AP Literature Prose Essay Prompts (1970–2017)

Originally compiled and shared by Cheryl DeLacretaz, Dripping Springs High School, Dripping Springs, TX

Updated by Sandra Effinger

NOTE:  From 1956 (first official administration of AP tests) through 1979, one AP English examine was given. In 1980, separate Language and Literature exams were offered. The following prose essay prompts are from a variety of novels, essays, short stories, and nonfiction sources.

1970        Meredith’s “Ferdinand and Miranda” from The Ordeal of Richard Feveral:  Show how the young woman and the young man in the passage are made to seem naturally suited for one another.

1971        Orwell’s “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad”:  Demonstrate how the speaker establishes his attitude toward the coming of spring.

1972        Joyce’s “Eveline” from Dubliners:  Explain how the author prepares his reader for Eveline’s final inability or unwillingness to sail to South America with Frank.  Consider at least two elements of fictions such as theme, symbol, setting, image, characterization, or any other aspects of the narrative artist’s craft.

1973        Dickens’ Hard Times:  Explain how the author’s presentation of details is intended to shape the reader’s attitudes toward the place he describes — Coketown and the caves.  Give specific attention to the function of word choice, imagery, phrasing, and sentence structure.

1974        Henry James’s What Maisie Knew:  In the opening lines of the passage we are told the “new arrangement was inevitably confounding” to Maisie.  Write a descriptive or narrative piece which presents a person who is undergoing a new experience that is confounding.  

1975        Lagerkvist’s The Marriage Feast:  Define and discuss the subject of the story.  Direct your remarks to the significance of the events described.

1976        Work/author unknown:  Characterize briefly the world and way of life described in the passage, discuss the effect of the passage as a whole, and analyze those elements that achieve this effect.

1977        No prose selection (instead, had the following prompt:  A character’s attempt to recapture or reject the past is important in many plays, novels, and poems.  Choose a work in which a character views the past with such feelings as reverence, bitterness, or longing.  Show with clear evidence how the character’s view of the past is used to develop a theme in the work.)

1978        Johnson’s “Review of ‘A Free Enquiry Into The Nature and Origin of Evil’”: Analyze Samuel Johnson’s attitude toward writer Soame Jenyns and treatment of Jenyns’ argument.

1979        Quentin Bell on the Woolf family: Show how style reveals feelings about family.

1980        Two funerals:  Compare the different authors’ attitudes by examining diction and choice of detail; also discuss their effect on the reader.

1981        George Bernard Shaw on his mother’s cremation:  Analyze how diction and detail convey attitude.

1982        Stevenson’s “Cat Bill”:  Analyze strategies that make the argument effective for his audience.

1983        Thomas Carlyle’s “Work”:  Examine how he uses language to convince the reader of the rightness of his position.

1984        Austen’s Emma:  Explain how passage characterizes Emma more than Harriet.

Mailer’s “Death of Benny Paret”:  Explain and analyze effect on reader and how diction, syntax, imagery, and tone produce that effect. (Two prose prompts; no poem)

1985        Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms:  Compare two drafts of a passage from A Farewell to Arms and analyze the effect of revisions.

1986        Dickens’ Dombey and Son:  Define narrator’s attitude toward characters through imagery, diction, narrative structure, choice of detail.

1987        George Eliot’s “Leisure” from Adam Bede: Describe her two views of leisure and discuss stylistic devices she uses to convey those views.

1988        Updike’s “Reunion”:  Analyze blend of humor, pathos, and grotesque in their story.

1989        Conrad’s “Captain MacWhirr” from Typhoon:  Define attitude of speaker toward Captain and analyze techniques he uses to define Captain’s character.

1990        Didion’s “Self-deception - Self-respect”:  Show how style and tone help convey attitude.

1991        Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson:  Discuss the ways Boswell differentiates between the writing of Addison and Johnson.

1992        Beginning and ending of Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing”:  Analyze the narrative techniques and other resources of language Olsen uses to characterize the mother and her attitude.

1993        Lytton Strachey’s conception of Florence Nightingale:  Define Strachey’s view and analyze how he conveys it.

1994        Sarah Jewett’s “A White Heron”:  Show how the author dramatizes the young heroine’s adventure using diction, imagery, narrative pace, and point of view.

1995        Sandra Cisneros’ “Eleven”:  Show how the author uses literary techniques to characterize Rachel.

1996        Hawthorne’s “Judge Pyncheon” from House of the Seven Gables:  Analyze how the narrator reveals the character of Judge Pyncheon.  Emphasize such devices as tone, selection of detail, syntax, point of view.

1997        Joy Kogawa’s Obasan:  Analyze how changes in perspective and style reflect the narrator’s complex attitude toward the past. Consider elements such as point of view, structure, selection of detail, and figurative language.

1998        George Eliot’s Middlemarch:  Write an essay in which you characterize the narrator’s attitude toward Dorothea Brooke and analyze the literary techniques used to convey this attitude.

1999        Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing:  Show how the author’s techniques convey the impact of the experience on the main character.

2000        Joseph Addison’s The Spectator (March 4, 1712):  Analyze how the language of the passage characterizes the diarist and his society and how the characterization serves Addison’s satiric purpose.  Consider such elements as selection of detail, repetition, and tone.

2001        Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749):  Analyze the techniques that Fielding employs in this scene to characterize Mr. Allworthy and Mrs. Deborah Wilkins.

2002        Alain de Botton’s Kiss and Tell:  Write an essay in which you analyze how the author produces a comic effect.

2002B        Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News:  Note the author’s use of such elements as diction, syntax, imagery, and figurative language.  Analyze how the author’s use of language generates a vivid impression of Quoyle as a character.

2003        Mavis Gallant’s “The Other Paris”:  Explain how the author uses narrative voice and characterization to provide social commentary.

2003B        Joyce Carol Oates’s We Were the Mulvaneys (1996):  Analyze the literary techniques Oates uses to characterize the speaker, Judd Mulvaney. Support with specific references to the passage.

2004        Henry James’s “The Pupil” (1891):  Analyze the author’s depiction of the three characters and the relationships among them.  Pay particular attention to tone and point of view.

2004B        Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton (1848):  This is from a novel about mill workers living in Manchester, England, in the 1840’s.  Analyze how Gaskell uses elements such as point of view, selection of detail, dialogue, and characterization to make a social commentary.

2005        Katharine Brush’s “Birthday Party” (1946): Write an essay in which you show how the author uses literary devices to achieve her purpose.

2005B        Norris’ McTeague: A Story of San Francisco: Discuss how the characterization in the passage reflects the narrator’s attitude toward McTeague.  Consider such elements as diction, tone, detail, and syntax.

2006        Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892):  Analyze how the playwright reveals the values of the characters and the nature of their society.

2006B        From “a nineteenth-century novel”:  Discuss how the narrator’s style reveals his attitudes toward the people he describes.

2007        Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun: Analyze how Trumbo uses such techniques as point of view, selection of detail, and syntax to characterize the relationship between the young man and his father.

2007B        Seamus Deane reflecting on his childhood experiences with books and writing:  Analyze how Deane conveys the impact those early experiences had on him.

2008        Aran from Anita Desai’s Fasting, Feasting (1999): Analyze how the author uses such literary devices as speech and point of view to characterize Aran’s experience.

2008B        Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818): Analyze the literary techniques Austen uses to characterize Catherine Morland.

2009        Ann Petry’s The Street (1946): Analyze how Petry establishes Lutie Johnson’s relationship to the urban setting through the use of literary devices such as imagery, personification, selection of detail, and figurative language.

2009B        Zorah Neale Hurston’s Seraph on the Suwanee (1948):  Analyze the literary techniques Hurston uses to describe Sawley and to characterize the people who live there.

2010        Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1801): The narrator provides a description of Clarence Harvey, one of the suitors of the novel’s protagonist, Belinda Portman. Read the passage carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze Clarence Hervey’s complex character as Edgeworth develops it through such literary techniques as tone, point of view, and language.

2010B        Maxine Clair’s “Cherry Bomb”: Write an essay in which you analyze how Clair uses literary techniques to characterize the adult narrator’s memories of her fifth-grade summer world.

2011        George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1874): In the passage, Rosamond and Tertius Lydgate, a recently married couple, confront financial difficulties. Read the passage carefully. Then write a well-developed essay in which you analyze how Eliot portrays these two characters and their complex relationship as husband and wife. You may wish to consider such literary devices as narrative perspective and selection of detail.

2011B        Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen (1998): The following passage is the opening of the novel by the Cree novelist and playwright Tomson Highway. Read the passage carefully. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how Highway uses literary devices to dramatize Okimasis’ experience.

2012        Helena María Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus: Carefully read the following excerpt from the novel. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze the development of Estrella’s character. In your analysis, you may wish to consider such literary elements as selection of detail, figurative language, and tone.

2013        D. H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow (1915): The following passage focuses on the lives of the Brangwens, a farming family who lived in rural England during the late nineteenth century. Read the passage carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze how Lawrence employs literary devices to characterize the woman and capture her situation.

2014        The following passage is from the novel The Known World by Edward P. Jones. Read the passage carefully. Then, in a well-organized essay, analyze how the author reveals the character of Moses. In your analysis, you may wish to consider such literary elements as point of view, selection of detail, and imagery.

2015        The following excerpt is from the opening of The Beet Queen, a 1986 novel by Louise Erdrich. Read the passage carefully. Then write a well-developed essay in which you analyze how Erdrich depicts the impact of the environment on the two children. You may wish to consider such literary devices as tone, imagery, selection of detail, and point of view.

2016        In this excerpt from Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Michael Henchard and his daughter Elizabeth-Jane are reunited after years of estrangement. During this separation, Henchard has risen from poor seasonal farmworker to wealthy mayor of a small country town, while Elizabeth has supported herself by waiting on tables at a tavern. Paying particular attention to tone, word choice, and selection of detail, compose a well-written essay in which you analyze Hardy’s portrayal of the complex relationship between the two characters.

2017   In the passage below, from The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle (1751) by Tobias Smollett, Mr. Pickle encounters Godfrey Gauntlet, the brother of his beloved Emilia. Consider how the two men confront their own uncontrolled emotions and yet attempt to abide by their social norms. In a well-developed essay, analyze how the author explores the complex interplay between emotions and social propriety in the passage. You may wish to consider such literary techniques such as dialogue, narrative pace, and tone.