Comparison and Contrast Essay

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Learning how to compare different topics within literature is an important aspect of literary analysis. The topics in this lesson will help your students write thoughtful and meaningful essays.

The Comparison Essay

As a teacher of literature, you are probably interested in helping your students think deeply and critically about text. Sometimes, this means comparing and contrasting different elements of literature. A comparison essay helps students focus on what makes a particular text or aspect of a text or genre unique, and it also helps students see what brings certain kinds of literature together in spite of differences. Comparison essays can also make for good writing practice because they are structurally straightforward enough to allow students plenty of rooms to delve into the complexity of ideas. This lesson provides a series of topics that will help your students write literary comparison essays.

Topics About Genre and Theme

  • Focus on a novel or poem you have recently read, but choose one that you think deals with multiple themes. Compare and contrast how the author elaborates on each theme and expresses his or her views on the theme through the literary work.
  • Choose two different novels from different time periods or cultural backgrounds, but that deal with the same basic theme. As you write, focus on similarities and differences between how the novels showcase and address the theme you feel they have in common.
  • Select two novels that you think of as representative of a particular genre, such as mystery, fantasy or historical fiction. Write about what is the same about them as well as how they are different, using your comparison and contrast to derive some generalities about the genre.

Topics About Character

  • Focus on two different major female characters from two novels of the same genre. Describe similarities and differences between how the author helps these characters unfold and what inner traits each character represents. Use your writing to consider what it means to create a female main character.
  • Choose two supporting characters from within the same novel, intentionally leaving the main characters aside. Write about what these two supporting characters have in common, using specific evidence from the text to prove your assertions. Show how the characters are different from each other as well, and comment on what their presence does for the novel as a whole.
  • Select two major male heroes from two different works of drama. Write about how the portrayal of these characters is similar as well as different, using your comparison to analyze what it means to be a dramatic hero.

Topics About Plot

  • Consider a particular plot device, such as a dream sequence, a gradually building climax, or a surprise ending. Compare two different uses of this plot device from two different literary texts, reflecting on what the different examples have in common as well as how they are unique.
  • Choose two examples of novels from the same genre but from different time periods or cultures. Compare the specific trajectory of how the plot unfolds in each of these novels, and try to use your comparison to reflect on the time period or culture each novel represents.
  • Focus on two different dramatic works or novels written by the same author. Find commonalities and areas of divergence between the plots of the novels, and write about these similarities and differences with an eye toward trying to understand something about the author.

Topics About Language

  • What are two different examples of symbolism being used effectively in literature? Compare and contrast the examples you have found, using them to show something about what symbolism is and why you feel it matters.
  • Focus in on two different literary scenes from within the same text or from two texts within the same genre that use a lot of dialogue. Analyze the similarities and differences between how the scenes make use of dialogue and what the specific language of each dialogue communicates about the characters, plots, and themes.
  • Choose two different texts that use metaphor, selecting texts that come from different time periods. Write about similarities and differences in their use of metaphor as one aspect of the text overall. Think about how authorial use of metaphor may have remained the same or changed over time.


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A Dream Deferred – a Literary Comparison

The Dream Deferred – A Comparison Kristy Andrews Axia College of University of Phoenix In Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun, the author reveals a hard-working, honest African-American family struggling to make their dreams come true. Langston Hughes’ poem, Harlem, illustrates what could happen if those dreams never came to fruition. Together, both Hansberry and Hughes show the effects on human beings when a long-awaited dream is thwarted by economic and social hardships.

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Each of the characters in A Raisin in the Sun has a dream for which they base their whole happiness and livelihood on attaining.

However, the character of Lena Younger, or Mama, differs from the other members of her family. Time after time, Mama postpones her dream of owning a house and garden to perpetuate the dreams of her family members. Finally, when Mama receives the $10,000 insurance check, she feels that her dream can become reality, and purchases a house in Clybourne Park. Her dream “drys up like a raisin in the sun” when she learns that Walter gave the money to Willy Harris, who mysteriously disappears. Mama does not shatter simply because her dream has not been fulfilled. Lena Younger’s strength of character has come from the steadfast endurance of hardship and a refusal to be conquered by it” (Phillips 51). Mama’s economic hardships may have killed her dream, but she has not allowed it to kill her. You can feel the desperation not only in the poem but also through the character of Mama as you read the passages of the poem and story. The symbolism of “the dream” in A Raisin in the Sun is equal to the symbolism used in the poem by Hughes. In the story, we see what can happen to a dream that is deferred, which is what the poem speaks directly about.

The social inequality which the Younger’s encounter also does not hinder Mama’s compassion. Mr. Lindner temporarily shatters Mama’s dream of owning a home when he comes to the Younger’s prepared to give them money to move from Clybourne Park. The derogatory use of “you people” by Mr. Lindner has little to no effect on Mama’s steadfast decision to move to Clybourne Park. Mama’s dream of a house simply modifies. She does not care that the house is located in a neighborhood where there are no colored people.

Mama concerns herself only with the fact that she and her family will own the house and not have to dwell in the tired, old apartment on Chicago’s south side. In a sense, Mama’s dream has “crusted and sugared over like a sugary sweet” (Hughes Lines 7-8). Her dream has changed to fit the circumstances she must cope with. The character of Mama represents those who do not shrivel up and die just because their dream does. Walter Lee Younger, Lena’s son, is second only to Lena in arousing sympathy and pathos from the audience.

The entire play shows the development of Walter’s quest for manhood. Similar to Lena, Walter’s dream of owning a liquor store becomes hindered by his economic station, or lack of money, and his social position. In the opening scenes of A Raisin in the Sun, Walter does not occupy the position of head of the household. This secondary position to Mama demonstrates his frustration with his limiting environment, and even Walter’s job show subservience and inequality as a chauffeur to wealthy white people.

Elizabeth Phillips comments, “Consequently, he [Walter] is forever on the lookout for a means of making more money, not only to enable him to give luxuries as well as necessities, but also to satisfy the deep inner need of every man to prove that he is capable of great achievement” (54). Walter’s great achievement appears as a failure at first before revealing the man that he has become. The destruction of Walter’s first and superficial dream of owning a liquor store perpetuates Walter’s downfall. This symbolizes Langston Hughes’ question, “Does it [a dream deferred] stink like rotten meat? “: (Line 6).

The death of Walter’s dream occurs when Willy Harris disappears with Walter’s and Bobo’s money. Walter finally understands Lena’s sacrifice for him and the family with the words, “That money is made out of my father’s flesh… ” (Hansberry 1747). Walter’s lost dream rots his strength until he sinks to his lowest point in the play: Walter plans to accept the money from Mr. Lindner in return for agreement not to move into the house in Clybourne Park. “But in the ultimate test, Walter Lee cannot sell his own soul” (Phillips 55). The pride of both Walter and the family makes it impossible for Walter to accept Mr.

Lindner’s offer. Walter’s final stand made to Mr. Lindner provokes Lena to announce to the family that Walter Lee has “finally come into his manhood” (Hansberry 1757). Walter lee Younger represents those who rise above their own weaknesses even after all the dreams they work for have been deferred. The character of Beneatha Younger illustrates the best-educated member of the Younger family. Beneatha dreams of becoming a doctor. This dream originates from a childhood experience where a playmate injured himself while sledding, but a doctor was able to save him, with only a small scar left as evidence of the accident.

This left Beneatha with the determination to learn medicine. Beneatha’s obstacles differ greatly from both Walter’s and Lena’s. First, Beneatha is only twenty years old, and attractive. Women such as Beneatha were expected to marry and have children, not become a doctor or have any education pasts that of high school. Second, Beneatha’s extreme naivete towards the world around her affects her perception of her family’s and Asagai’s actions and words. When Beneatha learns of Walter’s loss of the money, she calls into question whether she will ever be a doctor.

Mama reassures her that she will, God willing. Beneatha responds by blaspheming God. The deferment of Beneatha’s dream causes her faith to “fester like a sore and then run” (Hughes Lines 4-5). Beneatha’s faith had not wavered before, but now that all she has ever wanted is precariously hanging in the balance, she questions if God exists at all and that maybe it is man “who makes miracles,” referring sarcastically to her brother’s grievous mistake. Beneatha feels that all that she has worked for since she was a child has been stolen from her. This burden of doubt, “sags like a heavy load” (Lines 9-10).

However, Joseph Asagai offers the solution of coming with him to Nigeria and becoming a doctor there, which fulfills both of her dreams of finding her African heritage and becoming a physician. Beneatha demonstrates her immaturity be her naive interpretations of Asagai’s actions and words (Phillips 59). She misunderstands Asagai’s proposal of marriage, and is unable to give the man who loves her so much and understands her so well a concrete answer. Beneatha’s complex character reveals another hidden quality towards the conclusion of the play.

After Walter’s confrontation with Mr. Lindner, Mr. Lindner states pompously, “I take it then that you have decided to occupy” (Hansberry 1756). The simplicity of Beneatha’s reply is illustrates in the statement, “That is what the man said” (1756). Beneatha executes an ironic reversal where she refers to Walter as ‘the man’ and not the white Mr. Lindner. Hansberry indicates with the previous statement that Beneatha has the capacity to recognize greatness in others as well as the ability to respond with warmth and love to words and acts of family pride and dignity.

Beneatha still encompasses some immaturity, but she shows great potential for good. Beneatha Younger symbolizes the immature person whose dreams are not completely decimated. The strength of character against social and economic hardships produce dreams that have the potential to prosper. The affects of a dream deferred vary intensely from person to person, as seen in the variety of characterization in the Younger family. Lorraine Hansberry draws a vivid description of the influence a dream can have on human beings. Similarly, Langston Hughes’ poem Harlem depicts how human beings react when a dream dies.

Edward J. Mullen notes that Hughes’ poem represents the idea that, “the inhabitants of this 1951 Harlem seem to be seeking feverishly and forlornly for some simple yet apparently unattainable satisfaction in life” (142). Both Hansberry’s play and Hughes’ poem establish a powerful and human reaction to the death of a dream. The eloquence and reality of this is believable and almost felt personally by the reader due to the excellent use of symbolism, imagery, and other literary devices by each author. It is very easy to see how these two literary works are similar since they re dealing with exactly the same theme; i. e. that of the dream deferred. However, remarkably there are also several differences. Since the poem by Hughes is of modest length, there are not nearly as many literary devices used for this type of literary work. However, it is the more powerful of the two in bringing the message across because you feel the same feelings after reading it even though it takes merely seconds to finish. Hansberry takes us through a heart-felt journey in which she hones her writing skills and uses several literary devices such as characterization, irony, and climax.

She has a protagonist and antagonist, a setting, and makes use of allegory where “every aspect of a story is representative, usually symbolic, of something else, usually a larger abstract concept or important historical/geopolitical event. ” (Braiman) A Raisin in the Sun provides a compelling allegory of human nature, illustrating choices made and the consequences of such choices through its sharply-defined characters. Clearly these two literary works have similar as well as different aspects. They both include mood, tone, similar themes, and symbolism, and yet they both are introduced to the reader in very different ways.

These works, although written many years before some of the people who read them, are very important to the literary canon today. They represent something that is still a part of our culture today, and they are very useful references to show how an author can use many different literary devices to capture the same initial theme when writing, especially since they are two totally different types of literary work; i. e. that of poetry and plays. It should be “required reading” for any professor teaching the techniques of writing when teaching about literary devices and how they are used.

Bibliography Hansberry Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. [1959] Literature. 5th ed. Eds. James N. N. Pickering and Jeffery D. Hoeper. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, O. 1700-57. Hughes, Langston. “Harlem. ” [1951] Literature. 5th ed. Eds. James H. Pickering and Jeffery D. Hoeper. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, 1027-28. Mullen, Edward J. Critical Essays on Langston Hughes. Boston: G. K. Hall, 142. Phillips, Elizabeth C. The Works of Lorraine Hansberry. New York: Simon  Schuster, 1973. 48-62. Braiman, Jay. “Mr. Braiman’s English Online. ” http://mrbraiman. hom. att. net/lit. htm.

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