Essay Prompts

Prompts for the 2020-2021 NEHS Scholarship Competition based on The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead will be posted here on November 6, 2020. Applicants must select one of the following prompts as the basis for the required analysis essay.

  1. Consider all of the material that Elwood reads and how his formal and informal education affect his choices. Address the complex role of education in The Nickel Boys.
  2. Contrast the differences between Turner and Elwood as representatives of two different points of view. Defend one or the other as the best way for an individual to survive in tough circumstances. Include in the response how the epilogue illuminates Turner and his identity decisions.
  3. Part One of the novel begins with this sentence: "Elwood received the best gift of his life on Christmas Day 1962, even if the ideas it put in his head were his undoing" (11). In just a few words, Colson Whitehead introduces the reader to the extraordinary experience of Elwood’s story. Explain how this well-crafted sentence mixes foreshadowing, suspense, tragedy, and thematic ideas. Use specific text examples to support your discussion.
  4. Whitehead weaves the words and ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr. throughout the story. Use references to King’s words and/or ideas and explain how they enhance and/or expand the story of Elwood’s journey, discussing how King’s words and ideas support a theme or themes in the novel.
  5. Nickel’s annual Christmas-light display, "designed and executed by students, drew visitors from miles around" (77), highlights the disparity between appearance and reality, a major theme in The Nickel Boys. Discuss how the Christmas-light display illuminates two additional examples of appearance versus reality in the novel.
  6. Craft a personal thesis appropriate for The Nickel Boys and write an essay analyzing to that self-designed idea. The prompt must be of appropriate significance to generate quality writing that allows for thoughtful analysis, one that engages the reader in reflecting on the serious themes in the novel.