The 2017 AP English Literature Free Response Questions focus on varying themes and are each structured differently. For an overview of the three prompt types that you may encounter, read The Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs. Here we discuss the third FRQ prompt which allows you to choose a particular work of literature as the focus of your essay.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is a famous classic novel based on marriage, love, and society. Herein we will discuss how to determine if the given prompt is appropriate for this particular literary work and give you an idea of what to review before your exam.
Pride and Prejudice AP English Lit Essay Themes
To choose a literary work to answer your prompt, it’s important to examine the themes which are outlined in the assigned essay. If the theme is not relevant or well established in a work, you will do well to choose another title to examine. The following are the main themes which you may discuss in your Pride and Prejudice AP English Lit Essay.
Love is an important theme in the story, as it centers around the need for the Bennet sisters to marry, in order to avoid poverty upon the death of their father. Of course, the sisters dream of matches made by love, which would also serve them financially.
Reputation is another prevalent subject which is discussed at length throughout the novel. In the story, Austen often pokes fun at the snobbish way that many people view behavior and wealth. However, she also lends great importance to reputation based on behavior when Lydia’s choice to become Wickham’s lover, without marrying him, threatens the well being of all her sisters.
Social Class is the third central theme in the book. The book focuses on the differences between upper and middle-class individuals in Regency England. While the Bennets may socialize, and possibly marry, above their status, they are treated according to their place in society. Even when someone above their class is kind to them, there is an air of charity and even judgment around it.
How to use Pride and Prejudice for the 2017 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
Pride and Prejudice is a well-known literary work, with which you should be familiar. It may well be a viable choice for the AP English Lit free response question. However, that is dependent on the question. Each year the 3rd FRQ is different, and the CollegeBoard supplies a list of suggested books to reference for your essay. The absence of a book from the list does not disqualify it from use, that being said; it’s important to know how to choose which book to use for the given analysis.
In preparation for your exam, it’s a good idea to read previous years’ free response questions posted on CollegeBoard. The following review is for the 2016 FRQ prompt.
2016 FRQ 3: Many works of literature contain a character who intentionally deceives others. The character’s dishonesty may be intended to either help or hurt. Such a character, for example, may choose to mislead others for personal safety, to spare someone’s feelings, or to carry out a crime.
Choose a novel or play in which a character deceives others. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the motives for that character’s deception and discuss how the deception contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.
Pride and Prejudice is on the suggested list for this prompt, and there are several obvious and subtle reasons for its inclusion. The theme of deception is represented by various characters in the story. The most prominent one is George Wickham, who lies about his past and his social status to gain recognition, trust, and even a woman’s heart. However, the underlying idea that the most dangerous lies are those which we tell ourselves could make for an excellent essay topic. A possible thesis is as follows. In Pride and Prejudice, the worst lies are those the Bennet sisters tell themselves. Their unwillingness to look at the character of a person, unconnected to their social status causes them humiliation and harm.
To support this thesis, you can illustrate how the lies which the characters told themselves, caused them harm or to be further deceived, as is the case with the following quote. Jane does not wish to believe Wickham’s story about Darcy, so chooses to believe neither man at fault, instead of pursuing the truth. If someone had decided to investigate instead of trick themselves into thinking that no one in the upper class would outright lie, Lydia could have been spared the humiliation she later faced.
“’They have both,’ said she, ‘been deceived, I dare say, in some way or other, of which we can form no idea. Interested people have perhaps misrepresented each to the other. It is, in short, impossible for us to conjecture the causes or circumstances which may have alienated them, without actual blame on either side.’” (17.1-2)
In the following excerpt, Jane is tricking herself into believing that Caroline is her friend. Meanwhile, Caroline only keeps her close in order to discourage Jane’s pursuit of her brother’s affections.
“Hope was over, entirely over; and when Jane could attend to the rest of the letter, she found little, except the professed affection of the writer, that could give her any comfort. Miss Darcy’s praise occupied the chief of it. Her many attractions were again dwelt on, and Caroline boasted joyfully of their increasing intimacy, and ventured to predict the accomplishment of the wishes which had been unfolded in her former letter.” (24.1-2)
Next, we see how Elizabeth Bennet allowed herself to be fooled by Wickham’s good looks and apparent social grace.
“As to his real character, had information been in her power, she had never felt a wish of inquiring. His countenance, voice, and manner had established him at once in the possession of every virtue.” (36.4)
In the following passage, Elizabeth is coming to realize how foolish she had been, tricking herself into trusting based on social class.
“’How despicably I have acted!’ she cried; ‘I, who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blamable mistrust! How humiliating is this discovery! Yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind! But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either was concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.’” (36.18-19)
The self-deception of Elizabeth Bennet is finally realized by our protagonist to have even affected the way she viewed her own family.
“But she had never felt so strongly as now the disadvantages which must attend the children of so unsuitable marriage, nor ever been so fully aware of the evils arising from so ill-judged a direction of talents; talents, which, rightly used, might at least have preserved the respectability of his daughters, even if incapable of enlarging the mind of his wife.” (42.3)
Of course, many of the characters suffered from self-delusion, as seen in the following quote.
MY DEAR HARRIET,
You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise to-morrow morning, as soon as I am missed. I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel. I should never be happy without him, so think it no harm to be off. You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater when I write to them and sign my name Lydia Wickham. What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing. […] Your affectionate friend, LYDIA BENNET.” (47.60)
All of the evidence above would be easily used to illustrate how self-delusion caused the Bennet sisters to see their lives and acquaintances differently than they really were, and ultimately caused them harm.
2015 FRQ 3: In literary works, cruelty often functions as a crucial motivation or a major social or political factor. Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.
Although Pride and Prejudice is not on the suggested list for this particular prompt, you can still write a well-thought out essay for the novel. Cruelty is a subtle theme throughout the story. A possible thesis is as follows. In Pride and Prejudice, the theme of cruelty is most obvious in the subtle ways in which society and upper-class individuals degrade the middle and lower classes. Being wealthy is believed to make you an inherently better person, while the converse is also true.
To elaborate on this thesis and explain what it reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim, you will need to choose your examples and expand upon them. In the following quote, Lady Catherine is said to like being superior to those below her.
“Do not make yourself uneasy, my dear cousin, about your apparel. Lady Catherine is far from requiring that elegance of dress in us which becomes herself and her daughter. I could advise you merely to put on whatever of your clothes is superior to the rest—there is no occasion for anything more. Lady Catherine will not think the worse of you for being simply dressed. She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved.” (29.6)
Even in the following excerpt, Mr. Darcy is proposing to Elizabeth, but the most important issue is the difference they have in social class.
“He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority—of its being a degradation—of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.” (34.5)
The cruelty of society is so all-encompassing that when Lydia runs off with Wickham, it’s said her death would have been better for the family.
“’The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this. […] Howsoever that may be, you are grievously to be pitied; in which opinion I am not only joined by Mrs. Collins, but likewise by Lady Catherine and her daughter, to whom I have related the affair. They agree with me in apprehending that this false step in one daughter will be injurious to the fortunes of all the others; for who, as Lady Catherine herself condescendingly says, will connect themselves with such a family?’” (48.11)
Additionally, in the following passage, Mr. Collins is offering unsolicited advice to Mr. Bennet, regarding Elizabeth’s marriage to Mr. Darcy.
“After mentioning the likelihood of this marriage to her ladyship last night, she immediately, with her usual condescension, expressed what she felt on the occasion; when it became apparent, that on the score of some family objections on the part of my cousin, she would never give her consent to what she termed so disgraceful a match. I thought it my duty to give the speediest intelligence of this to my cousin, that she and her noble admirer may be aware of what they are about, and not run hastily into a marriage which has not been properly sanctioned.'” (57.24)
Pride and Prejudice has many themes you may find helpful for the last Free Response Question on the AP English Literature Exam. When reading the prompt and deciding on what literary work to use for your essay, remember to choose a subject where the theme outlined in the given instructions is prevalent.
In the case of Pride and Prejudice, love, reputation, and social classes are a few of the more prominent themes discussed. However, as we saw with the 2015 prompt example, this story has many underlying themes which you may examine for your Pride and Prejudice AP English Lit Essay.
For more help preparing for your AP English Literature exam we suggest you read The Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs and The Ultimate Guide to 2015 AP English Literature FRQs. And, for writing advice for the AP English Lit free response questions, Albert.io’s AP English Literature section has practice free response sections with sample answers and rubrics.
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1. Discuss the importance of social class in the novel, especially as it impacts the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy.
2. Though Jane Austen satirizes snobs in her novels, some critics have accused her of being a snob herself. Giving special consideration to Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins, argue and defend one side of this issue.
3. Pride and Prejudice is a novel about women who feel they have to marry to be happy. Taking Charlotte Lucas as an example, do you think the author is making a social criticism of her era’s view of marriage?
4. Giving special attention to Wickham, Charlotte Lucas, and Elizabeth, compare and contrast male and female attitudes toward marriage in the novel.
5. Discuss the relationship between Mrs. Bennet and her children, especially Elizabeth and Lydia.
6. Compare and contrast the Bingley-Darcy relationship with the Jane-Elizabeth relationship.
7. Compare and contrast the roles of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mrs. Bennet.
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