WRITING A COMPARISON/CONTRAST ESSAY

A BRIEF REFRESHER

 

To write a comparison or contrast essay that is easy to follow, first decide what the similarities or differences are by writing lists on scrap paper. Which are more significant, the sims. or the diffs.? Plan to discuss the less significant first, followed by the more significant. It is much easier to discuss ONLY the sims. or ONLY the diffs., but you can also do both.

Then for organizing your essay, choose one of the plans described below, whichever best fits your list. Finally, and this is important, what main point (thesis) might you make in the essay about the two people/things being compared? Do not begin writing until you have a point that the sims or diffs you want to use help to prove. Your point should help shape the rest of what you say: For example, if you see that one of your sims or diffs is unrelated to the point, throw it out and think of one that is related. Or revise your point. Be sure this main point is clearly and prominently expressed somewhere in the essay. I cannot stress too strongly that a good thesis is the most important part of a comparison/contrast essay.  It is not enough to say that the two things you are comparing have some sims and some diffs.  That is a fact, not a thesis, which should be your opinion as to WHY those sims/diffs exist.  See the Model Student Essay below for a good example of a thesis statement.

 

Plan A: Use Plan A if you have many small similarities and/or differences. After your introduction, say everything you want to say about the first work or character, and then go on in the second half of the essay to say everything about the second work or character, comparing or contrasting each item in the second with the same item in the first. In this format, all the comparing or contrasting, except for the statement of your main point, which you may want to put in the beginning, goes on in the SECOND HALF of the piece.



Plan B: Use Plan B if you have only a few, larger similarities or differences. After your introduction, in the next paragraph discuss one similarity or difference in BOTH works or characters, and then move on in the next paragraph to the second sim. or diff. in both, then the third, etc., until you're done. If you're doing both sims. and diffs., juggle them on scrap paper so that in each part you put the less important first ("X and Y are both alike in their social positions ..."), followed by the more important ("but X is much more aware of the dangers of his position than is Y"). In this format, the comparing or contrasting goes on in EACH of the middle parts.

Model Student Essay

Here is an answer that does a good job of comparing/contrasting two characters.  In answer to the following question, a student in Lit. 230, Fall, 2002, wrote the following contrast of Achilles from Homer's Iliad and Rama from the Ramayana.  I have put the thesis in bold.

 "A hero does what's right."  Is this true for Achilles and Rama?  Compare/contrast Rama's reason(s) for fighting Ravana with Achilles' reason(s) for fighting Hector.

Rama and Achilles in Battle

"A hero does what's right." That statement is one that is accepted throughout basically every culture in human history. Would a hero do what is wrong? The real question to be considered is: what do these cultures consider to be "right"? Rama and Achilles do what is right in their respective cultures. In that respect both Rama and Achilles are heroes who do what's right. Today an Islamic fanatic could be considered a hero who does the right thing in their culture by killing 2,800 working class civilians. Achilles, in ancient Greece, did the right thing by being individualistic and questioning authority. But Rama, in ancient India, did the right thing by listening to authority and being concerned with dharma. To determine the "right thing" many different variables must be considered. One important consideration would be their reasoning for fighting their own personal wars and arch enemies.

Achilles goes after Hector only after his best friend Patroclus is murdered by Hector. This is similar to the reasoning of why Rama goes after Ravana. Rama goes after Ravana because Ravana steals Rama's wife Sita. Both characters go after their arch enemy because of something the enemy did to a loved one. However, this is where the similarities stop. To understand why each hero goes after their arch enemy the different sequence of events that led to both events must be analyzed. Sita got stolen from Rama as an indirect result of Rama accepting his father's wishes. Rama replies to his father's commands for him to be exiled into the forest for fourteen years by saying, "I will follow out his wishes without question" (page 48). On the other hand Patroclus is killed as a direct result of Achilles' actions. If Achilles had accepted Agamemnon's decision to take away Briseis the way Rama accepted his father's wishes, Patroclus might never have been killed. The thing that is interesting is that these differences are a huge reason why both Rama and Achilles are considered heroes in their society. Rama is heroic for the ancient Indian reader because he is obedient to his father and always seems to follow dharma. This correlates to the beliefs of the ancient Indian culture of the time. In fact, these beliefs of hierarchy are still widely accepted today in Indian culture. On the opposite side of the spectrum in the more individualistic society of ancient Greece Achilles is heroic because he does not listen to hierarchy, he questions his superiors. In western society, which is heavily influenced by ancient Greek society, this ideology of heroism is still accepted. In contrast to Rama's acceptance of his father's wishes, Achilles says in response to Agamemnon's offer of apology, "So report back to him everything I say, And report it publicly--get the Greeks angry, in case the shameless bastard still thinks he can steal us blind" (book 9, lines 380-383). Could you imagine if Rama responded this way to his father when his throne was taken away? Rama, with his denial of the throne, had just as much of a grievance as Achilles but he accepts his father's word. How Achilles reacts to Agamemnon, and how Rama reacts to king Dasaratha are both considered heroic even though they are based on totally different principles. These different reactions show what the culture of ancient India taught to be right, and what ancient Greece taught to be right. Even though they are completely different, both Rama and Achilles did the right thing in accordance with their society's beliefs. Furthermore, they are both go along with the popular notion that "A hero does what's right." 

The actual fight scenes could also be brought up to show the differences in each culture. Rama and Achilles share in common outrageous feats in battle. One outrageous display could be shown in Rama and Ravana's fight scene when Narayan writes, "After circling the globe several times, the dueling chariots returned, and the fight continued over Lanka" (page155). This passage shows how like the Iliad, the Ramayana exaggerates the conditions of battle. Also, it is similar to Hector and Achilles' battle in which there is also a chase. One important difference between Achilles' final battle and Rama's is the different roles each plays. Achilles is the aggressor in his fight with Hector, while Ravana is the more aggressive in his battle with Rama. This also shines a light on the cultural differences of ancient Greece and ancient India. Again, the differences do not take away from either one's status of being a hero and "doing the right thing." In Greece it would be considered heroic to be the one in a rage and the aggressor, while in India it would be considered heroic to be calm and collected when in battle. 

Both Rama and Achilles are heroes, even though the factors that make them heroes are very different. It is a simple matter of aesthetics. It has nothing to do with one culture being right with their ideology of what makes someone a hero and the other being wrong. The world is vastly diverse in terms of people, land, and ideology. It would be unfair to claim that either Rama or Achilles did not do the "right thing." To do so would be wrong because everyone has a different idea of what the right thing is, and. everyone has a different idea of what the qualifications are for being a hero.