Here are some Warriors Don’t Cry essay prompts that you can use with the memoir. I have organized them into three categories: comprehension, literary analysis, and historical context.
Warriors Don’t Cry essay prompts: comprehension
Sometimes you simply want students to reflect on what they read. For example, if you are using Warriors Don’t Cry as an over-break reading, it is beneficial to include a writing task.
1) Describe Melba’s personality. What are the key traits (aspects) of her character? Make sure to support your answer with details from Warriors Don’t Cry.
2) Who supports Melba in her quest for fair treatment? Identify three individuals who aided Melba and briefly describe how they did so.
3) Melba learns and grows from her experiences fighting racism. What are some of the lessons that she learns? How does she grow as a person? (Organizing tip: Identify three learning experiences and write a body paragraph for each.)
4) Melba makes great sacrifices to oppose injustice. What are the costs? Use details from Warriors Don’t Cry to explain what Melba gives up in her efforts. (Organizing tip: Think about three major sacrifices and write a detailed body paragraph for each.)
“Sweet sixteen? How could I be turning sweet sixteen in just a few days and be a student at Central High, I thought as I entered the side door of the school […]. I had relished so many dreams of how sweet my sixteenth year would be, and now it had arrived, but I was here in this place.”
5) Is Melba an optimist (seeing the bright side) or a pessimist (seeing the negative side)? Is she both? Use examples from Warriors Don’t Cry to explain your answer.
6) What is the most important conversation found in Warrior’s Don’t Cry? Choose one excerpt and explain why it is the most important. (Hint: Many of Melba’s conversations with Grandma India are excellent candidates.)
“Change the rules of the game, girl, and they might not like it so much.”
“They’d think I was crazy.”
“They’d think you were no longer their victim.”
Warriors Don’t Cry essay prompts: literary analysis
Warriors Don’t Cry is not the text for extensive study of symbolism, allegory, allusion, sound devices, or many other elements. However, here are some Warriors Don’t Cry essay prompts for literary elements deserving attention.
1) Symbol: The beautiful stone hallways of Little Rock Central High represent more than a pleasant place to learn. How does Beals use the school as a symbol of larger ideas?
2) Symbol: Melba’s new Easter dress is not discussed at great length, but is has important symbolic meaning. Re-read this part of the memoir and explain the symbolism of the dress. (Hint: It represents more than one larger idea.)
3) Theme development: An important theme subject in Warriors Don’t Cry is the psychological effects of racism. What message does Beals develop about how racism impacted her thoughts and feelings? Use details from the text and pay special attention to Melba’s diary.
“Black folks aren’t born expecting segregation, prepared from day one to follow its confining rules. Nobody presents you with a handbook when you’re teething and says, ‘Here’s how you must behave as a second-class citizen.’ Instead, the humiliating expectations and traditions of segregation creep over you, slowly stealing a teaspoonful of your self-esteem each day.”
4) Theme development: What is Beals’ theme on the loss of innocence and how does she develop this theme? Use key excerpts from the text in your response.
5) Theme development: What is Beals communicating about resilience (the ability to endure and overcome)? Use examples from the memoir to explain how Beals develops this theme subject. (Hint: Make sure to address self-reliance and the receiving of support.)
6) Theme development: One theme from Warriors Don’t Cry is that heroism can take many forms. Use the different people in the memoir to explain how Beals develops this idea. (Hint: Think about how Danny, Melba, Thurgood Marshall, Mama Lois, Grandma India, Link, Minnijean, and others show heroism differently.)
7) Conflict: The main external conflict of the memoir is clear: Melba wants to go to the better school and racists want to stop her. Melba’s internal conflicts are a bit more complicated. What are Melba’s internal conflicts? Explain the struggles inside Melba’s heart and mind and explain how they are resolved.
8) Effects of structure: Warriors Don’t Cry is engaging because Beals creates structural effects like suspense, mystery, surprise, and tension. Explain how Beals keeps us guessing, turning pages, and aching to find out what happens.
9) Word choice: The tone created by Beals in Warriors Don’t Cry might be describes as “simmering anger with moments of joyful triumph.” Do you agree? Identify the tone of the memoir and explain how Beals creates this tone through word choice.
Outbound link: “What Is Author’s tone?” from ThoughtCo.
Warriors Don’t Cry essay prompts: historical context
If you are using Warriors Don’t Cry as part of a larger unit on social justice, the Civil Rights Movement, or the Supreme Court, it makes sense to incorporate an element of research and exposition.
1) The Supreme Court case that ultimately resulted in the integration of Little Rock Central High School was Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka. What was this case about and how did the ruling result in integration in Arkansas? (Note: You will have to include some basic information about the role of the Supreme Court in the U.S. government.)
2) The laws oppressing African Americans prior to the Civil Rights Movement are known as Jim Crow laws. The period between the end of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement is known as the Jim Crow era. Who was Jim Crow? What is the meaning of this term?
Outbound link: “Was Jim Crow a Real Person?” from History.com
3) Jim Crow laws were designed to oppress African Americans as second-class citizens. What were some examples of Jim Crow laws and how did they work to marginalize people of color?
Outbound link: “Examples of Jim Crow Laws” from LaGuardia College
4) Beyond the written laws of segregation, there were also unwritten rules. What were the unwritten rules of the Jim Crow era?
Outbound link: “Jim Crow Etiquette” from Ferris State University
5) Conflict surrounded the integration of many businesses, communities, and institutions during the Civil Rights Movement. Research and explain another example where integration did not progress easily. (Examples include the integration of neighborhoods, recreational facilities, other schools, the military, restaurants, and department stores.)
6) Melba and the others of the Little Rock Nine broke no laws in opposing segregation. They opposed racism by calmly using the system, but there were many forms of resistance used in the Civil Rights Movement. Research and explain some of the different forms of resistance used.
Outbound link: “Social Protests” from The Constitution Rights Foundation
Outbound link: “Nonviolence” from King Encyclopedia
7) All of the members of the Little Rock Nine became known for their efforts in ending segregation. Research another member of the Little Rock Nine in order to compose a brief biography. (Note: Make sure to include any details about their experience in integrating Little Rock Central High School.)
8) Many believe that segregation in schools continues to be a major problem in the United States. Is segregation alive and well? What is going on here? Use current information to analyze the situation.
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I hope that you have found these Warriors Don’t Cry essay prompts helpful. For a quick and easy Warriors Don’t Cry reading test, click here.
Related post: Warriors Don’t Cry Anticipation Guide
Related resource: Warriors Don’t Cry (abridged version) reading checks (5 readings)