QQ3C English Language and Linguistics
Write a focused, analytic paper making an argument about a specific problem, device, or pattern in a single text. You may write about any of the poems, narratives, or plays on the syllabus. Your paper, when formatted according to the attached guidelines, must be 1500-1750 words long. (Your paper must be at least five 1500 words long; you may write as many as (1750) words, but only if your argument warrants it.) PROMPTS You may choose one of the following prompts as a starting point for developing a focused thesis. Avoid formulating an argument that repeats our class discussions. You are strongly encouraged to forgo the use of prompts and to develop a thesis about a topic of your own choosing. Any student developing a paper from an original idea will receive a grade bump of two thirds (a “B” becomes and “A-“).
VIOLENCE Make an argument about the significance of violence in one of the texts we have studied. Think about how a text represents physical or other forms of violence. What constitutes violence? At what scales does it operate? Are there ways violence is unrepresentable? How does violence get focalized through a particular character or narrative voice? What about violence attracts (or fails to attract) narrative attention? How does the presence of violence impact the way the novel works? Avoid concentrating on violence as plot event. You may wish to consider such topics as background violence; the limits of representation; threat and fear; complicity; transgression; emotional violence; the routinization or banalization of violence. LAYERED TIMES Many of our texts are constructed around multiple layers of time: the “present” of the story is always in tension with one or more pasts that continually impinge on the present (in characters’ memories, in the narrator’s retroversions, in narrative circumstances). Develop an argument about how Walker or Hurston creates some aspect of this layering, and explain the significance of this complex “temporality” (as literary scholars call it).
Some possibilities: world history and individual life; the old generations and the new; youth and middle age; men’s timelines and women’s timelines; the devices for moving from one time to another within a fictional text. FINAL DEVELOPMENTS In each of our texts, the ending seems to show a central character transformed (or transforming). Endings are particularly salient in shaping the meanings of texts, but this does not mean we have to accept them as definitive in our interpretations. Develop an argument about the complexities, ambiguities, and unresolved problems of the final turn of the narrative, returning to earlier parts of the text to show which questions that turn settles and which it leaves open. Think about pattern as well as plot: what connects the end to the middle or the beginning? Rigorously avoid plot summary. “Janie becomes a mature woman” is not a thesis.
The question is, what does the way Hurston narrates Janie’s growth mean? MIMESIS Mimesis can be defined as the representation or imitation of reality in art. Develop an argument about how one of our plays blurs the line between representation (or art) and reality. What does the playwright mean to accomplish with this blurring? How might it act as a commentary on the play as a whole? WRITING GUIDELINES The central requirement of this paper is careful analysis of the materials of poetry, narrative, and drama using as evidence the language of the text. We have been modeling this mode of analysis in class. Your claims should be supported by extensive quotation. To support a claim, it is not enough simply to quote; once you quote, you must analyze what you have quoted, paying close attention to the significance of individual words, of syntactical and rhetorical patterns, of nuances and implications. Use the conceptual categories introduced in class to understand how the text is working.
Do not take for granted that your reader will see the text the way you do: point out the details that can convince the reader of what you say. And make no claims for which you lack evidence. Your interpretation must be organized into an argument with a meaningful motive. In other words, your paper must address a significant, interesting, NON-OBVIOUS question about one of the texts, and it must propose a clearly articulated, non-simplistic answer to that question in the form of a thesis. In order to find a motive in this sort of single-text assignment, think about what is most surprising about what you have to say: relate your focused claims to broader questions about the author, genre, or theme your paper concerns, and show how paying attention to the particular, highly specific argument you are making changes how readers should think about the broader questions.
It will also help to ask yourself what alternative arguments someone might raise about your topic and to anticipate objections to your claims. If there are no alternative arguments or no possible surprises, you haven’t found a motive, and you will have to revise your argument. Repeating interpretations from class or dwelling on evidence already thoroughly discussed in class also detracts from motive. Motive is normally established at the start of an essay. Avoid writing a generalizing introduction. In fact, avoid generalizing beyond the text altogether. Begin your essay with a surprising piece of evidence or observation of your own that immediately frames the topic you are going to address and establishes its interest. Expand on that piece of evidence, forecast the terms of your argument, and then state the central, argumentative claim of the essay.
STYLE You must proofread carefully. Quotations should be carefully transcribed, punctuated, and attributed. In a paper on a single text, you may give a full citation only once, either in an MLA-style “Work Cited” bibliography or in a Chicago-style footnote to the first quotation. After that, line numbers may be given in parentheses. Secondary sources are not required in this paper; but if you use someone else’s work, including someone’s informal comments inside class or out, you must cite that work. Using someone else’s work without specific citation is plagiarism. For bibliographic conventions, you may use either MLA or Chicago style. If you are unfamiliar with both, use MLA (described in detail at the Purdue Owl website). Your citation should distinguish carefully between authors and editors. Honest attribution and proofreading are more important than following every formatting rule. The paper has to be about a poem "I Heard A fly Buzz When I died" by Emily Dickinson