Higher Education

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Essay Topics


  1. Many contemporary short fictions riff off of ancient mythologies, fairytales, or legends. Consider one of these short stories alongside the origin story (the myth, fairytale, or legend) that inspires it. In what ways is the “modern” mythology different than the original? Does the author confirm the themes of the original story or subvert them? Perhaps he or she considers the voices of forgotten or ignored characters? For example, consider Angela Carver’s “The Company of Wolves” with its origin story “Little Red Riding Hood”.
  2. Choose two to three short stories that integrate ancient myth, fairytale, or legend into contemporary frameworks. Compare and contrast the thematic and narrative approaches taken by each author. In what ways do the writers draw from the origin stories, and in what ways do they depart from/critique them? Do these modern retellings vary from genre to genre?
  3. Many contemporary writers invoke writers or fictional characters of the past/present, achieving a sense of intertextuality between their and another’s text. Woody Allen’s “The Kugelmass Episode” invokes Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Raymond Carver explores the final days of Anton Chekhov in “Errand”, while Jane Urquhart considers “The Death of Robert Browning.” Explain and analyze the role of intertextuality in one or more of the short stories studied during this course.
  4. The connection between writers and artists are at once kindred and terse. Analyze the role of “the pictorial” (photography, painting, drawing, etc.) in one or several of the stories studied during this course.
  5. Drawing from several Canadian short stories written over the past century, identify and analyze the portrayal of nature and the Canadian landscape. Examine how the attitude toward the Canadian landscape has shifted or evolved across time and throughout Canadian literary traditions.
  6. Women’s experience captures the attentions of writers across time and literary periods, from James Joyce’s “The Dead” to Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party” to Doris Lessing’s “A Man and Two Women” to Karen Russell’s “Vampires in the Lemon Grove.” Choose two short stories from different historical and/or literary periods. How does each story explore, trouble, or critique the role of women in their respective societies? Do the texts consider different experiences based on class, race, or ethnicity? If relevant, discuss how the texts do or do not call attention to social issues orbiting feminine experience.
  7. Drawing from two to three texts, discuss the ways in which the short story represents a powerful mode for discussing issues of race, ethnicity, and belonging.
  8. Drawing from two to three Canadian texts, discuss the ways in which the short story represents a powerful mode for discussing issues surrounding national history, citizenship, and memory in Canada.
  9. Choose two short stories and argue how they exist in dialogue with one another. For example, Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited” both explore the nature of the expatriated experience, while Gustave Flaubert’s “A Simple Soul” and Henry James’s “Europe” are both rooted in a dynamic sense of emerging realism, while Margaret Atwood “Death By Landscape” and Jane Urquhart “The Death of Robert Browning” explore concepts of nature, environment, and the death of the artist. Connect the dialogue between the two texts within a larger social, cultural, or literary context.
  10. What elements compose a political or politicized short fiction? In what ways is the short story an ideal mode for addressing social issues, political problems, and ethical concerns? Draw from several texts and compare how different stories achieve political or social commentary through fictionalized stories.
  11. Choose a motif, concept, or theme explored in two short stories of different historical and literary periods (e.g., Gardens in Nathanael Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter” [1844] in contrast to gardens in Karen Russell’s “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” [2013]). Compare and contrast how they are presented. Consider what diverging presentations of a single motif might represent.
  12. Examine the role of religion and belief in one or several short stories studied during the course. Reflect on what can be considered a religion, faith, or belief system. Analyze how these systems can influence characters and drive the trajectory of a story. Connect this analysis to components of the text’s overall themes.
  13. Reflect on the use of humour in two to three short stories studied during the course. You can consider a story’s use of irony, satire, parody, and/or dialogue or propose how another literary technique achieves comic results. Identify how elements of humour or comedy are related to larger themes in the stories. Trace similarities or divergences between the texts you discuss.
  14. Perform a critical analysis of narrative positioning in either one or two short stories. Identify the narrative approach taken by the writer in the story/stories, and discuss how the voice of the narrator, or the narrative point of view takes on an imperative role in how the reader interacts with the characters, conflict, and themes of the text(s). If you choose to analyze two stories, select texts with two unique narrative approaches (e.g., one in first-person-limited and the other in third-person-omniscient).
  15. Trace the evolution of a single symbol across multiple short stories studied in the course. You may select short stories across different literary/historical periods or texts within the same period. Identify and examine key consistencies and key differences in how the symbol is presented and discussed within the larger context of the story. These symbols can be as broad as nature, food or dress, and as specific as photographs, old age, books, etc.