Essay Questions English Literature

You will be given a choice of two essay questions about Of Mice and Men in the exam; you need to choose one to answer. They will usually be about specific characters or themes in the text. The examiners are looking for you to demonstrate good knowledge of the whole book. You must have a clear idea about:

  • the plot
  • the themes
  • characters
  • language, form and structure
  • the context

You should be able to use some key quotations from the text, which you have remembered (you will not be allowed a book in the exam). You should structure your answer logically, with a brief introduction and conclusion.

Example question - foundation tier

Choose a character who you think is a victim of loneliness because of the society in which he or she lives. Write about this character, explaining the reasons for your choice.

Planning your answer

Before you start writing your essay, you should spend five to ten minutes planning what you will write. Think about how you can break down your answer into logical paragraphs.

  1. Explain which character you have chosen. Give a brief summary of the reasons why they are lonely and lonelier than other characters on the ranch. For example, Curley’s wife because she is isolated from all of the men on the ranch due to her gender. Even her husband does not treat her with any respect.
  2. Give one main reason for the character you have chosen being so lonely. You will then elaborate on this reason. For example, Curley’s wife is the only woman on the ranch; the men do not view women as their equals. She is never even named, only referred to in terms of her relationship with Curley.
  3. Introduce your next main point, with elaboration. For example, Curley’s wife goes out of her way to get the attention of the men on the ranch but they are dismissive of her and just think of her as .
  4. Add a different main point, with elaboration. For example, Curley’s wife does not enjoy the company of her husband and they seem to have a bad relationship; this means that she has no one to turn to for comfort or affection, or even day-to-day interaction.
  5. Explain your final main point. For example, Curley’s wife can be unpleasant and cruel (such as to Crooks), but really all she is looking for is someone to talk to. She does not treat others with respect because she is never shown any respect herself, mainly as a result of being a woman.
  6. Sum up your ideas about the character and why they are so lonely. For example, Curley’s wife’s tragic death is the final stage of her loneliness; even when she has been killed, Candy blames her for ruining the dream that he shared with George and Lennie. The description of her when she dies shows that it was her life experiences that made her act badly, it wasn’t a natural part of her.

Example question - higher tier

To what extent do you agree with this statement?

Planning your answer

Before you start writing your essay, you should spend five to ten minutes planning what you will write. Think about how you can break down your answer into logical paragraphs.

  1. Loneliness affects all of the characters because of the harsh environment in which they live and work. Due to the conditions created by the Great Depression, none of the characters are able to change their lifestyles to form meaningful friendships and many of them lack sympathy for each other because of their own struggles.
  2. George and Lennie’s friendship stands out as being rare and unique in the book. They remind readers that most men like them are alone. The contrast between their relationship and the other characters’ isolation emphasises the importance of having a companion.
  3. The death of Candy’s dog demonstrates how cruel the workers’ lifestyle is. There is no room for sentimentality or affection in the world they live in. Candy’s desperation to join George and Lennie in their dream of owning a farm shows his need for company.
  4. Crooks is isolated on the farm because of his race, making him even lonelier than the other workers, because he does not even experience the basic human interaction that they get from living in the same building.
  5. Curley’s wife’s loneliness is also exacerbated because she is different to the others on the ranch. As the only woman, she is not given respect and does not even have her own identity as she is never named. Her need for attention actually makes the men treat her worse as they think of her as .
  6. The destruction of George and Lennie’s dream at the end of the book reveals the impossibility of escaping from the loneliness caused by the conditions of the world in which the men live.

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A-Level English Literature


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