Novels of Love and War
ENG3NOV: Novels of Love and War
Final essay topics
Word limit: 2000 words
Due date: Friday 12 June 2020
This essay is in lieu of an examination. Extensions generally are not given. However, in
cases of documented illness or hardship special consideration will be given. All
applications for special consideration should be made before the due date, and
All essays should demonstrate your reading of appropriate academic critical sources;
include quoted material from the novel and a bibliography; and employ a formal
academic referencing style.
Students may adapt these essay topics or develop their own in consultation with, and
with the approval of, their tutor and if they attach the tutor’s written approval for the
revised topic to the essay at the time of submitting it through Turnitin.
1. Intimate knowledge of the chosen novel/s as demonstrated for instance by the
effective use of quotation, and by close reference to particular passages.
2. Effective use of relevant secondary sources in the development of the student’s own
argument; a critical engagement with relevant scholarship.
3. Strong argumentation through logical sequencing and progression of ideas and clear
4. Clear expression, including correct spelling and grammatical sentence construction.
5. Observance of formal academic style for quotation, citation, footnotes and
A first-class essay would show originality and subtlety of argument and writing.
Also see the Assessment Guide (on the LMS page, under ‘Assessment’).
AMERICAN LITERATURE ON VIET NAM
Philip Roth’s The Human Stain, Tim O’Brien’s The Things they Carried, and Louise
Erdrich’s Love Medicine
1. Consider one or more of these texts in terms of their treatment of the American GI.
How do the texts present the American soldier and his trauma? Consider the choices the
different authors have made about their writing styles and the ways that the narratives
are structured. What have these choices enabled?
2. In each of these texts’ preoccupations with the war is race—in particular, the ways in
which the Vietnamese are othered by the American soldiers. These novels show (but
perhaps we could say critique) the ways that the Vietnamese are imagined in American
discourse as treacherous, as indistinguishable one from another and, in the case of
Vietnamese women, as exotic and devilish. Consider the ways in which race is depicted in
one or more of these texts.
3. Erdrich’s Love Medicine offers a rare example of a novel on the Vietnam war by a First
Nations woman. Does Erdrich, as a woman and as a Native American, bring a different
perspective to American involvement in the war and, if so, how do you see this in effect?
SINAN ANTOON, THE CORPSE WASHER
1. The narrator in The Corpse Washer is preoccupied with death but by the end of the
novel sees death and life as entwined. Discuss.
2. Produce an historical reading of Antoon’s novel that contextualises it in the national
events in Iraq since the 1980s. Assess how effective the novel is in showing the
devastation of war on individual lives.
3. Among the novels of love and war we have studied in this subject, several make
claims about the significance of the arts. In The Corpse Washer the narrator confirms the
importance of the arts in celebrating life. Discuss.
ALEXIS WRIGHT, THE SWAN BOOK
1. ‘The Swan Book describes a futuristic world where love is nowhere to be found and
where climate change is appearing in its devastating forms. But there is another
apocalypse, one that has already arrived, and that is colonialism. Combining the disasters
of climate change and colonialism, the novel seems to offer little hope.’ Discuss.
2. The Swan Book is a story that moves beyond conventional realism, and into a form
that is strange (or estranging?) to many readers. Consider how the accomplishments of
The Swan Book are achieved in part through the form of its writing, and not just the
GIVING AN ACCOUNT OF THE WAR—NUMBERS, NARRATIVES, SONGS AND ART
1. Consider the ways that counting the war dead and wounded have been used to shape
our capacities to feel or understand war and its losses in one or more of the novels
studied in this subject. What are the effects of counting in this way, and how do they
compare to other modes of evoking the trauma of war? Support your argument with
reference to one or more texts discussed in this subject.
2. Through the literary arts, readers are given powerful articulations of wars and their
effects on the combatants and their loved ones. But there are other forms of art too
that have made effective responses to and interventions in discourses on war.
Consider examples from the visual arts and/or music and song that have figured any of
the wars we have studied in this subject. In what historical contexts did these arts
arise, and how do you see them being effective in evoking war?