English 181óTopics for the Essay on Butlerís The Way of All Flesh

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 thesis.

Suggested Topics:

  1. 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 the novel?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. Any topic concerning The Way of All Flesh that you can discuss in three pages with a clear, arguable thesis.