Important news re Essay 2: there's a significant typo on the syllabus re the due date for this essay. Since the essay is on the final unit of the semester, which is five weeks long, the essay should not be due in the second week of this unit! We need to read and discuss the material first, so it will be due on Tuesday, December 9, of finals week. (& note there’s also the optional research paper, plus the essay revision.)
ENLT 225.80 American Literature Since 1865--Fall 2008
Essay 2 (Unit 3)
Due Tuesday, December 9, by email (Subject Line: 225.80 Your Last Name Essay 2)
(plus electronic—not paper—rough drafts emailed as a separate attachment, including Writer’s Checklist and 2 Peer Editing Responses)
Overview Considering two voices from our readings in Unit 3, write a two-to-three-page comparison/ contrast essay around your thesis statement that answers a specific aspect of the following general question: How do these voices compare or contrast with each other in their views of race, class, or gender relations in America?
Here are some directions to narrow the question: Underneath the specific narrative or argument, do these authors suggest individual initiative or social reform as the direction for resolution of race, class, or gender inequities? Or both? Do these authors use language to unite or divide American readers along lines of race, class, or gender? In America’s story of itself, of national identity, or of citizenship, how do these different voices compare or contrast in content and form? That is, compare how their language use fits the purposes of their writing. Do they structure their vision(s) of America in ways that include or exclude difference, and how does their language reflect those inclusions or exclusions? A further angle to consider: how do aspects of Morrison’s critique in Playing in the Dark work through the voices you choose to write about? Is the presence of darkness in the text shaped by language in ways that are threatening or healing? Do characters internalize their oppression?
More specific forms of the question that you might address include any one of the following, while always being careful to keep an arguable focus. Compare Morrison’s view of black-and-white race relations to ways that a Native American writer such as Sherman Alexie, Joy Harsjo, or Simon Ortiz maps issues of race in America. Or compare early 20th-century black writers such as W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Alain Locke, or Langston Hughes (from earlier Units this semester) to specific narrations of American experience in this unit. Or citing an aspect of modernism or the period’s view of the self, as sketched in the introductory materials of the Heath Anthology, compare a character in Welch, Momaday, Rukeyser, or Reed to a principle in Morrison’s Playing in the Dark. How does their language reflect or transcend their particular cultural and political backgrounds?
Note that such topics here are only suggestions. You can search into any one of them, or find your own for a focus that matters most to you. In addition, you may build from the discussion question handouts any topic that relates to ways that these voices offer examples of or exceptions to the colonial binary and the nexus as options for historical relations. Keep a textual focus for literary analysis in order to detail how, why, and/or so what? Consider also the discussion question handouts as sources for topics.
Logistics On the due date, Tuesday, December 9, email me the essay, Works Cited, & self-evaluation as a single Word.doc attachment, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Plus the rough drafts should be emailed as a separate attachment as well (no more paper copies). I will edit, grade, and respond to your paper online. NB: be sure to put the exact spelling of this heading, 225.80 Your Last Name Essay 2, as your email’s subject line. Because of the overload in my inbox, I cannot guarantee that you will get credit for your online work unless you make this your subject line. To read my editing responses, be sure to view my Word.doc attachment of your edited paper in Print Layout by clicking that option under the View Menu. If you are having trouble with the electronic aspects of this assignment—or any other aspects—please talk with me.
Email the Writer’s Checklist with your rough drafts (on my website under Courses/ Writing Skills Handouts, where you will also find the Peer Editing forms also to be emailed with rough materials). Refer to the guidelines handout for writing and grading criteria, including grammar, spelling, and proofreading. You might need to draft a longer essay to develop a focused thesis statement, and then shorten it all down to this microtheme. Be sure to plan time for pre-writing, writing, revising, and peer editing. Consider free-writing, clustering, brainstorming, etc. Save all doodles, notes, outlines, and drafts, and keep any electronic drafting or notes in an efile to be emailed as your rough drafts attachment. Be sure to talk with me about any questions you have with this assignment.
Structure Try for a well-structured essay, with 1) an intro paragraph that sets up a context for the one-sentence thesis statement typed in bold toward the end of the paragraph; 2) a set of body paragraphs that explain and give examples via textual citations, to support the thesis; and 3) a short concluding paragraph that does more than repeat the intro, suggesting other directions or implications of the thesis. The body paragraphs should have topic sentences built on steps of the thesis. This structure does not mean that the prose has to be stiff. There is room in literary criticism for personal response as well as critical analysis.
Format The essay should be double-spaced, with one-inch margins, in type of no less than 10pt. An optional cover page with your original title, your name, the course, the date, and the assignment is ok (to add space to the essay pages). Again, the essay should include short, direct quotations from the texts to support your thesis. Plenty of quotations are welcome toward close reading. Use MLA format for in-text citations (not “on page 167 it states. . .”). A final page should include a Works Cited, also in exact MLA format. (See the Diana Hacker MLA guide in the bookstore under ENLT 000.)
The paper will be graded on form and content, with an average of the two. In any writing task, all the elements are immediately in play, so they all count, though I will give you feedback where your needs are greatest. Be sure to proofread and/or get help with proofreading. Please read carefully through the following writing guidelines.
Form includes clarity and style, grammar and spelling, bibliographic format, other mechanics of the presentation, plus paragraph topic sentences, transitions, and paragraph coherence and development. Content includes a single-sentence, arguable thesis focusing, again, on textual analysis with supporting logic and examples, plus range and depth of argument, originality, complexity, and awareness of opposing views. A good thesis does three things: 1) it narrows the topic; 2) it makes an assertion about the topic; and 3) it briefly previews or outlines the discussion. (See handouts on developing a thesis.) Note that a thesis is more focused than a topic as it explains what you think about the topic. A thesis assertion in literary analysis does more than describe: it analyzes a textual dynamic by listing and labeling parts or processes. It shows not only what, but how, why, or so what about a topic as it works in the text. Check the draft thesis by asking at least two questions: “is it focused on textual analysis” and “is it debatable?” i.e., if the opposite or negation of the thesis is a non-issue, then the thesis probably needs to assert a more specific analysis that would be arguable. So be careful not to just summarize the piece of literature. Instead explain to a fellow student—who has read this chosen prose or poetry—some aspect of how it works.
More thesis statement guidelines(+ see handouts): Whether you start or end with these three key steps to building a thesis, be sure you do them as part of this microtheme exercise: 1) narrow the topic, 2) make a clear assertion about it, and 3) preview your main points in your thesis. Be sure your thesis is analytical, with an assertion, rather than descriptive as a summary of the narrative. Your essay should go beyond a book report into analysis, a process of separating out parts and then putting them back together, that is, showing how some of those parts work dynamically to make one aspect of the story work. Look for specific passages that reflect and stimulate your larger ideas, and quote those passages as you develop your thesis. (Thus again a Works Cited is required.) Feel free to write both critical analysis and personal response, to be autobiographical, to discuss the reader as well as the text – as long as you tie the discussion closely and critically to textual passages. Remember citations from the texts, shaped by your commentary.
Required -- Write a short self-evaluation at the end of the electronic paper (after the Works Cited): how did your writing process go; what do you feel are the paper’s strengths and weaknesses; and what might you change about the paper if you only had the time.
Extra Credit: Write at least one full page on the implications for American identity of the recent presidential election of a black president. Consider the dialectic versus dialogic patterns of America’s story of itself, and draw on one or more voices in our semester readings to ground your discussion textually. How does this historic moment maintain or change the context of reading the text that you choose?