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Critical Essay

This page takes on two important questions about the critical essay you will write this semester in this course: what and what for; it also includes the assignment sheet. 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. Ditto for any questions you may have about any of the options listed below. Thanks.


Your critical essay is to be a thesis-driven, analytical, and persuasive five-to-seven-page paper in which you offer and justify your own interpretation of Melville's short story, "Benito Cereno." Your paper should be organized to convince your readers to accept an argument you have developed about the meaning and significance of the story and to demonstrate the value of the (combination of) critical approach(es) you have used in constructing and justifying your interpretation. Part of the justifications you offer (for your interpretation and your critical approach[es]) should involve explicitly responding to other readings of "Benito Cereno" and attempts to define the roles, goals, and methods that literary critics should follow. You do not need to do outside research for this paper, although there's nothing stopping you from doing some; the only sources you need to be in dialogue with for this paper are those within Keesey's Contexts for Criticism.

What For

So far this semester you've been exposed to various modes of interpretation and arguments about their utility, relevance, value, and stakes. You've begun to think through your responses to these debates in informal in-class writings and (most likely) in a couple of less informal reflective essays on the course listserv. The critical essay is your chance to move from responding to the debates within literary criticism and to begin to take part in them yourself. It gives you a chance to show not only what you think of the various critical approaches we've been studying but also to use one or more of them to hone your response to a classic short story. The critical essay is your chance to show what you've been learning in the first unit of the course about the theory and practice of literary criticsm. Doing these things will not only improve your skills in active, critical reading and analytical, persuasive writing, but it will also prepare you for the final research project, which will add an independent research component and give you the choice of topic and focus.

Assignment Sheet

Assignment: Develop and support your own interpretation of Melville's "Benito Cereno" and use this interpretation to demonstrate the value of the (combination of) critical approach(es) you have selected for this essay.

Due: Tuesday, March 30, 2004, in class.

Format: 5-7 pages; double spaced, with reasonable fonts, font sizes, and margins (be warned that barely getting on to the fifth sheet of paper does not a five-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 the links page for explanations of this style of citation); proper quotation format: "..." (12). for quotations within a paragraph; blockquote format for quotations five lines or longer.

Criteria for Evaluation: I will be grading your paper in terms of how well you make your case for your argument, how well you base your argument on a (combination of) critical approach(es), and how well-organized and well-written your paper is. Hence I will be evaluating the coherence, validity, and persuasiveness of your paper's argument, the effectiveness of your paper's structure, and the quality of your paper's prose (grammar, syntax, and punctuation).

Audience: In general, think of your immediate audience as those who have taken and are taking this class; hence, you can assume that your readers have read the texts you're writing on and you don't have to include the kind of background that someone not taking this course would need.

Rewrite Policy: Those who wish to rewrite this critical essay will have the final grade on their critical essay be the average of their two papers.

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ENGL 345: Critical Reading, Spring 2004
Created: 3/10/04 10:23 pm
Last modified: 3/10/04 10:25 pm