The culminating assignment for the semester is the literary analysis, which will require you to think critically about any of the text(s) we’ve read for the course, to make an argument based on your interpretations and ideas, and to support your claims with evidence from that text (i.e., quotations pulled from the text, not just allusions to the text). You should pick a critical approach to give a useful perspective for thinking and writing critically. For instance, you may analyze a text in terms of the author’s context (biographical criticism), its historical context (historical criticism), its gender dynamics (feminist/gender criticism), or its cultural context (cultural criticism). Because the course theme is mental health, many of you may want to focus on psychological approaches (psychoanalytic/psychological criticism), as we have elaborated upon in class. There are other approaches, too, which you may approve in conversation with me. If you have an idea that you’re not sure how to spin, just email me or make an appointment to audio or video chat with me about it. I want you to write about what interests you!
For any of these approaches—biographical, historical, feminist/gender, cultural, psychoanalytic/psychological, etc.—you will have to depend on at least one outside source to contextualize your argument. Think of your paper as an extended version of what you prepared for your discussion post, though of course you are not restricted to focusing on the same text or critical approach you employed for that assignment. In fact, I encourage you to branch out.
For example, if you wanted to do biographical criticism on Jane Eyre, you might analyze the relationship between the novel’s romance plots and the fact that Charlotte Brontë herself rejected several suitors before finally marrying Arthur Nicholls. In this case, you would rely upon a biography of Brontë and/or her letters. The goal here would be to develop an argument about how Brontë’s own life experience affected the writing of the novel, and/or how the ideas demonstrated in her novel played out or changed in her own life (always being careful to note dates and timelines!).
Or, if you wanted to focus on the representation of the psychology of domestic violence in A Streetcar Named Desire, you could look at modern-day psychological research on the dynamics of domestic violence and compare it to the depiction of Stella’s character in the play. The ultimate goal here would be to demonstrate how Tennessee Williams anticipates our current understanding of this psychology, as well as argue how his depiction of Stella might further develop or challenge such an understanding.
Or, if you wanted to study the history of the Emancipation Act of 1833 and its role in Wide Sargasso Sea, you could find a historical source detailing this legislation and its effects and write a paper which contextualizes the novel and its characters within an improved understanding of its setting. Your ultimate goal would be to develop an argument about how the Act shaped a key element or elements of the novel: the relationships between the characters, for example. (I often wonder if Rhys wanted to suggest that the Emancipation Act shaped Antoinette to such a degree that a healthy relationship was impossible for her. I’d love to read a paper that considered this question with the appropriate historical context.)
Any of your secondary source(s) should be cited just like the literary text. I am available to help you find sources, as are our wonderful librarians. Ask us for help!
A very important note on theses: You were very likely taught in high school to have your thesis ready prepared as part of an outline. However, this is not the way most successful papers begin for many (I daresay most) people. The most common practice is to write one’s way into one’s thesis, not to have it all worked out ahead of time. Writing is thinking! Like in a science experiment, you may well have a hypothesis that your writing process leads you to “prove” or “disprove.” If you write your way into your thesis at the end of your paper, like so many of us tend to do, you then need to revise your paper to bring this thesis to the forefront and then re-organize the rest of your essay around it. Yes, this takes more work! Yes, it’s also necessary!
Other Frequently-Asked Questions about Writing
A note on using “I”: Using “I” is not forbidden! However, in academic writing like this, if you’re going to use it, it works best as “signposting language”: language that helps provide a map for your reader. It will probably appear primarily in your introduction, as follows: “In this paper I will first discuss the Emancipation Act of 1833 as background, then…”
It is not good use of “I” to say, “In my opinion,” “I believe that,” etc., because it downplays the authority you’re establishing as someone who has researched and prepared a thesis about your topic.
A note on conclusions: Conclusions are the hardest part of writing. A good conclusion does not simply reiterate what you’ve already said, but gestures towards the next steps were you to continue writing. What are the larger consequences of what you’ve revealed? If you were to continue your research, where would you go with it next?
A note on the five-paragraph essay: If your essay happens to be five paragraphs, that’s fine, but do not think of this essay as following a five-paragraph model of introduction, three body paragraphs, and conclusion. You might not have three major points you’re trying to make, or three major examples of what you’re illustrating. Rather than trying to fit your content into a specific format, you should let your content dictate your format. It’s like picking out a box for an item you’re trying to mail. You choose the size and shape of the box (form) based on the item you’re trying to ship (content); you don’t try to jam the item into a box not made for it.
The Revision Process
Speaking of revision: you will be writing two drafts of this paper. Both stages of drafting are important and will be treated as such in the grading process. Your first draft must meet the word count and read as a complete essay.
You will be responsible for peer reviewing the papers for up to 2 members of your discussion board brainstorming group. Peer review is an essential part of process and required by the LIT 2000 program. We will be using the “Peer Review” feature of Canvas.
Feedback should not consist of just grammatical and syntactical corrections, but concerns related to your peers’ theses, interpretations of the text, and use of textual evidence. You should use the rubric provided in the Assignments section of Canvas when performing peer review.
My comments on your draft will also be returned to you via Canvas. These comments will be extensive, and I expect you to take both these and your peers’ comments into consideration during the week you have to revise your paper.
Word count: 1,000-2,000 words
Percentage of course grade: 25% (250 points)
Rough draft: 10% (100 pts.)
Peer review: 5% (50 pts.)
Final draft: 10% (100 pts.)
Margins: 1” all around
Font: Times New Roman or Garamond, size 12
Citation style: MLA
If you don’t remember how to do MLA citations, the Purdue OWL is a very helpful resource: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_formatting_and_style_guide.html (Links to an external site.)
Please do not email me for help with citations unless you have carefully checked the Purdue OWL first.