Gertrude Hamlet Essay Questions

      A black child is born and twelve years later that same child asks, "How do you get someone to love you?" The answer can't be found in Mrs. MacTeer's songs or in the Maginot Line's description of eating fish together, and even Claudia doesn't know because that question had never entered her mind. If Claudia had thought about it, she would have been able to explain to Pecola that although she didn't know exactly how you made someone love you that somehow she knew that she was loved. That love was expressed on those cold autumn nights when Claudia was sick and loving hands would gently touch her forehead and readjust her quilt. Those were the same loving hands that told Claudia that they did not want her to die, and those were the loving hands of her mother, Mrs. MacTeer. Unfortunately, Pecola had no loving hands to comfort her.
      In America, in the 1940's, white supremacy reigned and the values of the white dominant group were internalized by the black community in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. These images were reinforced in children's literature, on billboards and even on the giant theater screens. Although the effects of this propaganda rippled throughout the black community, its most devastating consequences were inflicted by Pauline Williams. Perhaps it was because she had always been a dreamer and she had to fantasize in order to escape her daily grind that the silver screen was able to captivate her. Once her education was complete, and she had been indoctrinated by the standards of this medium, she could never look at the world the same way again. Everything was now assigned a category; there was good and evil, white and black, beauty and ugliness, and she would be its judge.
      Prior to her instruction, Pauline Williams loved the colors of purple berries, yellow lemonade and the streaks of green the June bugs made in the trees at night. When she first met Cholly, she felt that her savior had come to take her home and to protect her from all the ravages of the impending storms. But Cholly was only a man, a man that carried the scars of abandonment on a trash heap by his mother and rejection at a crap game by his father. Cholly, who tried to anesthetize himself with booze, for the humiliation and degradation he experienced by sneering white men, with flashlights, who stole his manhood. In the beginning, filled with the promise of young love, things went well for Cholly and Pauline in the North. However, as time went by, the colors of Pauline's youth begin to fade as her loneliness consumes her, and she is forced into the picture show for her tutoring.
      The giant screen allows her to escape her homesickness, Cholly's abandonment and the colored folks meanness. When the screen lights up, Pauline is transported into a world where she sees white men taking good care of their wives and where the women are dressed up and live in beautiful clean houses. The images are white, they are happy, and they are beautiful, and so Pauline devours these false portraits, and consequently coming home to Cholly becomes more and more difficult. Pauline tries to accept her circumstances, and begins to joyfully look forward to her second pregnancy. This time she convinces herself that things will be different, because she is not afraid and she has vowed to love it, no matter what it looks like. Pauline begins to lovingly talk to her child while it is still in her womb, and she feels good about this baby up until the end. But when the healthy, smart, baby girl is born, Pauline is repulsed by her looks, and tells the Lord how ugly she is.
      It would be very easy at this time to blame society, White and Black, for Pauline's predicament, but I cannot accept this, and am unwilling to let Pauline off the hook so easily. Pauline, unlike Cholly, knew what it was like to grow up with a sense of family. She lived in a nice house with her sisters and brothers and both of her working parents. And even though Pauline had a feeling of separateness and worthlessness which she attributed to her foot, I still suspect that she had good family role models. For example, whenever someone in her family accidentally scattered one of her arrangements, they always stopped to retrieve them for her. Therefore, her complaints of not having a nickname or family anecdotes or a separate pot of rice and peas seem a little hollow. Instead, I think her family was attentive to her needs and considerate of her feelings. Because of her background, and the kin whom she stated she missed when she went up North, I think it was her responsibility to be the role model for Cholly, Sammy and Pecola.
      Pauline also claimed to be a good God-fearing woman, yet she went to Church and cloaked herself in her-self-righteousness, and used Cholly as her scapegoat. She became a martyr and held up Cholly as a model of sin and failure, but Cholly was easy, and she manipulated and used him for her own selfish sinful deeds. Pauline never looked into her own blackish heart, she never saw beyond Cholly to her own inequities. She seemed to be only interested in gaining approval and pity from the church women who had ridiculed and scorned her. Unfortunately, this single-mindedness caused her to abandon her children. Pauline was going to punish Cholly for not being her savior, but in her quest she denied her children, especially Pecola/ their savior.
      Love has many facets, but children's needs from love are simple and are usually transmitted through a sense of being wanted and ultimately by being protected. These feelings were communicated by Mrs. MacTeer to Claudia when she was sick, to Frieda when she was molested by Mr. Henry, and even to Pecola when she begins to menstruate and soils her dress. Mrs. MacTeer lives in the same black community as Pauline, she is exposed to the same white propaganda, and she also is angry with her poverty, yet she does not blame the children, she blames the situation. Three quarts of milk have disappeared, and even though Mrs. MacTeer knows that Pecola drank it, she does not actually blame Pecola, she blames the circumstances and her mother, Pauline. What kind of a woman, a mother, would not check to make sure that her child is alive or dead, and whether or not she has enough food to eat. She was not Mrs. MacTeer's natural child In nor a relative, yet she treated Pecola better than Pauline ever had.
      It would be very easy to portray Pauline as a weak, ignorant woman who didn't know any better, but that would be false. If she were weak, she would have succumbed to the white woman's wishes, and would have left Cholly in order to keep her job. But instead she proves just how strong and smart she is when she so cleverly tries to extract her pay from her employer. In addition, because of this incident, it was difficult for me to believe that she could have ever idolized white society, because she seemed to have such contempt, and seemed to view white folks as ignorant, lazy, and superficial people. Another example of how clever she was, is when she discovers how to win the admiration of not only her church members, but also her new white employees. Further, even in her lovemaking, she is in complete control. Pauline is able to subdue her passion, and to delay seeing the colors of her youth, until she is assured that Cholly is powerless to both mentally and physically separate from her. Additionally, Pauline was also capable of nurturing; of calming and comforting a scared crying child, but those feelings she willingly gave to the little white girl, and miserly refused to Pecola.
      When Pauline Williams married Cholly, she became Mrs. Breedlove in name only. She did not breed love; instead she procreated shame, guilt, and ugliness. Although it is true that Cholly's behavior was ugly, and he was dangerously free to gorge his own appetite, I believe that it was Pauline who forced the family to wear their ugliness. Pauline cultivated her child, Pecola, with ridicule and shame, and so she ripened, and felt unworthy. Pauline, more than anyone else, knew Cholly's character, yet she refused to believe, and protect her child from his lustful advances. As a consequence, Pecola turned to Soaphead Church for her protection, and his path led her into insanity. However, Soaphead Church was just her guide, Pecola's road to madness had already been paved the day she was born, by her mother!

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for Hamlet by William Shakespeare that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of Hamlet in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from Hamlet by William Shakespeare at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Hamlet’s Preoccupation with Philosophy

One of the most famous Shakepearean lines—“To be or not to be, that is the question" is found in Hamlet, spoken by the title character himself. While this is the most obvious reference that Hamlet makes to his own philosophy, Hamlet makes frequent proclamations about his philosophy of life. Hamlet’s philosophy touches not only on the subject of love, but also about loyalty, family, and the virtue of suffering, among other themes. His philosophy, summed up in the “To be or not to be" (click here for a full analysis of the “to be or not to be” speech) soliloquy and reflected in his actions, might not be comfortable for all characters or all readers. Hamlet’s philosophy is particular to his own strange obsessions, and help explain the fates of the characters in the play.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Hamlet’s View of Love

Because Hamlet has been disillusioned about love by his mother’s actions, he rejects the possibility that romantic love is an important part of human relationships. He is consumed by the outrageousness of his mother’s love for his uncle, and he rejects Ophelia’s love for him, though he admitted once to loving her. Although Hamlet is justified to feel disgust towards his mother and her actions, his pessimistic view of love has dreadful implications, not just for him, but for other characters as well. For this essay on Hamlet, you might want to take a character analysis approach to Hamlet with this theme as your guide or thesis statement.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Taboos in Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Many of Shakespeare’s plays involve transgressions that violate social taboos. Hamlet is no exception. In this play, numerous social norms are violated; however, the most powerful taboo is that of incest. Hamlet is outraged when his mother marries his uncle shortly after the death of his father, and his mother’s action causes him to lose faith in love. Although the incest taboo may seem grotesque, Shakespeare puts his characters in such dynamic tension and outrageous situations in order to make profound observations about the nature of both familial and romantic love.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Unmanly Grief in Hamlet

Claudius could hardly be considered to be a model of upright behavior and insight, given that he seduces Gertrude while the grief over her husband’s death is still fresh. While he is obviously advancing his own motives, his speech to Hamlet about “unmanly grief" is oddly compelling. Claudius takes the view that all men die, all men lose their fathers. They enter a period of appropriate grief and then move on. Because Hamlet is not conforming to this norm, Claudius suggests that Hamlet’s grief is not only unhealthy, but unmanly. A close reading of the play supports Claudius’s observation. Although Claudius is certainly not free from reproach, Hamlet’s obsessional grief is not praiseworthy either.

Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: The Role of Women in Hamlet

The female characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet are a complicated lot. Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother, is much maligned for her sexual and romantic alliance with Hamlet’s own uncle. Ophelia is portrayed as a woman who is so consumed with love for Hamlet that she is willing to sacrifice her life for him. Through these two very different characters, Shakespeare portrays women negatively in limited roles. Women have no chance for redemption, and are subject to the decisions that men make for them.

A few articles that might offer some guidance with these thesis statements for Hamlet include :


This list of important quotations from Hamlet by William Shakespeare will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Hamlet listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet they are referring to.

“Tis sweet and commendable in your nature, Hamlet, To give these mourning duties to your father. But you must know your father lost a father, that father lost, lost his, and the survivor bound in filial obligation for some term to do obsequious sorrow. But to persevere in obstinate condolement is a course of impious stubborness, tis unmanly grief…." (I.ii. ll. 87-94).

“O God, God, How stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world!." (I.ii.132-134).

“Within a month, Ere, yet the salt of most unrighteous tears had left the flushing in her galled eyes, Shemarried–O most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity to incestuous sheets, It is not, nor it cannot come to good…” (I.ii.153-57).

“Be wary then, best safety lies in fear…." (I.ii.43)

“Ay, that incestuous, that adulterate beast… who won to his shameful lust The will of my most seeming virtuous queen." (I.v.42-46)

“There are more things in heaven and earth,…Than are dreamt of in your philosophy…." (II.i.166-167)

“This must be known, which, being kept close, might move More grief to hid, than hate to utter love." (II.i.113-115)

“To be or not to be, that is the question: Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them." (III.i.55-59)

“Be not too tame neither, but your own discretion be your tutor." (III.ii.16)

Reference: Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In The Riverside Shakespeare. Eds. G. Blakemore Evans and J.J.M. Tobin. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. 1189-1234.

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