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Critical Essay #2
This page includes the assignment sheet for the second critical essay. My goal is to make this page as useful to you as possible, so let me know if it can be improved. If anything is badly worded, unclear, or missing, please contact me with constructive criticisms and suggestions. Thanks.
Due: no later than 5 pm on Monday, April 2, 2001, either in my mailbox in the English department main office (Fenton 277), or in the envelope on the bulletin board outside my office door (Fenton 240).
Format: 4-6 pages, double spaced, with reasonable fonts, font sizes, and margins (be warned that barely getting on to the fourth sheet of paper does not a four-page paper make!); title that indicates main argument of paper; heading that includes your name, the course name or number, and the date; bibliography and citations in MLA style (see links page for explanations of this style of citation); proper quotation format ("..." . for quotations within a paragraph; blockquote format for quotations five lines or longer).
Options: Here are suggested options for the second critical essay. In each of these options, your job is to come up with an argument that you are trying to support by using textual evidence to persuade your readers of your interpretation's validity.
- Invent your own option: formulate a question that you want to consider or argument that you want to make in your second critical essay, and write me a brief proposal for why you should be allowed to do it along with an explanation of why you want to do it. You must run your idea by me at least 4 days before the paper is due (no later than Monday, March 26), to allow time for feedback, revision, and brainstorming, drafting, and revising of the actual essay. Do not assume that I will approve your suggested revision/topic/question--run it by me as early as possible!
- Consider all the works we've read in the "city" unit that deal with migration, not from the perspective of the point of departure, but instead from the perspective of the place of arrival. Choose one or two works that focus on one of the following subjects: (a) how recent migrants from the rural South react or respond to urban Northern life, (b) how those who have lived in a Northern city for longer react or respond to recent migrants from the rural South, or (c) how migration has changed the city itself. Then craft and support an argument that addresses the stakes or significance of your writer's (or writers') mode of engaging that subject.
- Consider the various debates that interested black intellectuals so much in the first half of the twentieth century: over how best to counter white supremacist ideologies and/or images of, narratives about, or expectations for black people and culture; over the existence and value of the "New Negro Renaissance"; over the freedom and responsibility of black artists; over the content and function of black art; over the role and value of white patronage of and/or interest in black art and artists; over the meaning of the 1935 and 1943 Harlem riots; over the significance of established and emerging class, gender, and generational differences among African Americans--to name just a few. Choose one such debate and two or three writers whose positions relate in interesting ways, and craft and support an argument that either (a) defends one of the positions against the others, (b) articulates your own perspective on the issue the writers are debating that is different from any of the positions taken at the time, or (c) identifies an assumption shared by those with opposing viewpoints and shows the value of questioning that assumption.
- Consider the various takes on the new possibilities and dangers opened up by urban life for African Americans that we've encountered in this unit. Which do you find most compelling and why? Make a case for the work that you believe offers the most compelling analysis of these possibilities and dangers by contrasting it with other assessments that you find less compelling.
- Consider how the vision of and perspective on urban life offered by one of the following movies relates to at least one of the works we've read in the "city" unit: Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989, 120 min.); Boyz in the Hood (John Singleton, 1991, 112 min.); New Jack City (Mario Van Peebles, 1991, 101 min.); Deep Cover (Bill Duke, 1992, 107 min.); Menace II Society (Allen and Albert Hughes, 1993, 104 min.); Slam (Marc Levin, 1998, 100 min.). Then craft and support an argument that addresses the stakes or significance of the most telling differences and similarities between Harlem Renaissance-era literary and contemporary filmic representations of the city and urban life.
Suggestions for Revision
Your "re-vision" of the first or second critical essay is due by 5 pm on Monday, May 7 (even if you didn't rewrite the first critical essay before spring break, you will have the option of rewriting that one instead of the second if you so desire; see the critical essay #1 page for "re-vision" suggestions). You must turn in your original paper along with your "re-vision" of it. The grade on your "re-vision" will completely replace your original grade; doing a "re-vision" will also count toward your preparation/participation grade.
Here's the grade breakdown on the second critical essay: A=0, A-=2, B+=5, B=6, B-=9, C+=4, C=4, C- or below=0. As with the previous paper, to get a B+ or higher, you had to have understood what the assignment was asking you to do, come up with a main argument that is argue-able, debate-able, and non-obvious, and done a good job persuading your readers to agree with it (the more ambitious your argument was and the better your support for it, the higher your grade rose). To get a between a B and a C+, you had to have raised doubts about your understanding of the assignment, had a main argument that was more descriptive than analytical, or had problems in the way you attempted to support it (the shakier your understanding of the assignment, the less analytical your thesis was, the more problems you had with supporting arguments, evidence, organization, and grammar, and the more clear misreadings of the text[s] in question, the lower your grade fell in this range). And to get a C or lower, you had to have had serious problems with your understanding of the assignment, had an incoherent, contradictory, or reductive main argument (or lacked one altogether), and had serious problems with your mode of supporting it (the more problems with the main argument, structure, and use of evidence, with your understanding of the text[s] or issue[s] in the question, and with the conciseness and preciseness of your prose at the sentence level, the lower your grade fell).
Those who choose to do a "re-vision" must read my comments carefully and be clear about what aspect of their paper most needs improving: understanding of the assignment and following through on its requirements; developing your arguments and reorganizing the paper; better supporting your main claims and making your arguments more persuasive. Start your "re-vision" process by focusing on the most far-reaching and challenging aspects in need of rethinking--if your paper lacks a main argument, develop one; if it doesn't support your main claim well, either rethink the main claim or come up with a better way of supporting it. Don't just correct a few typos and change a sentence here or there. That isn't a "re-vision" at all; that's just editing. The best way to significantly improve your grade on a "re-vision" will be to reenvision your goals for the paper and ways of achieving them, to look carefully at what was working and what wasn't working in the first draft, and to be willing to make major changes if they are necessary to improve your argument.
Here are some suggestions for "re-vision" of papers on the various options:
- For the migration option, when people got into trouble, what got most of them was a failure to develop an argument that addresses the stakes or significance of your writer's (or writers') mode of engaging one of the three aspects of migration you could choose to focus on for that option. Many people ended up focusing only on characters and plot--not on the author's goals for telling that story or creating those characters or situations. Those who did get to the stakes or significance of the writer's "take" on migration tended to hide their arguments in the conclusion of their paper, rather than introducing their claims at the beginning and arguing for them in the body of the paper. Make sure your paper fulfills the requirements of the option!
- For the debates option, when people got into trouble, what got most of them was a tendency to summarize a particular debate rather than analyze it. Remember, the key part of the assignment asks you to "craft and support an argument that either (a) defends one of the positions against the others, (b) articulates your own perspective on the issue the writers are debating that is different from any of the positions taken at the time, or (c) identifies an assumption shared by those with opposing viewpoints and shows the value of questioning that assumption."
- For the possibilities/dangers of urban life option, when people got into trouble, what got most of them was a tendency to write a descriptive rather than a persuasive essay. Your job in this option was to convince your audience that a particular writer's take on the possibilities and dangers of urban life was the most compelling of the ones we read; to do that, you'd need to contrast your writer's vision with others, not just summarize his or her views. You'd need to come up with good reasons why that take or vision is the most compelling, and organize the paper to persuade your audience to agree with your arguments.
- For the movie/literature option, when people got into trouble, what got most of them was a misunderstanding of the assignment, which asked them to "craft and support an argument that addresses the stakes or significance of the most telling differences and similarities between Harlem Renaissance-era literary and contemporary filmic representations of the city and urban life." It's not enough to have a take about what's at stake in the relation between 1920s and 1990s visions of urban life in African American culture; you also need to support your argument effectively, drawing on evidence from the poetry, fiction, and films you're analyzing.
Overall, I saw some improvement from the first critical essays to the second--more people understood what it meant to make an argument, more people did a better job supporting their claims and persuading their readers, and most people improved their writing at the sentence level. But there's room for a whole lot more. If people want to meet to discuss their first drafts and "re-vision" plans, they should make an appointment to see me on Friday or Monday.
M A I N * N E W S * L I N K S * R E S E R V E S
ENGL 240: Intro to African American Lit and Culture, Spring 2001
Created: 3/8/01 9:09 pm
Last modified: 5/3/01 1:22 pm