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Detailed Outline of the Open Response Essay

Page history last edited by Don Pogreba 11 years, 12 months ago

General Information


This guide is meant as a starting point. You can certainly experiment with form and I do not intend to constrain your writing, but until you've mastered the basic concepts of this response, this sample outline should provide a strong foundation. This sample outline uses the novel Huck Finn to answer the prompt that follows:

The eighteenth-century British novelist Laurence Stern wrote, “nobody, but he who has felt it, can conceive what a plaguing thing it is to have a man’s mind torn asunder by two projects of equal strength, both obstinately pulling in a contrary direction at the same time.”

From a novel or play choose a character (not necessarily the protagonist) whose mind is pulled in conflicting directions by two compelling desires, ambitions, obligations, or influences. Then, in a well-organized essay, identify each of the two conflicting forces and explain how this conflict within one character illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole.




Sentence 1: Specific reference from the book: Huck's experience with the Grangerfords and the Sheperdsons

Sentence 2: Broaden this to address the theme/prompt

Sentence 3: Thesis: Although Huck is raised in a Southern culture that demands conformity to the idea that African-Americans are less than human, the conflict Huck faces between these values and his own friendship with Jim reveals the importance of following one's own conscience.

You can always refer to this guide as well.


Body Paragraph 1: Southern Society


Topic Sentence: Huck has been raised to believe that African-Americans are nothing more than property to be owned and sold.

Subtopic 1: The culture uses the law and education to enforce the idea of black inferiority.

--Detail, Detail, analysis

Subtopic 2: Even the morally upright people that Huck knows teach him that slavery is necessary and morally correct.

--Detail, Detail, analysis

Strong Closing Sentence


Body Paragraph 2: His Own Conscience


Topic Sentence: Despite the powerful influece of his upbringing, Huck's mind is soon torn between these values and his own conscience that tells him slavery is wrong.

Subtopic 1: Huck rejects the idea of slavery.

Detail, Detail, analysis

Subtopic 2: Perhaps more importantly, he begins to realize a more powerful truth: not only is slavery wrong, but Jim is as much a human being as he is.

Detail, Detail, analysis

Strong Closing Sentence


Body Paragraph 3: Meaning as Whole


Huck's conflict between what he has been taught to believe and what he knows to be right are at the center of Mark Twain's critique of the way that we allow society to shape our morality in dangerous ways.

Detail, analysis.




It's easiest to return to the structure of the introduction. Three sentences, reversed order. Ideally, you can offer a new twist/spin/clarification on the original story.


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