The written assignments for this class include reading quizzes, short papers, and the final course paper.
You may refer to the information on this page for more details about each assignment. Please note that this page will be updated as the semester progresses. If you miss class, it is your responsibility to access on this web page the next day's reading quiz.
1. Reading Quizzes
2. Short Papers:
Short Serious Paper #1: Summary of Berman and Marx
In this paper, we begin practicing the writing advice contained in Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein's book, They Say/I Say. In particular, this paper asks you to review and summarize the views presented by Marshall Berman and Karl Marx. This task focuses on practicing the skill of summarizing and presenting someone else's arguments and views on an issue. According to Graff and Birkenstein, understanding someone else's arguments forms the cornerstone of good academic writing. The authors write, "in our view, the best academic writing has one underlying feature: it is deeply engaged in some way with other people's views" (3). Thus, in this paper, focus exclusively on what Berman and Marx argue; present their perspective and refrain from including your opinion or assessment. Present what these authors are arguing in a clear, organized fashion by putting to use some of the templates Graff and Birkenstein mention in their book on pages 8-15. Also, use Berman's essay as a good example of how a writer engages with the thought of another writer.
Your paper needs to include a clear introduction, tightly structured paragraphs, and an effective conclusion. Minimum length is 2 pages, maximum is 4. Follow MLA formatting guidelines (see this handout for a short summary of MLA format; visit the Purdue Online Writing Lab for comprehensive information about MLA). We'll also discuss MLA in class.
Short Serious Paper #2: Discussion of Shelley
This paper focuses on discussing connections between Marx/Berman and Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. In other words, in this paper students need to discuss how particular concepts from Marx and Berman apply to the novel. The paper needs to also include the writing skills covered in Graff and Birkenstein's chapters 1 through 3. Specifically, the paper needs to summarize a concept from Marx and Berman, and follow that summary by a discussion of how that concept applies to Shelley's book. Throughout their paper, students need to focus on careful paragraph development that always includes "quotation sandwiches" for any quoted or paraphrased material. Please also make sure that summary sections include "author tags" and careful explanation of authors' points.
Students may select ONE of the following concepts to apply to Frankenstein:
the alienated relationship of the "modern individual" to his/her product of labor
the act of production itself that gives rise to alienation (act of production: physical labor, but also other forms of labor, i.e. education or family structure)
the alienation between individuals in modern society (individuals such as Frankenstein, "the monster," the members of the family in the woods)
the degradation, or monstrousness, of individuals in a system of private property (modern society creating semi-humans, "monsters"--think about how Frankenstein and "the monster" are indistinguishable at the end of the novel);
the definition of a "human being" in a system of "humanism" versus a system of private property (seen, for example, in "the monster's" development from "human" to "monster")
the dialectical structure of modern society: "the very social system that tortures them also teaches and transforms them" (Berman 14)
Papers need to include a clear introduction, tightly structured paragraphs, and an effective conclusion. Minimum length is 3 pages, maximum is 5. Follow MLA formatting guidelines.
Short Serious Paper #3: Response to Kafka
In this paper students are asked to respond to Franz Kafka's novel, The Trial. This is a complex novel that deals with modern society and its effects on individuals. For this paper, please pick ONE of the topics below and focus the paper on just that topic. If you can, draw connections to Marx and Foucault, although that is not necessary (except for the topic on surveillance and Panopticism that needs to discuss Foucault directly). Follow all the writing advice mentioned in the textbook They Say/I Say by Graff and Birkenstein; focus throughout the paper on careful paragraph development and include "quotation sandwiches" for all quoted material. Use author tags to refer to Kafka's novel.
Select ONE of the following topics for your paper:
Animalistic/in-human(e) characteristics of modern society
Willful ignorance as a necessary component of the system (i.e. repeated references to characters not understanding a situation or a point)
K. guilt as an active participant in the system
Society of surveillance--Foucault's Panoptic system at work in the novel's architecture and observation
Society of surveillance--Foucault's Panoptic system at work in written reports and characters' constant reporting to each other
Female characters (usher's wife, Fraulein Burstner, the nurse, the young girls in the painter's studio) as a complex part of the system
Expressions of sexuality as degrading and violent
Clothing as an expression of status, authority, and placement in the system
The question of resistance
Role and expression of authority and truth within the system (i.e. K.'s comment, "Lies are made into a universal system" (223))
Short Paper #4: Response to Miller
In this paper students are asked to respond to Arthur Miller's play, Death of a Salesman. For this paper, please pick ONE of the topics below and focus the paper on just that topic. Follow all the writing advice mentioned in the textbook They Say/I Say by Graff and Birkenstein; focus throughout the paper on careful paragraph development and include "quotation sandwiches" for all quoted material. Use author tags to refer to Miller's play. It would be beneficial, for each of the topics below, to consider Miller's two essays and the interview we have read. Each topic is addressed by Miller in these essays and in the interview and any detail you can pull from these additional readings will enhance your points in the paper.
Select ONE of the following topics for your paper:
Review Miller's definition of "tragedy" in his essay "Tragedy and the Common Man," and then apply that definition to the character of Willy Loman; in your answer, highlight the main elements of tragedy, as Miller understands the term, and focus in particular on the notion that tragedy is about questioning one's seemingly stable environment.
What are the differences between Willy Loman and his son Biff in terms of how they each deal with values, dreams, and ideals? How do they each at the end of the play resolve the same issues differently?
In his essay, "Introduction to Collected Plays," Miller tells us that "the structure of events and the nature of its form are also the direct reflection of Willy Loman's way of thinking at this moment in his life" (158). Examine Miller's point about the structure of the play as it reflects Willy's character and his struggle with huge issues. For this point you need to pay attention to three components: (1) Miller's explanation in his essay of this sense of structure, (2) how particular scenes in the play illustrate that structure, and (3) what that structure tells us about Willy and his personal struggle.
Examine the relationship between reality and dreams in this play--are Willy's dreams, for example, delusions? Is he questioning his world? Is he critiquing it? How far should "dreaming" go?
Examine some of the differences between the characters Charley and Willy. In what way could we say that Charley and Willy follow two different approaches to life--on the one hand is complacency, on the other hand is questioning. Normalcy is set against fanaticism ("ecstasy of spirit," as Miller notes). For this point, consider Miller's explanations in his essays that we discussed in class.
This play presents very complex characters--every single one of them. Examine this proposition and show how characters are not what they seem at first: they are multidimensional, complicated, and often seemingly contradictory individuals.
The play can be read as social criticism: according to the play, to what extent do social forces influence us--for better or worse? What are the limitations of capitalism?
Examine the role of Linda, Willy's wife: what sort of relationship has she developed to her husband? What does "love" mean for her? In what way is her character very complicated and compromised?
Short Paper #5: Response to Ehrenreich
This last paper of the semester will be a response to Barbara Ehrenrich's book, Nickel and Dimed. As we discussed in class, please pick ONE of the following two options for your paper topic:
Write about connections between Nickel and Dimed and just ONE of the other books we've read. For example, you can review the four points Marx makes in his essay regarding wage labor and then show how each point is illustrated in Nickel and Dimed.
Focus on ONE general topic and show how that topic is illustrated in a number of books we've read in class this semester. For example, how does the Foucauldian analysis of Panopticism appear in Nickel and Dimed and The Trial?
Make sure you pay attention to all the skills we've practiced this semester regarding writing strong academic writing. Write nicely developed paragraphs (see a good model on p. 44 of They Say/I Say), strong introductions that include a "roadmap" to your paper, effective transitions, "quotation sandwiches," author tags, depth, and impeccable proof-reading.