Essay #1 Melville. Due Week #5 (5 pages).
For this essay, you should choose a theme from this list early in your reading of the book. Then, as you read, assemble cases of your theme. Cases are different from examples. You will not so much be proving that the theme is present in the novel as examining different cases where it appears and seems to complicate, or raise questions about the theme itself or other issues in the text. Frame your thesis to address the problem you see in a particular moment in the text; then use your close reading of that moment to open up into your argument about how or to what effect Melville develops that theme.
Possible Topics on Moby-Dick
- Who Ain't a Slave?
- Melville's Humor (Sexual, Digestive)
- The Gams
- Ropes and Lines
- Oil as Product and Metaphor
- The Role of Pip/Tashtego/Queequeg
- Navigation (Charts, Instruments) as Theme and Idea
- Hindoos/Egyptians/Parsees/Polynesians/African Others
- Biblical Images (Hell and Damnation, Job, Jonah)
- Epic Violence
- Objects as Symbols (Doubloon, Harpoon, Sun and Weather, Coffin-Life-Buoy)
- Tattooing, Hieroglyphics, and Wrinkles-Bodily Markings
- Maiming, Scars, Disease, and Wounds-Bodily Disfigurings
- Body of the Whale (not all!)
- Pictures of the Whale
- Pipes, Smoke, Vapor, and Inspiration
- Parts and Whole (analysis of a single chapter)
- Fedallah/Carpenter/Blacksmith/ and Ahab
- Ahab and Starbuck
- Images of Fate ("The Mat-Maker," "The Gilder")
- Fire and Sun Worship
- Whale Societies
- Superstition, Faith, and Doubt
- Whaling as Labor
- Scenes/Sites of Beauty and Pleasure
- "Loomings" and "Epilogue"--Compare
- Drama and Theater-Moments of Performance
- Mothers and Orphans, Fathers and Foundlings
Essay # 2 Hawthorne, Stowe, or Brown. Due Week #10 (5 pages).
You may write about one of these authors or, if you're really interested in a comparison, about two.
- All three of these authors use their novels to take up issues of social reform, to identify powerful oppressors and unmask them. Choose a figure of authority from one of the works and show how the author uses that figure as a way of advocating social change. What subtleties or anomalies do you observe?
- The characters in these stories frequently cross boundaries prescribed for their gender, race, class, or other markers of social position. What are the meanings and consequences assigned to these crossings? Choose one character to examine more closely, or, if you are interested in comparison, look more closely at two.
- All three authors end their stories with, you might say, an unexpectedly romantic or sentimental conclusion. That is, the rest of the novel does not set up the expectations of a romantic or positive ending and in fact may seem to resist it, by its structure, its narrative voice, or its handling of plot and character. Choose one ending to look at more closely and analyze its relation to the novel's main theme or intention.
- These writers seem concerned with the hypocrisy of mainstream, Christian, and white Americans, placing them in the context of alternate societies or classes. Looking more closely at an instance of this social contrast (e.g. North/South, white/black, urban/rural, corrupt/reformed, religious/secular), analyze its effects on the author's handling of narration, language, or theme.
Essay # 3 Jewett, Faulkner, or Morrison: Comparison between two or between one of these authors and another you have not previously written on. Due Week #15 (10 pages).
- Jewett, Faulkner, and Morrison rely heavily on the rhythms and sounds of the spoken word in their narratives. Choose a passage or character and analyze the use of narrative voice, oral story-telling song or lyric, and colloquial language in your selection.
- These authors often use a quest-structure for their plots. In what ways do they elaborate on or undermine the expectations raised by the quest plot? Be specific.
- What do these novels have to say about family and the past? What figure do these authors use to carry the family or cultural history and why is that choice significant?
- Both Faulkner and Morrison seem to be interested in the ways violence or shock can reveal the truth, effect change, break up narrative (Jewett uses the interruption of her narrative in a similar way). Choose an example of the use of violence and analyze its implications for the novel.
General Notes on Writing
- You may do outside research for any of these essays, but it is not required. If you do use outside sources, however, be sure that you have cited them correctly, using the guidelines for the In-Class Report.
- Assume that you are writing for an audience of readers like yourself: that is, those who have read the work(s) in question and want to know how you view the material. Use a natural language, one that is neither too elevated (avoid jargon and academic formality) nor too common (avoid slang; be clear and direct).
- Avoid plot summary, character summary, or any descriptive or narrative approach to your subject. You are arguing your point and should select a controversial thesis (test: would anyone argue against your proposition?), which you develop by looking closely at evidence from the text. You are also offering your own reading of the material, which you must explain by showing how you derived it from passages in the text.
- Quotations judiciously chosen will support and amplify your point, but they require interpretation. Quote effectively (remember to close your quotation with quotation marks, give the page reference in parentheses, and then give the closing punctuation), and explain the quotation's relevance to the main point you're making.
- A good introduction will set up the argument by giving its main outlines. Stay away from windy openings with generalizations like, "Humans have always felt the need to communicate through works of fiction." A good conclusion will gather the argument up (you may not need to summarize if the point is clear) and suggest why it's important in some larger context.
- Use present tense. The events you're writing about took place in the past, but the act of reading and talking about them takes place in the present.
- Papers will be graded on the quality of the ideas and argument, the clarity of the writing, the effectiveness of the organization, the use of evidence from the text, and the understanding of concepts from the course.
- I have suggested specific paper topics (above) to get you thinking about the material and to integrate ideas discussed in class. You may always choose a topic or approach of your own, and I am available to discuss topics at any time.