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Copy of Theory Paper

Page history last edited by Simone Morris 8 years, 9 months ago


Eng 298: “Theory” Paper



Your final paper is due in class Wednesday, Dec 14th (and I mean this).  No email.  It should be 4-5 pages and develop an argument about the meaning of a literary work (poetry, short fiction, or drama) using the theoretical approach you worked on for your presentation.


That is, in developing your argument, I ask that you use (and identify for your reader) one of the theoretical approaches that are the subject of our presentations (New Criticism; feminism/gender; deconstruction; cultural studies).  These do not have to be “full-blown” theoretical readings, but you must present your argument as a response to a central critical question associated with one of the theories we have worked with.  You may choose to build such a critical question into your thesis statement or opening paragraph, or you may leave the question implicit (for a review of generic questions, see the ends of the various Bressler chapters--including the ones we didn't read on "Postmodernism" (deconstruction) and "Cultural Poetics"--and the bullet points at the end of the Dobie handouts.


You will use the approach you presented, but you may not write about the primary text that you interpreted in your own presentation. You may use another text I suggested, any of the texts the other groups presented on (or were suggested), or a text that we have read as a class.  But do not use a text you've written one of the first two papers on.


An example that employs a possible formula: 1) A claim about the apparent meaning of a text; 2) A turn to the emphases or questions of a particular critical method; 3) A re-evaluation of the text based on the critical method, which proposes an answer or outcome.  (In other words, don’t simply ask your critical question, such as “let’s see what happens when we look for paradox, or apply the facts of an author’s biography; make sure you tell us in your introduction what will come of finding paradox or thinking about an author’s life.)  For example:


Andrew Marvell’s “Coy Mistress” seemingly confronts a universal problem: how do we face the stark inevitability of our deaths?  The critical method of cultural poetics, however, tells us that texts invariably engage the values of their particular cultures.  At the time Marvell was writing, for example, critical debates were taking place over the nature and uses of persuasive rhetoric.  In that context, Marvell’s poem functions as a critique of the Renaissance humanist emphasis on the “art of rhetoric.”


Be sure your paper:


  • Has a central claim: your use of the theoretical perspective helps us to see what about the text you are reading?
  • Explains at least two concepts from the theory you are using.
  • Contains at least one secondary source (you’ll need this at least to explain the concepts, and you may find one or more secondary sources useful in other ways, too).
  • Please note that while this paper engages some theory, your argument must still rest on close reading of the text, using the attention to form and the technical vocabulary we have relied on throughout the term.  Do not go back to your old, fuzzy ways.


Other bullet points (these should be more than familiar by now):


  •  Be sure to refer to your texts and authors in the simple present tense: “Welty writes” (not “is writing”), “Plath’s speaker believes,” etc.
  •  As a rule, when you are “done” with your paper you should go back and refine your thesis statement, then move through the paper making sure that everything you say is in some way related to it.
  •  As always, pay particular attention to topic sentences in your paragraphs.  These should be statements that require a full paragraph to support.  Thus, “We first meet Harris in a car” can’t function as a topic sentence, simply because it does not require a paragraph to support it.  “Harris’s initial appearance in a car emphasizes the story’s paradoxical link of sociability and homelessness.”  See the difference?
  •  Your claims about the meaning of the texts must be supported by reference to specific language or passages, and any quotations should be sufficiently analyzed for your reader.  Explain, in other words, what quotations mean.
  •  The places in the text you refer to in support of your claims must be cited, whether you quote the actual language of the text or not.  Use parentheses and indicate page or line numbers as appropriate.
  • Your paper will include a “Works Cited” list.
  •  Your paper will follow all aspects of MLA formatting, and will thus include especially a title and page numbers.
  •  Be certain your paper is proofread carefully; titles of complete works are underlined or italicized (titles of short works, such as our poems and stories, should be put in quotation marks); citations use correct punctuation; all paragraphs are sufficiently developed and address only one topic.
  •  Your paper has a conclusion, and the conclusion does not simply repeat points you have made two or three times over the course of your paper.  The conclusion should also not “finally” offer your argument.  That should be in the first or second paragraph.


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