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The Final Essay
- Due: by 4 pm Monday, December 13, in the folder tacked to the bulletin board outside my office (Fenton 240); no late papers will be accepted.
- Requirements: 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 evidence and arguments that seem most relevant to your goals and audience. The final paper must be an analytical or persuasive essay; if you are unclear at all about what a thesis-driven, analytical or persuasive essay is or how I will be evaluating it, you must see me. Better to ask than to guess wrong!
- 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, and I don't recommend that you write on more than 3 works.
- Format: 6-8 pages (roughly 1500-2800 words), with a TITLE (folks have been forgetting this!) 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, and at the end, after the last punctuation mark, put the parenthetical citation. Example:
Blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda uh like you know stuff passages dialogue poetry long quotation etc. etc. etc. [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 the essays I included excerpts from on the How To Do Things With Ghosts page).
- Process: After October break and before the end of classes, 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.
- Purpose: 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, a key purpose of the final essay is to give you a chance to make connections between texts we've read this semester. Like the critical response essays, another key purpose of this essay is to give you practice in developing and justifying interpretations of a narrative or narratives that feature haunting or possession.
- Suggested Comparative Topics: 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 invent or choose a topic in which you have the most interest--one that does not necessarily appear on this page. See the critical response papers page for a wider-ranging set of questions to get you thinking about possible approaches. 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 excerpts from the books on reserve featured in the How To Do Things With Ghosts page, and use it to read/interpret one or more of the texts in the semester.
- Relate a story and a novel (for example, examine how Morrison's Beloved and Chesnutt's "Po' Sandy" relate; or how "Bone Girl" and One More Story relate to Tracks; or how Oates's "Accursed Inhabitants of the House of Bly" rewrites James's The Turn of the Screw).
- 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, and so on). 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.
- Take a trope like "haunting" or "possession" and compare/contrast how and to what ends two different writers bring in multiple meanings of these terms in their works.
- Try to make a case for the best way of reading/interpreting/making sense of/finding meaning in ghost stories, using one or more works from this semester to help illustrate your point.
- Suggested Single-Work Topics: 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 Erdrich, Keller, Morrison, and James--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 relation between ghosts and history in a particular text (for instance, how and to what ends 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," or on how and to what ends Morrison built on the Margaret Garner case in Beloved). 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, as well as to clarify the goal of this research: your paper should still be making an argument about the literary text; it's your job to figure out how to use the research to help you make an argument about the significance of an author's invocation of a prior history or story.
- 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.
- Do research on the treatment of "comfort women" by the Japanese military during World War II in order to help you answer the question of why Keller would go to motifs of haunting and possession to convey something of the experience of sexual slavery and its legacies for those who survived it.
- 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 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.
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 and experience writing 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.
The paper length might seem a little daunting at first, but 6-8 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 is likely to 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.
Make use of the information on these web pages, particularly the "How to Do Things with Ghosts" page (which gives samples of arguments by critics whose works are on reserve in the library), the reserves page (which lists those works and tells you where to find them), and the links page (which has plenty of useful links to other websites out there that can help you in the research and writing process).
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, Fall 1999
Created: 8/21/99, 3:50 pm
Last modified: 12/7/99, 11:27 am