General Prompt. Choose one or (at most, and only if they’re relatively brief) two assigned texts and, focusing on issues you find relevant and manageable, write a 5-7 page essay specific in its initial thesis, easy to follow in structure, and clear and consistent in style. Proofread your grammar and check your argument carefully for soundness when you get to the final-draft stage (see links below for guides that can help you in that task). The paper should deal with an assigned text or texts in terms of their specifics – language, structure, themes, etc. – it should not proceed by way of vague generalities or try to cover so much that developing ideas fully becomes impossible.
Prompt:Kate Chopin and Tennessee Williams craft sympathetic female characters in Edna Pointellier and Blanche DuBois, respectively, but of course the two characters differ markedly in their outlook and actions. Choose either Chopin or Tennessee Williams and explore the obstacles confronting the female protagonist as well as the key insights she arrives at or expresses in trying to come to terms with such obstacles. We know things don’t end well – in the sense of “happily” – for either character, but to what extent might the one you write about be said to be at least partly successful in combating the powers arrayed against her? Alternately – if you limit your focus sufficiently, that is, and don’t try to cover the entirety of both texts – you might write a comparison/contrast essay that addresses both texts
Anyhow, there’s a strong link between the two female lead characters in that both are highly self-aware; Edna is on a quest for self-sufficiency and authenticity of being and runs into the stark fact that there’s no real home for her in her time and place, while Blanche is trying to hold onto personal and historical or societal ideals when those ideals aren’t supported by the people around her.
1) Thesis presentation in your first paragraph
The paper should go well beyond summarizing, though a little summarizing may be necessary as context for quotations and (in your first paragraph) just to explain what kind of story you are dealing with. The last several sentences of your first paragraph should explain what specific, manageable section of the text you will write about and why you are going to write about it. The “why” part should be more specific than “I want to explore certain characters’ actions and relationships, and later on I’ll tell you what the point of doing that was.” Your reader wants to know what you have already discovered and what you will, therefore, be explaining in detail later. That’s deductive structure, as illustrated in the sample paper: here’s my argument / now I’m citing and analyzing key passages to show how I arrived at it / now I am wrapping up the argument and reflecting on it.
Thesis Development. In the drafting stages of a deductive essay, the thesis in the first paragraph is often vague — more like a general topic than a specific argument. In a deductive essay, one states claims at the outset and then explores them; however, insights tend to develop inductively. That is, what the writer wants to say emerges only gradually, and becomes sharpest towards the end of the paper. The most efficient way to sharpen your first paragraph is to look over what you write in the middle and conclusion of your essay, and tie it all together into a few sentences that will serve as your thesis. That way, you can turn an inductive rough draft into a deductive final draft, and avoid allowing initially vague claims to get the better of you: unless handled with care, ideas quickly become traps.
Avoiding Generalities. Do not begin your first paragraph with filler such as, “Throughout history, man has fallen in love and written poetry.” That is an irrecoverable sign that the writer has little of substance to say. Also avoid literary appreciation filler such as “Ben Jonson’s plays are immortal.”
2) Argument structure and handling of quotations in the main essay
The aim here is to offer sustained analysis of substantive quotations for which you have provided adequate context, and a conclusion that develops logically from the middle section without simply repeating your thesis. Ideally, there should not be only extremely brief quotations; showcasing a few longer passages and staying with them improves emphasis and structure. In a comparative paper, it’s usually best to deal with the texts in two solid blocks rather than to go back and forth between them several times.
3) Grammar and Style
Grammar and style. Key things are consistent verb tense use (present tense is usually best), active voice, and straightforward (not wordy or contorted) sentence structure. A Works Cited page should be included even if you only cite the assigned text/s, and MLA quotation formatting should be correct — see the sample paper available in Writing Guides. Failure to proofread and edit carefully in the final stages is a major factor in poor grades.
More thoughts on style. Avoid vague introductory language or empty praise of the author in question. A statement like “Throughout history so-and-so has been considered a great author” is padding. Get rid of sentences that function only as warm-up for specific analysis, somewhat like filler. Read your paper out loud, and you will get rid of many filler phrases and awkward constructions. We make mistakes in everyday speech, but at least we don’t say things like “objective consideration of contemporary phenomena necessitates the inevitable conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity.”
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