M A I N * N E W S * T O P I C S * L I N K S * R E S E R V E S
The Final Essay
- Format: 5-8 pages (roughly 1250-3200 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. Remember that citations should be in parenthetical form at the end of sentences. For short ones, follow the format "quotation" (citation). Example: "Bruce is picky" (24). For quotations of five lines or more, put them in a separate single-spaced and indented paragraph without quotation marks around them, and at the end of them, after the last punctuation mark, put the parenthetical citation. Example:
Blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda uh like you know stuff ideas arguments whatever [for five lines]. (18)
If you're using more than one source and it's not clear whom you're quoting, follow this format: "..." (Simon 10). With multiple sources, you should do a "Works Cited" section at the end of the paper, following a consistent format (check out the MLA Handbook [available on-line off the links page] or the Chicago Manual of Style for examples of bibliographical formats; or, more simply, see how I cited works in the course pack and the essays I excerpted from on the How To Do Things With Ghosts page).
- Due: by 5 pm Wednesday, May 12, in the folder tacked to the bulletin board outside my office (Fenton 240); no late papers will be accepted.
- Texts: You may write on any work or combination of works we've read for this class this semester; however, I don't recommend that you write on a work you've already devoted a critical response paper to, unless you make the final essay substantially different from your earlier paper.
- Process: After spring break, you must schedule an appointment with me to discuss your ideas for the final essay. If you want, you can substitute this face-to-face meeting with a detailed email. Once we've discussed your ideas, either in person or over email, I highly recommend that you show your rough draft to a classmate of your choice and get feedback from that person (presumably, that person would want you to read their paper, as well; you should). You may hand in your paper any time between our consultation and the due date.
1. For your final essay, you must present an argument about or offer an interpretation of at least one of the texts we've read in class. You should have a central question that you are trying to answer in your essay, and you should be working to persuade your audience that your answer is plausible by offering whatever evidence seems most relevant to your argument and audience.
2. I have been suggesting possible topics in class throughout the semester. Look here for an ever-expanding list of potential topics, although I of course prefer that you choose a topic in which you have the most interest. See the critical response papers page for a more open-ended set of questions to get you thinking about possible approaches. Part Three of the mid-term examination also gives possibilities.
OK, here are some general suggestions:
- Focus on the idea of a ghost as a symbol, as something a writer uses to get across or do certain things (which differ greatly from writer to writer). Write your paper not on a character or a plot issue, but on the significance of the symbol, of the way the writer uses the ghost.
- Take one of the critical essays we've read (Kingston, Caruth) or the excerpts from the critical essays in the How To Do Things With Ghosts page, and use them to read/interpret one or more of the texts in the semester. (You don't have to agree with the critic or show how the text does what they say you should expect it to do; it's often more interesting to read informed and constructive criticisms of others' interpretations, which can help you sharpen your sense of what's really happening in a text, so feel free to disagree with a given critic.)
- Take one of the shorter "supplemental" works that we read alongside the three major texts of the course (The Woman Warrior, Beloved, and Tracks) and do a comparison/contrast essay on how the shorter work helps illuminate the larger work (for example, how Morrison's Beloved and Chesnutt's "Po' Sandy" relate; or the significance of how Kingston retells the Fa Mu Lan story that was first put into print in ballad form [ballads that you have in translation]; or how Kingston's ghost stories relate to the older stories from China we read; or how "Bone Girl" and One More Story relate to Tracks).
- Examine one of the short story collections on reserve at the library so as to compare a given author's treatment of ghosts in the story that we read in class with other stories in the collection that also treat ghosts (examples: develop an argument about the similarities and differences between "The Accursed Inhabitants of the House of Bly" and "Haunted" in Oates's Haunted or between "A Ghost Story" and "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain" in Butler's A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain).
- Do a comparison/contrast paper on how two different writers use ghosts in their fiction to accomplish certain things (affect the reader, raise an issue, point to a problem, invoke a historical event). This works best when you consider an issue that two writers are approaching from different directions and analyze the significance of the similarities and differences in their approaches.
- Try to make a case for the best way of reading/interpreting/making sense of/finding meaning in ghost stories, using your readings of one or more works from this semester to illustrate your point.
As an alternative to the comparative suggestions above, I suggest topics on single works for those who want to pursue an issue in depth below. The suggestions focus on the four longer works we've read this semester--by James, Kingston, Morrison, and Erdrich--because to write a significant paper on one of the shorter works would require more extensive research than is likely to be appropriate or feasible for a first-year level course. Keeping in mind that the amount of research in the following suggestions is meant to be light, you may:
- Do research that relates to understanding the use of ghosts in a particular text (for instance, how and to what ends Morrison built on the Margaret Garner case in Beloved, or how and to what end Erdrich built on the Ghost Dance phenomenon of the late nineteenth century in Tracks, or the significance of the figure of "La Llorona" in Cisneros's "Woman Hollering Creek"). This could involve library work and/or web searches (see the links page for a short list of web sites to examine); see me or write me if you plan to do either, for advice on searches and how to use and cite sources in your paper.
- Do research on debates over The Turn of the Screw and offer your own interpretation of the ghosts in the story that enters into these debates. Several works in the library feature these debates, and I have materials that could be of use, as well.
- Make an argument about the relation between form and content, or between structure and plot, or between narrative strategy and message inThe Woman Warrior.
- Examine the significance of the two epigrams in Beloved or otherwise consider how they signal some of the major themes or issues in the novel (this would entail some comparative/intertextual work, since the second epigram is from Romans 9:25, which is itself a citation of Hosea 2:23).
- Do research on the history of the Chippewa (Anishinabe) nation, particularly in the latter half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, and write a paper in which you help contextualize the events of the novel (including those alluded to) and help explain why Erdrich focused on the time period she did.
3. The slightly longer length of this paper than the critical response papers gives you a good opportunity to write a comparison/contrast paper or do some outside research. Like the midterm exam, the main purpose of the final essay is to give you a chance to make connections between texts we've read this semester.
Note: I've numbered the paragraphs in this section to correspond to the numbering in the previous section.
1. For ideas on how to come up with an analytical or interpretive argument, see the reading responses page. Doing this should be familiar to you after a semester of reading responses, student responses, and your two critical response papers. It's natural, though, for you to have questions, and the process is never easy for anyone. So when we discuss your ideas for the final paper, raise any questions you might have about what makes an effective analytical or persuasive essay. I'm here to help! Also, this is a perfect opportunity to use the listserv to ask people how they are planning and preparing for their own papers. If you post a question to the listserv, I'll answer back to it when appropriate, so that everyone gets the benefit of the questions people ask me and each other.
2. Don't forget to check out the page of quotations on ghost stories and ghosts--they are chock full of ideas and can be highly suggestive for approaches you might take to make sense of specific texts. You can use them to think about the course as a whole and connections between texts.
3. The paper length might seem a little daunting at first, but 5-8 pages is really very little space to develop your ideas in depth. Don't give in to the temptation to choose a HUGE topic for fear that you'll run out of ideas before you run out of space. Better to start with a focused topic and let it grow to fill the space. For this paper, you must give yourself enough time to do serious revisions on your first draft before you turn it in. I know how busy the end of the semester is (believe me, I do!), but unless you do at least one major revision of your original ideas, your grade will suffer. Anything you turn in should be your absolute best work, but that goes double for final papers. I don't want to see any careless typos or grammatical errors in your last assignment for this course. This is why I recommend sharing drafts with classmates and peer editing each others' papers. If you go this route, be sure to add an acknowledgements section at the end thanking the kind people who read and commented on your earlier draft.
All right, good luck with the final paper. This is your last piece of work for this course, so make it count and have fun doing it!
M A I N * N E W S * T O P I C S * L I N K S * R E S E R V E S
EN 209: Novels and Tales, Spring 1999
Created: 1/15/99, 7:08 pm
Last modified: 5/3/99, 7:28 pm