*Description and Objectives: This assignment asks you to conduct and in-depth study of a topic of your choice related to a work(s) of LITERATURE and/or a writer(s) and then develop a critical essay about that topic, advancing your own thinking with the support of researched information. Your goal will be to convince an appropriate audience to accept a position you have taken as a result of your investigation. You must present an original, creative argument that supports your perspective, one that is likely to be persuasive to the audience you identify. You must also demonstrate an awareness of the social and historical contexts, intellectual currents, etc., that have helped shape current viewpoints on your topic.
*Topic Selection: Choose a topic that you’re genuinely interested in and will be highly motivated to learn more about. You’ll be expected to convey more than a distanced intellectual curiosity about this topic; you must strive to invoke other facets of the human spirit as well (emotion, sensuality, spirituality…)
Examples of acceptable paper topics:
*1.) Focus on a particular work – Reference example, pg. 523 (illustrative essay). You might treat character (for example, “The Character of Louise in Chopin’s ‘The Story of an Hour’” or “The Question of Whether Young Goodman Brown is a Hero or a Dupe in Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown’”) or tone and style, ideas, structure, form, and the like. A research paper on a single work is similar to an essay on the same work, except that the research paper takes into account more views and facts than those you are likely to have without the research.
*2.) Focus on a particular author – A project might focus on an idea or some facet of style, imagery, setting, or tone of the author, tracing the origins and development of the topic through a number of different stories, poems, or plays. Examples are “Joyce’s Use of Local References in Dubliners” and “Faulkner’s Use of the Yoknapatawpha Environment in His Stories.” This type of paper is suitable for a number of shorter works, although it is also applicable for a single major work, such as a longer story, novel, or play.
*3.) Comparison and contrast – See Chapter 26, there are two types!
A. An idea of quality common to two or more authors. Here you show points of similarity or contrast, or else you show how one author’s work can be taken to criticize another’s. A possible subject is “Contrasting Uses of Dialogue in Ellison’s ‘Battle Royal’ and Tan’s ‘Two Kind,’” or “The Theme of Love and Sexuality in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily,’ Munro’s ‘The Found Boat,’ and Joyce’s ‘Araby.’”
B. Different critical views of a particular work or body of works. Sometimes much is to be gained from an examination of differing critical opinions on topics like “The Meaning of Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death’” or “Various Views of Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown.’” Such a study would attempt to determine the critical opinion and taste to which a work did or did not appeal, and it might also aim at conclusions about whether the work was in the advance or rear guard of its time.
*4.) The influence of an idea, author, philosophy, political situation, or artistic movement on specific works of an author or authors. A paper on influences can be specific and to the point, as in “Details of Twentieth-Century Native American Life as Reflected in Silko’s ‘The Man to Send Rain’” or else it can be more abstract and critical, as in “The Influence of Traditional Religion on Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown.’”
*5.) The origin of a particular work or type of work. Such a paper might examine an author’s biography to discover the germination and development of a work – for example, “Poe’s Personal Experience with Illness and ‘The Masque of the Red Death’” and “Poe’s Theory of the Short Story.”
*If you consider the above types, an idea of what to write may come to you. Perhaps you have particularly liked one author or several authors. If so, you might start to think along the lines of types 1, 2, or 3. If you are interested in influences or origins, then type 4 or 5 may suit you better.
*Topics to Discover in Research… Poetry
Any of the essay assignments on poetry described in Chapters 11 to 18 can serve as the basic topic for the introduction of helpful research materials. Because of the general nature of research, the use of research for writing about poetry is not essentially different from research used in writing about fiction and drama. (A rich field for discussion might be the comparison of poems or poets. You should aim at an essay that is relevant to the poem or poems you have chosen. Of even greater significance than your choice of topic – is your integration of research discoveries into the development of your paper.
*1.) The period of time when a poem was written, together with significant events. The illustrative essay about Whitman cites the American Civil War (1861-1865) as the dominating national event occurring at the time of the poems (pp. 952 and 956). Comparably, Hardy’s “The Convergence of the Twain” in Chapter 14 ([url removed, login to view]) was written as a commentary on the sinking of the British liner Titanic in 1912. Komunyakaa’s “Facing It” in Chapter 15 ([url removed, login to view]) uses the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall to reflect upon the violence of that war and its bitter legacy.
*2.) Social, natural, and/or political circumstances at the time of the poem. What was the dominant political situation at the time? Who were the sorts of persons in political power? What attitudes were prevalent at the time with regard to the circumstances of nature? Wordsworth, for example, often creates an implicit comparison between the natural world at peace and negative human activities that are odd with it.
*3.) Biographical details about a poet. At what time in his or her life did the poet write a particular poem? What kind of work was he or she doing at the time, and which of the poet’s particular concerns might be relevant to our understanding of the poem? Did the poet write anything about the poem in his or her personal correspondence? What was this? Are there any results of interviews with the poet that might be introduced to explain the poem? What were the poet’s aims in creating a particular poem?
*4.) Specific or general thoughts by the poet that are relevant to the poem. Sometimes there might be details about a poet’s thoughts on the thinking and reading he or she was doing, or on works of art, or on religious or philosophical musings. Langston Hughes was deeply concerned about the circumstances of African Americans in the United States and wrote many poems on this topic. Elaine Terranova was equally concerned with the condition of women and families, and her “Rush Hour” is an expression of this deep concern (Chapter 11, [url removed, login to view]).
Topics to Discover in Research…Drama
Your goal in doing research on drama should always be to discover materials that have a meaningful bearing on the play or plays about which you are writing. You might select an individual character and the importance of that character to the play’s action or structure. Or you may wish to describe the character’s interests or language. Much of what you may do of course depends on the nature of the play and what you discover about it. As with both fiction and poetry, some things to look for might be these:
*1.) The period of time when the play was written, together with significant events. The illustrative research essay on the Ghost in Shakespeare’s Hamlet introduces sixteenth-century ideas about the nature of ghosts and the supernatural. If you look at the introduction and notes to Hughes’s Mulatto (pp.1352-73), you will see that the play is concerned with details of racism in the American South in the 1930s, and that particular events at that time may have a bearing on our understanding of the play.
*2.) Social, natural, and/or political circumstances at the time of the play or plays. What was the dominant political situation at the time? Who were the sorts of persons in political power? What attitudes were prevalent at the time with regard to the circumstances of nature? The characters in O’Neill’s Before Breakfast are representative of people living close to the edge in New York’s Greenwich Village in the second decade of the twentieth century, with all that this way of life implied.
*3.) Biographical details about a dramatist. At what time in his or her life did the dramatist write the play? What kind of work was he or she doing at the time, and which of his or her particular concerns might be relevant to our understanding of the play? Did the dramatist write anything about the play in personal correspondence, if any exists? What was this? Are there any results of interviews with the dramatist that might be introduced to explain the play? What were the dramatist’s aims in creating the particular play, to the degree that it is possible to discover these aims?
*4.) Specific or general thoughts by the dramatist that are relevant to the play/
plays. Sometimes there might be details about a dramatist’s thoughts on the thinking and reading he or she was doing, or on works of art seen, or on religious or philosophical musings. Sometimes these concerns must be inferred. Langston Hughes was deeply concerned about the circumstances of African Americans in the United States, and his Mulatto is a deeply felt play dramatizing his concerns.
*Expectations for Research and Source Citation: In order to investigate your topic, I expect you to…
• develop a set of personally significant questions on which to base your inquiry
• work out a way to investigate those questions as thoroughly as possible in the time allotted
• pursue print/online resources that you believe will actually address your questions
• evaluate the material you’ve collected and decide if you need to investigate further
• compose a text that brings the results of your investigation to life
Avoid the extremes of either becoming a slave to your research findings or ignoring them (because they don’t fit your preconceptions). You should be able to address other people’s ideas in meaningful ways while being true to yourself as a critical thinker. Approach this work as a dialectical process: seeking to interweave your ideas, feelings, attitudes, expectations and interests into conversations others are having about the topic. Do not allow excessive quotations or paraphrases to overwhelm your own authorial voice; be sure to preserve your stylistic “signature.”
Sources of any information that ranges beyond your own personal experience or reflection must be explicitly credited in the text and listed on a separate Works Cited page to avoid the charge of plagiarism. Use MLA documentation format.
*Length, Style and Format: This assignment should be approximately 6-8 pp. You are responsible for making judicious decisions about developing an essay that provides a fitting response to its rhetorical situation: the nature and scope of the topic, the informational needs and expectations of your readers, and your intellectual agenda.
*Expectations for Idea Development and Audience Assessment: Your writing must incorporate a substantial amount of supporting information to explain and illustrate your key points. To be effective at this, you must analyze the informational needs and expectations of your audience. Account for readers’ knowledge, experience, and beliefs in making decisions about what and how much to say. Consider, among other things – your readers’ current knowledge and understanding of the topic; their familiarity with the theories, contexts and issues that will anchor your discussion; their likely perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, values and biases regarding both the topic itself and your authority as researcher-author to make certain claims about the topic; their literacy/
education levels and their tolerance for sophisticated or specialized vocabulary.
*Related PASS-FAIL Work: You will produce a proposal, bibliography, rough draft and feedback for classmates’ drafts. Detailed instructions will be provided.