence and ignorance?
- Which character has the greatest influence on Montag? Why?
- According to Fahrenheit 451, what do humans need most in life? What can they live without?
- Who is the hero of Fahrenheit 451?
- Describe the importance of irony in Fahrenheit 451.
- Who is the more rational character: Faber or Captain Beatty?
- What is the most dangerous effect that the society in Fahrenheit 451 has on its citizens?
- Does Montag have the skills to help build a new civilization? Use evidence from the text to support your claim.
The Great Gatsbyby F. Scott Fitzgerald
- What effects do wealth and power have on the characters in The Great Gatsby?
- Is Nick a reliable narrator? Why or why not?
- Which characters hold the most power in The Great Gatsby: male or female?
- Jay Gatsby changes his own life story in order to portray himself in a certain way. Are characters in The Great Gatsby ever, in fact, in charge of their own stories?
- What do the homes of the characters in The Great Gatsby tell us about their personalities?
- Is Gatsby foolish or wise to pursue Daisy?
- According to The Great Gatsby, what does it mean to tell the “truth”?
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
- How does Shakespeare characterize the nation of Denmark? How does this characterization compare to that of England?
- What role do soliloquies play in Hamlet? Pick one and analyze its function in the play.
- Multiple times throughout the play, characters kill someone other than who they intended. How do these accidental killings further the plot?
- According to the play, is revenge inherently negative or inherently positive?
- Analyze the tone of the play. How does it change from act to act? What key moments are responsible for these shifts?
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
- What is the most notable distinction between Kurtz and Marlow? What makes this distinction significant?
- In Heart of Darkness, the characters progress through their travels at the same time as they experience psychological changes. Choose one character and describe: How does the character’s physical journey relate to his psychological evolution?
- Select a major theme in the novel. How does the setting of the novel support this theme?
- What statement does the novel make about imperialism?
- How do characters’ speaking patterns (including content and amount of time spent speaking) reflect their positions in the world?
- What is the relationship between darkness and light in the novel?
The House on Mango Streetby Sandra Cisneros
- How does the structure of The House on Mango Street affect the reader’s experience?
- What is a central theme in The House on Mango Street? How do different characters relate to this theme?
- Describe the transition from childhood to adulthood in The House on Mango Street. According to the book, what does it mean to be an adult?
- What character affects Esperanza most?
- How does the landscape of the neighborhood shape the girls’ personalities?
- In The House on Mango Street, is it better to be young or old? Why?
- “Esperanza” means “hope” in Spanish. Why is this a fitting name for the novel’s narrator?
Lord of the Fliesby William Golding
- Who is the most effective leader in Lord of the Flies?
- What is the most important symbol in Lord of the Flies and why?
- Describe gender’s role in the novel. According to Golding, what it means to be a “boy” or “man”?
- What is the significance of “the beastie”? What might it represent?
- Choose one character who expresses hope throughout the novel. Does hope help or harm this character?
- Describe the island in Lord of the Flies. How does the landscape represent the emotional lives of the boys?
- Who or what is the true hero of Lord of the Flies?
The Metamorphosisby Franz Kafka
- According to the story, what does it mean to be human? What distinguishes a human from a “monster” or an animal?
- What statement does the story make about work and responsibility? Does work ultimately have a positive or negative impact on Gregor?
- Describe the significance of Grete’s transformation throughout the story. What control does she have over Gregor? How does Gregor stay independent from her?
- Throughout the story, Kafka repeatedly refers to furniture. What, in your opinion, might furniture symbolize?
- How does Gregor benefit from being turned into an insect?
- Explain the impact of the story’s ending. How does this affect your understanding of the rest of the story?
Of Mice and Menby John Steinbeck
- Did George do the right thing by shooting Lennie?
- Is Lennie and George’s friendship equal? If not, which man benefits more?
- According to Of Mice and Men, what does it mean to be strong?
- Is George’s promise of buying a farm harmful or helpful to Lenny?
- How does George and Lennie’s friendship change over the course of the novel?
- What might the dogs at the ranch represent?
- How do characters’ physical appearances shape the reader’s understanding of personalities in the novel?
The Old Man and the Seaby Ernest Hemingway
- What statement does the novel make about age and aging? To what extent does age matter?
- Describe the effect that the novel’s length has on the reader. Why might Hemingway have chosen to keep this novel so short?
- Describe the parallels between Santiago and the marlin. How are the man and fish similar?
- How do you interpret Santiago’s dreams about lions on on the beach?
The Outsidersby S.E. Hinton
- Who is the bravest character in the novel?
- How are the greasers and Socs similar?
- Are the other greasers a positive or negative influence on Ponyboy?
- What makes Ponyboy a good narrator?
- Choose one symbol in the novel. What is the significance of this symbol? How does it affect different characters in the novel?
- How do female characters influence Ponyboy?
- Explain the significance of Johnny’s letter to Ponyboy. What does the letter reveal about the greasers as a whole?
Pride and Prejudiceby Jane Austen
- Choose one letter from the novel and describe its significance. How does the letter connect to themes elsewhere in the novel? What does the writer reveal about the reader and his or her audience?
- Describe the most significant setting in the novel. Why is this place especially important to the novel’s plot?
- Which couple has the most stable relationship?
- Over the course of the novel, who changes more: Darcy or Elizabeth?
- Describe the gender dynamics in Pride and Prejudice. Where do women hold power over the men? Where do men maintain power?
- How does Mr. Collins affect the Bennets? What does his presence reveal about the family?
- According to Pride and Prejudice, what makes a good parent?
- By the end of the novel, which character has matured most and why?
The Scarlet Letterby Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Which secret in The Scarlet Letter has the greatest effect on the novel’s plot and why?
- How does Pearl’s name connect with themes in the novel?
- Explain the significance of labels in The Scarlet Letter. How are they useful to the characters? What are their limitations?
- What does Chillingworth gain from hiding his identity?
- How does Hester change throughout the course of the novel?
- Was Dimmesdale right to end his life?
The Things They Carriedby Tim O'Brien
- The Things They Carried is a novel, yet the author and narrator share the same name. Describe the significance of this and how it might affect the reader.
- What do you consider to be the most significant object or emotion that is carried by a character in the novel?
- Which character has the greatest impact on Tim’s development throughout the novel? What makes him or her so influential?
- Should war be considered a character in the novel? Defend your answer.
- According to the novel, what does it mean to be a soldier? What is required to be a good soldier?
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Which character has the greatest influence on Scout?
- What is the most important symbol in To Kill a Mockingbird and why?
- Does Boo Radley have a greater effect on Scout before or after she meets him?
- What is the most important lesson that Atticus teaches Scout and Jem?
- Who is most responsible for Tom Robinson’s conviction?
- According to To Kill a Mockingbird, what does it mean to have a “good education”?
- How does Scout’s narration style change over the course of the novel? What does this tell us about her character?
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Prompts not based on literary works
- Should dress codes be mandatory in schools?
- Why is spending time in nature so important for humans? Why is spending time in nature not important for humans?
- In competitive high school sports, why is winning important? Why is winning unimportant?
- Why is it important to be a good writer? Is it important at all?
- Picture books for young children are often criticized for not being diverse enough. How big of a problem is this? Is this a problem at all?
- Are group grades in school fair?
- What would be the benefits and drawbacks of eliminating traditional A, B, C, D, F grades in schools? What if these grades were replaced with narrative feedback?
- How should city and state governments deal with limited access to healthy foods?
- In many other countries, students are responsible for cleaning their classrooms at the end of the day. Should children in the US also be responsible for keeping their schools clean?
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How do the pigs maintain their authority on Animal Farm?
George Orwell’s Animal Farm examines the insidious ways in which public officials can abuse their power, as it depicts a society in which democracy dissolves into autocracy and finally into totalitarianism. From the Rebellion onward, the pigs of Animal Farm use violence and the threat of violence to control the other animals. However, while the attack dogs keep the other animals in line, physical intimidation doesn’t prevent some of them from quietly questioning Napoleon’s decisions. To check this threat to the pigs’ power, Napoleon relies on rousing slogans, songs, and phrases to instill patriotism and conformity among the animals. On Animal Farm, it quickly becomes clear that language and rhetoric can be much more effective tools of social control than violence.
The pigs rely on slogans, poems, and commandments to both inspire the animals and keep them subservient. Crucially, the pigs understand that their songs and sayings must be easy to memorize and repeat if the other animals are to internalize their precepts. When written commandments prove too difficult for many of the animals, the pigs synthesize them into a single, brief catchphrase: “Four legs good, two legs bad.” The slogan inspires the animals to adore their leaders rather than fear them, and by repeating it they deepen their commitment to the pigs. Boxer, the loyal cart-horse, continuously reaffirms his faith in the pigs’ judgment by repeating the slogan “Napoleon is always right” in addition to his usual mantra, “I will work harder.” The animals eventually use the pigs’ slogans to police themselves, such as when several animals protest Napoleon’s decision to begin trading farm products to humans. Though they are initially silenced by “a tremendous growling from the dogs,” the tension isn’t dissolved until the sheep break into a collective recital of “‘Four legs good, two legs bad!’” In this key scene, Orwell explicitly contrasts brute force and the power of language, demonstrating that while the former may be effective in the short term, the latter has deeper, more lasting effects. The central role of rhetoric in the pigs’ administration is illustrated by the power afforded Squealer, the aptly-named spokespig, as well as the presence of a government poet pig, Minimus.
In addition to the songs, slogans, poems, and commandments, Napoleon and the pigs also rewrite the oral and written histories of the farm in order to serve their needs and maintain their authority. When Napoleon violently seizes power, he quickly justifies his takeover by falsely denouncing his former ally and fellow revolutionary, Snowball, as a human-sympathizer and enemy of Animalism. In fact, he continuously retells the story of Snowball’s “treachery” until Snowball’s role in the Rebellion and subsequent founding of Animal Farm has been completely effaced. Despite the fact that many of the animals remember Snowball receiving a medal for his bravery in the Battle of the Cowshed, Squealer convinces them that Snowball had actually fought alongside Mr. Jones against the animals. Loyal Boxer, who has trouble believing the official tale, is convinced otherwise when Squealer tells him that Napoleon knows it to be true. “Ah, that is different,” exclaims Boxer. “If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.” Later, as the pigs move into the farmhouse, Squealer makes more revisions to the official doctrine when he secretly amends the commandment “No animal shall sleep in a bed” to “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets” and revises the rule about drinking to “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.” The pigs even replace the old mantras with “Four legs good, two legs better,” and ultimately, “All animals are equal, except some are more equal than others.” When the animals actually catch Squealer in the act of rewriting the commandments, they don’t seriously suspect anything, a testament to the power the pigs’ rhetoric and language has over them.
The pigs’ slogans and catchphrases have brainwashed the other animals to such an extent that even when the dogs slaughter dozens of animals for supposedly having colluded with Snowball, they don’t question Napoleon’s leadership. Although unsettled, their misgivings melt away as soon as the sheep chime in with “their usual bleating” of Animal Farm’s primary maxim, “‘Four legs good, two legs bad,’” which they chant for “several minutes” until the possibility of discussion has passed. Of course, not all political rhetoric is categorically bad—we see the rousing affect Old Major’s song “The Beasts of England” has on the animals and how it prompts them to overthrow the tyrant Farmer Jones and create their own government. Orwell argues, however, that language can be used just as effectively for more sinister purposes, as a device of social manipulation and control, and that such rhetoric is often far more powerful than state-sanctioned violence or the threat of physical force.
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Animal Farm (SparkNotes Literature Guide Series)