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How To Write About Essays

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How To Write About Essays

  1. 1. Chapter 8 How to Write About Essays
  2. 2. Creative Non Fiction  Is a literary genre  Personal Essays  Autobiography and Memoir  Deals with profound, timeless and universal themes
  3. 3. Thoreau  “ Books should be read with the same care and deliberation with which they were written”  Writing about essays begins with careful reading  June Jordan’s “Many Rivers to Cross”  Alice Walker’s “ The Black Woman: Myths and Realities”  Both essays deal with women and work  Both essays were originally speeches
  4. 4. African American Women  Both essays deal with the struggles of gifted African American women in the context of poverty and oppression  “Many Rivers to Cross”, by June Jordan was originally the keynote address at a 1981 conference at Barnard College on “Women and Work”  It recalls the suicide of her mother 15 years earlier
  5. 5. Alice Walker  “Black Women: Myths and Realities” was originally a speech at a May 1973 conference at Radcliffe College  The conference was in large part a response to a Daniel Moynihan’s 1965 report which emphasized the link between fatherless families and poverty among African Americans  Walker made additions to this speech when it appeared in the May 1974 issue of Ms. Magazine and then in her essay collection In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens:Womanist Prose
  6. 6. Writing About Essays  All good writing about literature, including essays, attempts to answer a question, spoken or unspoken about the text.  What questions do these two essays pose to the reader?  The goal of the paper should be to address such questions with a meaningful interpretation, presented both forcefully and persuasively (Hacker, p. L1-a)
  7. 7. Close Readings of Essays  Read the work through once, closely and carefully. What is it telling you? Asking you? Trying to make you feel? Then go back and read it a second time. Rereading is a central part of the process of developing your interpretation. You should read short works several times, first to get an overall impression and then again to focus on meaningful details.  Interact with the text by posing questions and looking for possible answers.  Annotate the text as a way to focus your reading.
  8. 8. Form an Interpretation  After rereading, taking notes, and participating in class discussions, you are ready to start forming an interpretation. At this stage, try to focus on a single aspect of the work. Look through your notes and annotations for recurring questions and insights related to the aspect you have chosen
  9. 9. Focusing on a Central Issue  In forming an interpretation, you should try to focus on a central issue. Your job is not to say everything about the work. It is to develop a sustained, in-depth interpretation that illuminates the work in some specific way. You will need to find focus.  Good interpretations usually arise from good questions. What do you want to know more about? What are you uncertain about?  Some interpretations answer questions about literary techniques, such as the writer’s handling of plot, setting and character.
  10. 10. Asking Questions that Lead to An Interpretation  Interpretations respond to the social context as well- what a work reveals about the time and culture in which it was written. This is particularly true when analyzing essays.  Let’s look closely at the two essays in Chapter 8 about women and work, and what the author conveys in her essay (or speech)  We will look at both technique and social context.
  11. 11. Questions about technique  Setting- Does the setting (time and place) create an atmosphere, give an insight into a character, suggest symbolic meanings, or hint at the theme of the work?
  12. 12. Point of View  Does the point of view-the perspective from which the essay is narrated-influence your understanding of events. Does the narration reveal the character of the speaker, or does the speaker merely observe others. Is the narrator perhaps biased, argumentative or impassioned?
  13. 13. Theme  Does the work have an overall theme ( a central insight about people or a truth about life, for example?) If so, how do details in the work serve to illuminate this theme?
  14. 14. Language  Does language-such as formal or informal, standard or dialect, prosaic or poetic, cool or passionate-reveal the character of the speakers? How do metaphors, similies and sensory images contribute to the work? How do recurring images enrich the work and hint at its meaning? To what extent do sentence rhythms and sounds underscore the writer’s meaning?
  15. 15. Questions about social context  Historical context- What does the work reveal about-or how was it shaped by-the time and place in which it was written? Does the work appear to promote or undermine a philosophy that was popular in its time?  Class- How does the social class shape or influence character’s choices or actions? How does class affect the way characters view-or are viewed by others? What economic struggles or power relationships does the work reflect or depict?
  16. 16. Race and Culture  Are any characters portrayed as being caught between cultures; between the culture of home and the culture of work or school, for example, or between a traditional and an emerging culture? Are any characters engaged in a conflict with society because of their race or ethnic background? To what extent does the work celebrate a specific culture and its traditions?
  17. 17. Gender  Are any characters’ choices restricted because of gender? What are the power relationships between the sexes, an d do these change during the course of the work? Do any characters resist the gender roles society has assigned them? Do these characters chose to conform to these roles?
  18. 18. Many Rivers TO Cross  Everything’s a River “We will not die trying to stand up: we will live that way: standing up” (361), states June Jordan in “Many Rivers to Cross.” Addressing women, this excerpt shows the feminist point of view of Jordan’s essay. This is the theme of the entire essay, which she revolves around her mother. She explains in the end that the essay “honors” women, all women: Mrs. Hazel Griffin, her cousin Valerie, herself and all the women she loves.
  19. 19. Many Rivers To Cross  She uses the metaphor of “crossing rivers” as a way of stating her new purpose in life: “I am working never to be late again.” She was too late to save her mother, and she vows never to be late when another striving woman needs her again. Struggling for self-respect, self-love, and maybe even the respect of the men and women around her
  20. 20. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, Alice Walker  An essay about the hardship that black women have had to endure in the past and their persevering ability to maintain their creativity throughout years of oppression. Walker uses a variety of methods to convey the message and explain in detail exactly how black creativity has survived throughout the most painful and difficult times.
  21. 21. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens  “In the still heat of the post-Reconsructionist South, this is how they (black women) seemed to Jean Toomer: Exquisite butterflies trapped in an evil honey, toiling away their lives in an era, a century, that did not acknowledge them, except as “the mules of the world”. Where in the essay does Walker describe what she means by this definition?
  22. 22. Jordan and Walker  Both authors expand the similar ideas about racism, prejudice and the status of black women. Both authors use their private experience to show the impact of poverty and their past bring them to their present position or central claim. What is the central claim of both essays? Where in the essays does the central claim appear?
  23. 23. Narration Vs. Central Claim  Where in the essays do the authors tell a story? Where in the essays does the narrative voice change to establish a central claim?  How does this combination of storytelling and stating a claim define the genre of personal essays and how can we write effectively about essays?
  24. 24. Elements of Personal Essays Voice Style Structure Ideas
  25. 25. Voice  When we read the first few sentences of an essay, we get a sense of the narrator’s voice from the tone the writer projects. In the first paragraph of Walker’s essay, we get a sense of the speaker’s voice through the serious and informed tone she takes.  We also sense some irony and anger when she says. “Who were… these crazy,loony, pitiful creatures?”
  26. 26. Walker’s Voice  Lyrical sadness in paragraph 6; “Our mothers and grandmothers, some of them: moving to music, not yet written. And they waited.”  Writing about such complex issues as racism and art, Walker’s voice is alternatively angry, hopeful, thoughtful and honestly self-reflective and even celebratory.
  27. 27. Voice  The tone of her dramatic conclusion as she uses Perhaps, seven times is rhetorically moving her argument about the ability of oppressed women to keep their artistic spirit alive.
  28. 28. Style  Writers have a specific style, choices they make in syntax, sentence length, diction, metaphors, even in sentence beginnings and endings.. Reread the opening and ending sentences of the two essays. Compare the styles of the two writers.
  29. 29. Walker’s Style  Notice the interesting use of the colon in Walker’s first sentence and the dramatic repetition of “so intense, so deep, so unconscious.”  Walker’s first paragraph uses the colon and the dash. She writes sophisticated, complex sentences, varying the usual subject-verb-object pattern.  In the second and third paragaphs, she varies the length of her sentences with short questions and statements
  30. 30. Walker’s Style ctd.  In the fifth and sixth paragraphs she employs metaphors (exquisite butterflies), similies (like frail whirlwinds) and analogies (moving to the music) to make her essay persuasive.
  31. 31. A Writing Exercise  Select one of the two writing exercises on pages 204- 205. Spend fifteen minutes drafting a response.
  32. 32. Structure  Essayists begin and end as they see fit; they give explicit topic sentences or create narratives that imply themes; they begin with an assertion and support it or vice versa.  Essayists are inventors of structures that fit the occasion and their own way of seeing the world.
  33. 33. Walker’s Structure  Walker’s essay is an argument; and its structure is part of her persuasive intent. Writers sometimes specify an issue, make claims, and then explicitly support these claims with substantial evidence, hoping to persuade a particular audience.  Walker directly uses personal experience in the service of her argument.
  34. 34. Walker  In her first paragraph, Walker reveals some of her assumptions or warrants, especially the idea that black women are not aware of their capabilities, were “abused and mutilated” and were misread.  She continues her thesis in paragraph 9, in which she asserts that these women were not Saints but Artists”  She notes that African American women of her mother’s generation found a way through song, gardening, quilting and other strategies to keep an artistic heritage alive, in spite of obstacles.
  35. 35. Walker Does Not Use A Thesis Statement  She does not give a thesis statement and a point-by- point argument. Instead, she leads us into her main idea gradually, interweaving examples, letting one idea lead to another, coming back to ideas mentioned earlier and then developing them further.  She ends by returning to her Phillis Wheatley example to make a connection to the deep past, as just one of the many ways she achieves coherence and unity in this quiltlike essay, sewn together with carefully crafted transitions.
  36. 36. IDEAS  In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens is an argument based on the idea that Walker’s ancestors were not really the strange “crazy, loony, pitiful women” that Jean Toomer thought-not :exquisite butterflies” but artists “driven to a numb and bleeding madness by the springs of creativity in them for which there was no release.”
  37. 37. In Conclusion  Essays use language as imaginatively and effectively as other genres of literature. Essays should-like stories, poems and plays—be read with care and deliberation and written about with energy and discipline.
  38. 38. Elements of Essays  Voice  Style  Structure  Ideas
  39. 39. Voice  In essays, voice is important. The writer’s voice (which might be sincere, ironic or meditative) can convey the tone a writer projects. But even in essays, writers might assume a persona that serves their purposes.
  40. 40. Style and Structure  Noticing how essays are put together, how sentences and paragraphs follow one another logically, can lead to the writing of well-organized and stylish essays.  As in all genres, ideas are crucial, but they may seem especially prominent in essays.  Argumentative essays model effective ways to make arguments. It is often valuable to analyze argumentative essays for the ways that writers make claims about issues, support their claims with evidence, and project a good image of themselves.
  41. 41. Writer’s Persona  Stance that the writer assumes to serve their purposes. Voice and tone are techniques that help writers create a persona