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Essay Topics


New Literatures in English: Second Assessed Essay

Please check Tabula for submission deadlines. Late submissions will incur a penalty of 5 marks per day.

Note: Please consult the Department website and/or the Student Handbook for guidance on essay submission on Tabula and penalties for exceeding the word limit and for late submission.

Essays should be presented in accordance with departmental guidelines and will be marked according to the standard departmental marking criteria.

For all bibliographic citations, primary and secondary, use the MLA Guidelines, a link to which is provided on the Department webpage for Undergraduate Studies.

Please also make note of the Departmental regulations on Plagiarism.


The second assessed essay rubric requires you to write on two texts from Term 2. This must also be the case when you are devising your own questions. Texts include novels and film.

Finalists are required to write a 3,000 word essay on a topic they devise on their own. They should feel free to draw on the topics set below. You can consult your individual tutors for further guidance.

Second years are required to write a 2,500 word essay and may choose from one of the topics listed below or devise a topic of their own:

In questions that are framed around a quotation, you are expected to engage with the quotation to set the frame of your discussion. However, you are not obliged to incorporate that specific work as one of your two texts or engage in any extensive contextualisation of it. Where relevant you may engage with further secondary criticism, but it is not compulsory for this essay.



1.In his book The Postcolonial Exotic, Graham Huggan writes: “One of the trends through which African literature has been filtered and has acquired a certain market value relates to a phenomenon that might best be described as the anthropological exotic. The anthropological exotic, like other contemporary forms of exoticist discourse, describes a mode of both perception and consumption; it invokes the familiar aura of other, incommensurably ‘foreign’ cultures while appearing to provide a modicum of information that gives the uninitiated reader access to the text and, by extension, the ‘foreign culture’ itself. Thus, the perceptual framework of the anthropological exotic allows for a reading of African literature as the more or less transparent window onto a richly detailed and culturally specific, but still somehow homogeneous—and of course readily marketable—African world.” Using any two texts from the module, reflect on the politics and process of reading African literature from your vantage point. How may the texts themselves help problematise being read as “culturally specific, but still somehow homogeneous”?

2.In his satirical essay “How to Write About Africa”, Binyawanga Wainana lists a string of “Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.” Write an essay exploring any one of these subjects in any two texts of your choice. What exactly are the taboos that are broken in the rendering of these subjects? And how?

3.In her 2013 TED talk Chimamanda Adichie spoke about “the danger of a single story”. Using any two texts from the module, explore the use and significance of multiple stories and story-tellers in your texts.

4.“To tell a story is to cast shadows over the flame. All that the world reveals is, in that very instant, consumed by silence” (Confession of the Lioness). Write an essay exploring the problematic of silence and shadows in telling stories, with reference to any two texts of your choice.

5.“Those versions of whiteness that produced men like Rhodes must be recalled and de-commissioned if we have to put history to rest, free ourselves from our own entrapment in white mythologies and open a future for all here and now” (Achille Mbembe, “Decolonising Knowledge and the Question of the Archive”). Write an essay exploring the representation of colonialism in any two texts of your choice.

6.Benita Parry theorised peripheral modernity as consisting of “the incongruous overlapping of social realities and experiences from radically different historical moments”. These give rise to a peripheral aesthetic that is sometimes named magical realism or irrealism. Choosing any two texts of your choice from this term, reflect on the formal innovations made by them.

  1. It’s the Englishness,’ she said. ‘It’ll kill them all if they aren’t careful,’ and she snorted, ‘Look at them. That boy Chido can hardly speak a word of his own mother’s tongue and, you’ll see, his children will be worse. Running around with that white one, isn’t he, the missionary’s daughter.’ (Nervous Conditions) Write an essay on ‘mother tongue’ in African literature and/or cinema incorporating any twotexts from this term.
  2. ‘She’s not one of those doctors who touch black skin indiscriminately along with white, in their work, but retain liberal prejudices against the intellectual capacities of blacks. Yet she isquestioning, and he is; in the muck in which they are stewing now, where murder is done, old prejudices still writhe to the surface.’ (The House Gun) How are race and racism represented in any twotexts that you have read in Term 2?
  3. Like all African (post) colonies, South Africa lacks what Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff call "hyphen-nation": the intimate nexus of nation and state never did and probably never will exist in such an endemically polycultural society. For this reason alone, the state, rather than the nation, may emerge as the more vital and enduring framework for cultural analysis. (Rita Barnard) What role does the state play in the post-colonial African narratives? Write an essay with reference to any twotexts read this term.
  4. ‘Yes, sah. It will be part of a big book. It will take me many more years to finish it and I will call it “Narratives of the Life of a Country”.’ (Half of a Yellow Sun) Write an essay on texts and inter-textuality in African writing and/or cinemawith reference to any twotexts read this term.

First Assessed Essay Topics

Late submissions will incur a penalty of 5 marks per day.

Note: Please consult the Department website and/or the Student Handbook for guidance on essay submission on Tabula and penalties for late submission.

Please also make note of the Departmental regulations on Plagiarism.

For all bibliographic citations, primary and secondary, use the MLA Guidelines, a link to which is provided on the Department webpage for Undergraduate Studies.

Please save a copy of your essay until final results are announced. You might also want to save it for future reference, especially if you intend to study beyond the B.A. degree.

Choose any one of the following and write a 2,500-word essay. Third year students are expected to devise their own topic in consultation with the tutor and write a 3,000 word essay. They may draw on these for inspiration.


  1. “History does not give you leave to forget so easily” (Urvashi Butalia, The Other Side of Silence). Write an essay exploring the interplay of history and memory in any two of the Partition narratives (including poetry and film) that we have considered this term.


  1. The narrator of Salman Rushdie’s novel Shame writes: “Wherever I turn, there is something of which to be ashamed. But shame is like everything else; live with it for long enough and it becomes part of the furniture. In ‘Defence’, you can find shame in every house, burning in an ashtray, hanging framed upon a wall, covering a bed. But nobody notices it any more. And everyone is civilized”. Discuss the network of meanings that cohere around the concept of shame in the novel.


  1. Who do you think is the collaborator in Mirza Waheed’s novel The Collaborator. Discuss this in relation to the complex politics of the nation and the self.


  1. “Chacko told the twins that though he hated to admit it, they were all Anglophiles. They were a family of Anglophiles. Pointed in the wrong direction, trapped outside their own history, and unable to retrace steps because their footprints had been swept away” (Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things). In light of this quotation, assess the ways in which Englishness and its social meaning is constructed in the novel.


  1. “She imagined the animals circling drowsily, listening to echoes pinging through the water, painting pictures in three dimensions—images that only they could decode. The thought of experiencing your surroundings in that way never failed to fascinate her: the idea that to ‘see’ was also to ‘speak’ to others of your kind, where simply to exist was to communicate. In contrast, there was the immeasurable distance that separated her from Fokir. What was he thinking about as he stared at the moonlit river? The forest, the crabs? Whatever it was, she would never know: not just because they had no language in common but because that was how it was with human beings, who came equipped, as a species, with the means of shutting each other out… Speech was only a bag of tricks that fooled you into believing that you could see through the eyes of another being. “ These lines from Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Hungry Tide evoke and problematize the ways in which animals and human communicate. Write an essay exploring the relations between animals, humans and the environment through the thematic of communication in the novel.


  1. Analyse the ways in which Amruta Patil’s graphic novel Kari explores walking in the city as a gendered act.


  1. ‘The protagonist of Arvind Adiga’s novel The White Tiger wants to “live like a man”. Discuss the structures of servitude that he confronts and seemingly overcomes to gain (or possibly even lose) humanity.


  1. The short story ‘The Adivasi Will Not Dance’ by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar narrates the (non)performance of a politics of refusal. What exactly is the protagonist refusing? Explore the manifold meanings of the title of the story.


  1. Mahasweta Devi’s story ‘The Pterodactyl’ thematizes the problem of representation and the gulf that it produces between elites and subalterns, in this case the journalists and government officials and the tribals. Write an essay exploring the political and the aesthetic dimensions of representation as presented in the story.


  1. Days and Nights in the Forest presents the encounter of urbanised Indians with the tribal in the forest. Focusing on one or more scenes from the film, explore how Satyajit Ray represents the encounter through the techniques of cinema.