Write a 7-10 page scholarly essay in which you connect 3-4 of the required texts with an interesting, original, literary argument. The essay must adhere to MLA 8 style. Block quotes, images, and Works Cited do not count towards page length. To Consider English 351 is a required course for English majors. In addition to providing an introduction to an important period in American literature, it is also intended to provide you training for a literary career.
A 7-10 page essay is roughly equivalent to a conference paper, one of the professional forms of writing on which a literary professional is judged. Unlike in academia, most scholarly works are judged in a marketplace. Well-known authors and well-known publications are likely to generate more attention, but the individual merit of a piece of writing is largely responsible for a scholar sinking or swimming in this marketplace.
Therefore, think first and foremost about how you respond to the required texts. Your originality of thinking is the most significant marketable quality you have. The texts are shared and you’re not expected to do original historical research, so in a way it’s also the only thing you often have going for yourself. Ask yourself which texts stand out and try to form connections between them. You’re more likely to find an interesting, original thesis about works that you care about.
Think about interesting characters and try to find connections (both similar characters and contrasting ones). To understand how something works, follow the example of kids everywhere and break it to find out. Change details and ask yourself how a story would be different. For example, in Toni Morrison’s introduction to Huckleberry Finn, Morrison asks what would be different about Huck’s relationship with Jim if Jim was a white convict rather than an enslaved black man.
That mind experiment helps Morrison understand the importance of race in Twain’s novel. Once you have an idea (or the germ of an idea), think about how you’d explain it to a friend. How would you sell your idea for a friend? How would you explain it so that your friend is interested? This line of questioning helps you set up stakes for your argument.
Usually, you only have to discuss stakes in your introduction and conclusion, but these moments can be important to helping a reader see value in your argument. For example, if you’re majoring in primary education, perhaps Huckleberry Finn interests you as an oft-banned school book, or for how it compares with modern ideas of children’s minds and interests. Setting up the context for an argument also helps you organize your essay, since it’s a purpose around which to focus.
Final essays should demonstrate: Thorough knowledge of required texts; Fair and accurate use of evidence throughout (both primary and secondary); Consistent use of language and syntax appropriate for a scholarly audience; deviations from conventions should be obviously deliberate and achieve an obvious outcome; Coherence; arguments and evidence should be meaningfully connected to the thesis and audience; structural coherence between paragraphs and internally; Why the central topic is important or interesting for a scholarly audience; Consistent use of appropriate citation methods (i.e. MLA 8)’ A title that suggests your research question, possibly your method, and ideally the texts you’ll discuss (e.g. “The Children Aren’t Alright”:
The depiction of childhood by Douglass, Stowe, and Twain). You’ll want to avoid: Broad historical statements without evidence; Using a quote to establish elements of plot; Using the word “thing” anywhere in your essay; Assuming the intention of an author without evidence; Claiming to know how reader(s) respond to a text without evidence.