British Identity Essay Prompt


English 252, British Literature II

Critical Essay Assignment

Summer 2009

Last updated May 15, 2008


Deadlines: see schedule.

Purpose and Instructions

This essay will give you the chance to explore in-depth a writer or topic of interest to you. Your essay should be a minimum of 5 double-spaced pages and must present an argument—some interesting, relevant, debatable, and original claim about the work of the writer or topic you choose. Take care that you don't produce a report or mere regurgitation of facts found in research. You want to analyze and interpret your material, then present the results of your analysis as a developed and supported argument.

As you narrow your focus and begin drafting, consider what kind of essay you are writing: Formalist? Feminist? Culturalist? Psychoanalytic? (We'll discuss these briefly in class.)

No matter what your focus may be, you'll need to do a little research. What have other writers said about the same subject and issues? Do you agree or disagree with those sources? Through what critical lenses has your topic been explored? Are there any issues or approaches which you believe have been neglected? What are some recent debates concerning your topic? How does early criticism on the topic differ from very recent criticism?

Author Approach

Your critical essay may be about work by any writer or topic listed below. It's a good idea to pick your writer and focus early. Also, be aware that a good many classic works are online these days, so you can save yourself time and money if you don't mind reading on a screen!

Not counting work we've read in class, any novel by:

  • Mary Shelly
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Virginia Woolf
  • D. H. Lawrence
  • Charles Dickens
  • Joseph Conrad
  • Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Graham Greene
  • Doris Lessing
  • Nadine Gordimer
  • Salman Rushdie (can be difficult, but wonderful)
  • V. S. Naipaul
  • Chinua Achebe
  • Emily Bronte
  • Charlotte Bronte
  • Jane Austen
  • George Elliot
  • J. G. Ballard (can be relatively "light"; essay must be a bit longer and more developed, depending)
  • Roddy Doyle (relatively "light," so essay must be a bit longer and more developed)

Story collections by:

  • Kathrine Mansfield
  • Jean Rhys
  • Alice Munro
  • Elizabeth Gaskell

Full-length plays by:

  • Tom Stoppard
  • Harold Pinter
  • Bernard Shaw
  • Samuel Beckett

Poetry or essay collections by anyone in our Norton whom we haven't studied in class.

Note: yes, you may certainly propose your own author, though you'll need to discuss your choice with me and present an argument as to why the writer is worth examining.

Topic Approach

Rather than focusing on a particular writer, you may wish to tackle a particular topic in British literary studies. A good place to start would be the many relevant information sections of the Norton, as well as the Norton online with its good study topics. Lots of possibilities here—and a chance also to do something innovative as well. Some obvious, very broad examples include The Canon, Definitions of British Literature, Pop Culture and Literature; Literature and Film; Empire and National Identity; etc. We'll brainstorm some ideas in class, and break these broad examples down into their many possible subtopics. We'll also review general research strategies and specific research tips for this assignment. SEE BELOW FOR ONGOING CLASS LIST OF IDEAS.


Imagine that your essay will appear in a casebook on a particular writer, genre, and/or topic in British literature since 1785. Your reader is any undergraduate college student and instructor interested in learning more about your chosen subject. This reader wants new ways of interpreting the subject, but is critical of any argument. That is, this reader is a tough sell and will question your claims, expecting ample supporting evidence of several kinds.

Evaluation Criteria

  • Your essay must be a minimum of 5 typed and double-spaced pages.
  • It should include a helpful and engaging title.
  • It must have a clear, debatable central point (thesis), supported and developed with plenty of detail, analysis, and research, as needed.
  • Your essay should show awareness of its audience's expectations and needs.
  • Your essay should be focused, unified, and well-organized, with appropriate paragraphing and transitions. Click here for helpful review.
  • Your essay should show virtually no spelling or grammatical errors, vagueness, or awkward sentence constructions. Click here for helpful review.
  • All sources should be documented and the manuscript formatted according to MLA guidelines. Click here for a helpful resource.

Explanation of Letter Grades

An "A" paper meets all of the stated criteria and follows all of the instructions above exceptionally well, with imagination, insight, clarity, polish, and detail. It is conspicuously better than most work turned in.

A "B" paper meets most of the stated criteria and instructions very well, or all of it moderately well. It may be excellent in many respects but unoriginal, or very original but only adequate in other key ways. It's terrific but does not especially stand out.

A "C" paper meets most of the stated criteria well enough, or a minor portion of it very well. It will likely be somewhat perfunctory, uninspired, or unoriginal, as well as insufficiently developed or convincing in spots. It will probably show no "stretch." Its flaws are noticeable and detracting, but not overwhelming.

A "D" paper meets few of the stated criteria, but performs minimally well in one or maybe two areas—enough to warrant passing. Glaring flaws make any strengths difficult to spot.

Grading Scale

Note: I first assign a letter grade based on the explanations above, then fine-tune that letter with points. You'll see both a letter grade and a score on your paper, though the points are the crucial thing, as they are tallied at semester's end to determine your final grade.


A = 36-40
B = 31-35
C = 26-30
D = 21-25


90-100 = A
79-89 = B
68-78 = C
57-67 = D

A Note to English Majors

During their senior year, English majors generally enroll in the English Capstone course (Engl 467), during which they assemble a portfolio containing representative written work from NDSU English courses. The English Department evaluates these portfolios to assess its undergraduate programs, analyzing how student work meets departmental outcomes. In order to facilitate the preparation of senior portfolios, English majors are encouraged to save copies of their written work (in electronic and hard copy) each semester.


How and When to Turn in Your Work

Please do not use a folder for your essay, especially the plastic, slippery kind with a removable spine. They drive me nuts. (They don't stay together; they're more slippery than shower soap; they don't fit well in a stack of papers...) Simply staple your pages together.

You may hand your work in to my SE 318 mailbox, slip it under my 318F office door, or leave it on my desk if my office is open. If you want this work returned, enclose it in a self-addressed and self-stamped envelope. Essays without an envelope will be discarded.

You may also email the finished essay to me—but be sure to put very clear identifying info on the subject line and attach it as a Word document. Don't use Works, WordPerfect, or Word 2007, and don't paste the paper into the email message itself. I'll open the file, type feedback and a score, then simply email it back to you.

Deadline: see schedule.


We will keep a running list here as the semester progresses. Whenever you have an idea, share it/run it by the class. (One or two items below are from sources, though my citations and notes for these have been lost.)

  1. Neglected writers: make a case for their inclusion in the canon.
  2. Pampered writers: make a case for their exclusion from the canon.
  3. Early Norton selections vs. recent: how has the Norton changed and how would you assess those changes?
  4. Who determines what goes into the Norton? How do canons form? How can canons be changed?
  5. Contemporary assessments of Romanticism.
  6. Critical reception of a particular writer over time.
  7. The influence of a particular writer on other writers, old and new. Ways in which a writer has influenced contemporary culture.
  8. Two poems or prose works: comparison and contrast.
  9. A formalist, feminist, culturalist, Marxist, deconstructionist, psychoanalytical, or reader-response analysis of a particular work.
  10. How Thomas Hardy or Joseph Conrad or Gerard Manley Hopkins is a Victorian writer. How Thomas Hardy or Joseph Conrad or Gerard Manley Hopkins is a Modernist writer.
  11. An investigation of the Coleridge-Wordsworth relationship. How accurate was Pandaemonium in representing that relationship?
  12. How accurate was Panaemonium in representing Romanticism?
  13. 18th and early 19th century British bookmaking and publishing.
  14. British understandings of either personal identity, gender, race, or nation—and representations of that understanding in particular Romantic, Victorian, Modernist or Postmodernist works.
  15. Interactions between British and American Romantic writers.
  16. Current trends in British Literary Studies.
  17. What is "British Literature"?
  18. What kinds of literature have come out of countries and regions which used to be under British imperial control? How have writers in former British colonies struggled with issues of personal and national identity, revolt and independence, cultural and literary hegemonies?
  19. Postcolonial comparisons of Tarzan of the Apes and Heart of Darkness.

    How are these two novels similar and different in terms of formal qualities such as theme, point of view, language, and imagery? How are they different or similar in their representations of Africa, native Africans, women and men, upper and lower classes? To what extent is Heart of Darkness a critique of colonialism, and to what extent is it complicit? Do you agree or disagree with Achebe's lecture-essay in our Norton anthology about racism in Conrad's novel? How does an appreciation for Heart of Darkness, or even an understanding of its basic subject matter, change when you read "with" or "against" the text?

  20. Romantic or Victorian or Modernist or Postmodernist literary challenges to British imperialism, industrialization, capitalism, national ideologies, or social inequalities.
  21. Bipolar disease and Romantic writers.
  22. Enlightenment feminism vs. second- and third-wave feminism in British literature.
  23. Arguments for or against the "periods approach" to literary study.
  24. A feminist reading of Gaskell’s ghost story.
  25. A close reading of fire, light, or flight imagery in the poems of Hopkins.
  26. A new historicist investigation of poet-ministers or poet-doctors or poet-insurance salesmen.
  27. A Marxist reading of capitalist metaphors in Hopkins’ poems.
  28. A culturalist reading of Hopkins, comparing his work to Rap.
  29. A psychoanalytic reading of Tennyson’s “In Memoriam.”
  30. A comparison of Tennyson’s #88 in “In Memoriam” and Keat’s “Ode to a Nightingale.”
  31. A comparison of Victorian social justice literature with contemporary models.
  32. The dramatic monologue: what was done with this form after Robert Browning .
  33. Modernist writers and Fascism.
  34. The women behind canonized male writers.
  35. How digital media are changing our study of British literature.
  36. "In Memoriam" in hypertext.



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“Even though my family moved to the United States a decade ago, I feel my belonging to China and its traditions.”

It can be a line from another cultural identity essay. It is similar to the reflective paper. If you have never faced a need to write this type of academic assignment, a cultural identity essay example and some useful tips discussed in this article will help.

After reading this informative post, if you still feel like having no idea how to organize your homework assignment on a specific topic, contact professional online writers and editors to lend a helping hand.


Cultural Identity Essay: Definition & Goals

Define the term before writing the paper. A cultural identity essay is a type of creative or academic writing that expresses the feeling of belonging to a particular culture attributed to the growing up and becoming a separate person with its personality. It provides a human with the sense of identification with the certain nationality, customs, and traditions. An essay about cultural identity should focus on several elements:

  • Nationality
  • Language
  • Location
  • Gender
  • History
  • Religion

An essay of this type has a structure similar to other common types of academic essays. The difference is in the topic. Unlike the basic types of academic assignments such as argumentative or persuasive essays, a student should use the 1st person when writing. A teacher will not ask for any sources in most cases – the paper is about describing personal experience, feelings, emotions, skills, and knowledge of the student. No extra research is required unless a student lacks specific skills like writing or formatting.

The format is MLA in most cases because an essay about cultural identity is the part of English Language & Literature class, which follows the formatting guidelines offered by The Modern Language Association.

A student may include some in-text citations to illustrate his native land. A teacher will appreciate the usage of any sources of famous writers describing the culture & traditions of the discussed land. However, including any citations along with references is optional.

Cultural Essay: Example of Ideas to Discuss

The topic of assignment may seem narrow. In fact, there are 5 things a student can choose from when working on an essay on cultural identity:

  1. A real-life experience
  2. The product of author’s imagination
  3. A location connected to the author’s memories or specific object
  4. An influential figure
  5. A place that matters
  6. A most memorable tradition

A student can describe how he/she gained community appreciation after running some campaign aimed to protect the rights of rare local animals. Another good idea is to share experience after visiting a national holiday. You can describe a location where you have learned everything about the domestic dishes including the ways to cook them and lay the table. Talking about something a person used to fail is a good idea. The worst experience may turn out the most valuable life lesson if the writer presents it in a positive light. One more nice idea is to describe the important person from the native land who has shown the importance of obeying customs & traditions of the native land.

Minor facts such as outdoor activities a writer were involved in being little child matter in the cultural identity essay. The thought process behind developing a powerful paper of this type is called a cultural identity theory, which means identifying one with the group of humans he/she used to grow with.

After selecting the topic and creating an outline, come up with a title.


How to Start an Essay on Cultural Identity

To begin with, select a good topic for an essay. Experts recommend choosing a topic, which is conversant with to help with following the content and presenting the ideas in a clear manner. If the teacher tells to pretend a student is someone else and write the story based on the life of another person of a different nationality, the research will come in handy. In other situations, skip the research step.

Professional Advice:

“Organize the ideas after deciding on the topic. Start with the brainstorming with other students and parents – the aged people possess the widest knowledge of customs & traditions. Write down the most interesting ideas on a separate paper. After introducing the topic to the target audience, finish the introduction with the powerful thesis statement, which is the main argument of the whole writing.

A thesis statement can be broad in the cultural identity essay example. Example:

“Cultural identity determines every new aspect of an individual inwards and outwards.”
The body should focus on exploring the meaning of this thesis.”

Monica Brainy, an academic writer at WriteMyPaper4Me

Developing Body Paragraphs

Make it a standard 5-paragraph essay. While some of the paragraphs can be lengthy, others can be short – ensure switching between the sentences of different size to make it easier to read. The paragraphs should be of the near the same length. A planning stage which results in the essay outline will help to follow the logic and include every necessary thought retrieved during the process of brainstorming. Keep in mind the following:

  1. Start each body paragraph with a cohesive argument
  2. Provide some evidence based on real-life examples or sources
  3. Connect the ideas into one whole using transitions

Did you get stuck in the middle of the writing process? Learn what mistakes to avoid in essay writing here.

Cultural Identity Essay Example Extract

“I was born in rural California, but my family moved to New York City before I reached the age of 10. My mother is 100% Albanian and comes from a Mormon family that identifies powerfully with the culture and traditions of Albania – a land, which is full of mystery and secrets to the US citizens. My dad is a British guy, who was adopted by the poor American family. Our family lived in a nice middle-sized private house in a suburb of Los Angeles. I am the single child in a family, but I wish I had some brothers or sisters as I used to feel lonely until the age of 7. While my dad is atheist despite most of the British people obey Orthodox religion, my mother is 100% Mormon, and she raised me following the strict rules and mal principles.”

Thanks to the essay example, a student may realize how to handle a paper of this type. From one side, every student can describe his childhood. Form the other side; it is not that easy to focus on the main problem. If you wish someone to write a brilliant essay about cultural identity, reach a professional academic writing service offered by the people of different nations who know everything about writing a good reflection paper for your English Composition class.

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