Approaching the Essay Prompt in an Organic and Meaningful Way

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Approaching the Essay Prompt in an Organic and Meaningful Way

(and earning more points on the rubric)

If there is a quotation, it doesn’t have to apply to EVERY work in the same way. Nor does the quotation or question have to be treated in the same way by EVERY student. In fact, it should not be – moderators get tired of reading the same answer over and over again. It’s unoriginal and doesn’t demonstrate critical thinking on the part of the writer.
The rubric asks for “interpretation” in the hopes of allowing students to produce independent responses and not a regurgitation of what was learned in class. It also requires more focus on the question (and writing task) than does writing what you know about a set of texts without any regard to the topic.

“In the end is my beginning.” This is a statement made by an author to describe how he organizes his work. What do you understand by the sentence, and how does it cast light on the literary strategies employed in the three works we have studied?

I would answer this prompt in one of two ways (with all literary devices in bold):

Interpretation 1 – the author structures (“organizes”) the work (“book”) so that the beginning of the novel is the end of the story and the end of the novel is the “beginning” of the story’s main focus
A structural application of this quotation applies to GoST, possibly less so to SC and seemingly not at all to Kehinde, which is the most linear and direct (notice I avoided the word “straight-forward” here; as a class, you overuse it). My understanding of the quotation in terms of structure doesn’t lie in its universality; it lies in its effectiveness.
In this essay, I would write about how this type of non-linear structuring creates suspense within a novel and employs the use of flashback with more precision. The flashbacks in GoST seem more like an experience of the event thus creating in the reader a sense of ownership over the events (the effects of verisimilitude) in GoST; but in Kehinde, they seem like memory, which gives insight into Kehinde’s motivations but little in the way of creating atmosphere.
The problematic text for me in this approach is SC. While the novel is not linear in the strictest sense (with Ahmed’s story being ambiguous if indeed it is a single story but the focus on the storytellers being relatively linear), it is also not structured so that the “beginning” is in the end of the book (or the reverse since there is no single ending to Ahmed’s story).
In this case, I might address the beginning of the novel as the end of Ahmed’s existence, and the end of the novel as the beginning of the storytellers’ creation. (This might be better suited to the next interpretation of the question.) I might also address “in the end is my beginning” from the standpoint of author choosing to begin with the “end” of Ahmed to create suspense and provide a through-line for the focus of the “real” story, which is the creation of an author (in this case an oral author).
If I were writing this paper, this would be my weakest point of analysis. Notice how few bolded words there are in the SC section. I would leave it out (which, I know, you didn’t have the luxury of doing for the last prompt). This is the one I spent the most time thinking about because the other two works seemed already to “fit,” and I didn’t have to spend time trying to “make it work.”
You have the choice of only writing about two novels for the examination prompt. You can write about three (and in some instances should – TEWWG would be an excellent inclusion in this particular essay, especially since almost the entirety of the story is flashback).

Interpretation 2 – authors begin with the end result in mind because they have to know how (technique) they want to write their piece
You could also apply this quotation more wholly stylistically (structurally, yes; but also through use of imagery, tone, diction, figurative language, verisimilitude, etc.). This application has an entirely different answer to the prompt.
My approach would be to reference the author’s purpose: “What is it that I want to say / what do I want my reader to gain? How can I best achieve this?”


stylistic approach


critique on caste system in India and on Westernization
the timeless love story (perhaps more importantly the love story because that is the technique used to make the critique, and it is the last focus of the novel)
relevance of “small” in relation to “big” in personal and cultural setting

tone as demonstrated by contrasts in imagery with regards to “old” and “new” India
I could discuss overall structure here, or I could focus on the specific techniques (flashback, subplot, point of view) used to create that structure.
diction in deviation from standard English – more of a rhetorical device than a strictly literary one – to emphasize how “big” the “small” things are to the characters


the art of storytelling and creation
critique on gender bias as a result of more fundamental Islamic practices

hyperbole (Islamic law only stipulates that 1/3 of a man’s wealth goes to his male relatives if he has no male heir, not 2/3)
multiple narrators (perspectives) and points of view (1st, 3rd limited with focus on storyteller speaking, 3rd omniscient used very rarely)
ambiguity of gender roles, alienation by novel’s society of outsiders (characterization and atmosphere)


emphasis on equality of genders rather than abolition of polygamy

point of view – 3rd limited and 1st – both focused on Kehinde
dynamic characters – especially Joshua, Kehinde, and Ifeyinwa
irony – Kehinde’s initial opinion of Mary Elikwu
atmospherespecifically in passages of conflict

After this brainstorm, I would probably focus initially on what the approaches have in common (PoV as a technique), and might branch out to include other devices such as atmosphere and cultural setting. Again, the emphasis in this essay would be on authorial choice as a means to an end with particular relevance to author process and intent.

Notice that I did not once refer to theme. I did this for two reasons:

  1. Far too many of you use the word theme when you really mean topic. Review your theme handout and stop doing that; it is a common concern of the people who will ultimately grade your examination essays. They don’t like it.

  2. When you focus on the “themes” of a work, you often overlook the devices that establish that theme. Think of it this way: which is more important – the house (theme) or the construction (literary devices)? You live in the house; but would it exist without the construction? Theme is easy because it requires you to have very little understanding of the writing itself; you can write a complete explication on theme using only plot as your support. Your readers can already see the house. You need to explain how it was built (foundation, support beams, insulation, electrical, plumbing, etc).


  • Choose a question that easily relates to the texts studied.

  • Focus on the question and its specific requirements.

  • Demonstrating a flexible understanding of a text is more important than showing what you learned in class.

  • Show how literary features affect meaning and how they are important in relation to the question.

  • Overly short answers (1-4 sides) are rarely detailed enough for sufficient development of an argument. Overly long answers are rarely focused or structured effectively and tend to “wander” in all directions.

  • Your ability to write legibly will affect your moderator’s ability to follow your argument.

  • All examination essays must be written in pen. Start practicing now.

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