Essay Prompts

For the 2017-2018 NEHS Merit Scholarship Competition based on On Cannaan's Side by Sebastian Berry:

Prompt 1

Explain how Lily’s journey from Ireland to America, Canaan’s side, was and was not the “Promised Land” she expected it to be. Consider the circumstances of Lily’s exit from Ireland, her marriage and relationships, her day-to-day life, and her son and grandson.

Prompt 2

At one point, Lily Bere remarks, “We may be immune to typhoid, tetanus, chickenpox, diphtheria, but never memory. There is no inoculation against that.” How does Lily’s memory of her life experiences give the title of the novel its irony and the text its richness?

Prompt 3

Discuss the ways in which Irish culture, religion, history, and folklore help form Lily Bere’s story. How do these elements help make her story universal? How and in what ways does a cultural lens help readers gain understanding of the text?

Prompt 4

Lily Bere counts the days “without Bill,” but her account is also about how her life has been controlled by the fate of circumstances. Explore how Lily’s recollections and interpretations of the events of her life have led her to a final decision to end it.

Prompt 5

Craft a personal thesis appropriate for this novel and write an essay responding to that self-designed idea. The prompt must be of sufficient significance to generate quality writing that presents important analysis, one that engages the reader in reflecting on the serious topics springing from On Canaan’s Side.