Essay #1: short story

Essay #1: close reading of one short story

Due: Thursday, October 3rd (submit to Dropbox + one printed copy to class)

*If you do not turn in a final draft (a printed copy and electronic copy) by the start of class the day it is due, you will receive no credit for the entire assignment. There are no extensions. Late work will not be accepted and will receive no credit.

Grading: Essay #1 is worth 10% of your overall course grade.

*Plagiarism, in all forms, will not be tolerated. Any essay that plagiarizes will automatically fail.[1]

Feedback: I am more than happy to discuss your ideas/drafts in person with you. If you would like to do so, schedule a conference with me during my office hours.

[Writing Task & Purpose]
In class and on our OpenLab course site you have been using close reading to generate questions and ideas about short stories. For this first essay, you will build on this work, using analysis to write a 2 ½ – 4 page thesis-driven essay that presents a thesis (argument) about one short story we’ve read and uses subsequent claims/evidence from the text to explore and support this point.

Keep in mind that this short essay is argumentative. Therefore, your thesis should be persuasive (but arguable), and your essay should be driven by analysis (subsequent claims and evidence). Remember that the purpose of this essay is not to merely summarize (simply report what the story is about) or to write about some idea (culture, identity) in general, but to critically consider how some idea is represented in a particular text we have read.

Make sure to construct an argument that is complex/interesting enough (the main claim is not straightforward or obvious) for you to be able to write a minimum of 2 ½ full pages about it. Assume that your audience has already read (but not thought deeply about) the short story you chose. Therefore, you do not need to (and you should not) spend a lot of space summarizing the text. A close reading is not a line-by-line analysis of an entire text but rather a coherent argument based a painstaking analysis of some aspect of the text. Choose specific quotes and examples from the text that are relevant to your claims and use them in the service of supporting these ideas. Remember that each quote/example should be introduced, explained/analyzed, and relevant (and cited!).

You should not consult outside sources: this essay builds from a close reading of the short story you choose.

This essay extends the thinking/writing you have already done in class and in your blogging. Therefore, while you should of course feel free to build on what you have already written this semester in blogs or other informal writing (or what we have discussed in class), do not simply repeat what you have previously stated elsewhere. Remember that your blogging is only an informal response to the texts we read and, as such, your posts may not be organized effectively or clearly/fully articulated. You should use this material as freewriting (or even a rough draft), and then work to revise it into a coherent and detailed argument. There is a much greater emphasis on analysis and structure in this essay than in your blog posts and other informal writing.

[Structure]
Structure the essay according to your argument, avoiding mere summary, on the one hand, and the five-paragraph essay, on the other. When arguing for your interpretation of the text, you should structure your essay according to your thesis about the short story you chose, not necessarily according to the order of the text itself.

Your essay should include: a focused thesis paragraph; body paragraphs provide additional claims (topic sentences) and specific, concrete details/examples in support of both these claims and your overall thesis (do not keep repeating the same idea over and over again in different ideas); logical connections/transitions among sentences, paragraphs, and ideas (claims); a concluding paragraph.[2]

[Some difficulties you might encounter as you write & some suggestions for moving past these problems]

Thinking you have nothing to say: This is where close reading is so helpful!  Dig beneath the surface of the text and explore possible connections and interpretations. If you run out of things to say, you probably have not asked enough questions about the text or done enough active reading. Go back and re-read the story again, looking up words you don’t know, highlighting important sections, asking questions (especially about the elements of fiction), and making notes in the margins. From there, create a series of focused and persuasive claims about your topic. You may also find that creating an outline will help you to structure your essay.

Trying to explore every possible aspect of the topic/text: Instead, generate a thesis (and subsequent claims) that you want to make about your specific topic and discuss how particular details (evidence) contribute to your thesis.

Bringing in outside information: Do not do research on the text or consult outside sources for this particular essay. For this assignment, I am interested in your analysis of the texts/ideas themselves.

Assuming you “know” what the author “meant”: Remember that this is your analysis/interpretation of a text based on close reading. Therefore, avoid making pronouncements such as “Amy Tan means …” or “The author did this because … .”

Being too general or simplistic: Make sure that you focus your argument and that you have a series of arguable claims you are making. Don’t just make observations or give examples without indicating the significance (the “so what?”) of these facts.

Straying from the assignment/thinking that “anything goes”: Use the work as the basis for objective and relevant discussion. Do not move away from the particulars of the readings to generalizations and digressions.


[1] Refer to City Tech’s Policy on Academic Integrity on the syllabus for more specific details.

[2] Refer the Essay Formatting and Guidelines (that apply to all of our formal essay assignments) as well as to the Writing Resources posted on our course site more details in composing and structuring your essay.

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  1. Pingback: Reminder: Essay #1 due this Thursday, 10/3 | Introduction to Literature I: Fiction

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