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Sample Essay Outlines

The following paper topics should test your understanding of the work as a whole and allow you to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to get you started.

  • Topic #1
    There are three main themes in traditional literature; these themes include the picaresque theme, in which the character travels or makes a journey; the reversal of fortune theme, in which the character has his or her situation in life changed; and the survival of the unfittest theme, in which a character who is not really equipped for survival is able to endure.

    Which of these themes apply/applies to Dante’s Inferno?

    Outline
    I. Thesis Statement: All three of the main themes in traditional literature apply to Dante’s Inferno; these themes include the picaresque theme, the reversal of fortune theme, and the survival of the unfittest theme.

    II. The picaresque theme
    A. Dante lost in Canto I
    1. In woods
    2. Midway on way of life
    3. Right road lost
    B. Approached by form
    1. Says Dante must go another way to leave a wasteful life behind
    2. Says Dante should take him as guide
    3. Says must pass through an eternal place and terrible peril
    C. Reaction of Dante
    1. Asks Virgil to lead him
    2. Follows behind

    III. Reversal of fortune theme
    A. At beginning of The Inferno
    1. Alone
    2. Lost
    3. Dark
    4. Woods
    B. Appearance of form
    1. No longer alone
    2. Will serve as guide
    3. Morning rays of sun
    4. Now at base of mountain
    5. Will allow Beatrice to take over later in the journey

    IV. Survival of unfittest
    A. Dante threatened from beginning
    1. Lost
    2. Three animals
    a. Leopard
    b. Lion
    c. Wolf
    B. Dangerous journey
    1. Specters along way
    a. Demons
    b. Giants
    c. Dis
    d. Others
    2. Environmental hazards
    a. Fire
    b. Ice
    3. Weight of live person
    a. Dangerous on rocky paths
    b. Dangerous in boats
    C. At last emerges and sees stars

  • Topic #2
    Dante tells his own story. Do you think an objective narrator could have presented his story better than Dante, who was close to the story? Explain your answer.

    Outline
    I. Thesis Statement: Dante tells his story more accurately and with more emotion and feeling than an objective narrator might. He is familiar with the time frame, the settings, the characters, and his own feelings and emotions.

    II. Time frame
    A. Has lived through the events
    B. Can present time accurately because present
    C. Can relate time frame to that of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection

    III. Settings
    A. Actually found self in woods
    B. Actually tried to climb mountains
    C. Understood caste system in Hell
    D. Actually experienced each circle and area of Hell
    E. Actually experienced the contrasts among emerging from Hell, dark woods at beginning, and Hell itself

    IV. Characters
    A. Actually saw the leopard, the lion, and the wolf
    B. Actually spent time with Virgil
    C. Saw and talked with many characters in Hell

    V. Feelings and emotions
    A. Could describe some of them well since had experienced them
    B. Remembered feelings of fear, anger, sadness, and loneliness
    C. Portrayed feelings and emotions honestly—even the ugly ones

  • Topic #3
    Many conflicts are evident in the Inferno. Conflicts can be person-against-person, person-against-self, person-against-society, and person-against-nature. Which of these conflicts do you think exist in the Inferno? Explain your answer. Be sure to include examples.

    Outline
    I. Thesis Statement: In Dante’s Inferno there exist all four types of conflict: person-against-person, person-against-self, person-against-society, and person-against-nature. These conflicts are evident as Dante observes those within the Circles of Hell; Dante himself experiences these conflicts.

    II. Conflicts experienced by shades in Hell
    A. Person-against-person
    1. Count Ugolino
    a. Remembers Archbishop Roger
    b. Remembers being imprisoned by Roger
    c. Remembers children and self starving to death
    2. Archbishop Roger
    a. Condemned Ugolino in life
    b. Eaten by Ugolino in Hell
    B. Person-against-society
    1. Simon of Troy
    a. Lying Greek
    b. Convinced Trojans to bring wooden horse inside gates
    c. Conquered their people
    2. Master Adam
    a. Falsified coins
    b....

(The entire section is 1,083 words.)