Essay 1 – 310

Write an essay (5-6 pages [5-6 pages is my general recommendation given the scope of the assignment: I don’t determine grades based on how long or short a student’s essay is], MLA or APA style, double-spaced, 12 point font) on a topic of your choice that develops an argument centered on one of the assigned course texts. Papers should present and support a thesis, using evidence from the text to defend the central argument. No research is required. If secondary research is used, students must correctly cite their sources and provide a works cited page. Late essays will be deducted 1/3 of a letter grade per class day, will be graded at my convenience, and will not receive written comments.

Plagiarism may result in failing the course; for further information on plagiarism, please read: (Links to an external site.)

See also:
Extra Credit: Students who use the Writing Center for online consultations for this assignment will receive ten extra credit points on their essays. Consultation forms should be provided. If you aren’t able to get a form, let me know so I can be of assistance. If you have any questions about this issue, please let me know. It is good idea to show your consultant the essay assignment. (Links to an external site.)

I am happy to read and comment on rough drafts at any stage in the writing process, and I encourage students to meet with me to discuss paper topics. You may use any of the suggested topics listed below as a starting point for creating your own paper topic. Please note that the suggestions for essay topics are not meant to be blueprints. They are meant to help students develop their own arguments about a particular course text. Try to use these questions and comments as starting points to help you think about and develop your own specific, focused argument. Moreover, no student is required to use any of these particular topics and is welcome to develop his or her own.
I am happy to read and comment on rough drafts at any point in the writing process, and I can provide help during office hours, by appointment, and/or via email. Please do not hesitate to ask me for help.

Most importantly, papers should present, develop, and support an original, argumentative central claim (i.e. a thesis) regarding an assigned text. Papers should present literary evidence and critical analysis of such evidence to develop and support the thesis.
Please note that the suggestions for essay topics are not meant to be blueprints. They are meant to help students develop their own interpretive arguments. Try to use these questions and comments as starting points to help you think about and develop your own specific, focused thesis. Moreover, students are welcome to develop an argument that does not relate to any of these suggestions for paper topics.

Gilman: “The Yellow Wallpaper” 1) “The Yellow Wallpaper” was written in 1892, and is often referred to as a feminist short story. Given that the woman in the story goes mad because her role in society is limited (Links to an external site.)and her ability to express herself creatively is constricted, can the reader argue that the author is making a feminist statement? This topic could take at least two different approaches. You could either situate the story within a larger socio-historical context (i.e.: What was happening in 1892 that made this particular story so relevant and resonant, and why does it remain so important today?), or you could take the story only on its own terms: What does Gilman seem to say about “the female condition” in general by writing about the life of this one woman and her descent into madness in “The Yellow Wallpaper”?
2) It is often said that artists and writers are touched by a bit of madness, but might this story make the argument that madness springs from the inability to be expressive and creative? Consider the development of the mental disorder that increasingly consumes the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper (Links to an external site.),” and identify her symptoms and their possible causes. Look for textual evidence in the narrator’s description of her own condition. What differences do you observe in her opening insights and those which can be gleaned from the conclusion? Can you make a case that the narrator decompensated in “The Yellow Wallpaper” because she could not find a creative outlet? Alternately, did she manage, despite her constraints, to find a means of creativity and artistry, even if such means did seem to result ultimately in madness?
3) The story is titled “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and indeed, the dreadful wallpaper that the narrator comes to hate so much is a significant symbol in the story. The yellow wallpaper can represent many ideas and conditions—among them, the sense of entrapment (Links to an external site.), the notion of creativity gone astray, and a distraction that becomes an obsession. Examine the references to the yellow wallpaper and notice how they become more frequent and how they develop over the course of the story. Why is the wallpaper an adequate symbol to represent the woman’s confinement and her emotional condition?

Churchill: Vinegar Tom
1) In the introduction to the play, Churchill writes that “women accused of witchcraft were often those on the edge of society, old, poor, single, sexually unconventional” (130). Analyze the characters accused of witchcraft to determine how the play itself portrays this aspect of witch hunting. What sort of qualities do the accused women share? What is the social and political significance of this kind of public condemnation and punishment of such women? Why does it remain important for people to know about the history and practices of witch hunts that occurred centuries ago?
2) Note that the play incorporates modern song and dance, and note how drastically the language style differs between the songs and the play’s dialogue. Why do you think Churchill incorporated modern music, dress, and language in this jarring, disruptive, and seemingly incongruous manner? What do the songs reveal about the play’s themes and/or messages, and what does the play reveal about the songs?

Poe: “The Purloined Letter” 1) Why does everyone in the story seem so uninterested in what the letter actually contains? Why is the actual object of desire and power, as well as initiator of the plot, essentially devoid of content? What might the letter, as an empty signifier, symbolize in Poe’s portrayal of power struggles and the search for answers?
2) What kind of practical advice does the story seem to offer about reason, logic, and emotion? Does it really seem to be recommending the approach of a combined poet and mathematician, and what is the meaning and significance of such an approach for successfully identifying with other people—their habits, motives, behavioral patterns—and solving mysteries?
3) Who is the narrator? Why do you think Poe made the choice to relate this story through the lens of a nameless character, a person about whom we know very little? How truthful is the narrator? At what moments in the story might he seem less than truthful? From what motivations does he appear to be operating? Moreover, what is the significance of Poe’s decision to present the story as layers of personal narratives, given that the plot consists of multiple characters—the primary narrator, Dupin, and the Prefect—who each provide snippets of stories to create a completed tale of mystery and revelation?

4) What role does imagination play in the story? At what point do characters appear to be using (or misusing) their imaginations?

5) What is the nature of the relationship between Dupin and Minister D-? What are their similarities and differences, and what is the significance of these qualities? What might be the significance behind Poe’s pronounced use of the motif of doublings — among characters’ personalities and behaviors, plot devices, and events.

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