Comparative essay writing

Compare and Contrast Language Frames

Function Vocabulary Sample Sentence Frames


Compare both




analogous to







just as

in the same way

akin to

as well as

on a similar note,


___ and ___ both have ___.

Both ___ and ___ are ___.

___ and ___ are the same because ___.

___ also has ___.

___ is like ___ because ___.

Similarly, ___ is ___.

___ is similar to ___ in many ways because ___ and ___.

Whereas ___ is ___, ___ is ___ and ___.

___ and ___ are alike because ___.

___ is just as difficult as ___ because ___.

Contrast different



different from


one difference

on the other hand

in comparison

by comparison

instead of

in contrast to


even though


on the contrary






___ is ___different than ___ because ___.

___ is ___, but ___ is ___.

Although ___ has ___, ___ has ___.

___ is ___. However, ___ is ___.

___ is ___. On the other hand, ___ is ___.

Even though ___ has ___, ___ has ___.

___ and ___ differ because ___.

___ is unlike ___ because ___.

___ has ___, yet ___ has ___.

___ is ___. On the contrary, ___ is ___.

Despite having ___, ___ is different because ___.

One variation between ___ and ___ is that ___ has ___.


See this poster for guidelines on comparative essay writing (eg phrases used for comparison and contrast).

Coherence of your argument:

Coherence relates to the smooth and logical development of both the main points and the related details in a piece of writing. Coherence can be enhanced through careful use of transition signals. Transitions are words or phrases that show the connections between ideas or between sentences. The table below gives examples of different types of transitions and the words and phrases you can use for them:

See the bottom of p. 15 and page 16 of this resource by the University of Melbourne.

See page 19 of this same resource for guidelines about formal language and which words/phrases not to use when writing essays.


Chapter 22

Moira becomes a symbol of rebellion and resistance.  What qualities does her escape demonstrate she possesses?

How do the handmaids view Moira? Read the description on page 143 from “Moira was out there somewhere….” to the end of the page.  Offred likens Moira to the following: an explosion; an elevator with open sides; lava beneath the crust of daily life.  Look again at the prose and explain what the language suggests about Moira and the handmaids’ perception of her.


Offred talks about this account being a ‘reconstruction’ which includes things that may not have happened or may not ever happen.  She reflects on the accuracy of her account and speaks directly to her audience about the role of forgiveness as a kind of power.

When I get out of here, if I’m ever able to set this down, in any form, even in the form of one voice to another, it will be a reconstruction then too, at yet another remove.  It’s impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances, too many gestures, which could mean this or that, too many shapes which can never be fully described, too many flavours, in the air or on the tongue, half-colours, too many.  But if you happen to be a man, sometime in the future, and you’ve made it this far, please remember: you will never be subjected to the temptation of feeling you must forgive, a man, as a woman.  It’s difficult to resits, believe me. But remember that forgiveness too is a power.  To beg for it is a power, and to withold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.

Maybe none of this is about control.  Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death.  Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open.  Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it.  Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.

The Handmaid’s Tale: chapters 13-21


  • Gilead turns women against women – consider the response to Janine’s story and explain how they respond. Why do the women respond in this way?
  • What does Offred’s admission, ‘We meant it, which was the bad part’ suggest about the power of ideology?
  • The bath scene allows us to view Offred’s relationship with her body and how she sees it. What has changed?  How is language used to evoke a sense of territory and ownership?
  • To sustain her – to endure the present – Offred recalls the past. Which memories satisfy the following yearnings in Offred?

Need for friendship

Need for family

Need for children

Need for romantic love

  • A newscaster makes reference to the ‘Children of Ham’ and their resettlement.  What read world events does this echo and what does it suggest about the ideologies adopted by Gilead?
  • The Bible reading justifies the use of Handmaids.  The leaders claim the tradition is Biblically sanctioned.  What is Atwood suggesting about the concept of ‘new’ ideas?



The Ceremony (re-read chapter 16)

  1. Which word or words listed below best describe the Ceremony in your opinion? Find at least three quotations to support your view.

Ridiculous, horrifying, funny, shocking, ironic, sad, surreal

2. Compare this description of sex with other descriptions of sex in the novel (with Luke; with Nick; with others).  What has sex become for those involved in the Ceremony?

3.  Why does Offred feel she can’t call the act ‘rape’?  How are we positioned by the writing to view her response?

4.  At the end of the chapter, Offred asks ‘Which of us is it worse for, her or me?’  How would you answer this question?

5.  An imminent birth, like Ofwarren’s, is greeted with a mixture of fear and joy.  Find evidence for this and explain why this reaction is so.

6.  What is the intended effect of the State labeling some people ‘unwomen’?

7.  The aunts appear to recognise many of the issues that the feminists had with society and the dangers facing women.  Find evidence of this and explain how the ideas of the women’s movement have been peverted by the state to justify the current restrictions on women’s lives.

The Handmaid’s Tale – articles from academic journals

These links have been copied from the database Bloom’s Literary Reference Online which you can access and search from the homepage for English in our libguides. The longer and more comprehensive essays are towards the end of the list.

The Handmaid’s Tale.  Source: Encyclopedia of the British Novel, 2-Volume Set, Second Edition
The Handmaid’s Tale.   Sova, Dawn B. “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds, Third Edition , Facts On File, 2011. Bloom’s Literature
The Handmaid’s Tale. Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Encyclopedia of Gothic Literature, Second Edition, Facts On File, 2014. Bloom’s Literature
The Handmaid’s Tale. 
Burt, Daniel S. “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The Novel 100, Revised Edition, Facts On File, 2010. Bloom’s Literature
The Handmaid’s Tale. 
Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Encyclopedia of Feminist Literature, Second Edition
The Handmaid’s Tale
Bloom, Harold. “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The Handmaid’s Tale, Chelsea House, 2003. Bloom’s Literature
Background to The Handmaid’s Tale Bloom, Harold. “Background to The Handmaid’s Tale.” The Handmaid’s Tale, Chelsea House, 2003. Bloom’s Literature
Censorship history of The Handmaid’s Tale. Sova, Dawn B. “Censorship History of The Handmaid’s Tale.” Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds, Third Edition , Facts On File, 2011. Bloom’s Literature
Gender in The Handmaid’s Tale. Croisy, Sophie. “Gender in The Handmaid’s Tale.” Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature
Heroism in The Handmaid’s Tale. Croisy, Sophie. “Heroism in The Handmaid’s Tale.” Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature
Oppression in The Handmaid’s Tale. Croisy, Sophie. “Oppression in The Handmaid’s Tale.” Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature
Serena Joy.  Bloom, Harold. “Serena Joy.” The Handmaid’s Tale, Chelsea House, 2003. Bloom’s Literature
Utopian fiction. Brackett, Virginia. “Utopian Fiction.” Encyclopedia of the British Novel, 2-Volume Set, Second Edition
Bloom on The Handmaid’s Tale. Bloom, Harold. “Bloom on The Handmaid’s Tale.” The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House, 2001. Bloom’s Literature.
The Handmaid’s Tale:
Dystopia and the Paradoxes of Power. Deer, Glenn. “The Handmaid’s Tale: Dystopia and the Paradoxes of Power.” Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House, 2000. Bloom’s Literature.
Future Tense: Making history in The Handmaid’s Tale. Davidson, Arnold E. “Future Tense: Making History in The Handmaid’s Tale.” Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House, 2000. Bloom’s Literature.
Margaret Atwood’s Modest Proposal: The Handmaid’s Tale. Stein, Karen. “Margaret Atwood’s Modest Proposal: The Handmaid’s Tale.” Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House, 2000. Bloom’s Literature.
Bradbury and Atwood: Exile as Rational Decision. Wood, Diane S. “Bradbury and Atwood: Exile as Rational Decision.” Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury, New Edition, Chelsea House, 2008. Bloom’s Literature.
Alias Atwood: Narrative Games and Gender Politics. Rigney, Barbara Hill. “Alias Atwood: Narrative Games and Gender Politics.” Margaret Atwood, New Edition, Chelsea House, 2008. Bloom’s Literature.
On the Border: Margaret Atwood’s Novels. Palumbo, Alice M. “On the Border: Margaret Atwood’s Novels.” Margaret Atwood, New Edition, Chelsea House, 2008. Bloom’s Literature.
Margaret Atwood and the Politics of Narrative. Kolodny, Annette. “Margaret Atwood and the Politics of Narrative.” Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House, 2000. Bloom’s Literature.
Atwood on Women, War and History: “The Loneliness of the Military Historian”. Brownley, Martine Watson. “Atwood on Women, War, and History: “The Loneliness of the Military Historian”” Margaret Atwood, New Edition, Chelsea House, 2008. Bloom’s Literature.
Science for Feminists: Margaret Atwood’s Body of Knowledge. Deery, June. “Science for Feminists: Margaret Atwood’s Body of Knowledge.” Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House, 2000. Bloom’s Literature.
You Are What You Eat: The Politics of Eating in the Novels of Margaret Atwood. Parker, Emma. “You Are What You Eat: The Politics of Eating in the Novels of Margaret Atwood.” Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House, 2000. Bloom’s Literature.


What’s in a tale? The Canterbury Tales and The Handmaid’s Tale

Consider the definition of a tale, from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Definition of tale

  1. a:  a usually imaginative narrative of an event :story

    b:  an intentionally untrue report :falsehoodalways preferred the tale to the truth — Sir Winston Churchill

  2. a:  a series of events or facts told or presented :account

    b(1):  a report of a private or confidential matter dead men tell no tales

    (2):  a libelous report or piece of gossip

What is Atwood alerting us to in her use of the word?

Consider now, the most famous set of tales in the western canon: The Canterbury Tales

Photo source

The Canterbury Tales is one of the best loved works in the history of English literature. Written in Middle English, the story follows a group of pilgrims who are travelling the long journey from London to Canterbury Cathedral. Setting off from a London inn, the innkeeper suggests that during the journey each pilgrim should tell two tales to help pass the time. The best storyteller, he says, will be rewarded with a free supper on his return.

Chaucer introduces us to a vivid cast of characters, including a carpenter, a cook, a knight, a monk, a prioress, a haberdasher, a dyer, a clerk, a merchant and a very bawdy miller. These characters come from all corners of 14th century society, and give Chaucer the chance to speak in many different voices. Some of the characters’ tales are humorous, rude and naughty, while others are moral and reflective. (Source)


Watch this animation of The Wife of Bath’s Tale and look for the parallels in themes between it and The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Wife of Bath’s Tale Analysis (source: Sparknotes)

“Wommen desiren to have sovereyntee
As wel over hir housbond as hir love,
And for to been in maistrie hym above.”
The tale the Wife of Bath tells about the transformation of an old hag into a beautiful maid was quite well known in folk legend and poetry. One of Chaucer’s contemporaries, the poet John Gower, wrote a version of the same tale that was very popular in Chaucer’s time. But whereas the moral of the folk tale of the loathsome hag is that true beauty lies within, the Wife of Bath arrives at such a conclusion only incidentally. Her message is that, ugly or fair, women should be obeyed in all things by their husbands.

The old hag might be intended to represent the Wife of Bath herself, at least as she would like others to see her. Though the hag has aged, she is capable of displaying all of the vigor and inner beauty of her youth if the right man comes along, just as the Wife did with her fifth and favorite husband, the youthful Jankyn. Although the old hag becomes a beautiful young woman in response to the young knight’s well-timed response, it is unclear whether he truly had enough respect for the old woman that he allowed her to choose for herself, or whether he had simply learned how to supply her with the correct answer.

If we agree with the former, we may see the Wife as an idealistic character who believes that bad men can change. If we choose the latter, the Wife becomes a much more cynical character, inclined to mistrust all men. In the second interpretation, both transformations—the knight’s shallow change in behavior (but not in soul) and the hag’s transformation into the physical object of desires—are only skin deep. Perhaps she is giving him exactly what he deserves: superficiality.

The Wife begins her tale by depicting the golden age of King Arthur as one that was both more perilous and more full of opportunity for women. Every time a woman traveled alone, the Wife suggests, she was in danger of encountering an incubus, or an evil spirit who would seduce women (880). But the society is also highly matriarchal. After the knight commits a rape, the king hands him over to Arthur’s queen, who decides to send him on an educational quest. His education comes through women, and the queen’s challenge puts him in a situation where what is traditionally thought of as a shortcoming—a woman’s inability to keep a secret—is the only thing that can save him. The Wife’s digression about King Midas may also be slightly subversive. Instead of finishing the story, she directs the reader to Ovid. In Ovid’s version of the story, the only person who knows about Midas’s ass’s ears is not his wife but his barber. The wife could, therefore, be slyly trying to point out that men, too, are gossips.


The Canterbury Tales  by Geoffrey Chaucer

Photo source

Read The Canterbury Tales on Laura Gibbs’ website.

 Read The Canterbury Tales on Wikipedia  or here.


The transcript of the Tales in Chaucer’s language is here (scroll down).

Photo source

Other tales:

Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque by Edgar Allan Poe 

Link to large collection of tales (mythology and folklore)

Theme Tracking: Points and Threads


Looking at the play and the novel through a particular theme will uncover some interesting points of comparison and contrast between the two texts.  Follow the thread you have chosen (or been assigned) and see how far it takes you.

  • Consider what characters embody the ideas of your theme;
  • Consider which symbols and motifs are used by the writers to explore an idea;
  • Remember that you will need to explain the nature of ideas at play in the texts;
  • Challenge yourself as you interpret the text;  ask: what does this suggest?
  • Consider what Atwood or Miller is suggesting about what it means to be human.


Part 1: Individual Investigation – make a set of notes of your observations across both texts as a starting point.  (DUE: Friday 25 August)

Stage 2: Paired Sharing – combine your work with your partner and add to your notes.  Challenge yourselves to investigate further; interrogate the text. (DUE: Friday 1 September)

Stage 3: Group Sharing  – you will be placed in a group of 6-8 (a mix of themes) to share your ideas and add even more detail to your notes.  You will have to come up with some essay topics to help students grapple with the complexity of both texts. (DUE: TBA)

Stage 4: Class Sharing – expect to have to present (Powerpoint Karaoke style) your understanding of the text at any given time. (DUE: TBA)

Check the following table to note your partner.  It would be most useful if you could sit together in class so that you may share as you make observations.

Sex and Sexuality
Theocracy and Social Hierarchy Maharshi, Yasith
Love and Connection Huy, Jimmy
Truth and Confession  Jeremy, Corey, Anton
Fear and Hatred John, Charlie
Freedom and Oppression Hrishikesh, Eddie
Community versus the Individual Finley, Meth
Self-Interest and Self-Sacrifice Nathan, Josiah
Identity and Reputation Bill, Wayne
Authority and Control Shiv, Liang
Religion and Ritual Vadim, Mark
Courage and Resistance Ian, Aditya
Morality and Conscience Zi Li, James






The history of sexuality: An introduction, volume 1 – Foucault

The history of sexuality: An introduction, volume 1 – Michel Foucault (Sparknotes)

Foucault argues that we generally read the history of sexuality since the 18th century in terms of what Foucault calls the “repressive hypothesis.” The repressive hypothesis supposes that since the rise of the bourgeoisie, any expenditure of energy on purely pleasurable activities has been frowned upon. As a result, sex has been treated as a private, practical affair that only properly takes place between a husband and a wife. Sex outside these confines is not simply prohibited, but repressed. That is, there is not simply an effort to prevent extra-marital sex, but also an effort to make it unspeakable and unthinkable. Discourse on sexuality is confined to marriage.

Read more here.




Image source