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Critical Response Essay #3: Assignment Sheet
Assignment: You have several options for your third critical response paper; like the second essay, I am giving you the option of choosing your own question to answer for this essay. I recommend that you take this option as preparation and practice for the final essay.
- 1. You may develop your own question and thesis on Beloved. See the main critical response essay page for advice on this. If you choose this option, you must email me your question and thesis statement by the evening of 4/15 at the latest, and preferably earlier.
- 2. Remember, too, that you may choose to write a "creative response paper" in place of a critical response essay. See the main critical response essay page for advice on this. If you choose this option, you must email me your plans by the evening of 4/15 at the latest.
- 3. You may try to relate Cathy Caruth's theorizing of trauma to Toni Morrison's writing of Beloved. The best papers will most likely not only focus on slavery's traumatic impact on individual characters, but will also consider the question of what the form/structure of the novel has to do with trauma, which may also entail discussing the reader's experience of the novel.
- 4. You may compare and contrast the movie and novel versions of Beloved. The point of this essay should be to identify what's distinctive about the process of narration in the novel and to come up with a thesis about the possibilities and limitations of storytelling in print versus on film. You might begin thinking about formulating such a thesis by considering what features of the novel the filmmakers were able to reproduce, what features they weren't able to, and what innovations they were able to make in the film medium that were not available to Morrison as a writer.
- 5. You may compare and contrast Beloved with any other text we've read in the course, but you must choose your axis of comparison carefully and you must make the point of the essay be to bring out what is distinctive about Morrison's novel.
Format: 3-5 pages (roughly 750-1500 words), with a title and a heading that includes the course number or title, your name, and the date; word-processed; double-spaced; font Times 12 point or similar; preferably laser-printed. [Please be aware that you'll get a better grade if you first develop your ideas fully, without feeling that you have to stop at a certain page or word limit, and then go back and condense, cut, and otherwise revise to be as concise and clear as possible. Don't let the page limit limit your exploration of ideas.]
Due: Monday, 4/19/99, in the envelope outside my office door (Fenton 240) by 7:00 pm.
Texts: Your paper must be on Beloved in some way.
Criteria for Evaluation: See the comments on the first and second critical response essays for qualities I look for in a paper.
Stats and Suggestions for Rewrites
Grade Distribution: A+=0, A=1, A-=3, B+=10, B=25, B-=7, C+=5, C=3, C-=5, D+=2, D=0, D-=0, E=1.
Options Chosen: #1: 16; #2: 0; #3: 13; #4: 26; #5: 7.
General Comments: We're seeing incremental improvement in the middle ranges, as evidenced by the ratio of Bs to B-s (25/7) this time (as opposed to 15/21 last time and 10/11 the time before). Many people have made steady improvements from grades in the C-range to grades in the B-range over the course of the semester. This is encouraging to me and should be to you. However, the number of papers that need serious work (C+ or below) stayed relatively steady from last essay to this one. And I encountered far fewer excellent papers than I expected to be receiving by this point in the semester--there's only been a slow rise from 11 to 13 to 14 at B+ or above on first drafts for each of the three critical response essays--which is quite troubling to me. So let me make a few suggestions as to how to get in the "excellent" range when you rewrite this essay, which should also give you ideas as you're entering the pre-writing stage for the final essay. And of course these suggestions are relevant for everyone, no matter what grades they've been receiving thus far in the semester. With sufficient time, effort, and concentration, anyone can write an A paper. Here are some ways of improving your odds of doing so in my course:
- OK, we're assuming here that you've gone through the pre-writing process and have composed a first draft, or even revised it once through into a second draft. So how to develop your ideas further and improve the paper's organization and persuasiveness?
- Well, first you should make sure you have a main argument that's non-obvious, debate-able, arguable, in need of justification--something that's worth persuading somebody to accept it. Anything less isn't worth spending the time to write it. So you may find that you have to significantly modify your existing thesis or come up with a new one. (Hint: often when you do the "restate the thesis" conclusion method, your statement there is a big improvement on your introduction, or you come up with a new idea that's even better. You should have the guts and take the time to make this idea the centerpiece of the next draft, and revise the body of the paper accordingly. The next few paragraphs give advice on how to do that.)
- When explaining/supporting/justifying/defending your main claim or argument, don't just come up with any ol' reasons in favor of it. That's only preaching to the converted. The best arguments are those that result from your anticipating what counter-evidence and counter-arguments those who would be inclined to disagree with your thesis might throw at you--and coming up with a counter to their counters. If you can convince someone who starts off disagreeing with your thesis that you are right, then you've most likely put together a pretty good argument.
- Once you have your main claim, line of argument, and best evidence in some sort of order that makes sense to you, you're going to have to make sure your writing is at least clear, concise, and precise--and maybe even vivid, engaging, and polished. Once, that is, your ideas are clear to you, you have to work hard at making your writing communicate those ideas effectively to others. Does your introduction grab your readers' attention in some way and get across what you will be arguing in the paper? Are you clear on what the main point of each body paragraph is? Are you clear on what its function in your larger argument is--what role it's supposed to play? Are your connections between paragraphs based on the logic of your argument--do your transitions keep your readers' attention on your argument and help them orient themselves? Does your conclusion avoid simply restating your main point and instead comment on it or discuss what follows from what you've just proven?
- Finally, you need to do a careful final edit for formatting, grammatical, stylistic, and punctuation problems. Remember the "point off for every error/typo" technique of grading my friend uses, or the "won't accept a paper with more than 3 errors/typos in it" technique my first-year writing teacher used, and be happy that I'm such a softie. However, as lenient as I am on this, you should be aware that when grading a bunch of papers in one sitting (or reading through a bunch of resumes), any errors or other elements that make your meaning unclear can be a cause of great frustration--and significant sentence-level writing problems can turn a B+ to a B in the blink of an eye (not to mention a B- to a C+).
This advice should be applicable to any of the paper options you chose for this essay, as well as the "drafting" and "revising" stages of your final essay. The advice on the first two critical response essays still holds, of course, and, in fact, the CRE #2 page has suggestions about the writing process that should be of particular use as you're coming up with your topic for the final essay. Good luck with your rewrites and with your final essay. E-mail me or stop by my office if you want to discuss any aspect of the course or your writing.
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EN 209: Novels and Tales, Spring 1999
Created: 4/7/99, 9:13 am
Last modified: 5/3/99, 8:24 pm