Essay Tips for the Rest of Your Life!



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Essay Tips for the Rest of Your Life!

The Essay

  • Essays are creative documents of critical thought
    • Thought, not summary, is at the heart of every successful essay
  • You must be sensitive to your:
    • Prompt (which ideas should you discuss?)
    • Audience (how much do they already know?)
    • Work (where will you find evidence to support your assertions?)
    • Passion (why write something you don’t enjoy writing…or expect your reader to enjoy it any more than you do?)
    • Form (how will your writing stand apart from the other hundred papers submitted on the same day?)
    • Voice (how will you project conviction and confidence?)
    • Organization (how will your structure enhance your meaning?)
    • Word Choice (how will your words strengthen your message?)
    • Conventions (how will you make this look like an essay?)

Six Traits

  • Your essays will ultimately be graded according to six different categories
    • Ideas
    • Word Choice
    • Sentence Fluency
    • Organization
    • Voice
    • Conventions
  • Some teachers weigh some categories more heavily; I give the most consideration to the first three categories

MLA Goodness

  • This goes in your “Conventions” score
  • Make sure you have:
    • Page numbers
    • Heading (date in proper format + period)
    • Indentation for each paragraph
    • Italicized titles (essay + book)
    • Appropriate block quotes and citations
  • Make sure you avoid:
    • Blank lines between your heading, title, and essay
    • Odd spacing/tabbing between paragraphs
    • Placing your header on the right side of the page

Why Bother?

  • Formatting easily differentiates research from original thought
  • Allows me (and others) to double-check your studies
  • Standardizes papers across classes, especially in college
    • Different disciplines = different formats, so learn as many as you can!
  • Demonstrates care and attention to detail
  • Looks attractive, polished, and finalized

Basic Tech Specs

  • Most of you will turn papers in to turnitin.com
  • Some teachers (myself, for example) read the turnitin.com file instead of the printed copy
  • When uploading to turnitin.com, upload the actual file instead of cutting and pasting; pasting your text into the window strips your MLA formatting (and kills your Conventions score!)
  • If you do print your essays, print your hard copies on white computer paper with black ink! (Glossy paper feels weird and is hard to mark up, and different colors don’t do good things to our aging eyes)

Basic Tech Specs II

  • Times New Roman, 12-point font
  • Set your line-spacing to “Double” and your spacing to 0 pt on both “Before” and “After”
  • Margins are 1” on all sides
  • Page numbers should be a header a half-inch from the top in the upper-right hand corner, and include your last name (“Feraco 1”)
  • You should only hit the space bar once after each sentence. See? Not like this. And definitely not like this. Boo.
  • Indent each paragraph by hitting “Tab” once

Originality

  • All of you know what plagiarism is at this point; plagiarized papers aren’t crimes of ignorance.
      • (Well, they are, in a way…)
    • Write your own papers – don’t “write them with someone else.”
      • Why would we want to grade two highly similar essays?
    • Make your citations clear – don’t even paraphrase without mentioning your source!
    • I tend to take cheating personally…and you don’t want that to happen

Length Issues

  • Minimum page length means minimum page length – it’s not optional!
    • For example, if I assign a minimum-four-page essay, you won’t earn higher than a C on the paper if you turn in something that isn’t at least four pages.
      • Remember, a B is an “above-average” paper, and an A is “absolutely outstanding – a cut above”
      • A paper that can’t even bother to meet the minimum page length is neither above-average nor absolutely outstanding

So Should I Pad My Papers?

  • No.
  • If you are struggling, don’t repeat yourself, don’t write “filler,” and don’t start trying to mess with your spacing (we know how to find mistakes!)
    • Do some more research so you can explore the points you’re trying to make in greater depth.
    • After all, a “four-page paper” is two single-spaced pages (which is why I always write my papers in single-spaced format at first – it feels shorter!), or roughly 88 to 92 lines long.
    • This doesn’t even take block quotes into account!
    • With all this said, don’t be afraid to exceed the minimum requirement – just make sure that you have a compelling reason for writing a longer piece

Thesis Goodness

  • Any good analytical essay features a compelling thesis – this is where you attack the “Ideas” score
  • The thesis tells the reader what they’re going to read
  • Your thesis must:
    • Contain the specific purpose for your essay – the point you’re trying to prove, the topic you’re exploring, etc.
    • Be clear and concise; an overly wordy or confusing thesis will disrupt the reading experience
    • Be original; if the point you’re making has already been made a hundred times before, why bother writing three pages about it?
    • Address the prompt. (If you can choose from several prompts, your thesis should indicate which you’ve chosen)

Good Research Will Save You

  • You’re supposed to research your subject as you write so your essays won’t be shallow.
  • If you’re reading a book, watching a movie, listening to an album…chances are that someone’s already done so and written about it (especially if it’s a famous work)
  • Who wants to read a surface-level essay of “The Matrix?” I can just pull up a movie review and call it a day. (For that matter, a movie review wouldn’t even pass muster; you’re English students, and you can do better!)
  • We’re trying to express original thoughts in our papers – and we can only do that by digging below the surface (which represents the obvious).

This Seems Like a Lot of Work

  • Not only is original thought more interesting to read, but it’s more fun to write as well
  • It sounds sappy, but hard work only irritates you when it seems meaningless
    • Let’s face it – it’s more fun to produce something you’re proud of than something you just finished to get a grade.
    • What’s more, if you only write in order to earn a grade, you’ll earn a better one by working harder, writing better, and digging deeper.

Plus…

  • Research provides you with a second foundation for your writing
    • We all head into our essays with preconceptions – whether they be our opinions about a topic, our interpretations of what we just read/heard/saw, etc. – and most people write their essays as a way of further justifying these preconceptions.
    • The truly wonderful thing about research is that it can both support your views and adjust them; in other words, your opinions and ideas can change for the better if you gain more knowledge!
    • Think of the information you know when you first sit down to write as a primary foundation – and think of the information you discover through research as its twin!

Using Your Research

  • Your main point should be clear – and you should prove something conclusive with your writing.
  • To that end, it’s important to remember that clarity is more critical to a paper than anything outside of the main argument; if a writer doesn’t express himself or herself clearly, the essay becomes nearly impossible to read!
  • This doesn’t just apply to sentence mechanics (although it does apply to that), but to the issues/topics/works you’re exploring.
  • Your research makes it easier to make clear points by providing a framework for your thoughts.

While Using Research

  • That framework is most valuable when it’s on the written page – which means, at some point, that you need to insert someone else’s words within your own.
  • Those quotes add legitimacy to your argument or analysis (depending on which type of paper you’re writing)
  • But how do you go about doing this?

Sources: Good as Gold

  • Use proper sources – the prime source is the best source
    • NO SparkNotes, MegaEssays, BookRags, PinkMonkey, etc. may be used
    • NO Wikipedia entries may be used
    • NO clearly amateur sources – using Google may hurt more than help
  • Intelligent students (especially undergraduates) quickly learn to:
    • Read books more than once
    • Research / read literary criticism
    • Listen carefully during lectures

In-Text Citations

  • A parenthetical citation includes two parentheses, the author’s last name, and the page number
  • When the quote acts as the last part of your sentence, write the quote, follow it with the parenthetical, and finish with the end mark.
    • Orwell states that “everything is hopeless” (Orwell 6).
  • When the quote lies in the middle of your sentence, you still put the punctuation after your citation.
    • Orwell states that “everything is hopeless” (Orwell 6), but Winston’s experiences in the Prole Quarter contradict him.
  • If you’re citing the same work twice in a row, you don’t have to write the name again

In-Text Citations II

  • If you’re using multiple sources in the same sentence, you may combine the parentheticals: (Orwell 6; Fromm 315)
  • If there’s no obvious author, you may use a shortened version of the work’s title instead of the author’s last name
    • Do the same thing if you’re citing two works from the same author
  • Use the first initial and last name of authors if you’re citing different writers with the same last name: (M. Feraco 17) (S. Feraco 23)
  • Italicize the titles of longer works, and place the titles of songs, poems, films, articles, and other shorter pieces in “quotation marks.”
    • No more underlining titles (as of March 2009)

In-Text Citations III: Blocks

  • For quotes that are longer than three full lines of your page, you’ll use a block quote
  • The entire block quote is indented one inch (two Tabs!) from the left margin, and is still double-spaced
  • You don’t use quotation marks, and you put your citation after the period
  • If you’re cutting words out of a quote (especially in a block quote), use … (an ellipsis) to show that you’ve made the change
  • If you’re replacing words or letters, use a [brack]et

Quote Insertion and Usage

  • We spoke earlier about the mechanics of writing out a quote; here’s how you use them (or, in this case, don’t use them).
  • Quotes should never be blankly inserted into an essay.
  • Quotes should not need to be followed by sentences summarizing and explaining them.
  • Quotes should never be followed directly by another quote; your words should always separate one quote from another.

Example of Quote Insertion

  • Many of Pound’s alterations cannot be traced back to linguistic misunderstandings; rather, they stem from his decision to serve as an “inspired but unreliable translator” (Kenner 199). In The Pound Era, Hugh Kenner argues that Pound’s seemingly haphazard translation style in Cathay is in fact meticulous and calculated, and that the translations themselves give him the means to his ultimate end: to force himself to “rethink the nature of an English poem” (199) through the simultaneous application of three literary principles.
  • Notice that I never interrupted the flow of my words in order to include the quotes
    • They simply belong where they belong within the sentences

Example of Paraphrasing

  • Roland Barthes draws an important distinction between what he deems “classical” and “modern” language. He defines classical language – the language used in poems before the Modernist movement – as having continuous, linear meaning. Meaning and context are important, the syntax is “proper” – going from one end of the sentence to the other, front to back – and readers can understand the familiar flow of the language. Modern language, therefore, strips its words of their meanings in order to give each one “a magical power; it has become complete in itself, a revelation in its own recesses…It is a mark of such words that we cannot read them, but they read us, they affront us by presenting their significance in relation to themselves.”
  • (It’s usually a good idea to cite your paraphrases as well as your quotes!)

What Else Do These Slides Show?

  • As you may have already guessed, I tend to write longer, complicated sentences.
    • I’ve been practicing with shorter sentences for a while now.
    • It never hurts to have both!
  • Also, the first slide shows why you need a clear and fairly specific thesis
    • The paper was written for a Pound expert who already understood the subject well (the notorious Prof. Ronk)
    • How many of you could have guessed that the paragraph contained my thesis?
    • This wasn’t necessarily easy to read, but I’m more concerned with whether you understand why I’m doing what I do

Why Do We Need the Thesis?

  • Besides the fact that you need to focus on something in order to write well, your paper should be structured in a way that encourages the reader to continue
    • A poorly-structured essay forces the reader to go in reverse, to check what they’ve already read in order to find their way again
    • A good thesis should contain elements from the ideas that form the structure of your body paragraphs – but it doesn’t have to include everything!
    • When it comes to determining your structure (and thesis), know your reader! I knew that intro would hook Ronk, but I would have written that sentence much differently had I been writing it for you guys!

Junior Example

  • “Even though many are in the mindset that homework helps reinforce student learning, homework should be banned in schools all across the country because students consider it busy work, it causes stress, and it does not cause significant academic improvement.”

What’s Good About That Thesis?

  • We know what the paper will be about
  • We know how the five paragraphs will be structured
  • We know the author’s stance

What Should Be Fixed?

  • It’s really, really long.
  • It’s overly specific!
  • What links exist between those topics?
    • If you can find links, you can shorten your thesis!
  • What’s the main thrust of this paper going to be?
  • While it’s strong in many ways, it can be streamlined and enhanced – particularly since the main thrust of the paper (homework should be banned because it isn’t effective) is so much simpler than the actual thesis
  • In fact, that sentence works (to an extent)!

Fluff n’ Stuff

  • Applying this “streamlining” principle to the rest of your writing can help you cut down on fluff!
  • While fluff makes for excellent padding (hence down comforters, pillows, etc.), it’s not nearly as useful when used to fill space
  • Think of a hamburger: Awesome.
  • Think of cotton candy: Awesome (in small amounts)
  • Think of a hamburger covered with cotton candy
  • Not awesome.
  • Fluff is deadly to write and read; the act of writing it bores you and saps your creativity, while audiences reading your work will feel alienated or ignored

Streamlining the Jumbo Jet

  • This isn’t to suggest that the long, lyrical sentence be permanently laid to rest
    • If this were the case, how could I continue writing my massive PowerPoints?
    • I love long sentences – provided they’re long for a reason
  • I’m merely pointing out that simplicity is not (in and of itself) “bad”
  • In fact, some of you need to work on “simplifying” your diction!
    • While many of you spent a lot of time building up your vocabularies in preparation for the SATs, you’ll find that you won’t always use “SAT words” appropriately

The Careful Balance

  • Young writers have to walk something of a tricky tightrope
    • On the one hand, instructors often urge you to expand your vocabulary, to diversify your word choice, to avoid repetition
    • You also won’t know how or when to use your new words without putting them in context – and doing so takes practice, which isn’t always pretty
    • However, it’s important for you to grasp the concept of synonyms as imperfect matches
      • Not every synonym is interchangeable!
      • Remember, the person you describe can be either “wide” or “enormous” – which will you use?

Big v. Huge v. Tall, Case No. 17

  • Technically speaking, “big,” “tall,” and “huge” all refer to “great size.”
  • However, the connotations of “tall” and “huge” are very different
    • “Huge” seems to imply “massive”
    • “Tall” implies nothing about the thickness or width of the object’s frame; it merely means said object has “great height”
  • If you wanted to discuss your subject’s build, you’d use “huge” (maybe); if you wanted to discuss his height, you’d use “tall.”
    • As you can see, the two aren’t necessarily interchangeable!
  • Always consider context and connotation while writing!

A Few Other Little Things

  • We’ve spent time going over stuff that really stands out in an essay – theses, formatting issues, diction, etc.
  • How about some aspects of writing that you may not have thought about lately?

Tensioning Trouble

  • Some papers featured a great deal of tense scrambling
    • This isn’t necessarily a huge problem from paragraph to paragraph, although it certainly isn’t a habit you’ll want to develop
    • However, tense changes within a sentence can throw your readers
      • It’s the equivalent of putting on a left-turn signal before making a hard right – if you give readers the opposite of what they expect, they may swerve off!

Navigating the Winding Passages

  • While paragraph structure forms the backbone of essay-writing, most writers don’t think about a “maximum” length for their paragraphs
    • In fact, most young writers are far more concerned with meeting a minimum length requirement for each passage!
  • However, you should try to have at least two paragraphs per page (as something of a general, informal rule)
    • If you’re paying attention to this rule, you probably won’t end up writing repetitive paragraphs; most page-length paragraphs simply move in circles, or inflate their length with unnecessary block quotes.

The Brightest Bulb Burned Out

  • At its core, paragraph structure is about keeping your ideas in the proper “order”
    • While all of your ancillary ideas will be linked by the central concept of the paper (the thesis), you’ll probably want to follow a specific/linear “path” while writing them down
    • Remember to include one big idea per paragraph (and a four-page paper gives you space for several body passages)

Dig at Us

  • Once you’ve established your ideas, it’s time to really dig in, really sink your teeth into them, and explore!
  • Remember to explore one idea at a time; if you jump from concept to concept too quickly, your audience may feel disoriented
    • Think about how jarring it’s felt when I’ve been switching topics between slides without including transitions – or transition statements!

Even Diamonds Start As Coal

  • Don’t be satisfied with a sentence after writing it for the first time!
    • You’ll want to keep some of them, of course – but many great sentences began their existences as inferior, messier statements
  • Be willing to revisit your work multiple times – not so often that the words start bleeding together (or, alternately, so many times that everything you write suddenly seems terrible), but often enough to reassure yourself that the essay you’re turning in represents your finest effort.
    • Break away from the rough/final model – multiple drafts!

Learn to Breathe

  • However, don’t do all of this the first time you write something down!
  • You have to be willing to get the words down on the page before you can start worrying about how they look as part of the whole.
    • If you don’t, you might forget something that you really want to say!
  • Don’t sacrifice your original thoughts because you’re trying to be a perfectionist on your first pass
  • Once the words are on the page, you can edit them, rearrange them, etc. – but you have to get a rough draft out first!
    • It’s hard for many young writers to feel comfortable with simply writing what they’re thinking
    • It takes practice!

To Summarize…

  • So far, we’ve gone over:
    • Clarity/Streamlining
    • Connotation/Word Choice/Tense
    • Theses (Structure and Intent)
    • MLA Formatting/Paragraph Structure
    • Necessity of a Rough Draft/Multiple Drafts
    • Exploration/Research/Fluff Elimination
  • Not a bad way to start!
    • These are the elements you should concentrate on during your first couple of drafts – honing your purpose, getting the words out, and moving forward to the end of the paper
    • This gives your paper a sense of momentum – always helpful!

On the Brink of Disaster

  • After you’ve done all of this – established a thesis, mapped your ideas out, written out some rough sentences, streamlined your writing a bit, explored some concepts at a deeper level, revised your rough draft – you should be on your way.
  • However…what happens if the revision reveals disaster? What if your paper is too short now? What if it’s uninteresting? What if your statements feel flimsy and unsupported?
    • Hint: Revision usually reveals these things!

Not to Worry!

  • Again, at the end of this draft – maybe your first, maybe your second – you’ve fulfilled your length requirement (more or less), you’ve written out your main ideas, and you know why you’re writing (as well as where you’re taking the paper)
  • Now it’s time for a different sort of edit
    • We call this the “blow-up” edit

Didn’t You Rant About Padding?

  • Yes, but this is different.
  • It’s not uncommon to fall short of the length requirement after a good, rigorous edit – you’ve tightened up your language, emphasized important points, and eliminated your fluff. That’ll knock out a great deal of any rough draft!
    • You’re a stoneworker, chipping away at marble – there’s almost no reason for a final draft to be longer than a full rough draft
  • Fortunately, this is where you can start adding evidence, and continue digging deeper from there!

Little Tips

  • I write my essays in a variety of ways.
  • Sometimes I begin by typing every quote I could possibly use for my paper
  • This leaves me with a few pages of quoted material in an “evidence bank” before a single original word escapes my brain, and helps me remember what I want to write about as I go.
  • This makes it easier to insert quotes seamlessly into my writing as well; if I’m reviewing a paragraph, I’ll refer back to the “bank” and look for quotes that support my words
    • I’ll often delete some of my own words and replace them with a quote – but that “replacement” ensures that the quote will mesh well with the pre-existing sentence

Take It to the Bank

  • The Evidence Bank may sound like a lot of extra work to you, and it isn’t something everyone will want to use.
  • However, if you’re the type of writer who struggles to incorporate evidence, or who doesn’t like to interrupt your own writing with someone else’s words, this is a nice trick.
  • It makes quote insertion easy – and you’ll never lack support for an argument.
  • In fact, you can write your entire rough draft without any evidence, then insert your quotes, piece by piece, during the intermediate drafting stage.

Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!

  • Will you end up deleting most of what you’ve typed? Yes – lots of the quotes you just typed will eventually disappear, as will much of your own earlier work.
  • While this may initially strike you as a colossal waste of time, you can’t get too attached to your words during the drafting stage!
  • You have to be willing to delete the words you’ve worked so hard to write, even if you’re worried you won’t hit your minimum length requirement
    • After all, we’re in the business of writing effectively – and no one writes perfectly the first time
    • Again, if you have the chance to make a diamond, you have to be willing to sacrifice some coal – even a lot of coal

Let It Go

  • Don’t be surprised if your final drafts bear little resemblance to your rough drafts from now on
  • This is the hallmark of a mature writer
  • I’m hard-pressed to think of a single professional writer whose initial drafts look anything like their finished products (which is one of the reasons I’d kill for a chance to read Fitzgerald’s original Great Gatsby)
  • I do realize that you’re students – but now is as good a time as any to practice excellent writing habits.
  • Challenge yourself!

Final Revisions

  • Make sure your sentences flow into one another reasonably well – avoid “forks in the road!”
  • Avoid run-on sentences
  • Don’t drown your paper in block quotes – your writing is the most important part of the essay
  • Beware of hyperbole and qualifiers
  • Monitor sentence variety
  • Monitor your focus; if your focus differs from your thesis, edit the thesis!
  • Let someone else look at your paper; we’re our own worst editors, especially since most of us are reluctant to read our own work aloud to ourselves
  • Avoid first-/second-person perspectives in formal writing
  • Polish, polish, polish!

The Sample Essay

  • This paper came from a senior from last year’s Search for Human Potential class
    • It’s not an incredible paper – it has strengths and weaknesses, most of which you can find on your own – but it’s really solid, and it was the first paper this student had written for me
  • It’s about Siddhartha, a book by Hermann Hesse about one man’s lifelong journey for spiritual enlightenment
  • Notice the degree to which the author assumes I’ve read the book before – how much summary is there?
  • It’s usually safe to assume that your teacher/reader knows the plot of your book, but that they’re ignorant about the details – and especially about the deeper significance of things!
  • In other words, assume they have a shallow understanding – and that you’re an expert

The titular character of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha is defined in large part by his refusal to let anyone into his life, including his father, his best friend, and his lover. Basically, the typical relationships people value seem to mean little to him. He maintains a distance from those who care for him in order to avoid pain, and he reaches adulthood without ever truly loving anyone. Yet this detachment dissolves once Siddhartha discovers he has unwittingly fathered a son. As a younger man, Siddhartha resists his father, overwhelming the older man’s wishes for him with his own desire to leave; upon doing so, Siddhartha promises to return, a promise he breaks. When his own son abandons him, Siddhartha discovers a pain beyond the scope of his fears. This is not a simple case of irony and poetic justice. Hesse lets Siddhartha experience both love and heartache so he can understand what it means to connect with the world, and it is not until he can truly empathize with common people’s experiences that he can achieve what he seeks – nirvana, peace, and understanding.

  • The titular character of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha is defined in large part by his refusal to let anyone into his life, including his father, his best friend, and his lover. Basically, the typical relationships people value seem to mean little to him. He maintains a distance from those who care for him in order to avoid pain, and he reaches adulthood without ever truly loving anyone. Yet this detachment dissolves once Siddhartha discovers he has unwittingly fathered a son. As a younger man, Siddhartha resists his father, overwhelming the older man’s wishes for him with his own desire to leave; upon doing so, Siddhartha promises to return, a promise he breaks. When his own son abandons him, Siddhartha discovers a pain beyond the scope of his fears. This is not a simple case of irony and poetic justice. Hesse lets Siddhartha experience both love and heartache so he can understand what it means to connect with the world, and it is not until he can truly empathize with common people’s experiences that he can achieve what he seeks – nirvana, peace, and understanding.

Siddhartha’s journey towards nirvana is born of frustration, longing, and unhappiness. He feels he has nothing left to learn from the elders in his village, and he craves a more meaningful existence. He does not want his father to love him, and he cannot live that simple and pure life; he needs the “real” world of desire and the ability to walk his own path. In the end, Siddhartha’s father lets him go, even though it breaks his heart to do so, because he understands that people must be allowed to grow.

  • Siddhartha’s journey towards nirvana is born of frustration, longing, and unhappiness. He feels he has nothing left to learn from the elders in his village, and he craves a more meaningful existence. He does not want his father to love him, and he cannot live that simple and pure life; he needs the “real” world of desire and the ability to walk his own path. In the end, Siddhartha’s father lets him go, even though it breaks his heart to do so, because he understands that people must be allowed to grow.

This lesson eludes Siddhartha when life reverses the role he plays. Despite young Siddhartha’s greatest efforts to break away from his father, Siddhartha doesn’t want to let him go; he cannot bring himself to accept that his son needs to go out and learn from his own mistakes. Instead, he tried to protect his son from feeling the pain that life brings, to instill his wisdom into his child in a safe environment. This, of course, goes against his own beliefs, and Hesse stresses that parents – teachers – cannot transfer wisdom to those they teach: “…I have little faith in words that come to us from teachers” (Hesse 18). But Siddhartha is blind to this; by breaking through his defenses, his son changes the way Siddhartha acts. No matter how hard his son pushes him away, Siddhartha remains, adamant, with the blind love that only a father can have for his son. When his best attempts fail, his son abandons him, leaving Siddhartha with the same heartache he had given his own father.

  • This lesson eludes Siddhartha when life reverses the role he plays. Despite young Siddhartha’s greatest efforts to break away from his father, Siddhartha doesn’t want to let him go; he cannot bring himself to accept that his son needs to go out and learn from his own mistakes. Instead, he tried to protect his son from feeling the pain that life brings, to instill his wisdom into his child in a safe environment. This, of course, goes against his own beliefs, and Hesse stresses that parents – teachers – cannot transfer wisdom to those they teach: “…I have little faith in words that come to us from teachers” (Hesse 18). But Siddhartha is blind to this; by breaking through his defenses, his son changes the way Siddhartha acts. No matter how hard his son pushes him away, Siddhartha remains, adamant, with the blind love that only a father can have for his son. When his best attempts fail, his son abandons him, leaving Siddhartha with the same heartache he had given his own father.

The father/son relationship is crucial to Siddhartha’s character development. His detachment from the world limits him in the end because he becomes a bystander in his own life. He harms people by pushing them away: he leaves his father son-less, Govinda friend-less, and Kamala love-less. He considers himself above all desires, and “he [sees] people living in a childish or animal-like way, which he both love[s] and despise[s]” (Hesse 57). Siddhartha even claims he cannot love. Yet one must relate to the world, understand the world, and participate in the world in order to achieve enlightenment – which is, in the end, what Siddhartha seeks. In other words, he has to love and lose in order to understand the final element of his life’s meaning. That is the gift his son unintentionally gives him; this is the only relationship where Siddhartha allows himself to have something to lose, and he loses.

  • The father/son relationship is crucial to Siddhartha’s character development. His detachment from the world limits him in the end because he becomes a bystander in his own life. He harms people by pushing them away: he leaves his father son-less, Govinda friend-less, and Kamala love-less. He considers himself above all desires, and “he [sees] people living in a childish or animal-like way, which he both love[s] and despise[s]” (Hesse 57). Siddhartha even claims he cannot love. Yet one must relate to the world, understand the world, and participate in the world in order to achieve enlightenment – which is, in the end, what Siddhartha seeks. In other words, he has to love and lose in order to understand the final element of his life’s meaning. That is the gift his son unintentionally gives him; this is the only relationship where Siddhartha allows himself to have something to lose, and he loses.

Indeed, Siddhartha’s distance is a reflection of something deeper: his desire for control, whether over his body, his spirit, or his circumstances. He breaks away from the life prescribed to him as the Brahmin’s son; he pulls himself away from the Elder Samana; he resists temptation at the river; he even returns from the ashes after attempting suicide. Even at that low moment, Siddhartha never loses control. Ultimately, he controls his suicidal impulses. There seems to be nothing, inside or outside of himself, that Siddhartha cannot control. Then he meets his son, and he finds that love requires more than affection. It requires one to leave oneself vulnerable, to place some control in the hands of another. It is a terrifying bargain, but Siddhartha enters into it freely.

  • Indeed, Siddhartha’s distance is a reflection of something deeper: his desire for control, whether over his body, his spirit, or his circumstances. He breaks away from the life prescribed to him as the Brahmin’s son; he pulls himself away from the Elder Samana; he resists temptation at the river; he even returns from the ashes after attempting suicide. Even at that low moment, Siddhartha never loses control. Ultimately, he controls his suicidal impulses. There seems to be nothing, inside or outside of himself, that Siddhartha cannot control. Then he meets his son, and he finds that love requires more than affection. It requires one to leave oneself vulnerable, to place some control in the hands of another. It is a terrifying bargain, but Siddhartha enters into it freely.

Siddhartha’s discovery that he cannot control his son any more than his own father could control him is illuminating. Once he discovers love and vulnerability, Siddhartha necessarily discovers fear, and he comes to realize how each concept is interwoven with the others. He pits his knowledge against his hope, which in turn clashes with his fears. Hesse notes that even once Siddhartha understands he cannot coexist with his son, “stronger than his knowledge was his love for the boy, his devotion, his fear of losing him” (Hesse 99). He cannot control his son; he cannot make him love him back.

  • Siddhartha’s discovery that he cannot control his son any more than his own father could control him is illuminating. Once he discovers love and vulnerability, Siddhartha necessarily discovers fear, and he comes to realize how each concept is interwoven with the others. He pits his knowledge against his hope, which in turn clashes with his fears. Hesse notes that even once Siddhartha understands he cannot coexist with his son, “stronger than his knowledge was his love for the boy, his devotion, his fear of losing him” (Hesse 99). He cannot control his son; he cannot make him love him back.

This failed relationship highlights human nature at its rawest form. It brings out in Siddhartha the love and care a father has for his child. His son, in turn, embodies rebellion, the part of human beings that wants to be free. The tender love and care that Siddhartha provides for his son gives evidence that Siddhartha is human, and not much different than everyone else; the distance between Siddhartha and the world has been bridged. “So childishly and illogically did he now reason; so much had he become like the ordinary people” (Hesse 4). While Siddhartha’s detachment initially leaves him unable to relate to or empathize with the struggles of the common man, harming those who only try to help him on his way, Hesse stresses that no one can achieve enlightenment without that sense of empathy. One must be able to love in order to reach nirvana. In a way, the son acts like a flashlight for Siddhartha because he shows him the things that he has refused to experience – the things that are critical to his ability to reach that final understanding.

  • This failed relationship highlights human nature at its rawest form. It brings out in Siddhartha the love and care a father has for his child. His son, in turn, embodies rebellion, the part of human beings that wants to be free. The tender love and care that Siddhartha provides for his son gives evidence that Siddhartha is human, and not much different than everyone else; the distance between Siddhartha and the world has been bridged. “So childishly and illogically did he now reason; so much had he become like the ordinary people” (Hesse 4). While Siddhartha’s detachment initially leaves him unable to relate to or empathize with the struggles of the common man, harming those who only try to help him on his way, Hesse stresses that no one can achieve enlightenment without that sense of empathy. One must be able to love in order to reach nirvana. In a way, the son acts like a flashlight for Siddhartha because he shows him the things that he has refused to experience – the things that are critical to his ability to reach that final understanding.

Hesse shows that Siddhartha spends his life searching for things that lie just beyond where he is willing to look, and his son helps him open his eyes. He could have loved his father or he could have loved Kamala, but he never truly cares for anyone before his son abandons him. This final trial – the trial that, at first blush, Siddhartha fails – ultimately results in his greatest triumph: the understanding that eludes most men for a lifetime.

  • Hesse shows that Siddhartha spends his life searching for things that lie just beyond where he is willing to look, and his son helps him open his eyes. He could have loved his father or he could have loved Kamala, but he never truly cares for anyone before his son abandons him. This final trial – the trial that, at first blush, Siddhartha fails – ultimately results in his greatest triumph: the understanding that eludes most men for a lifetime.

Final Advice

  • Love what you write. Seriously!
  • Take pride in the work you’re spending so much time creating, revising, and perfecting.
  • At the end of the day, I know most of you care about the grade you’ll earn on a paper; I know most of you care about the grade you’ll earn in a class.
    • I agree that both of these are important
  • However, you won’t necessarily remember whether you got a B or a B+ a few years from now; you might just remember the rush you got when you finished a piece that made you proud, or the day something about the writing process finally “clicked” for you.
  • Never fear to be great!


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