21L.003-2 | Spring 2007 | Undergraduate

Reading Fiction



Argument and Analysis

General Paper Writing Guidelines (PDF)
(Courtesy of Alisa K. Braithwaite and Laura Thiemann Scales. Used with permission.)

Close Reading (PDF)
(Courtesy of Alisa K. Braithwaite and Andrea Zemgulys. Used with permission.)

Formatting Guidelines

  • Place your chosen passage at the beginning of your essay. Your passage should not be longer than one typed page, double-spaced with 12-point font.
  • The essay itself, not including the passage at the beginning, must be 5 pages long. You are allowed ½ page leeway (e.g. your paper can be between 4½ pages and 5½ pages).
  • Include your name, course, date, and title on the first page. Be sure to double-space, use a normal (Times New Roman, Garamond, etc.) 12-point font, and 1 inch margins.
  • Number your pages.
  • Cite quotations correctly. Consult the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers or The Chicago Manual. These are the industry standards. Parenthetical quotations are fine for a short paper like this.
  • Remember to consult the handout on close reading and the paper writing guidelines (given above).

Paper 1

Choose one of the following topics:

  1. “What a miserable thing it is to be a woman,” says Lily Bart as she admires Selden’s apartment. This comment brings the issue of gender to the forefront in Wharton’s The House of Mirth. Explore the implications that gender has in this novel. You may focus on a particular character (Lily Bart, Gerty Farish, etc.), a relationship (Lily and Gus Trenor, Bertha Dorset and Lawrence Selden, etc.), or a concept (marriage, infidelity, wealth, etc.).
  2. “Oh, confound it, you know, we don’t marry Rosedale in our family.” The general attitude towards Rosedale, the only Jewish character in the novel, is exclusion until his bank account reaches an amount that cannot be ignored. What might this text suggest about the intersections between race/ethnicity and class? Is money the great equalizer, or is the situation more complex?
  3. The stories in Interpreter of Maladies travel from the US to India to England and back again. What is the role of place in these stories? What connection does place have to culture? Is it possible to find oneself at home regardless of where that home is?
  4. Choose one of the stories in Interpreter of Maladies and discuss the ways in which it connects to the text as a whole. How is a short story able to exist independently yet at the same time add depth to a collection? What brings these stories together in spite of their independent existence?
  5. Create your own topic.

Paper 2

Pick a passage from any of the following texts—Jazz, Go Tell it on the Mountain, The Dubliners—and develop an argument from the close reading analysis that you perform on that passage.

The argument should address the text (or story as a whole in the case of The Dubliners) as a whole, but the passage that you choose will be the central source of evidence for your argument.

Although you may make references to other quotations from the text, your chosen passage should be the clear focus of your essay.

Paper 3

Pick one of the following passages, or a passage of your choice from Lucy or Parts I and II of Crime and Punishment, and develop an argument from the close reading analysis that you perform on that passage.

The argument should address the text (or story as a whole in the case of The Dubliners) as a whole, but the passage that you choose will be the central source of evidence for your argument.

Although you may make references to other quotations from the text, your chosen passage should be the clear focus of your essay.

  1. “I was then at the height of my two-facedness: that is, outside I seemed one way, inside I was another; outside false, inside true. And so I made pleasant little noises that showed both modesty and appreciation, but inside I was making a vow to erase from my mind, line by line, every word of that poem. The night after I had recited the poem, I dreamt, continuously it seemed, that I was being chased down a narrow cobbled street by bunches and bunches of those same daffodils that I had vowed to forget, and when finally I fell down from exhaustion they all piled on top of me, until I was buried deep underneath them and was never seen again.” (Kincaid 18)
  2. “At the top of the page I wrote my full name: Lucy Josephine Potter. At the sight of it, many thoughts rushed through me, but I could write down only this: ‘I wish I could love someone so much that I would die from it.’ And then as I looked at this sentence a great wave of shame came over me and I wept and wept so much that the tears fell on the page and caused all the words to become one great big blur.” (Kincaid 163-4)
  3. “His nervous trembling turned into some sort of feverishness; he even began shivering; in such heat he was getting a chill. As if with effort, almost unconsciously, by some inner necessity, he began peering at every object he encountered, as though straining after some diversion, but he failed miserably, and every moment kept falling into revery. And when he would raise his head again, with a start, and look around, he would immediately forget what he had just been thinking about and even which way he had come.” (Dostoevsky 53)
  4. “The clerk looked at him with a condescending smile of regret and, at the same time, of a certain triumph, as at a novice who has just come under fire for the first time: “Well,” he seemed to be saying, ‘how do you feel now?’ But what did he care, what did he care now about a promissory note and its recovery! Was it worth the least anxiety now, even the least attention? He stood, read, listened, replied, even asked questions himself, but all mechanically. The triumph of self-preservation, the rescue from overwhelming danger-that was what filled his entire being at the moment, with no foresight, no analysis, no future riddling and unriddling, no doubts or questions. It was a moment of complete, spontaneous, purely animal joy.” (Dostoevsky 98)

Paper 4

Choose one of the following topics:

  1. Raskolnikov and Razumikhin
    “In short, from that evening on Razumikhin became their son and brother” (314).
    Explore the relationship between Raskolnikov and Razumikhin. What is the significance of Razumikhin replacing Raskolnikov in his family? How do their contrasting personalities frame the philosophical issues in the novel?
  2. St. Petersburg
    What role does the urban landscape play in this novel? How are the walks that Raskolnikov takes through the city significant for the progression of the novel? How do the various interiors (Raskolnikov’s apartment, Sonya’s apartment, the police station, etc.) give us a sense of the characters and the landscape?
  3. Women
    Choose one of the female characters (Sonya, Dunya, Pulcheria Alexandrovna, Nastasya, Katerina Ivanovna, etc.) and explore her role in the novel. How might Raskolnikov’s theories about extraordinary and ordinary people apply to women? Do their lives simply consist of suffering or do they have more complexity?
  4. Religion vs. Philosophy
    How do Raskolnikov’s philosophical arguments stand up to Sonya’s faith? What is the effect of pitting these two discourses against each other in a novel about murder? What is the significance of Raskolnikov’s fate?
  5. Choose your own topic.

Oral Presentations

The oral presentations in this course are designed to stimulate conversation about the texts that we will be reading this semester. As a result, they will be a bit less formal than presentations you may have done in the past, but they will be equally, if not more, important. Presentations will be in pairs or a group of 3 if necessary, and each presentation should consist of the following three components:

Context: Choose a topic, related to the text, upon which you would like the discussion to focus. This may be the most difficult part because there are often so many ideas to talk about in one book or story. Your topic can be about the narrative itself (character development, narrative style, point of view) or it can be about some of the social or political issues raised in the text (race, gender, class, political strife). There are many more ways in which to go. Use your imagination.

Text: Choose passages from the text that you think are crucial for the class to discuss. It could be one lengthy passage that can be discussed in several different ways, or several shorter passages throughout the text that you believe link together to create an important point.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2007
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments