THE CRITICAL STRATEGIES FORMAL ESSAY ASSIGNMENT
For this second formal essay, use one of our selected critical strategies (Formalist Criticism/New Criticism, Historical Criticism, Gender-based Criticism, or Psychological Criticism) to develop your own interpretation of one or two* of the following unit 2 texts: “Clothes,” “The Lesson,” “On Being Told I Don’t Speak Like a Black Person,” “Woman Hollering Creek,” “The Chair Carrier,” “Makeup on Empty Space,” and “Devotions.”
*Tip: It will likely be easier to have a strong and sharp argument by writing about just one text. Try it out first before writing about two texts. And, if you do write about two, make sure you have a unified argument about them, so that it doesn’t seem as though there are two separate essays stuck together.
To start focusing your interpretation, you may find it useful to consider our unit theme of “self and society” and take up the following: Our Unit 2 readings have introduced us to characters who face outside pressures and expectations, others who perceive the world in ways that might conflict with reality, and others who present constructed versions of themselves to the world. In your interpretation, explore the influences, conventions, or expectations that shape (or attempt to shape) one or two characters’ lives and actions, and how the character or characters respond to these forces.
Your actual focus will depend on the strategy you choose: For example, a formalist reading might focus on the structure of the text, repeated images, themes, and the like, and how these reflect or reinforce aspects of the character; a psychological reading might focus on a character’s mental state and its causes and effects; gender criticism might think about the role of gender stereotypes and how characters respond to them; and a historical approach might consider the place of social class or economics.
Keep in mind that the strategy is something you are applying to the literary text as you build your interpretation; the strategy itself is not your focus. Rather, your interpretation of the literary text is the essay’s main focus. The strategy is helping you to focus your interpretation and central claim by directing your attention to certain ideas or issues.
To repeat, your essay should not be about the strategy or whether it is useful. You are using the strategy as a tool to develop your own interpretation of the text. So, rather than talking about applying the strategy or justifying your choice of strategy, just use the strategy. Similarly, keep in mind that you are not finding the strategy in the literary text; it’s something you as the interpreter use, not something the author or the text itself uses.
As you work on the paper, incorporate the specifics, explanation, and analysis that convey your interpretation clearly and convincingly to your readers.
The argument that you make should be rooted in the literary text. This means you must make direct references to the literary text (including quotations), being sure to explain how you are interpreting those moments. In short, you should discuss and analyze the material from the text as you support and develop your argument.
Last Updated on July 16, 2020 by EssayPro