Research driven literary analysis on Nella Larsen’s “Passing”
This is a research-driven literary analysis essay. Research papers are one of the most common essay types in English courses, yet achieving the appropriate balance of attention to Passing and attention to scholarship about the novel is difficult. Perhaps most importantly, both types of evidence must serve your own complex, nuanced, insightful argument that advances an on-going academic discussion about the novel. This means not merely reacting to the novel in a vacuum but educating yourself about existing peer-reviewed scholarship on the novel. We’ve read several scholarly essays about the book already, but you will need to venture again onto JSTOR, ERIC (EBSCO), Project Muse, Google Scholar, or the IU CAT (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.) to seek out relevant criticism.
As our second long essay, this assignment asks you to show your ability to:
summarize the main ideas or arguments of several texts
demonstrate critical reading skills, including paraphrasing passages and identifying and defining unfamiliar language or details
analyze the way the formal literary elements function within a piece of fiction, including plot, setting, characterization, point of view, narration, style, and language
apply close-reading techniques to specific passages to reveal relationships in the language and details that drive the texts’ meaning
make claims about the way a piece of fiction (including both its text and subtext) addresses issues beyond its pages (argumentation about theme or social/cultural/historical issue)
provide and analyze relevant evidence in support of claims
use proper protocols and conventions of academic writing, including correctly citing sources according to MLA guidelines and avoiding plagiarism
show appropriate awareness of audience, including who your readers are and in what context they will read your work, and
contribute to an intellectual discussion about fiction by appropriately interpreting and respectfully responding to the ideas of others (classmates, professor, critics, or theorists).
In an original essay of 1,800 words (7-8 pages), build on existing literary criticism about the novel Passing. In summarizing and referencing on-going discussion, please quote from and cite at least two scholarly articles published in peer-reviewed academic journals or books. (ONE of these two may come from the critical pieces I’ve assigned- Walker, Tate, MacDowell- but the other must be found via your own, independent research.) Your goal is to significantly advance debate/discussion about the novel on one of the themes we’ve discussed in class. In addition to accurately summarizing the claims of your scholarly articles, your essay will need its own thesis, many quotations/citations from Passing, and a careful, joyful, authorial voice that treats both articles as legitimate lenses but commits ultimately to improving our understanding of the novel in new/interesting ways.
Tips for success:
Choose scholarly articles that do not agree in interpretation. In disagreement, in conflict, your voice becomes necessary/vital to resolve difference and push readers to new thinking with your quotations and analysis. Finding essays on the same subject that disagree takes real time.
Focus on a single theme or device. You don’t have time for more than one. If your sources discuss multiple themes, only quote from the sections of the essays that are relevant. Return to the element of fiction in topic sentences for new paragraphs. Use the device as an organizing anchor for the essay. This was important advice on Long Essay 1, but it’s still relevant now. Recall the 10 on 1 principle: better to say ten things about one point than one thing about ten points. Depth > breadth.
The novel itself is the best evidence you needto justify your interpretation. Quoting and analyzing it should take first priority in your essay, even if you must spend precious words in summary and discussion of two scholarly articles.
Write your thesis last. Or, at least, revise your thesis to match the conclusions you draw at end of essay. Many students begin with one argument and argue its opposite by paper’s conclusion. Having an “evolving thesis” is fine, but do not mislead readers with a draft thesis at start of essay.
Claim, evidence, citation, analysis–in that order. Repeat. In long essays, there’s a temptation to ramble without returning to the text for evidence. The novel is too good/too important to ignore for long. Drop quotations and citations into those long paragraphs liberally. Never forget that the novel is your primary text.
Argument. (2.1) Does the essay make a compelling, thoughtful, nuanced, and original argument? Does it condense this argument into a clear thesis? Does the thesis reflect the complexity of our conclusion? (2.2) Does the essay move inexorably toward proving this claim true by paper’s end? (2.4) Does the essay anticipate and preempt objection? Does the essay advance discussion about Passing beyond non-scholarly literary criticism and our in-class discussion? Are we in uncharted waters? (1.5, 2.5) Is it a real intellectual “try,” attempting to say something important?
Evidence (1.2, 1.3, 1.4) Does the essay contain significant textual evidence from Passing that supports your claim about theme, genre, or device? (1.2, 1.5) Does the essay reach defensible, nuanced, and compelling discussion of theme without misreading or mischaracterizing the novel? (2.5) Does your essay integrate and treat fairly two scholarly sources as lenses, quoting and citing them? Has the essay moved beyond class discussion? (2.2) Is major confirming or contradictory evidence discovered and included in the essay? Have we missed evidence that should be included? (2.3) In its discussion of literary elements, does the essay use the common jargon of our class, which has been grounded in Ribo? Is MLA parenthetical citation, including page number, used to situate this evidence in each text? Is there an appropriate ratio of analysis (2:1) to quotation?
Parameters. (1.3, 2.1) Does the essay focus on a single element of style (1.2, 1.3, 2.5) Does the essay avoid hackneyed or tired claims? (2.3) Does the essay meet the Word Count (1,800)? Is Passing quoted/cited an appropriate number of times? (2.5) Is our voice needed to mediate scholarly sources in disagreement? (2.5) Does the essay include a rebuttal section and (2.4) an answer to the “so what” question? (2.3) Does the essay avoid generic mistakes like using first person “I” or including subjective reflections or reactions to the novel?
Style. (2.1) Is the paper well-written? Does it have a smart, engaging, and creative prose voice? Will readers find the spark of intellectual joy in the document? (2.3, 2.4) Does the essay avoid major grammar error? Has care been put into sentence-level detail, word choice, and (2.4) rhetorical approach? (2.1) Does the paper connect its thoughts with transitions and topic sentences and organize paragraphs logically? (2.2, 2.4) Is there an appropriate balance between quotation and analysis? (2.3) Is MLA parenthetical citation, including page number, used to situate evidence in each text? Is the paper’s format, including spacing, font-choice, presence of a title, and header, consistent with instructions on our syllabus?
Research driven literary analysis on Nella Larsen’s “Passing”