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Topic: Pompeii Historical Fiction Analysis

Pompeii by Robert Harris
Historical Fiction Analysis
Assignment: From the list below, choose one or possibly two topics to analyze from Robert Harris’ novel
Pompeii. As you read the novel, keep note of passages, events, characters, details, etc. that fit into these
categories. When you have finished the book, compose a 4-5 page essay analyzing how well Harris uses
facts about ancient Rome and its culture to create the sense that this is the 1st century CE. In some cases,
you may choose to focus on instances where Harris strayed from our understanding of Roman culture,
creating an inaccurate portrait. Indicate what general or specific purpose Harris has for the details you cite.
For example, does Harris construct accurate or inaccurate narratives in order to set the scene, show
character, provide clues, hide clues, give essential information, drive the action forward, entertain, etc.?
You should provide a solid thesis in your introductory paragraph indicating your overall argument. In the
outset of your discussion, you should also state which category or categories you intend to analyze. As
you write, cite exact passages and details to back up your argument, using the page numbers of the
paperback edition assigned for this course. You may also choose to reference and cite other course texts
to validate your claims.
Categories for analysis:
1. Social relationship between free and freed
2. Social relationship between free and slave
3. Social relationship between “Roman” and everyone else
4. Social relationship between men and women
5. Scientific understanding
6. Religious understanding
7. Political power
8. Craftsmanship
9. Moral attitudes and assumptions
10. A Roman sense of Roman history
11. Topography of Vesuvius and Campania
12. Decoration (of people and places)
Formatting Requirements:
4-5 full pages
12 pt font
1-inch margins all the way around the document
Paper title and student name at the top of page 1
Do not use unnecessary, excessive spacing at the top of page 1.
Times or Times New Roman font
Works cited page for any resources used beyond the required course texts
Do not use online resources.
Be sure your essay is composed of your own words. Do not plagiarize.
Advice on Composition and Content:
Generalities are not good. They don’t actually provide any compelling analysis or argument that would
indicate a deep reading and understanding of the text and culture. Specifics are excellent. They provide
unique, bold, and compelling platforms on which to construct your essay.
Weak Thesis Statement: “Harris uses religion to show the many gods worshipped by the Romans.”
Weak Supporting Sentence: “Harris mentions the names of many different gods, like Neptune (p. 8)
Mother Venus (p. 33) and Egeria, a water nymph (p. 49) to indicate the multiplicity of Roman religious
Strong Thesis Statement: “In any society the destruction of a volcano eruption could be considered
evidence of divine anger. Harris uses the details of Roman religion to show what his main character,
Attilius, thinks about the cause of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.”
Strong Supporting Statement: “Attilius has contempt for myths as ‘stories for children, not men’ (p. 9),
even though he acknowledges his great-grandfather believed that Neptune, god of water, lived within the
cedar chin rest he used in his work (p. 8). In this way, Harris shows that a man like an engineer on
aqueducts could believe in the gods, but that Attilius does not. We are thus prepared for Attilius’ dogged
pursuit of a rational explanation for the strange behavior of the water. In doing so Harris also gives us a
better idea of Attilius’ history (he is the profession of his ancestors) and of his character as a man who is
also devoted to his family.”
[This example cannot be used in your papers, but the thesis statement may suggest a useful way of
thinking about your own thesis statement.]
If you choose good examples, you will not need many for this short paper. You are not writing a
comprehensive analysis, but rather giving specific insight to an important technique for writing historical
novels. This is not a research paper, and you are not required to use anything but the texts you have
purchased for this course. If you choose to draw from outside sources, be sure to provide a works cited
page at the end of your essay. This page will not be counted as part of the 4-5 page requirement. Do not
use online resources, as most of them are highly unreliable.
For references on how to construct inline citations and works cited pages, consult the following writing
style guides:
1. APA (American Psychological Association)
2. Chicago Manual of Style
3. MLA (Modern Language Association)


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