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Topic: Testing the Literary Waters


Essay One: Testing the Literary Waters
Officially, your assignment is to examine a single piece of literature that we have explored in class. By examine, I mean, interpret or mine for meaning. This is sometimes referred to a “close-reading.” I want you to discover the reason for the work. Consider the following questions to help guide you:
• What is the writer/narrator’s larger commentary about existence, identity, or experience in the world?
• What is the focus of his or her piece?
• Is there a definitive message, or is the writer’s contribution more complex?
• Or possibly, is that message cohesive or fragmented?
• Does this commentary talk back to society at large? For what purpose?
• What vocabulary does the writer utilize in their work? Metaphors, similes, etc..?
Now, in order to feel confident writing about Literature, you must first begin to believe that you have something to say, something you perceived, connected, or intuited in the piece. This can be difficult, especially if you feel yourself uninitiated to this type of scholarship. However, logistically, this is an English 1B class where we are just beginning to practice this, and there are no expectations for you to deliver beyond your capabilities. My expectation is that you begin this process and nothing more.
Additionally, I have a little tool to help us along. Please recall both the literary criticisms and literary pieces we have examined for this class so far:
Literary Criticisms:
• Joseph Campbell and Mythology & Carl Jung and Archetypes
• Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis
• Feminist Theory

Literary Pieces:
1. In the category of Novels:
• Stardust By Neil Gaiman
2. In the category of Poetry:
• “The Lady of Shalott” by Lord Alfred Tennyson
• “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes
• “Her Kind” by Anne Sexton
• “Snow White” by Anne Sexton
3. In the category of Short Stories:
• “On the Rainy River” by Tim O’Brien
• “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I want you to think of possible useful pairing between any one literary piece to any one literary criticism. This means you can use the foundation of any criticism to begin your analysis. For instance, if you think Stardust might lend itself well to a mythological interpretation, explore that combination. These Literary Criticisms are intended to be used as tools for getting at the Literature itself. You may also go above and beyond the criticism to examine what the criticism might have missed. That is one hundred percent viable analysis.
My expectations are that you dig for connection, understanding, nuanced interpretation, question, challenge, muse, remain thoughtful and insightful. This is of upmost importance. Be careful not to editorialize in this essay. By that, I mean do away with didactic and unsupported commentary about the piece.
When you cite from the literary piece, please use MLA format for in-text citation, and please include a Work-Cited page also in keeping with MLA formatting.


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