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Maddi Lee

SAT Essay Theme: Morality

This is the third post in our marvelously marvelous series of 10 10 SAT Essay Theme Guides. Make sure to leave a comment with any questions at all! We’re not that scary! 


This week’s essay theme is Morality. Morality is, by definition, the very thing that most teenagers lack. We are all evil beings. Essays on this theme will focus on the conscience, responsibility, individual desires versus the greater good, and so on and so forth.

The awesome part about this prompt is that it’s extremely applicable to the great majority of literature. Inner conflicts breed outer conflicts, and many conflicts in books and movies can be traced down to morals—or the lack of them. There are tons of examples you can use which can be analyzed from a more psychological perspective.


Past Prompts

  • Is conscience a more powerful motivator than money, fame, or power?
  • Is deception ever justified?
  • Should individuals take responsibility for issues and problems that do not affect them directly?
  • Is it often difficult for people to determine what is the right thing to do?
  • Are the consequences of people’s actions more important than the motives behind the actions?
  • Does every individual have an obligation to think seriously about important matters, even when doing so may be difficult?


Recommended Reading

*Note: All of the books listed below are classics and fairly well-known; these are far from the only books you should use as examples, though! They aren’t even the best. The books below were chosen because morality is a major theme in all of them; but, even if that isn’t a major theme in an example you’re considering, ultimately, it’s the depth and maturity of your analysis which matters.  You can take “morality” and analyze almost any novel under its scope.

  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five is an absurdist classic by one of the greatest and wackiest 20th century writers on morality, Kurt Vonnegut. Though Vonnegut’s style is one you’ll have to get used to, the genius and insight of the novel is well worth it. The story is about Billy Pilgrim, a man who is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. Much of the story focuses on Pilgrim’s terrible experience as an American POW who witnesses the Dresden firebombing. The book is a poignant critique on war and a perfect example of literature which explores the depths of our morality.

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is yet another famous classic—one which analyzes discrimination in the backdrop of Depression-era Alabama. This is the perfect novel to analyze under the lens of morality, as the entire book is an exploration of right versus wrong, individual beliefs versus the status quo. The book is a light read and easy to understand—and better yet, it’s applicable to a wide range of SAT themes…not just this one!

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  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This book is a notorious classic. The Scarlet Letter follows the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a child out of adultery and struggles to deal with the consequences, including humiliation, public alienation, and guilt. The themes explored in the book are very compatible with a prompt concerning morality, as the entire book centers around the questionable morality of one woman and how other people react to it.

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

This one’s a controversial book, which makes it perfect for an essay on morality. It centers around an unreliable narrator, a middle-aged professor who takes a *coughextremelycreepycough* interest in a 12-year-old girl. Victimization, assault, guilt, and justice are all major themes in the book, and with its ethically questionable main character and contentious themes, this book would make for interesting source material in an essay about morals.

  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding

This is a fantastic book about a group of boys who get stranded on an island…and the social degradation and behavioral devolution which ensues. These boys undergo severe moral transformations as societal rules fall way in the wake of raw survival instincts. This is a wonderful example of the different manifestations of “morals” in different kinds of people…and it’s fun and easy to read, too.


Common Mistakes

  • Oversimplifying

Morality is a complex issue, and as with all mental topics, this is something that is far from black-and-white. When addressing morality, it’s important to address all sides of the debate. Don’t over-simplify!

  • Vagueness

Since morals and ethics aren’t necessarily concrete topics (like prompts in the “Challenges” category for example), it’s all too easy to provide vague arguments. Make sure to support your ideas with specific details. Concrete examples will back your thesis and solidify your work.

  • Condescension

When addressing such hefty topics as “conscience” and “the justification of deception,” it is very easy to come off as a pretentious know-it-all. While you should definitely retain a strong, firm argument, there is a line between “This is what I believe” and “I am the one who defines all morality. Bow down to me, ignorant peasants.” Your essay reader will be more inclined to give you a better score if you aren’t talking down to your audience.


Sample essay outline

Here is a basic outline of how you might want to organize your SAT essay. This is not at all a concrete form to follow; you can use different numbers of examples or quotes or do any number of things differently. It’s very helpful for essay readers, however—and you yourself—if you have a clear, easy-to-follow structure.

I. Short intro

  • Intro sentence (something gripping, preferably)
  • Thesis

II. Example 1

  • Quote 1 and analysis
  • Quote 2 and analysis
  • Quote 3 and analysis

III. Example 2

  • Quote 1 and analysis
  • Quote 2 and analysis
  • Quote 3 and analysis

IV. Example 3

  • Quote 1 and analysis
  • Quote 2 and analysis
  • Quote 3 and analysis

V. Conclusion

  • Link to examples
  • Draw conclusions/big picture/ask questions/note patterns
  • Concluding sentence


Example Essay

And alas! There aren’t many resources online with sample essays centered around morality, but here is one to take a look at. It’s provided by Scholastic. The article even includes tips on how to successfully brave the essay-writing process.



Morality can be a complicated topic to write about, but don’t let that scare you away! It’s very doable, as long as you prepare well and keep an eye out for those common errors.

And of course, if you really don’t have any material to write about, you can always resort to talking about… your own questionable morals…We’re all evil inside, you know. Some people just hide it better than others.


Until next time!


About Maddi Lee

Maddi is currently a high school junior in southern California. She is an avid freelance writer and has been featured in multiple literary publications and anthologies. When she isn't writing, she loves traveling, doodling, and most of all, sleeping. Through her own experience and passion, she hopes to help guide fellow students through the roller coaster that is SAT and college admissions...that is, as long as she survives the journey herself!

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