English 181óTopics for the Essay on Butlerís The Way of All
Due date: May 4, 2000
General Instructions: The essay should be a three-page essay
on a topic related to Samuel Butlerís The Way of All Flesh. As for
all essays, you should have a single, unified thesis that you prove logically
and thoroughly. Your experience, impressions, and response to the work
can guide your interpretation, but make sure that everything you claim
is demonstrable. If you decide to use one of the suggested topics, keep
in mind that you will need to narrow its focus considerably to make a strong
Samuel Butler based The Way of All Flesh on events and people from
his own life, but modified them considerably. Choose one character, element,
or incident from the novel and do some library research on its real life
counterpart. What conclusions can you draw from how Butler changed it for
How does Butlerís version of Darwinís theories affect the narrative development
of the novel? Why, for instance, does he include so many generations of
the Pontifex family in his narrative? What significance does it have for
understanding Ernestís character and story?
Choose a social, scientific, or theological issue mentioned in the novel
and read about it. How does an understanding of the issue affect your interpretation
of the novel? For instance, what was the Oxford Movement, and what can
you conclude about Butlerís view of it from the incidents and characters
in the novel?
Butlerís novel includes many descriptions of Victorian courtship, marriage,
and family life. What do these descriptions say about these assumptions
and practices? Does the novel represent a kind of critique? What aspects
of these institutions receive close examination, and what does it say about
Butlerís view of Victorian society?
The narrator of The Way of All Flesh, Edward Overton, frequently
makes sharp and humorous commentary on the characters, incidents, and institutions
in the novel. Is he trustworthy in all instances? Are there moments when
he reveals any particular interest or bias in his narrative that might
affect what he reports? Where does he fit in the world of this novel, and
what devices does he use to convince us of his viewpoint?
Any topic concerning The Way of All Flesh that you can discuss in
three pages with a clear, arguable thesis.