AP® English Literature and Composition—Semester A

All of the literature. None of the stuffiness.

This course has been approved by the College Board, which indicates that the syllabus "has demonstrated that it meets or exceeds the curricular expectations colleges and universities have for your subject." Please contact sales@shmoop.com if you would like to add this course to your official record of AP course offerings.

It has also been granted a-g certification, which means it has met the rigorous iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Courses and will now be honored as part of the requirements for admission into the University of California system.

We're gonna be honest: taking Shmoop's AP® English Literature and Composition course isn't exactly a bag-lunch picnic in the park. It's more like dinner at a five-star restaurant with a spectacular view, live entertainment (tasteful, of course), and an impressive guest list.

Mouth watering, yes—but it doesn't come cheap. You can expect to put in some hard work while you rub elbows with the classics, discourse brilliantly about nuances of style, tone, or genre, and weigh in on loads of literary masterpieces.

From Sophocles' tragedy of tragedies, Oedipus the King, to the dark humor of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying; and from the light-hearted satirical hilarity of Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest to the dystopian future of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale; this course is the literary equivalent of Bill &Ted's Excellent Adventure minus the low IQs. It will transform you from a good reader into a great one and help you hone your writing skills.

Through intros, readings, activities, and more practice than you could shake a 700-page tome at, you will

  • move with relative ease (and minimal grumbling) between literary texts of varying genres (poetry, fiction, and drama).
  • read with fluency texts from way back in the 16th century all the way up to the 21st century. Yep—grab the Dramamine and get ready to do some time traveling.
  • become a resident expert on literary analysis. Just don't expect a big paycheck.
  • recognize that literature does not exist in a vacuum—history, politics, social and cultural values all impact a text like whoa.
  • practice and hone different kinds of writing: writing to understand, writing to explain, and writing to evaluate.
  • develop a literary vocabulary and use it.
  • understand and explain how an author's choice of genre can contribute to, impact, or inform a text.
  • handle multiple-choice questions about a text's literary qualities, meaning and purpose, point of view, style, diction and syntax…under timed conditions.
  • produce strong and clearly written analytical essays at the drop of a hat—with no advance warning and under severe time restrictions.

In short, you'll get to spend two glorious semesters among some of the greatest literary minds that have ever existed. Not too shabby.

P.S. This is a two-semester course. You're looking at Semester A; you can find Semester B here.

Unit Breakdown

  1. AP® English Literature and Composition—Semester A - How to Get Your Exam On

    This first unit will ease you into the course with a short and sweet overview of what Shmoop's English Literature and Composition course is all about. Think of it as basic training.

    During our mini boot camp, we'll be learning the ropes, getting organized, and plunging into the type of activities that will provide a foundation for the course. In these few days, we'll work to demystify the process of reading, analyzing, and writing about literature.

  2. AP® English Literature and Composition—Semester A - Oh, Don't Be So Dramatic

    The unit opens with a trip Greece and Oedipus the King, but that's just the beginning. Brace yourself for a whirlwind tour of other times, eras, and authors.

    We'll visit Aristotle and hear all about why, exactly, he thought Sophocles' Oedipus was the bomb. Then, get ready to be weirded out when we drop by Freud's office as he gets his shrink groove on, waxing philosophical about the Oedipal complex. And to round out our study of Sophocles' play, we'll discover what Plato has to say about living life in the dark.

  3. AP® English Literature and Composition—Semester A - Know Thyself

    As we accompany Milkman on his journey in Song of Solomon, we'll explore some of the history, politics, and art that lead up to the Civil Rights movement. Through the lens of Toni Morrison's novel, we'll also check out magical realism, listen in on some spirituals, and visit our trusty literary guru, Thomas Foster, to read what he has to say about interpreting things like quests and the fine art of flying.

    In short, this is no self-discovery quest for an angsty teeny-bopper. This is the real deal.

  4. AP® English Literature and Composition—Semester A - New Beginnings

    In true Victorian fashion, Charlotte Brontë packs a lot into her novel, Jane Eyre.

    If you ever had any questions regarding what usually happened to penniless, orphaned girls in Victorian times or about Victorian attitudes towards sex or about the education of young women in the early 19th century, Jane Eyre is certain to answer them all.

    Plus, we'll also be examining Brontë's writing style, her use of a first-person narrator, and the Gothic and Romantic elements of the novel. Lest this sound a tad stuffy, we should mention that we'll also be following Jane as she takes on the darker side of life in the Victorian age. Translation: we'll be doing a little vampire hunting and exploring Brontë's take on all things crazy.

  5. AP® English Literature and Composition—Semester A - All That Glitters Is Not Gold

    Spanning roughly four decades, from the 1920s to the 1950s, the Harlem Renaissance had it all. Texts like Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, August Wilson's Fences, and loads of poetry tackle the everyday reality of life for African Americans living during the first half of the 20th century.

    While that may not sound like a rebirth to you, it was definitely a time of great creative renewal for the artists that lived and worked in the movement. And that's exactly what we'll be studying in this unit.

  6. AP® English Literature and Composition—Semester A - A Poetic Interlude—Round 1

    Sometimes poetry just needs a little elbowroom all to itself. After all, despite the fact that like its more long-winded cousins—fiction and drama—it serves as a record of human experience, poetry follows a very different set of rules. And sometimes, those rules are so tricky and mind-boggling, they warrant special attention.

    The key players in this poetic interlude include the Augustans, the Metaphysical poets, and Romantics—done American-style, that is.

  7. AP® English Literature and Composition—Semester A - Role Playing

    In this unit, we'll be traveling from the light and airy farcical humor of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest to the dark horrors of the colonial endeavor and human nature in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

    At first glance, that's a rather strange pairing, we admit. But bear with us. Blatant differences aside, the two texts have more in common than you might think. Written four years apart and both debuting in England, the texts explore the idea of identity, critique late-19th-century society's obsession with difference (social, cultural, and racial), and draw attention to the often huge divide (we mean fall-into-the-Grand-Canyon huge) between the illusions that people prefer and the reality that exists beneath those seemingly smooth surfaces.

  8. AP® English Literature and Composition—Semester A - Midterm Review

    Rather than pile on a few more texts, Shmoop believes that review should be just that: the opportunity to regroup, reconsider, and revisit those texts or skills that you believe require another look before sitting down to take an important, the fate-of-your-entire-academic-career-depends-upon-your-score kind of test.

    And Unit 8 will be just that: your review unit.

  9. AP® English Literature and Composition—Semester A - On Death, Madness, and Other Unfortunate Realities

    Death and insanity are very real and serious matters, making them prime subjects for the arts. And that's exactly what this unit is all about. We're going to be making stops in Elizabethan England and in the 1920s American South to meet two literary giants by the name of Will—William Shakespeare and William Faulkner, that is.

    As we read their texts, we'll discover how closely interwoven the tragical and comical can be, debate the fine line between sane and insane, and examine obligations to family and state/society. As we follow the sometimes destructive, ever eventful journeys of the protagonists, we'll also investigate the ways in which genre conventions shape the narratives. And, just in case you're thinking that the agenda sounds a little light: Conflict. Sex. Women. Revenge. Skeletons in the closet. Yep, Hamlet and As I Lay Dying have them, too.

  10. AP® English Literature and Composition—Semester A - I Am Mighty, Hear Me Roar

    Aside from digging into the whole, deep character philosophy that Hardy has going on in The Mayor of Casterbridge, this unit will also explore how Hardy's writing (both poetry and prose) reflects some of the key issues and ideas of his day. Social conventions, gender roles, the marriage institution, the impact of science on religious belief—the late 19th century could be quite the weighty affair.

    So if you're the thinking type, as Hardy was, you better believe that personal experiences and beliefs will impact your writing.

  11. AP® English Literature and Composition—Semester A - Poetic Interlude, Round 2

    This unit spans centuries, examines works from writers as diverse as William Shakespeare, E.E. Cummings, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Sylvia Plath, and Ezra Pound, and introduces you to the extremes of human experience all within a two short weeks.

    If that sounds like a tall order, well, it is. But Shmoop believes in the age old mantra, go big or go home. So that's exactly what we're going to do.

  12. AP® English Literature and Composition—Semester A - Gender, Sex, and Violence

    With gender differences and biases so deeply entrenched in societies throughout the world, it comes as no surprise that gender figures largely in literature. And that, folks, is what this unit is all about.

    From Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale to Elizabeth Glaspell's Trifles, we'll be exploring gender-related topics as widely varied as "What happens when a government reconstructs a society around the need to increase birth rates?" and "Is there a difference between how men and women process information?" Such questions are set against the backdrop of a satire that pushes the interrelationship between sex and politics to extremes and a murder case that pits hard, cold facts against the nuances of psychology.

  13. AP® English Literature and Composition—Semester A - Reality. Illusion. What's the Difference?

    What happens when reality intersects with an illusion?

    That Big Question (and a whole bunch of others) is what One Hundred Years of Solitude—and this unit—are all about.

    It's also about the history of mankind. As well as that of Latin America. It's about how one town can stand in allegorically for Gabriel García Márquez's country. And how one crazy, fecund, persistent, and obsessive family can represent all of humanity.

    Oh, and it's about solitude, too.

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