When you’re writing an essay on a novel or film, you’ll be given an essay topic or prompt. Start by underlining the key phrases in the essay topic. This is what you’ll need to write about in your essay. If you need to clarify the meaning of keywords, consult a dictionary. Sometimes it can be useful to restate the essay topic in your own words.
With the essay topic in mind, it’s time to start planning the essay. Planning is one of the most important parts of writing an essay. It’s a good idea to re-read your text. As you go, make note of interesting scenes and quotations relevant to your essay topic. Reading the text closely means you’ll have lots of examples to discuss in your essay.
The importance of planning can’t be overstated. If you don’t spend time reading your text, taking notes, thinking about the essay topic and giving your thoughts time to develop, you won’t be able to write a detailed and interesting essay.
Once you’ve got your ideas together, it’s time to start organising them. Rewrite your ideas on a fresh sheet of paper, organising related ideas under headings drawn directly from the essay topic.
STRUCTURING YOUR ESSAY
Essays are a formal and structured style of writing that have three parts – the introduction, the body and the conclusion.
Your introduction should be designed to attract the reader’s attention and give him/her an idea of the essay focus.
Within the space of a few lines, you should introduce the subject of your essay, in addition to your contention. The reader should know just from the introduction what your point of view is, and where the essay will be heading.
To introduce the subject for a text response essay, you should mention the title of the text in addition to the author. It should be effortlessly integrated into a sentence, for example: “George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is based on the Russian Revolution, is about the rise of a ruthless and brutal dictator.”
The title of the novel should be used in italics, underlined or single quotation marks. Only one of these is necessary. You should also refer to the author by their full name the first time you introduce them, and by their surname only for every additional time you mention them, for example: “In Animal Farm, Orwell explores the idea that power corrupts.”
WRITING THE INTRODUCTION
1. Show that you understand the essay question by re-writing it in your own words. Don’t simply repeat the key words, but aim to use synonyms. This not only demonstrates your understanding of the topic, but allows you to show how articulate you are.
2. Establish your contention clearly and early on. There should be no confusion as to your take on the essay prompt. If the essay is asking ‘Do you agree?’ – you should make it very clear whether you agree/disagree or partly agree. Other essay prompts may be asking you ‘to what extent do you agree’ or simply to ‘discuss’. Your contention should avoid saying ‘I think’ or ‘I believe’. You should be able to state it confidently and clearly without resorting to the first person. The reader already knows it is your opinion; you don’t need to state the obvious.
3. Perhaps begin with an attention grabber, some startling or interesting information. It could simply be a fact that explicitly illustrates the point you wish to make. You could always use a quote in your introduction. Usually quotes are kept for your body paragraphs, however a quote can be used in the opening paragraph if it fits perfectly with your overall contention.
4. Summarise the main arguments that you are going to discuss in your body paragraphs. If your contention is the what you believe, the supporting arguments are the why you believe this. A few sentences explaining your topic in general terms can lead the reader gently to your main paragraphs. You should make it very clear exactly where the essay is heading.
5. Don’t fall into the trap of summarising the novel – assume your reader knows the text well and doesn’t require too much background information. Get straight into your analysis.
Essay Question: The animals are not victims in Animal Farm. Discuss.
In George Orwell’s allegorical novel, Animal Farm, the animals suffer enormously, both under the rule of Jones, and later Napoleon and the pigs. Although under both leaders, the animals suffer hardship, hunger, intimidation and even eventual death, they are at least, partly to blame for their own fate. Their ignorance and their willingness to accept everything that they are told allows Napoleon, with his pigs and dogs, to continue their cruel and authoritarian ways. Even when it becomes apparent that the animals are no better living under Napoleon than they were living under Jones, many animals still blindly believe in the principles of animalism. This blind faith is perhaps the most tragic aspect of the story.
When you’re writing an essay, a good way to remember the structure of body paragraphs is TEEL.
Topic sentence. Start off with a topic sentence which explains how the idea you’re about to discuss is related to the essay topic.
Expand/Explain. Explore and explain ideas related to the topic.
Evidence/Examples. Make sure you use examples and quotations from the novel to support your discussion. The best use of evidence is where the quote is integrated into your own argument, for example: Old Major believed that anything that went upon “two legs is an enemy.”
Link. Another topic sentence linking back to the essay topic.
The conclusion of your essay should briefly recap that ideas you’ve discussed and tie up your argument. A good conclusion should leave your reader with the impression that you have convincingly answered the essay topic. Try to avoid repeating yourself. You may use short quotations in the conclusion if it’s relevant but don’t introduce any new points.
USING TEXTUAL EVIDENCE
When writing an essay, you will need to use textual evidence. The best way to do this is by incorporating short, direct quotations from the text into your own sentences. Quotes should always be surrounded by quotation marks. You can use either single or double quotation marks but don’t use both, e.g. Old Major believed that anything that went upon “two legs is an enemy.”
Introduce longer quotes using a colon, e.g. Old Major believed that all men were enemies: “Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.”
Always make sure quotes are short and appropriate to your discussion.
An ellipsis can be used to shorten quotes, e.g. “Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy…no animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind.”
Only punctuation that appeared in the original quoted material should be included inside the quotation marks. Otherwise, punctuation is placed outside the closing quotation mark.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
• Spend lots of time planning your essay.
• Make sure you have an introduction, body and conclusion.
• Because essays are a formal style of writing, you’ll want to avoid the personal pronoun ‘I’. Don’t write, “I think…” or “I believe”. In most cases, you can simply remove these phrases and your sentence will read much stronger.
• Avoid retelling the story.
• Use short, appropriate quotations to support your discussion.
SAMPLE ESSAY #1
How did Napoleon rise to power?
In the novel Animal Farm, written by George Orwell, Napoleon’s tyranny over Animal Farm begins when he forces Snowball off the farm through the use of his dogs. At first, he works with Snowball as leaders of Animal Farm, but as time goes on, he disagrees with everything he says and eventually exiles him. During his rule, he changes the original Seven Commandments to suit his needs, and the other animals aren’t smart enough to realise the changes. Napoleon also uses Squealer to spread propaganda and lies to the other animals, gaining their loyalty and trust in the process. These actions are what lead the Rebellion to how it originally was, when Jones still ran the farm, when the animals lived in fear.
After the death of Old Major, or his Russian Revolution counterpart Karl Marx, died, Snowball (Leon Trotsky) and Napoleon (Joseph Stalin) took control of the farm (Russia). At first, both Snowball and Napoleon were able to work together. However, Napoleon slowly started to defy Snowball, and even tried to hinder the plans of the windmill, created by Snowball. (He walked heavily round the shed, looking closely at every detail of the plans and snuffed at them once or twice, then stood for a little while contemplating them out of the corner of his eye; then suddenly he lifted his leg urinated over the plans, and walked out without uttering a word. – p. 31) During the election between Snowball and Napoleon, he unleashed his dogs on Snowball, knowing he couldn’t possible win. Since he had taken the dogs away from such a long time ago, it meant that from the very beginning he had wanted to take total control of Animal Farm. After Snowball being exiled, he used different methods of fear, intimidation and propaganda to control the other animals.
The original Seven Commandments came from the philosophies of Animalism (Communism), created by Old Major. They followed the same principles as communism, and stay the same until Snowball is exiled. When he is exiled, Napoleon uses Squealer to change everyone’s point of view, making Snowball the bad guy. He first changes the law of sleeping in a bed into sleeping into a bed with sheets. Those who could vaguely remember the original Commandments were later assumed that they didn’t read it properly, couldn’t read at all, or simple agreed with it, since it was on the wall. (Curiously enough, Clover had not remembered that the Fourth Commandment mentioned sheets; but as it were on the wall, it must have been done so. – p. 42) Throughout the rest of the story, Napoleon and the pigs changes the Commandments to suit his needs, while the other animals didn’t notice the change.
However, there were certain events where the animals could clearly see what had happened, such as Boxer’s death. However, Squealer (Propaganda) had explained to all the other animals of the ‘true’ events that had happened – that Boxer was indeed taken to the hospital, and that the carriage was a preowned one where they didn’t paint over the old name. (The animals were enormously relieved to hear this. And when Squealer went to give further graphic details of Boxer’s death bed, the admirable care he had received, and the expensive for which Napoleon had paid without a thought to the cost, their last doubts disappeared and the sorrow that they felt for their comrade’s death was tempered by the thought that at least he had died happy. – p.78) Squealer’s power of persuasion was able to regain everyone’s trust and loyalty in Napoleon, through Squealer’s graphic story, which was also used to change everyone’s perspective of the Seven Commandments, as well as convincing them that Snowball did nothing during the Battle of the Cowshed, and that Napoleon was the reason they were able to win.
The story of Animal Farm is an allegory of the Russian Revolution, which depicts the same thing as what happens in the story, and how Napoleon/Stalin took control of Animal Farm/Russia, and how he was a ruthless tyrant, and that once someone has power, it corrupts, and changes them.
SAMPLE ESSAY #2
In what way is Boxer’s death particularly tragic?
In George Orwell’s novel, ‘Animal Farm’, we see many animals being used and mistreated to benefit others. One example of this is Boxer. Near the end of the novel, Boxer is killed. Boxer’s death wasn’t a peaceful one, he was murdered by a slaughterer. This made his death a particularly tragic one. Boxer was a hard worker, he was a very deep believer in the communist society that animal farm was to become. His intelligence level slowed him down a bit but not by much. But the most tragic part would be how he was in the end used and why he was killed.
Boxer had put a very significant input to the work of animal farm. He devoted himself to it. He was one of the hardest working animals on the farm. Boxer would always wake up earlier than the other animals. At first he would wake up half an hour before everyone else. But more and more into the novel, when work production in the farm was getting low, he would wake up earlier and earlier. Boxer’s renowned motto would be “I will work harder”. And that’s what he did. He was by far the hardest working animal when it came to building the windmill.
Besides Old Major, Boxer would have to the animal that was the biggest believer in the communist society of animal farm. Boxer was 100% dedicated in the survival of Animal farm. He fought bravely in both the Battle of the Cowshed and the Battle of the Windmill, and was always loyal to Napoleon. Even thought Boxer may sometimes have doubts about what Napoleon tells boxer and his fellow comrades on animal farm, he would always believe that what Napoleon said was true and would stick to this assumption with another motto, “ Napoleon is always right”.
Boxer’s level of intelligence disadvantaged him somewhat during the novel. He could only remember he first four letters of the alphabet and was very much fooled and didn’t realize that animal farm was not a “free world”. Napoleon was using the animals for his benefit and not giving anything to them in return. But Boxer would always stick to hard work. And a mixture or hard work and Napoleon using all the animals are what lead to Boxer’s death.
Boxer was killed because he was injured and could not work or help the farm in any way anymore. And he did not die peacefully, he was murdered. The pigs claim that Boxer died in a hospital in Willingdon, but that was not the case. The pigs had sent Boxer to “the knackers” to be slaughtered in exchange for money, and used this money to buy alcohol. This was a cruel and immoral act as Boxer worked as hard as he could to help animal farm benefit. This act shows how far Napoleon and the pigs are willing to go to benefit themselves. They are willing to kill one of their hardest working comrades just for some alcohol.
In the end Boxer was only used and was given close to nothing in return. And when the pigs no longer needed him, he was sold off to be killed. But no matter what, even thought he didn’t realize that animal farm was as he thought it was, he would always work as hard as he could. Boxer’s definitely did not deserve what he got, and that’s what made his death so tragic.
ESSAY WRITING ACTIVITY
Essay Topic: Napoleon’s rise to power was ruthless and brutal.
- Write a plan for this essay topic. Start off by clearly defining the words ‘ruthless’ and ‘brutal’. Are there other ways that Napoleon rises to power? Perhaps his use of propaganda? With these three ideas for your body paragraphs in mind, think of examples to write about foe each, finding evidence and examples that are appropriate to discuss for each example.
- Write an introduction for this essay topic, keeping in mind that a good introduction should clearly state your contention on the essay topic and mention the main points that will be addressed in the body of your essay.
- Write a topic sentence for each of the body paragraphs – including the paragraph about Napoleon’s ruthlessness, brutality and use of propaganda. Remember that a good topic sentence will very clearly link back to the topic and explain how the ideas in the paragraph are relevant.
- Choose a single body paragraph to finish completely, ensuring that you use appropriate evidence and examples from the novel and TEEL to structure the paragraph.