My Brilliant Friend

by Elena Ferrante

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In My Brilliant Friend, how does Ferrante develop the theme of happiness throughout the novel?

Quick answer:

To successfully write an essay about the theme of happiness in Ferrante’s novel, you should first establish how the characters define happiness. Then, you could develop supporting paragraphs that consider how the actions and thoughts of one or two of the characters reflect this definition.

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To write an essay about how Ferrante develops the theme of happiness throughout My Brilliant Friend, you will first need to define “happiness.” You could start by thinking about how the novel’s various characters conceive of happiness and how their ideas about happiness may or may not change over the course of the novel. For instance, you will recall that, early on in the novel, Elena and Lila equate happiness with wealth. As Elena explains, “in that last year of elementary school, wealth became our obsession. We talked about it the way characters in novels talk about searching for treasure. We said, when we’re rich we’ll do this, we’ll do that” (Ferrante 70). Do the other characters in the neighborhood feel the same way that Elena and Lila do? Additionally, it is important to consider how the novel’s narration by a mature Elena adds complexity to how the theme of happiness is developed. How might the older Elena’s perspective influence the ways in which she understands happiness?

You might use your opening paragraph (or paragraphs) to establish the definition of happiness. A successful thesis statement would then make a firm argument for how this definition of happiness either changes or stays the same throughout the novel. You could then use subsequent body paragraphs to discuss the theme from the perspective of one or two characters. For example, you could consider how Elena’s and Lila’s youthful ideas about happiness change as they age. In particular, you might explore how Lila’s engagement and marriage, and Stefano’s eventual betrayal of Lila at the wedding, cause her views on happiness to ultimately diverge from Elena’s. Do these “friends” still believe that wealth leads to happiness at the end of the novel?

Alternately, you could compare or contrast how the primary male characters perceive happiness differently from, or similar to, the major female characters. For instance, do Stefano and Rino define happiness in the same way as Elena and Lila?

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