Closer Readings Commentary

Fiction and Nonfiction for AP English Literature and Composition

Mural depicting Tradition in the Literature series by George R. Barse
Photo caption

Mural depicting Tradition in the Literature series by George R. Barse, Jr.

AP English Literature and Composition students are expected to master a range of authors and texts in both fiction and nonfiction that are drawn from multiple genres, periods, and cultures. The following EDSITEment resources are designed to assist teachers and students in careful reading and critical analysis of many of the greatest novels and short stories in English literature. These lessons require careful attention to both textual detail and historical context and are meant to provide students with a foundation for interpretation. Critical writing activities within the lessons provide practice in composing expository, analytical, and argumentative essays. Creative writing activities are helpful in encouraging the development of a student’s own voice and vision as well as his or her ability to see from the inside how a masterwork of literature is crafted.


Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart: Teaching through the Novel

Chinua Achebe’s first novel, Things Fall Apart, is an early narrative about the European colonization of Africa told from the point of view of the colonized people. This lesson introduces students to the novel and to Achebe’s views on the role of the writer in his or her society.

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: Oral and Literary Strategies

Through close reading and textual analysis of Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe's 1958 novel about the British colonization of Nigeria, students learn how oral, linguistic, and literary strategies are used to present one’s own story and history through literature.                                       

Chinua Achebe from Online Literary Criticism Collection

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice: The Novel as Historical Source

Jane Austen's classic novel offers insights into life in early nineteenth-century England. This lesson, focusing on class and the status of women, teaches students how to use a work of fiction as a primary source in the study of history.

Jane Austen from Victorian Web

Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre

Introducing Jane Eyre: An Unlikely Victorian Heroine

Through their interpretation of primary documents that reflect Victorian ideals, students learn the cultural expectations for and limitations placed on Victorian women and then contemplate the writer Charlotte Brontë's position in that context. Through an examination of the opening chapters of Jane Eyre, students will evaluate Jane's status as an unconventional Victorian heroine.

Charlotte Brontë  from Victorian Web

Willa Cather: My Ántonia

Pioneer Values in Willa Cather's My Ántonia

Students learn about the social and historical context of Willa Cather’s My Ántonia and work in groups to explore Cather's commentary on fortitude, hard work, faithfulness, and other values that we associate with pioneer life.

Willa Cather from American Writers

Kate Chopin: The Awakening

Kate Chopin's The Awakening

In this curriculum unit, students will explore how Chopin stages the possible roles for women in Edna's time and culture through the examples of other characters in the novella.  By showing what Edna's options are, Chopin also exhibits why those roles failed to satisfy Edna's desires. As students pursue this central theme, they will also learn about Chopin, her life, and the culture and literary traditions in which she wrote.

The Awakening from

A Re-Awakening from Kate Chopin

Stephen Crane: The Red Badge of Courage

The Red Badge of Courage: A New Kind of Courage

In The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane presents war through the eyes —and thoughts —of one soldier. The narrative’s altered point of view and stylistic innovations enable a heightened sense of realism while setting the work apart from war stories written essentially as tributes or propaganda.

The Red Badge of Courage: A New Kind of Realism

In this lesson, students will compare specific excerpts from The Red Badge of Courage to first-hand accounts of Civil War battles, in text and images.  As students increase their understanding of Crane's influences, they will see how this novel's style helped convey a new realism.  

The Red Badge of Courage from American Studies at the University of Virginia

Stephen Crane from the Poetry Foundation

William Faulkner: As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying: Form of a Funeral

William Faulkner’s self-proclaimed masterpiece, As I Lay Dying, originally published in 1930, is a fascinating exploration of the many voices found in a Southern family and community. The following curriculum unit examines the novel's use of multiple voices in its narrative.

William Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury

The Sound and the Fury: Narrating the Compson Family Decline and the Changing South

Published in 1929, The Sound and the Fury is often referred to as William Faulkner's first work of genius.  Faulkner's style is characterized by frequent time shifts, narrator shifts, unconventional punctuation and sentence structure, as well as a stream-of-consciousness technique that reveals the inner thoughts of characters to the reader.  This curriculum unit will examine narrative structure and time, narrative voice/point of view, and symbolism throughout The Sound and the Fury.

William Faulkner  from American Writers

William Faulkner from Mississippi Writers

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby

The "Secret Society" and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

In F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, "class struggle" is portrayed as an intensely personal affair, as much a tension within the mind of a single character as a conflict between characters. Students' own experience of the struggle to belong can provide a starting point for an exploration of the mixed emotions—jealousy, admiration, desire, resentment—that characterize main character Nick Caraway's attitude towards the "secret society" of wealthy Easterners.

F. Scott Fitzgerald from American Writers  

The Great Gatsby from American Icons

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter

Hawthorne: Author and Narrator

This lesson explores the differences between the narrator's voice and that of the author as well as the impact of an author's personal history on his or her creative life, particularly in the context of American society.

Literature from Hawthorne in Salem

Ernest Hemingway:Three Shots

"Three Shots": Ernest Hemingway's Nick Adams
In this lesson, students study issues related to independence and notions of manliness in Ernest Hemingway’s “Three Shots” as they conduct in-depth literary character analysis, consider the significance of environment to growing up and investigate Hemingway’s Nobel Prize-winning, unique prose style.

Ernest Hemingway from American Writers

Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure

Zora Neale Hurston: Their Eyes Were Watching God

Folklore in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston incorporated and transformed black folklife in her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.  By exploring Hurston’s own life history and collection methods, listening to her WPA recordings of folksongs and folktales, and comparing transcribed folk narrative texts with the plot and themes of the novel, students will learn about the crucial role of oral folklore in Hurston’s written work.

Zora Neale Hurston from American Writers

Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird: Profiles in Courage

This lesson plan asks students to read To Kill A Mockingbird carefully with an eye for all instances and manifestations of courage, but particularly those of moral courage.

To Kill a Mockingbird and the Scottsboro Boys Trial of 1933: Profiles in Courage

Students study select court transcripts and other primary source material from the second Scottsboro Boys Trial of 1933, a continuation of the first trial in which two young white women wrongfully accused nine African American youths of rape.

To Kill a Mockingbird from The Big Read

Jack London: The Call of the Wild

Crane, London, and Literary Naturalism

Jack London and Stephen Crane participated in the tradition of literary naturalism, writing about city life, social class, industry, and the callous indifference of nature.  In this lesson, students will learn the key characteristics that comprise American literary naturalism as they explore the literary context for Jack London and Stephen Crane's work.

Jack London's The Call of the Wild:Nature Faker”?

This lesson asks how Jack London approached the literary problem of telling a story from the point of view of an animal and how well he succeeded.  In addition, it examines why he chose to write from an animal's point of view and what he was trying to convey to his reader.

Metaphorical Gold: Mining the Klondike Gold Rush for Stories

Explore the Alaskan Gold Rush by "mining" for primary texts and period photographs. Just as writer Jack London discovered "metaphorical gold" in the Yukon, students can search several online databases for period details that will enhance their own narratives based on the Gold Rush era.

Jack London from Online Literary Criticism Collection

Flannery O'Connor: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find": Who's the Real Misfit?

Known as both a Southern and a Catholic writer, Flannery O'Connor wrote stories that are hard to forget. In this lesson, students will explore these dichotomies—and challenge them—while closely reading and analyzing "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

Flannery O’Connor from Online Literary Criticism Collection  

George Orwell: Animal Farm

Animal Farm: Allegory and the Art of Persuasion

Allegories are similar to metaphors: in both the author uses one subject to represent another, seemingly unrelated, subject. However, unlike metaphors, which are generally short and contained within a few lines, an allegory extends its representation over the course of an entire story, novel, or poem. This lesson plan will introduce students to the concept of allegory by using George Orwell’s widely read novella, Animal Farm.

George Orwell from Online Literary Criticism Collection

Edgar Allan Poe: Selected Tales

Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, and the Unreliable Narrator

Students will consider a variety of narrative stances in Edgar Allen Poe's short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart," and Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."

Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, and the Unreliable Biographers

In this lesson, students become literary sleuths, attempting to separate biographical reality from myth. They also become careful critics, taking a stand on whether extra-literary materials such as biographies and letters should influence the way readers understand a writer's texts.

Edgar Allan Poe: Tales, Sketches and Selected Criticism from American Studies at the University of Virginia

Edgar Allan Poe from Online Literary Criticism Collection

John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath

The Great Depression and the Arts from New Deal Network

John Steinbeck from American Writers

John Steinbeck: The Voice of a Region, a Voice for America

Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Critical Ways of Seeing: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in Context

By studying Mark Twain's novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and its critics with a focus on cultural context, students will develop essential analytical tools for navigating this text and for exploring controversies that surround this quintessential American novel.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from Mark Twain in His Times

Mark Twain from American Writers

Eudora Welty: A Worn Path

Eudora Welty from Online Literary Criticism Collection

Eudora Welty from Mississippi Writers

Edith Wharton: Ethan Frome

Personal or Social Tragedy? A Close Reading of Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome

Students practice strategies of "close reading" in order to understand Edith Wharton's gripping tragedy about an unhappy marriage set against the stark backdrop of rural New England.

Edith Wharton from American Writers   


Frederick Douglass: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

From Courage to Freedom: Frederick Douglass's 1845 Autobiography

In 1845, Frederick Douglass published what was to be the first of his three autobiographies: the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself.  In this curriculum unit, students will analyze Douglass's vivid firsthand accounts of the lives of slaves and the behavior of slave owners to see how he successfully contrasts reality with romanticism and powerfully uses a variety of literary devices to persuade the reader of slavery's evil. Students will also identify and discuss Douglass's acts of physical and intellectual courage on his journey towards freedom.

Frederick Douglass from American Writers

Malcolm X: The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Black Separatism or the Beloved Community? Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Malcolm X argued that America was too racist in its institutions and people to offer hope to blacks. In contrast with Malcolm X's black separatism, Martin Luther King, Jr. offered what he considered "the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest" as a means of building an integrated community of blacks and whites in America. This lesson will contrast the respective aims and means of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. to evaluate the possibilities for black American progress in the 1960s.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X from American Icons