Writing the Free-Response Essay for AP English Literature

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

Essay Prompt:

Often in literature, a literal or figurative journey is a significant factor in the development of a character or the meaning of the work. Choose a full-length work and write a well-organized essay in which you discuss the literal and/or figurative nature of the journey and how it affects characterization and theme. You may choose from the list below or another full-length work of literary merit.

      As I Lay Dying
      Jane Eyre
      The Odyssey
      Don Quixote
      A Streetcar Named Desire
      A Passage to India
      Gulliver's Travels
      No Exit
      Tom Jones
      Heart of Darkness
      Moby Dick
      The Sun Also Rises
      The Grapes of Wrath
      The Stranger
      Their Eyes Were Watching God

Developing the Opening Paragraph

Now you are ready to write. Remember, your opening paragraph is the one that raises the expectations of the reader and sets the tone of your essay. Spend time on your first paragraph to maximize your score.

Make certain that your topic is very clear to the reader. This re inforces the idea that you fully understand what is expected of you and what you will communicate to the reader. Generally, identify both the text and the author in this first paragraph.

Do this now. Take 5 minutes and write your opening paragraph for this prompt. Write quickly, referring to your notes.

Let's check what you've written:

  • Have you included the author and title?
  • Have you addressed the literal and figurative journeys?
  • Have you addressed characterization and theme?

Here are three sample opening paragraphs that address each of the above criteria.


"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day" says young Jane in Chapter One of Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane Eyre. Little did she know that her very existence would evolve from her personal odyssey as she journeyed from Gateshead to Lowood to Thorn- field and beyond; from child to adolescent to woman. This literal and figurative journey enables Bronte to develop both the character and the theme of her work.

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