07 Sep 2010 [ Prev | Next ]

Ex 1: Response to Model Essays

Postponed from Sep 01, so that we'll have a little more time to try writing in class first.

What is the assignment?

Your instructions:


Create a single word processor file to hold all your answers, and when you are finished, upload that single file to Turnitin.com.  The Course ID is 3449398, and the class password is "nosummary" (reminding you that literary analysis is not the same thing as plot summary).


Prepare your file with standard MLA headings, a give it the title "Exercise 1: Close Reading Practice"

 


Part I

 

Here you will find two incomplete paragraphs. Let's imagine these paragraphs were started by a student who was given the following prompt:


Write a short paragraph (about 200 words) that defends a debatable position on "Rip Van Winkle." A "debatable position" is an interpretive claim, supported by evidence from the story, that a rational person might actually disagree with.

 

Option A:

 

The supernatural encounter with the bowling Dutchmen is far more believable, within the fictional world of the story, than the stories Rip tells the village children about "ghosts, witches, and Indians." In fact, by placing "Indians" in the same category as childish tales of superstition and magic, Irving...

 

Option B:

 

Although stories of action and romance typically focus on younger protagonists, Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" shows that the elders in our communities are a treasure that should be respected. Our elders are a store of community knowledge and history, they settle disputes, and they teach the next generation. We see this in "Rip Van Winkle" when...

 

Instructions:

I.1. In a few sentences, what feedback would you give to the authors of these two paragraphs?

            I.1.A. Comment on option A. (What does this author need to do next?)

            I.1.B. Comment on option B. (What does this author need to do next?)

1.2. Choose either Option A, or Option B, and finish it, referring to the prompt to see exactly what's expected of you. (I am not  looking for any particular "correct" answer. Instead, I'm asking you demonstrate your ability to carry out the instructions in the prompt.)

 


Part II

 

Let's imagine the incomplete paragraphs in this section were started by a student who was given the following prompt:

Write a short paragraph (about 200 words) that defends a debatable position on "Young Goodman Brown." A "debatable position" is an interpretive claim, supported by evidence from the story, that a rational person might actually disagree with.

 

 

Option A:  Although Hawthorne gives the reader many hints that Brown's faith in Faith is misplaced, we cannot blame Brown's downfall on Faith's failure. Rather, Brown's flaws was that he put too much trust in Faith (a flawed human, like himself). The pink ribbons are halfway between the white of purity (to Brown, she is "a blessed angel on earth") and the "one mighty blood spot" of guilt celebrated by the midnight assembly. Further, the fact that Faith is hovering on the threshold of her house, that she is "letting the wind play with" the pink ribbons, and that the next morning she "almost kissed her husband before the whole village" all suggest that ...

 

Option B: The woods can symbolize many things in literature, from peace and shelter, to chaos and danger. If I had to choose the best interpretation of the woods, I would say that the woods in "Young Goodman Brown" represent all the spiritual dangers that Young Goodman Brown has to go through, as he makes his way through life. Everyone knows what it is like to face your fears and go against social convention, and Brown is brave in that he is willing to reject the expectations of his community and go out on his own.

 

Instructions:

II.1. In a few sentences, what feedback would you give to the authors of these two paragraphs?

            II.1.A. Comment on option A. (What does this author need to do next?)

            II.1.B. Comment on option B. (What does this author need to do next?)

1.2. Choose either Option A, or Option B, and finish it, referring to the prompt to see exactly what's expected of you. (I am not  looking for any particular "correct" answer. Instead, I'm asking you demonstrate your ability to carry out the instructions in the prompt.)

 

Why are we doing this?

Summarizing the plot, listing themes or character traits, discussing facts about the author's life, and applying the literary work to your own life are all ways of filling up a blank page, but a literary essay asks you to do something different. You'll start this exercise by identifying, comparing, and revising elements of an interpretive literary argument, and you'll end this exercise by writing your own.

  • This exercise is the first formal assessment of your close-reading skill. The model essays all have some merit, though some are better than others at presenting a persuasive, evidence-based interpretation of a literary passage. You'll observe, consider, and evaluate paragraphs that explore patterns, structure, and technique that give a literary work its emotional power, so that you can learn from the models.
  • Practicing your ability to recognize the parts of an argument, to compare arguments, and to evaluate their effectiveness will make you a more accomplished reader (of any kind text) and a more advanced thinker.
  • Practicing your ability to evaluate and improve the model essays will help you write more persuasive arguments.
  • Practicing the ability to write persuasive arguments will, over time, improve your ability to see -- even before you start writing -- when the evidence does not support your first impression of something. (Will you look harder for evidence that does support your initial belief? Will you let the evidence that you do find change what you believe? Will you stick to your beliefs, despite the lack of evidence?) 
  • Practicing the ability to argue from evidence will help you align your beliefs with the most credible arguments...which will increase your self-knowledge...which will lead to wisdom.
  • Wisdom is good.


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