In-class writing on Identity
Personal Passing Experience
Being Judged by Concrete Identifiers
Lecture: Writing Strategies for in-class essay #1:
Basic Features of a Personal Narrative
A Well-Told Story
A Vivid Presentation of Places and People
An Indication of the Event’s Significance
1. Bias: A preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits
impartial judgment; an unfair act or policy stemming from
2. Culture: Behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, language, institutions,
and all other products of human work and thought.
3. Difference: A characteristic that distinguishes one person from
another or from an assumed norm, or the state of being
distinguished by such characteristics. Social justice issues
such as racism, classism, sexism, and heterosexism usually
center on the negative perception of difference by the dominant
group. Viewed positively, difference can be a catalyst for equity,
recognition of interdependence, and a source of personal
4. Discrimination: Treatment or consideration based on class or
category rather than individual merit; partiality or prejudice.
5. Diversity: The quality of being diverse; a respect in which
things differ; variety.
6. Equality: The state or quality of treating everyone in an equal
7. Ethnicity: A perception of being alike, a sense of peoplehood
by virtue of sharing a common ancestry (real or fictitious), values,
8. Fluid Identity: The concept that identity is not rigid but can and
does change. This idea is often used in terms of gender, sexuality,
and race, as well as other factors of identity. This concept is
fundamentally contrary to binary systems. People who feel their
identity is fluid often believe that rigid categories are oppressive
and incapable of accurately describing their experience and
9. Oppression: Arbitrary and cruel use of power; using severe or
unjust force or authority. An unjust situation where, systematically
and over a long period of time, one group denies another group
access to the resources of society. Race, gender, class, sexuality,
nation, age, ethnicity, disability status, and religion constitute
major forms of oppression.
10. Passing: Historically, passing has been defined in terms of racial
passing. It refers to a deception that allows a person to take advantage
of certain roles or opportunities from which he or she might be barred in
the absence of this posed identity. The most common racial passer, of
course, was the African American who lacked those characteristics
typical of his race. These mixed race people had physical appearances
that allowed them to be perceived and treated as if they where white.
But passing is not limited to African Americans assuming white roles in
society; it is not even limited to a racial basis. People pass in a variety of
ways and for a variety of reasons—from Blacks who pass for white, to
Jews who pass as Gentiles, to gays who pass for straight, for women
who pass for men—and the opposite of all of these. Reverse passing,
though less prevalent, also exists in multiple forms.
How do we express our own identities?
How much do we reveal about ourselves
and when do we do so?
How do we decide?
What does society expect from us in
terms of revealing who we are?
Write a paragraph or two describing a
time when you were unfairly judged on
concrete identity characteristics. OR
Write a paragraph or two describing a
time when you passed as someone or
something you were not. The passing
can be either purposeful or
This essay exam will be at our next meeting.
You can use a one page outline from which to write.
You will have approximately 90 minutes
Bring paper, pens or pencils, and your outline
In a narrative essay of two to three pages, respond to one of the
1. Tell about an experience when you were unfairly judged based on
concrete identity characteristics.
2. Tell about an experience when you passed as someone or
something you were not. The passing can be either purposeful or
BASIC FEATURES OF A PERSONAL NARRATIVE:
•A Well-Told Story
•A Vivid Presentation of Places and
•An Indication of the Event’s Significance
A WELL-TOLD STORY
Choose an interesting story
• Shape it into an exciting or
• Arouse curiosity, build suspense,
and conclude action with the
Begin at the beginning
• Write an introduction that sets the
stage for your tale
• Prepare your readers to understand
the significance of your event.
WHAT STORY WILL YOU TELL?
Where and when did it happen?
Make a quick narrative ladder:
• Exposition (Setting)
• Rising action
• Falling Action
DEVELOP YOUR STORY
Develop your story in the body paragraphs
• Use action verbs and verbal phrases (the –
ing or to form of a verb: laughing, to
• She drew the shades; I took my position;
nudging her aside, I passed the crowd;
• Use temporal transitions to cue readers
and move the narrative through time.
• Just after; when; still; no longer; after a few
days; for a week or so; before long; one
USE PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES TO DESCRIBE
He chased Mikey and me around the
yellow house and up a backyard path
we knew by heart: under a low tree, up
a bank, through a hedge, down some
snowy steps, and across the grocery
store’s delivery driveway.
THE GOAL: CREATE A VIVID PRESENTATION OF
Recreate the time and place of the event
• Ground readers in specifics:
• When? Christmas morning; one day in late fall, Saturday night
• Where? At a 7-11 in San Jose, at my Aunt Helen’s Easter party, In the
back alley of a club in Sunnyvale
Name specific objects
• White, spherical snowball
• City clothes
• Translucent skin
• Dirty sidewalk
Use similes and metaphors to draw comparisons
• Simile: The car rumbled like an approaching storm.
• Metaphor: I wanted to slingshot myself into the future. (compares
himself to a stone)
DESCRIBING THE PLACE
The shopping center was swarming with frantic lastminute shoppers like ourselves. We went first to the
General Store, my favorite. It carried mostly
knickknacks and other useless items which nobody
needs but buys anyway. I was thirteen years old at
the time, and things like buttons and calendars and
posters would catch my fancy. This day was no
different. The object of my desire was a 75-cent
THE STRATEGY: LISTING KEY PLACES
Make a list of all the places where the event
occurred, skipping some space after each entry
on your list.
In the space after each entry on your list, make
some notes describing each place. What do you
see (except people for now)? What objects
stand out? Are thy large or small, green or
brown, square or oblong? What sounds do you
hear? Do you detect any smells? Does any taste
come to mind? Any textures?
THE GOAL: MAKE A VIVID PRESENTATION OF
Descriptive details of behaviors or actions
• She stuck her hand in the bag and picked up the
poor, little dead squirrel.
• He drew his hands through his long, greasy hair
A bit of dialogue
• “Poor dear,” she murmured
• “Get out of my house,” he screamed
Detail the person’s appearance
• A thin woman: all action
• He wore dress clothes: a black suit and tie
DESCRIBING THE PEOPLE
It wasn’t until my father opened the door that I realized
something terrifyingly life altering was about to be
revealed. Always movie-star handsome, he looked
older than I had remembered him, and his light
green eyes had gone dull.
When I showed up, my father’s eyes were Caribbean
clear, yet huge and eerily calm, though it was hard
to see the rest of his face through all the white tape
and the plastic tubing.
THE STRATEGY: RECALLING KEY PEOPLE
List the people who played more than a causal
role in the event
Describe a key person: Write a brief description of
a person other than yourself who played a
major role in the event. Name and detail a few
distinctive physical features or items of dress.
Describe in a few phrases this person’s way of
moving and gesturing
WRITING KEY SCENES IN DIALOGUE
Next thing I knew, he was talking about calling the police and having
me arrested and thrown in jail, as if he had just nabbed a professional
thief instead of a terrified kid. I couldn’t believe what he was saying.
“Jean, what’s going on?”
The sound of my sister’s voice eased the pressure a bit. She
always managed to get me out of trouble. She would come through
this time too.
“Excuse me. Are you a relative of this young girl?”
“Yes, I’m her sister. What’s the problem?”
“Well, I just caught her shoplifting and I’m afraid I’ll have to call the police.”
“What did she take?”
“A button? You are having a thirteen-year-old arrested for stealing a button?”
“I’m sorry, but she broke the law.”
THE STRATEGY CONTINUED: USE
DIALOGUE TO CONVEY IMMEDIACY AND
Reconstruct one important conversation
• Try to remember any especially memorable
comments, any unusual choice of words, or any
telling remarks that you made or were made to
• Try to partially re-create the conversation so
that readers will be able to imagine what was
going on and how your language and the other
person’s language reveal who you were and
THE GOAL: INDICATE THE EVENT’S
Show that the event was important
• Dramatize the event so readers can understand your
feelings about it.
• Show scenes from your point of view so readers can
identify with you.
Tell us that the event was important
• Tell how you felt at the time of the experience
• Tell how you feel about it now, in reflection.
Telling the story from your point of view:
As the officers led me through the mall, I sensed a hundred
pairs of eyes staring at me. My face flushed and I broke out in a
sweat. Now everyone knew I was a criminal. In their eyes I was
a juvenile delinquent, and thank God the cops were getting me
off the streets. The worst part was thinking my grandmother
might be having the same thoughts. The humiliation at that
moment was overwhelming. I felt like Hester Prynne being put
on public display for everyone to ridicule.
Show and tell how you felt at the time:
I felt like a terrible human being. I would rather have stayed in
jail than confront my mom right then. I dreaded each passing
minute that brought our encounter closer.
THE STRATEGY: RECALL REMEMBERED FEELINGS AND
• What were your expectations before the event?
• What was your first reaction to the event as it was happening
and right after it ended?
• How did you show your feelings? What did you say?
• What did you want the people involved to think of you? Why did
you care what they thought of you?
• What did you think of yourself at the time?
• How long did these initial feelings last?
• What were the immediate consequences of the event for you
Pause now to reread what you have written. Then write another
sentence or two about the event’s significance to you at the time it
THE STRATEGY CONTINUED: EXPLORE YOUR PRESENT
• Looking back, how do you feel about this event? If you understand it
differently now than you did then, what is the difference?
• What do your actions at the time of the event say about the kind of
person you were then? How would you respond to the same event if it
• Can looking at the event historically or culturally help explain what
happened? For example, did you upset racial, gender, or religious
expectations? Did you feel torn between identities or cultures? Did you
feel out of place?
• Do you see now that there was a conflict underlying the event? For
example, were you struggling with contradictory desires? Did you feel
pressured by others? Were you desires and rights in conflict with
someone else’s? Was the event about power or responsibility?
Pause to reflect on what you have written about your present perspective.
Then write another sentence or two, commenting on the event’s
significance as you look back on it
GOAL: FORMULATING A TENTATIVE
Readers do not expect you to begin your narrative
essay with the kind of explicit thesis statement typical
of argumentative or explanatory writing. If you do
decide to tell readers explicitly why the event was
meaningful or significant, you will most likely do so as
you tell the story, by commenting on or evaluating
what happened, instead of announcing the significance
at the beginning. Keep in mind that you are not obliged
to tell readers the significance, but you must show it
through the way you tell the story.
NARRATIVE ESSAY THESIS EXAMPLE
“When the Walls Came Tumbling Down”
by Trey Ellis
A year before his death, my dad was forced to come
out to me. I thought he was in Paris for a vacation.
Instead, he was there for treatment with AZT, which in
1986 was experimental and not yet approved in the
United States for people infected with the virus that
STRATEGY: REVIEW THE EVENT’S
Write a few sentences that briefly
summarize the event for the reader.
THE GOAL: WRITING A GOOD INTRODUCTION
Arouse readers’ curiosity
• Begin with a surprising announcement
• Establish the setting and situation
Get readers to identify with you
• Tell them a few things about yourself
• Begin in the middle of the action or with
a funny or important dialogue
THE GOAL: WRITING A GOOD CONCLUSION
Conclude with reflections on the meaning of the
experience? (avoid tagging on a moral)
Should you be philosophical? Satirical? Self critical?
To underscore the event’s continuing significance, can you
show that the conflict was never fully resolved?
Could you contrast your remembered and current feelings
Should you frame the essay by echoing something from the
beginning to give readers a sense of closure?
Calling Home” by Jean Brandt
As we all piled into the car, I knew it was going
to be a fabulous day. My grandmother was
visiting for the holidays; and she and I, along
with my older brother and sister, Louis and
Susan, were setting off for a day of last-minute
Christmas shopping. On the way to the mall,
we sang Christmas carols, chattered, and
laughed. With Christmas only two days away,
we were caught up with holiday spirit. I felt
light-headed and full of joy. I loved shopping—
especially at Christmas.
Not a word was spoken as we walked to the car. Slowly, I sank
into the back seat anticipating the scolding. Expecting harsh tones,
I was relieved to hear almost the opposite from my father.
“I’m not going to punish you and I’ll tell you why. Although I
think what you did was wrong, I think what the police did was more
wrong. There’s no excuse for locking a thirteen-year-old behind bars.
That doesn’t mean I condone what you did, but I think you’ve been
punished enough already.”
As I looked from my father’s eyes to my mother’s, I knew this
ordeal was over. Although it would never be forgotten, the incident
was not mentioned again.
Framing is a narrative device that echoes the beginning in
the ending. The reader will then think of the beginning
while reading the ending.
In our example, Brandt begins her essay in the car on the
way to the mall. She ends her story on the car ride back
home; at this time, she reflects on the incident, adding
some discussion of the significance of the event.
Take a few minutes to consider how you might begin and
end your story using framing.
Post #3: Finish your inclass writing and post it
• Finish your in-class writing and
post it: Basic Features: dialogue,
description, anecdote, framing,
• Study the terms we discussed in
• Don’t forget that we have in-class
essay #1 the next time we meet.