The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, as do the Discussion Questions in the Reader’s Guide. Advanced students can come up with their own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are provided here.
Students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the novel or the play, or both. This statement or thesis should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting reasons should be backed by references to the text.
1. Wilder speaks of the Marquesa’s son-in-law enjoying her letters but “missing (as most readers do) the whole purport of literature, which is the notation of the heart. Style is but the faintly contemptible vessel in which the bitter liquid is recommended to the world” (pp. 16–17). How well can this statement be applied to The Bridge of San Luis Rey?
2. Which character in the novel or play do you admire most? Which one do you like least? Explain the reasons for your choices, with supporting references from the text.
3. How is the Marquesa regarded by the people of Lima, and why? What does she think of herself? How valid is either of these opinions of her?
4. Why does Esteban, after Manuel’s death, tell people that he is Manuel? Why does he admit his true identity to Captain Alvarado?
5. Why does Uncle Pio love Camila Perichole? Why does she love him? Would you characterize their relationship as a satisfactory one? Why or why not?
6. There are various love relationships in the novel, but none of them involves a pair of traditional romantic partners. Why, in terms of the novel’s thematic concerns, do you think this might be?
7. In Act I of Our Town, the Stage Manager says of Joe Crowell, “Goin’ to be a great engineer, Joe was. But the war broke out and he died in France.—all that education for nothing” (p. 9). In the larger context of the play and its themes, do you think that the author agrees with this conclusion? Is education “wasted” if a person doesn’t use it?
8. Who, in your judgment, is the protagonist of Our Town? Is there an antagonist? If so, who is it, and why?
9. In Act III, when Emily insists on going back, Mrs. Gibbs tells her: “at least, choose an unimportant day. Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough” (p. 100). What does she mean by this? How does Emily learn the wisdom of Mrs. Gibbs’s advice?