The most difficult part of writing research papers for literature courses may be deciding on the topic – not because there are too few subjects to choose from, but because there are so many. From selecting a work or genre to study to deciding what aspect to analyze, the possibilities are endless.
1. Choosing an Excellent Topic
It is not a bad thing that the field of ideas is so wide open for your literature research paper – it just may make for a difficult decision. If you already have a research topic idea in mind that you want to explore, here is your chance. But if you don’t know which way to turn, that’s OK too – it is an opportunity to think about what really interests you and write creatively about it.
With the myriad of possible subjects, picking something that you are interested in truly is important to the success of your essay. Your enthusiasm will come across and the final product will be more persuasive and engaging. Are you really into British literature? Fascinated by different kinds of poetry? Come up with a creative idea to address a topic you care about and half the battle is won.
2. Ideas for Literature Research Paper Topics
The first place to look for inspiration for research paper topics is the assignment that you have been given by your professor. The instructions may be very specific, or they may be general guidelines that give you the freedom to choose for yourself. If it is an open-ended assignment, you have many options to choose from. A few would include:
• An in-depth analysis of a particular novel, poem or play – its themes, characters, symbolism, literary devices, etc.
• A biographical study of an author – from childhood influences to the degree of success attained during his or her lifetime … or afterward
• A focus on literature types of a particular era or country
• A study of an obscure author or poet – try to determine why he or she never gained real recognition
• For a major thesis or dissertation, perhaps take a wider view and look how literature evolved throughout history.
While the possibilities for a literature research paper are endless, a listing of some common approaches and categorizations could serve as a starting point:
• Genre of literature – Select a genre, such as poetry, drama, biography, historical fiction, or mystery, and show changes over time.
• Patterns – Find connections in one work, a genre or an era.
• Literature of a particular era – Are the authors of a time period constrained by the society they live in, or do some transcend it?
• Focus on one country’s literature – Perhaps forgo the usual American or British literature and explore the unfamiliar – Japan, India, etc.
• In-depth study of an author – Offer a complete biographical study.
• A chronological analysis of how one author’s works and writing style evolved over time.
• The use of symbolism and literary devices – How does an author use elements such as light and dark to foreshadow or advance a plot?
• Should classic literature be updated to make it more appealing to young people? At least one professor “translated” a Shakespeare play into a more modern take. A popular movie kept the text of Romeo and Juliet intact while updating the setting.
• Compare and contrast – As an example, themes and portrayals of society in Balzac’s Father Goriot and Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho.
• Writing as an impetus for change – Writers may indirectly, gradually cause change in society, or in other cases force change, such as the “muckrakers” who brought social problems to light.
• Character study – A look at the characters or how they are portrayed – are they realistic, symbolic?
• Consider the narrator – Analyze the subjectivity and reliability of the narrator of Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground.
• Poetry offers many avenues to explore including themes, varied writing devices and styles.
• Analyze the ideological differences between George Orwell and Rudyard Kipling and how their views on the British Empire informed their writing.
• Compare and contrast devices used in Voltaire’s Candide and George Bernard Shaw’s The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God. Analyze both protagonists’ developments in response to the new ideas they encounter.
• Use your imagination – Place yourself in the mind of a classic author and describe your thoughts on a modern work. Dickens on Catch-22, perhaps?
• Go back to the source for some speculation – What would Bram Stoker think about the modern portrayals of vampire lore that originated from Dracula?
4. Range of Topics for Literature Research
While the options are endless, there are ever-popular subjects for an English literature paper. The literature of a specific era is a prominent theme, and its focus is often the Victorian or Elizabethan Age.
Within these period pieces, further divisions emerge. One prevalent theme for essays is a study of the role of women in Shakespeare’s plays. Another might be comparing and contrasting the rigid social standards and morals with the Victorian Age’s darker side of prostitution and opium dens.
A good compare and contrast could be the themes of moral superiority and an unforgiving society in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, a modern novel set in Victorian times, and The Scarlet Letter.
Being a student of literature and writing research papers that succeed means being able to analyze the themes of a story, poem or play. Identifying the author’s main theme or message and writing about that and the supporting themes is tantamount to a student’s success.
Some popular research paper topics based on themes are man’s inhumanity to man in The Grapes of Wrath or George Orwell’s warning about totalitarian government in 1984.
A biographical essay is a popular offering by students of literature. If you have a favorite author or poet, or one who you would like to learn more about, here is your opportunity for serious research and contemplative writing. One good choice might be Thomas Hardy, the English author who gave up writing novels after his greatest works were criticized for what were considered scandalous themes. He turned to publishing collections of poetry.
Of course, it is always possible to take a more general approach. Here are just a few more ideas:
• Famous authors of New England – Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Louisa May Alcott, etc.
• Heroes and anti-heroes in literature and/or mythology
• Evolution of society and literature go hand-in-hand
• Epic poetry has a style all its own
5. Tips for Proper Topic
If you have selected a written work on which to base your essay, consider some things as you read:
• The historical setting that produced it. Did the author write it to conform to the standards of the day, or does it seem to be aiming to effect change?
• Is the narrative mode first person, third person? Limited or omniscient? How does the style help the author get his message across?
• Apply a differing philosophy as you read and study the work. What would Freud have to say about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?
• What was the inspiration for the characters? Are any based on real people – from history or the present day, or has the author inserted a version of himself into the story? It is assumed that Scout, the main character in To Kill a Mockingbird is based on author Harper Lee.
• Look beyond the characters and analyze the author’s use of imagery – how do the setting, recurring symbols, etc., help tell the story?
• The political climate under which an author lives can definitely reflect in the work. It can be fictionalized as political satire – think Animal Farm.
6. How we can help
If the tips and information here further confused you rather than inspiring you to write creative prose, you may be in need of some writing help. What can seem like an exciting challenge to one student may be a daunting chore for another who is overwhelmed or overworked. You can check out an example research paper for more ideas, or let us do the writing for you.
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