Novel read for this Essay – The Lais of Marie de France (Text and Translation) edited and translated by Claire M. Waters
Throughout the semester, we have practiced discussing and analyzing literature through informal assignments. The goal of the essay is to craft an argument about a text that demonstrates your ability to read literature carefully and insightfully.
Your essay will investigate a meaningful question about an aspect of a literary text such as an image, character, description, scene, poetic line, or theme. Find something within the work that strikes you as strange, problematic, important, intriguing, beautiful, or thought-provoking, and write an essay that explains its role within the larger text. Your essay should make a convincing argument supported by substantial and well-explained textual evidence. Discuss relevant passages and elaborate on how these passages bolster your interpretation. Ultimately, the goal of this paper is to help your reader better understand and/or appreciate the text.
The essay should put your literary argument into conversation with others’ ideas. You can do this by framing your argument as a response to a classmate’s blog or to a scholarly article. You may choose to integrate a scholarly article into your paper, but this is not required. Whether responding to a classmate or to a scholar, enter the conversation with intelligence and grace by showing the merits of other viewpoints and fully explaining how and why you think differently. For guidance on putting your ideas into conversation with others, see “On Closer Examination: Entering Conversations about Literature” (PDF on Canvas).
• Make an original argument about a literary work on our syllabus. This argument should be introduced at the beginning of the paper and sustained through to the end. Make sure each paragraph and point is relevant to your argument. Most importantly, make sure your argument is well supported by the text and represents a deep and thoughtful analysis of the literature.
• Present relevant and convicing evidence from the text to bolster your argument. Discuss your quotes at length and explain how they connect to your argument.
• Your paper must be 4-5 double-spaced pages. This means that your paper should fill 4 pages, at mimimum.
• Use MLA Style formatting, including title, heading, page numbers, double spacing, etc. In addition, your paper should include MLA in-text citation and a Works Cited page. Your Works Cited should list the literary text you are analyzing. See the Purdue OWL for guidance on how to cite a work in an anthology.
• Use Times New Roman size 12. Margins should be 1 inch on all sides. Indent all paragraphs.
Your essay should be written for a well-informed reader who already knows your chosen text well. Hence, don’t waste time on plot summary or biographical information about the author; get right down to business and discuss your interpretation of the text. Your tone should be formal and you should adopt an academic voice. This goes beyond stylistic choices such as avoiding contractions (will not rather than won’t) and colloquialisms (she escaped by the skin of her teeth). The best way to engage your audience is to 1) interact with larger questions about the text, 2) contribute new ideas to the conversation, and 3) build an argument based on analysis of the text.
Selecting your text and topic
Choose a literary work from the syllabus. You have several options for this assignment. You may pick one text and do an in-depth reading of it (e.g., parent-child relationships in King Lear), or you may compare two different texts on the syllabus (e.g., attitudes toward nature in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Wanderer). If you wish, you may write your essay on a text you’ve already discussed in another assignment.
Although citing articles in your paper is not required, it’s helpful to learn as much as you can from what scholars already have said about a given text. To find articles, search databases including MLA, Project MUSE, and JSTOR through the Clemson Library. For instructions, see the Clemson Library Guide for English: https://clemson.libguides.com/english. For additional research help, contact librarian Camille Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Analyzing the literary text
Spending time with the text allows you to see literary elements and nuances that may not be immediately obvious. This leads to a more interesting paper. Re-read relevant passages and be aware that your understanding of the text may change. Excellent essays often reflect some version of this experience: “When I first read X, I thought _________, but after examining the text more closely, I realized ____________.”
Here is a list of questions to get you started. Remember that every single word and sentence reveals the author’s choices. No detail is too small for analysis.
• Who is the intended audience?
• What is the genre?
• What conflicts or tensions are present? Does the text seem to favor one side?
• How is the text structured?
• What questions does the text raise? How does this text make us think?
• What kinds of characters does the text include and how are they developed?
• Think about the text’s literary elements (theme, imagery, repetition, symbol, etc.). What is their relationship to each other? What is emphasized, de-emphasized? Go beyond identifying the elements—articulate their significance.
• How does this text compare with other works of literature?
• What kind of world does this work describe?
Analyzing a Poem
• Who is the speaker?
• What circumstances gave rise to the poem?
• What situation is presented?
• Who or what is the audience?
• What is the tone?
• What form, if any, does the poem take? How is form related to content?
• Does the poem spring from an identifiable historical moment or culture?
• Does the poem use imagery to achieve a particular effect?
• What kind of figurative language, if any, does the poem use?
• What does the title suggest?
• Does the poem use unusual words or use familiar words in an unusual way?
Revising Your Essay
• Be sure that your paper is more than a plot summary. You may need to provide some context for quotations, but the bulk of your paper should be analysis.
• Your title is an opportunity. It introduces the audience to your perspective on the text.
• Develop a strong thesis. Your thesis should make a disputable claim that your paper will try to prove. Keep in mind that your thesis may change over time.
• Once you have formulated a strong thesis, think about your paper’s organization. Focus on one complex idea per paragraph. Each paragraph should support the thesis.
• Think of your introduction and your conclusion as opportunities. The introduction should provide context for the analysis that follows. The conclusion should do more than summarize your paper’s points; use it as an opportunity to tie together the points you have made in your body paragraphs and offer further insights about your topic.
• Find examples of strong student essays on Canvas.
• For instructions on how to do the close reading and analysis required for this paper, see the following website: https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/how-do-close-reading.
• Use this library research guide to find articles: https://clemson.libguides.com/english
• Refer to the Purdue OWL for help on MLA formatting and style: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_formatting_and_style_guide.html
Essay Grading Rubric
I’m looking for an interesting and well-supported literary interpretation growing from your careful and nuanced reading of the text.
Criteria Goals Points Possible Points Received
Argument & Analysis • There is a clear and nuanced thesis and it is sustained throughout the essay
• Paper offers sufficient and convincing evidence from the text. This evidence is discussed at length and it is consistently linked to the thesis.
• The paper offers substantial and insightful analysis of specific passages in the text.
• The author gracefully enters into a larger conversation about the text (e.g., by responding to a class discussion or citing a scholarly article) and responds in a substantial way to a different view on the text
• Paper wrestles with complex ideas
• Paper does not contain fallacies and does not make any large, unsubstantiated claims or generalizations. For example, do not assert that everyone in the Middle Ages thought or acted the same way just because they were medieval people.
• Sources are well integrated into the paper and they work to support the main argument
• Paper’s focus is appropriate to the prompt
• Paper promotes a better understanding of the literary work as a whole
• Paper addresses a reader who knows the text well (i.e. there is no unnecessary plot summary) 10
Organization • Each paragraph examines one main idea and is well developed
• Ideas are presented in a logical order
• There are clear, meaningful transitions between ideas
• Paragraphs are appropriate in length (not too long, not too short)
• Each section contributes to the paper’s overall thesis and builds on preceding paragraphs 5
Mechanics & Style • Sentences are clear, concise, and grammatically correct
• Paper follows MLA style and formatting, including parenthetical in-text citations
• Paper discusses literature in the present tense (e.g. “The fairies capture Orfeo’s wife”).
• Paper includes a Works Cited
• Paper is free of errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation
• Paper maintains academic voice and formal tone. May use first person (I, my) sparingly when introducing argument: “In this paper, I suggest that …” 5