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Critical Response Essay #1: Assignment Sheet
Due: Friday, 9/24/99, in the envelope outside my office door (Fenton 240) by 3:00 pm. It is your responsibility to complete your papers on time in the proper format; late papers will be accepted, but they will lose a grade for every day they are late and I will not provide comments on them.
Format: 4-6 pages (roughly 800-1800 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 so as to be as concise, clear, and persuasive as possible. Don't let the page limit limit your exploration of ideas.]
Assignment Options: You have several options for your first critical response paper; however, unlike some of your other papers in this course, you will not have the option of making up your own topic or question for this first paper.
- 1. What makes a "ghost story"? What are the defining features of the genre? What are the boundaries of the genre? Your task is to illustrate/defend your definition of "the ghost story" by showing how at least two texts that we've read thus far either are or are not ghost stories. Your goal here should neither be to produce a comprehensive reading of a particular story or stories, nor to say a bit on every story we've read this semester. Instead, your goal should be to lay out the parameters of the genre as you understand it and to persuade your audience that your definition is the best of all possible definitions. (Remember here that sometimes the most effective way to explain/justify a definition is to show how it helps you judge the "tough cases," where it's difficult to tell whether a story is or is not in the genre; remember, too, that the most effective persuasive essays are likely to begin from the assumption that one's readers may not necessarily agree with one's definition at the start of the essay, and set out to persuade the most resistant readers.) Criteria for evaluation (in relative order of importance): precision and coherence of definition offered; persuasiveness of arguments and examples; effectiveness of organization/structure in developing your arguments; clarity and style of argumentation; conciseness and preciseness of language use; command of the conventions of college writing (citation style, grammar, punctuation, etc.).
- 2. What makes a "good" ghost story? What are the criteria for quality/excellence in this genre? Your task is to persuade your audience of the validity of your views on what constitutes a "good" ghost story, using two or more texts that we've read thus far to illustrate/justify your claims. To do this effectively, you must consider the range of possible criteria for determining a "good" ghost story and show why you are justified in emphasizing the particular criteria you believe are most important. Your goal here should not be to take two stories and show which one is better, but instead to convince your readers which criteria for identifying literary value are most important. (Remember here that showing how one story is "better" than another can be a way of generating/defending a set of criteria to determine literary excellence [it can be a means to an end, so long as it is not an end in itself]; remember, too, that we're not talking about storytelling in general but about a particular kind of story.) Criteria for evaluation (in relative order of importance): precision and coherence of criteria for "good ghost story" offered; persuasiveness of arguments and examples; effectiveness of organization/structure in developing your arguments; clarity and style of argumentation; conciseness and preciseness of language use; command of the conventions of college writing (citation style, grammar, punctuation, etc.).
- 3. What have you found to be the most interesting use of ghosts (or haunting, spirit possession, etc.) thus far this semester and why is it interesting? What kinds of strategies and motivations (means and ends) for using ghosts in a narrative do you think are most interesting? Your task here is to draw on at least two texts in developing an argument about what constitutes an interesting use of ghosts in narrative. Your goal here should not be to take one story and argue that it is interesting, nor should it be to go through every story we've read and include a sentence or two on how interesting it was; rather, your goal should be to persuade your audience that what you claim is an interesting use of ghosts actually is one. (Remember here that for your essay to be as persuasive as possible you will need to specify what you mean by "interesting"--for instance, is it unusual, atypical, a departure from a norm, or is it a nice twist on a familiar convention? Remember, too, that contrasting your "interesting" use with other less "interesting" uses is an effective persuasive strategy. Finally, it may help you come up with your argument to see what arguments other critics have made about the uses of ghosts in fiction; for a sampling of such arguments, click here.) Criteria for evaluation (in relative order of importance): precision and coherence of criteria for "interesting use" offered; persuasiveness of arguments and examples; effectiveness of organization/structure in developing your arguments; clarity and style of argumentation; conciseness and preciseness of language use; command of the conventions of college writing (citation style, grammar, punctuation, etc.).
- 4. How and to what ends does Erdrich use haunting, possession, ghosts, or spirits in Tracks? What might she be trying to accomplish by including these motifs in her novel in the way that she did? Your task here is to craft an argument that addresses both the strategies by which Erdrich uses ghosts in Tracks ("how does she use ghosts? to accomplish x and y") and the motivations behind those strategies ("by accomplishing x and y, she also fulfills goals a and b"). The most effective papers will include thesis statements that give equal weight to Erdrich's means and ends, although it is possible to write a very good paper that focuses on "how" for most of it but leads up to an argument about Erdrich's "ends" in the conclusion. Your goal here should not be to provide a comprehensive reading of the novel (impossible to do effectively in 4-6 pages), but instead to craft an argument about Erdrich's use of ghosts in Tracks. (Remember here that it's necessary to look for large-scale patterns in the novel and also to look closely at key passages while attempting to generate a thesis for this option; remember, too, the importance of beginning early and revising your original ideas as you rewrite the paper before you turn it in.) Criteria for evaluation (in relative order of importance): imaginativeness, scope, accuracy, and coherence of main argument about Erdrich's use of ghosts; persuasiveness of arguments, evidence, and passages offered in support of your main thesis; effectiveness of organization/structure in developing/advancing your arguments; clarity and style of argumentation; conciseness and preciseness of language use; command of the conventions of college writing (citation style, grammar, punctuation, etc.). [Note: if examining authorial intention becomes too involved, you may choose instead to focus on the strategies and motivations of one of the narrators and ask "How and to what ends does Pauline/Nanapush use haunting, possession, ghosts, or spirits in her/his stories in Tracks?"; the same suggestions and criteria as above would apply here.]
Texts: You may discuss any narrative or narratives by DuWayne Bowen, Louise Erdrich, William Shakespeare, Pu Songling, Yuan Mei, James Joyce, or Gabriel Garcia Marquez that we've read in class thus far in the semester.
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. In other words, you don't have to include the kind of background that someone not taking this course would need.
Advice: Every option asks you to write a persuasive or argumentative (in the good sense) essay, in which you develop and defend a central idea or thesis. However, as opposed to many of your high school essays, this essay will not require you to follow a cookie-cutter "5-paragraph" structure. In fact, you are encouraged to experiment with alternatives to this method of organization that requires you to fit your ideas into a pre-set format: the "funnel" introduction that culminates in a three-part thesis statement, three body paragraphs that each give an argument and evidence in support of the main thesis, and a conclusion in which you restate your thesis. Now, I will still be looking for an organization/structure that effectively advances your main argument, but the key difference is that while in the past you may have been graded on how well you fit your ideas to the pre-set form, now you will be graded on how effectively the form you choose for the essay fits your ideas. This actually sets higher standards for your writing than in the past, and many students find it difficult to make the transition to the expectations of college writing.
Rewrite Policy: I will accept rewrites of this first critical response essay, so long as you get them in within a week of receiving comments on your previous draft from me. Because for many of you this will be your first piece of formal writing in an English class in your college careers, those who get their rewrites in on time can have their original grade replaced by the new grade.
Tips for Rewriting: Click here for suggestions for revision.
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EN 209: Novels and Tales, Fall 1999
Created: 9/15/99, 2:22 pm
Last modified: 10/15/99, 8:51 pm