Ms. Gokturk

Trends in Literature

Earth Abides Essay Assignment


Earth Abides is a novel that should make us contemplate what we value as individuals, as a civilization, and as the human race. It’s time for you to delve deeper into the novel…it’s time to explore the themes.


YOUR TASK: Write an essay of 1000 words that explores one of the choices detailed below. This is a scholarly work. You should critically analyze the novel’s content, structure, and themes. Use text-based evidence to develop and support your analysis.

In your essay, no matter what the topic, you should explore: theme, characterization, symbolism, point of view, mood, tone, and any other literary elements that you may encounter. Remember, this is a literary analysis paper!

This essay will be due at the end of the Earth Abides Unit. You will submit a hard copy to me and an electronic one to

Topic Options: (You may want to combine options)

  1. Societal  Implications
    1. Examine how wilderness challenges civilization (or causes a “de-civilization”), values, and the development or maintenance of moral and psychological identity.
    2. Examine Ish as the “Last Man” and/or the “Last American.” How is the novel a commentary on what we value as a society? Consider that many of society’s ills and positives have been eradicated and the characters have a clean slate. What do they do with it?
    3. Examine how the role of technology impacts civilization. Ish realizes that seven people can not possibly do it all or pass it all on. Trace how the new generation cope with technological issues and needs. Consider the hammer, roads, cars, education, libraries, etc.
    4. Write a comparison between Ish as the Last American and Ishi as the Last Yahi. [see handout]
    5. Compare Wells’ British The Time Machine to Stewart’s American Earth Abides. What classic values are being analyzed? How does each work reflect the issues relevant to each country and time? In other words, what is the social commentary?


  1. Critical Comparison/Analysis
    1. Write a multi-genre essay in which you compare and contrast Earth Abides to a work from another genre that is thematically links. For example, Thomas Hood’s poem, “The Last Man.”-- --You may choose your own supplementary text but it must be pre-approved. This is your opportunity to make connections to another work. Juxtapose and explicate…
    2. "This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper." Write a critical lens analysis paper that utilizes T.S. Eliot’s famous poem, “The Hollow Men.”, or simply use this quote as your criteria for analysis following the critical lens format.
    3. Research Hector St. John De Crevecoeur and write an essay that explores Crevecoeur’s beliefs and what Stewart presents in Earth Abides.

What then is the American, this new man?...He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. He has become an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all races are melted into a new race of man, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world. Americans are the western pilgrims. (from Letters from an American Farmer, Hector St. John De Crevecoeur, "Letter III," 1782)

    1. Use the inscription to part II by Crevecoeur to serve as a critical lens.
    2. Examine Ish as Koheleth from the “Book of Ecclesiastes.” Analyze how the novel is inspired from the Book. Note how Ish and Em differ in how they view their situation and life. How is the entire work an echo of Eccelsiastes?
    3. Find a quote that you think would be a solid critical lens for the novel.


  1. Genre Studies
    1. This novel is certainly a “disaster novel,” but it also falls under the sub-genre of the “cozy catastrophe,” a term used to describe a work where all but a tiny handful are destroyed. This allows us to focus on our interest and concern for these few for whom there is a sort of "happy ending" while cozily contemplating the wholesale extermination of the rest of the world.  Examine how Earth Abides is a “cozy catastrophe.”
    2. Is this novel a utopia? Choose a position and support it as you explore the novel in a smart analysis.
    3. Post-apocalyptic speculative fiction provides a window from which to view the "stuff" of which humankind is made. What does Stewart think we are made of? What is humanity? Civilization?
    4. How is Earth Abides an apocalyptic text? Refer to your definition of apocalypse to guide your analysis. What has been revealed? Research through the library 2-3 articles that address the idea of apocalyptic literature to serve as your guide.


  1. Science, History & Religion
    1. How myth, science, and religion explored through the novel? Consider Ish’s scientific approach, the hammer, superstition, religion (or lack thereof), and  how the new generation forms its own new set of beliefs.
    2. Many works of this genre read like survival manuals for a worst-case scenario. Earth Abides takes a perspective that civilization as we know is essentially over. Technology, government, the arts – these things are finished. There is no golden age of rebirth. Analyze what contributes to the regression of civilization. Propose a thesis that might be Stewart’s theory about why this happens. Consider what contributes to the tribe becoming cave-man-like, Ish’s wish to honor the world he came from, and the actions of all concerned. What is Stewart’s position on how humans will react to this scenario? Consider: Ish’s obsession with observing and then preserving civilization and intellectual legacy prevailing in the face of disaster…
    3. Examine how history repeats itself yet differently.
    4. How is this an ourobouros text?
    5. Technology. See above in Societal Implications.


  1. I’ve Got My Own Style
    1. Create your own criteria for analysis. Have it approved before commencing. You might want to combine various elements from the above topics or implement a new idea of your own.