The 2017 AP English Literature Free Response Questions focus on varying themes and are each structured differently. For an overview of the three prompt types you may encounter read The Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs. Here we will discuss the third FRQ prompt which allows you to choose a particular work of literature as the focus of your essay.
Beloved by Toni Morrison is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novel about slavery in America and the redemption of those deemed irredeemable. Herein we will discuss how to determine if the given prompt is appropriate for this particular literary work and give you an idea of what to review before your exam.
Beloved Themes for AP English Literature
In order to choose a literary work to answer your prompt, it’s important to examine the themes which are outlined in the assigned essay. If the theme is not relevant or well established in a work, you will do well to choose another title to examine. The following are the main themes which you may discuss in your Beloved AP English Lit Essay.
Slavery is a prevalent theme in Beloved. The institution and implementation of American slavery is written from many different viewpoints. Morrison examines both “good” and “bad” slaves and slave owners.
Slavery’s destruction of personal identity is another theme widely discussed throughout the story. The trade of human lives as commodities and property caused the slaves to lose their sense of self. Even after acquiring freedom, some slaves were unable to see their self-worth and develop an identity separate from slavery.
The importance community solidarity plays into the development of a person’s identity, and happiness is another prevalent theme. We are shown how their acceptance into a greater community informs Sethe and Denver’s sense of self-worth. In his escape from prison, Paul D relies on the cooperation of his fellow inmates, accomplishing something he wouldn’t have alone.
The power of language is a profound theme throughout the story. Morrison manipulated the use and understanding of language for her characters. The misunderstanding of “Dearly Beloved,” for example, caused Sethe to associate the word Beloved with her dead daughter. And, the convicts speak openly about their plans to escape through the garbling of language, to fool the guards.
The Supernatural is a prominent theme, by way of the title character Beloved. Beloved is widely accepted as an angry spirit who makes herself known. However, the suggestion is also entertained that she may be a runaway slave, hiding from her master and torturing Sethe.
How to use Beloved for the 2017 AP English Literature Free Response Questions
Beloved is a well known literary work, with which you should be familiar. It may well be a viable choice for the AP English Lit free response question. However, that is dependent on the question. Each year the 3rd FRQ is different, and the CollegeBoard supplies a list of suggested books to reference for your essay. The absence of a book from the list does not disqualify it from use That being said, it’s important to know how to choose which book to use for the given analysis.
In preparation for your exam, it’s a good idea to read previous years’ free response questions posted on CollegeBoard. The following review is for the 2016 FRQ prompt.
2016 FRQ 3: Many works of literature contain a character who intentionally deceives others. The character’s dishonesty may be intended to either help or hurt. Such a character, for example, may choose to mislead others for personal safety, to spare someone’s feelings, or to carry out a crime.
Choose a novel or play in which a character deceives others. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the motives for that character’s deception and discuss how the deception contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.
Beloved is one of the choices for this free response question. And, it is a viable one, at that. There are a few options for composing a thesis and essay; the following would be a possible suggestion. In Beloved, the title character is believed, by Sethe, to be the incarnation of her murdered infant daughter while the reality seems more likely that she is an escaped slave girl who is using Sethe’s past to manipulate her. The deception perpetrated by Beloved to make Sethe believe she is her resurrected daughter is cruel and often manipulative, in an apparent effort to overtake Sethe’s life with Paul D.
A few passages to support this theory are as follows. A well-written essay would implore the reader to see this version of the story and understand how this deception shaped the story. In the first passage, Beloved is seducing Paul D, in an attempt to replace Sethe in her own family. In the second passage, Beloved appears to be recounting memories which could not be those of the murdered baby which Sethe believes her to be. In the third passage, we see why Sethe is so ready to accept Beloved as her daughter; she longs to undo the killing of her child. The last three excerpts illustrate how Beloved wants to be accepted and loved, but has no home, no name, and no one to remember her when she is gone. It’s easy to determine that she is merely looking to belong and instead of creating meaningful connections, she chooses to become this false persona because she has no identity of her own.
“But she moved him nonetheless, and Paul D didn’t know how to stop it because it looked like he was moving himself. Imperceptibly, downright reasonably, he was moving out of 124.” – chapter 11
“You disremember everything? I never knew my mother neither, but I saw her a couple of times. Did you never see yours? What kind of whites was they? You don’t remember none?”
“Beloved, scratching the back of her hand, would say she remembered a woman who was hers, and she remembered being snatched away from her. Other than that, the clearest memory she had, the one she repeated, was the bridge—standing on the bridge looking down. And she knew one whiteman” – chapter 12
“When I put that headstone up I wanted to lay in there with you, put your head on my shoulder and keep you warm, and I would have if Buglar and Howard and Denver didn’t need me, because my mind was homeless then. I couldn’t lay down with you then. No matter how much I wanted to. I couldn’t lay down nowhere in peace, back then. Now I can. I can sleep like the drowned, have mercy. She come back to me, my daughter, and she is mine.” – Sethe, chapter 20
“Although she has claim, she is not claimed. In the place where long grass opens, the girl who waited to be loved and cry shame erupts into her separate parts, to make it easy for the chewing laughter to swallow her all away.“ – Beloved, chapter 28
“Everybody knew what she was called, but nobody anywhere knew her name. Disremembered and unaccounted for, she cannot be lost because no one is looking for her, and even if they were, how can they call her if they don’t know her name? Although she has claim, she is not claimed.” – chapter 28
“By and by all trace is gone, and what is forgotten is not only the footprints but the water too and what it is down there. The rest is weather. Not the breath of the disremembered and unaccounted for, but wind in the eaves, or spring ice thawing too quickly. Just weather. Certainly no clamor for a kiss.” – chapter 28
2015 FRQ 3: In literary works, cruelty often functions as a crucial motivation or a major social or political factor. Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.
The novel, Beloved, is a fantastic choice to answer this essay question. The entire book is based around the effect slavery has on individuals and families, even after release. The deeper meaning Morrison was hoping to impart on readers is the importance of family, community, and a clear sense of self. A possible thesis for this prompt is as follows. In the novel Beloved, the social, personal, and political cruelty of American slavery is the central factor driving the story. The victims of slavery are diverse in their reactions to life under the thumb of a master. However, they are overwhelmingly negative. Even years after escaping to freedom, the scars remain to haunt them as Beloved haunts Sethe with her past. Meanwhile, Morrison paints a variety of slave owner relationships which illustrate that even a comparatively “kind” master is still cruel in his ownership of another human being.
The following passages could be used in support of this thesis, along with a well-reasoned argument. In the first passage, Garner is bragging about his treatment of his slaves as “Men” which he believes makes him and his property better than others. While he may treat them better than some other masters, the reality is he sees their existence as a symbol of his strength and power. In the second excerpt, Paul D recounts how a rooster was allowed to have more self-worth and awareness than he was, living as a slave under a particularly cruel master called Schoolteacher. In the next passage, Paul D is living in a “prison cell” which amounts to a coffin in the ground, he is losing all control of himself as one may do when despair completely envelopes them. The last excerpt speaks from Schoolteacher’s perspective when he discovers Sethe with three dead children and one more, Denver, she is attempting to murder. She had been driven to desperation by the cruelty of the slavemaster and killed her children to save them from recapture. However, he does not look upon the scene with pity or compassion, only the frustration of losing good labor and future earnings.
“Y’all got boys,” he told them. “Young boys, old boys, picky boys, stroppin boys. Now at Sweet Home, my niggers is men every one of em. Bought em thataway, raised em thataway. Men every one.”
“Beg to differ, Garner. Ain’t no nigger men.” – chapter 1
“Mister, he looked so… free. Better than me. Stronger, tougher. Son a bitch couldn’t even get out of the shell hisself but he was still king and I was…” Paul D stopped and squeezed his left hand with his right. He held it that way long enough for it and the world to quiet down and let him go on.
“Mister was allowed to be and stay what he was. But I wasn’t allowed to be and stay what I was. Even if you cooked him you’d be cooking a rooster named Mister. But wasn’t no way I’d ever be Paul D again, living or dead. Schoolteacher changed me. I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub.” – Paul D, chapter 8
“By the time they unhitched him from the wagon and he saw nothing but dogs and two shacks in the world of sizzling grass, the roiling blood was shaking him to and fro. But no one could tell. The wrists he held out for the bracelets that evening were steady as were the legs he stood on when chains were attached to the leg irons. But when they shoved him into the box and dropped the cage door down, his hands quit taking instruction. On their own, they traveled. Nothing could stop them or get their attention. They would not hold his penis to urinate or a spoon to scoop lumps of lima beans into his mouth. The miracle of their obedience came with the hammer at dawn.” – Of Paul D, Chapter 10
“Right off it was clear, to schoolteacher especially, that there was nothing there to claim. The three (now four—because she’d had the one coming when she cut) pickaninnies they had hoped were alive and well enough to take back to Kentucky, take back and raise properly to do the work Sweet Home desperately needed, were not. Two were lying open-eyed in sawdust; a third pumped blood down the dress of the main one—the woman schoolteacher bragged about, the one he said made fine ink, damn good soup, pressed his collars the way he liked besides having at least ten breeding years left. But now she’d gone wild, due to the mishandling of the nephew who’d overbeat her and made her cut and run.” – Of Sethe, chapter 16
In conclusion, Beloved has many themes you may find helpful for the last Free Response Question on the AP English Literature Exam. When reading the prompt and deciding on what literary work to use for your essay, remember to choose a subject where the theme outlined in the given instructions is prevalent.
In the case of Beloved slavery, destruction of personal identity, community solidarity, language, and the supernatural are a few of the more prominent themes discussed. However, as we saw with the above prompt examples, this story has many underlying themes which you may examine for your Beloved AP English Lit Essay.
For more help preparing for your AP English Literature exam we suggest you readThe Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs and The Ultimate Guide to 2015 AP English Literature FRQs. And, for writing advice for the AP English Lit free response questions, Albert.io’s AP English Literature section has practice free response sections with sample responses and rubrics.
Looking for AP English Literature practice?
Kickstart your AP English Literature prep with Albert. Start your AP exam prep today.
Multiple Choice — 52 to 55 Questions | 1 Hour | 45% of Exam Score
- Excerpts from non-fiction texts are accompanied by several multiple-choice questions
Free Response — 3 Free-Response Questions | 2 Hours, 15 Minutes (includes a 15-minute reading period) | 55% of Exam Score
This section has three prompts:
- Synthesis: Students read several texts about a topic and create an argument that synthesizes at least three of the sources to support their thesis.
- Rhetorical analysis: Students read a non-fiction text and analyze how the writer's language choices contribute to his or her purpose and intended meaning for the text.
- Argument: Students create an evidence-based argument that responds to a given topic.
The total Section II time is 2 hours and 15 minutes. This includes a 15-minute reading period. The reading period is designed to provide students with time to develop thoughtful, well-organized responses. They may begin writing their responses before the reading period is over.