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Comparing Two Novels

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At some point in your literature studies, probably just about the time you get really good at finding the theme of a novel and coming up with a sound analysis of a single literary piece, you will be required to compare two novels.

Your first task in this assignment will be to develop a good profile of both novels. You can do this by making a few simple lists of traits that might be comparable. For each novel, identify a list of characters and their roles in the story or important characteristics, and any important struggles, time periods, or major symbols (like an element of nature).

You may also attempt to come up with book themes that could be comparable. Sample themes would include:

  • Man versus nature (is each main character battling the elements?)
  • Individual versus society (does each main character feel like an outsider?)
  • Struggle between good and evil (are your characters involved in good v. evil scenarios?)
  • Coming of age (do main characters experience a tough lesson that makes them grow?)

Note: Your assignment will most likely give you direction as to whether you should find specific characters, story characteristics, or overall themes to compare. If it is not that specific, don't worry! You actually have a little more leeway.

Comparing Two Novel Themes

The teacher's goal when assigning this paper is to encourage you to think and analyze. You no longer read for a surface understanding of what happens in a novel; you are reading to understand why things happen and what the deeper meaning is behind a character, a setting, or an event. In short, you are expected to come up with an interesting comparative analysis.

As an example of comparing novel themes, we will look at The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Red Badge of Courage. Both of these novels contain a "coming of age" theme, since both have characters who grow a new awareness through tough lessons. Some comparisons you could make:

  • Both characters have to explore the notion of "civilized behavior" in the societies where they exist.
  • Each main character has to question the behavior of his male role models and his male peers.
  • Each main character leaves his childhood home and encounters challenges.

To craft an essay about these two novels and their similar themes, you would create your own list of similarities like those above, using a list, chart, or a Venn diagram.

Sum up your overall theory about how these themes are comparable to create your thesis statement. Here is an example:
"Both characters, Huck Finn and Henry Fleming, embark on a journey of discovery, and each boy finds new understanding when it comes to traditional notions about honor and courage."

You will use your common characteristic list to guide you as you create body paragraphs.

Comparing Main Characters in Novels

If your assignment is to compare the characters of these novels, you would make a list or Venn diagram to make more comparisons:

  • Both characters are young men
  • Both question society's notion of honor
  • Both witness behavior that makes them question their role models
  • Both have nurturing female influence
  • Both question their former beliefs

Comparing two novels is not as difficult as it sounds at first. Once you generate a list of traits, you can easily see an outline emerging!

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