Singular effect and thesis on "Hills Like White Elephants"
In preparation for the writing of this essay, there are multiple key steps which you should already have taken to be well-prepared for this next leg of our journey. In short, you should have: Read carefully, including notes, the assigned chapters from our text book, including Chapters One, Two and Three; Read carefully the four assigned short stories, as well as completed the corresponding discussions and reading journals. Read carefully the associated lectures, including this one. You should also already be considering the following steps: Decide on the story which you will discuss for this first essay, or at least be in the final stages of this decision process; Review your notes on the selected story, including the corresponding assignments Make additional notes regarding what you believe to be the singular effect of the story as well as how the elements of plot work to reinforce that effect. Finally, you should continue to review my feedback and grades on your assignments to inform your progress on this essay. (It may be that not all of my comments are yet returned; if not, they are forthcoming.) As a part of this process, please reach out with any questions or concerns you may have. Reflections on Point of View, Plot and Stories by Bambara and Jackson In our discussions of point of view, we noted that Bambara’s choice of first person point of view means that we not only experience the story from Sylvie’s point of view, but in her voice. As such, we are aware of her alertness, her smartness, but also of her biases and how they may hold her back. Importantly, as we approach the climax of the story, and we witness Sugar giving Mrs. Moore the answers she clearly wants to hear, so we also experience Sylvie’s rejection of Sugar’s sycophancy (servile flattery). Yet, at the climax of the story, it is Sylvie who seems to learn the lesson, not Sugar: Sylvie abandons Sugar and their plans to spend the change on candy; as such, it is she who is changed as a result of the story. While she may not give Ms. Moore the satisfaction of knowing the effect the lesson had on her, Sylvie is thrust into the threshold of a deeper, more adult world, and she must reconcile her new place within the world as a result. In contrast, “The Lottery,” uses third person—arguably third person omniscient—to represent the narrative of a town: its setting, its history; its people. Only as the story matures, as the tension of the rising action increases, do we finally focus in on the lottery itself, then the family of the “winner,” then the winner herself. Interestingly, the author uses key diction in her initial description of the setting to establish a tone congruent with the idyllic, pastoral environment in which the story seems to take place. Indeed, one could suggest that the events of the story exist in ironic contrast to the stereotypic, small town setting—the final event of the story wherein the first rock strikes is surprising in part because the author uses point of view to play on our stereotypes of small town values and lifestyles. Singular Effect and Your Thesis In our first lecture, we discussed Poe’s concept of the singular effect, including how he viewed this element as central to the craft of the short story. Other methods by which we might arrive at ideas which could serve as the backbone of your essay—the singular effect—include: Ask, what is the ultimate question at the heart of the story? Or, what important aspect of the human condition does the author explore in this story? Or, what is the overall perception or meaning the author seeks to impress on the reader? Any of these questions will help you, as an active reader, to get to the heart of the story. Your responses to these questions then become the root from which to build your tentative/working thesis for this first essay. Your thesis, then, is the essential first step to composing this essay. Note that we recognize that this thesis is tentative, that it may (and likely will) change as a result of the writing process. Note also that, without a clear starting place, there really can be no progression. Imagine taking a road trip without knowing your destination—you could end up anywhere, and your route would likely lack a clear logic which others would be able to follow. Contrast this image with knowing that you are heading to a specific cite—Los Angeles, for example. While there are multiple routes to get to this destination, each route has its own logic which is informed by the destination. I might, for example, take Highway 101 so as to pass the Coast. Or, I might take Highway 5 to arrive as quickly as possible. Or, I might take Highway 99 so as to pass close to Yosemite. Each route has its own agenda, but each rote is informed by its eventual destination. Map_lecture_image.jpg A good working thesis statement works the same way—it provides a goal for you even as you plot your journey. In the case of this essay, the thesis gives voice to two key pieces of your eventual argument: The singular effect; How the plot contributes to the singular effect. Thesis Construction In the last section, we discussed the thesis as a destination on a road map, and I would like to continue with this motif of destination for a bit longer, as we get into the weeds of thesis construction, in general, as well as our current essay, in particular. A strong thesis gives voice to the destination of the argument: it communicates to the reader the conclusions to which the essay will bring him/her/them. It voices the purpose of the essay by providing the reader with a clear sense of where the essay is going. A strong thesis therefore Communicates the purpose of the essay; Is conclusive in nature. Of note, when we discuss literature, there are a few key conventions which we follow so as also to provide for the reader a clear understanding of the story to be discussed and who wrote it. Your use of these conventions will persist through the course of the term, so please take note of it for now and in the future: For one, we want to reference the author of the story. Two, we want to reference the title of the story. Three, we want to convey the purpose of the essay (in this case, including the singular effect as well as its relationship to the plot). For example, a strong thesis might begin with any of the following phrases: In Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “Hills like White Elephants, the plot of the short story . . . Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” explores the singular effect . . . In her short story titled, “The Lesson,” Toni Cade Bambara explores the idea of . . . Of course, there are other variants. The point is not to follow any single example but to understand the conventions and how to incorporate them. Do be sure also to review the corresponding section in “Chapter Two” of our textbook. Plot Analysis versus Plot Summary Before we commence a conversation of some methods we can use to empower our thesis statement to inform our outline planning and development, I want first to explore key differences between a plot analysis and a plot summary. The function of summary in an essay is usually to give pertinent background information to the reader. The information then provides context for the presented argument. In other words, a summary is a succinct description of the main ideas or plot points of a longer piece. The function of a summary is to convey, in a briefer/shorter form, the primary content of the summarized piece. Yet, the assignment at hand is not to compose a summary. It is, instead, to compose a plot analysis. Analysis can be defined as taking something apart in order to determine how it works. The analysis of the plot of the story is then the disassembly of the story in order to determine how the plot works—in other words, how the plot contributes to the overall singular effect you have identified in one of the four stories. To translate this definition into the physical world, think of a cuckoo clock. If I were to ask you to determine how the cuckoo clock works, your first impulse would likely to be take it apart—to see how the various gears and springs work together to make it work. Note that summary, then, does not substitute for the argument; it only enables it. In other words, summary is not analysis, and a lengthy summary is not sufficient for the current essay. Instead, your task is to develop an argument which demonstrates/proves to the reader how the elements of plot, including point of view, contributes to and creates the identified singular effect. Your essays then will likely include a succinct summary so as to provide sufficient background material to your readers. But, the summary is not the essay. Developed Argument and the Outline The best part of identifying a thesis is that you have identified the topic and purpose of your essay. In other words, you know what it is you want to prove. But the challenge of how to prove our thesis—what to discuss first, second, third, fourth, etc.—can be just as, or even more, daunting. Ideally, this is where the elements of plot can help us not only dissect the story through analysis but to communicate our ideas about the story in terms which clearly reference the various aspects of the story. Indeed, of the key tools we have discussed to equip the communication of our analyses, none are more important than the key vocabulary associated with the discussion and study of the sequence of events of the story, the plot. This vocabulary includes not only the elements of plot but also point of view as well as the effects of plot (e.g. dramatic irony). Therefore, it is very important to be sure to apply all of the concepts discussed and practiced these first weeks. The first step to developing an outline for a plot analysis is then to be sure that you understand how to apply the identified vocabulary to the story you have selected, including the elements of plot as well as the point of view. This process usually begins with—as it is often easiest to do so—the identification of the point of view as well as the highest moment of tension in the story, in other words, the climax. Why? For starters, the identification of the climax makes clear both the rising and falling action of the story. Secondly, it informs our identification of the conflicts and perhaps most importantly any key turning points, all of which contribute to the build of tension so essential to the success of any good story. Second, the writer needs to interpret the identified elements through the lens of the working thesis. How do each of the components relate and/or contribute to the purported purpose of the essay? This is essentially the question the reader needs to answer to begin the process of organizing one’s ideas into an outline which arrives at the destination as argued in the thesis. Third, once the writer has identified the principle ideas at the heart of his/her/their argument, the next step is to determine what order makes the most sense for the essay, as well as the initial identification of key specifics which demonstrate/prove/show these ideas to a potential audience. Ask yourself, what must I include to prove my point of view? What might I include? Then write down any ideas that come to mind. (Be detailed here; do not simply jot down key words; instead, finish your thoughts before you forget them.) Once you have written down all of the ideas that you can summon, start an initial outline by: a) deciding which ideas you will include in your essay; and b) deciding on a preliminary logical order. The result is, of course, a preliminary outline which can be built on and developed in preparation for the drafting of an essay. What is essential to this conversation is that the writer is involved in extensive planning prior to composing the essay—that the writer has decided on what is to be argued before we begin writing. Only a sound plan can produce a sound essay. Paragraph Development—the Claim-Oriented Paragraph As we compose our essays, I also want to point out some reminders (from English 001) regarding sound paragraph construction, to include claim-based topic sentences, specific/concrete evidence, and thorough explanation. It can help to approach paragraph construction by thinking of our paragraphs as a series of claims—each paragraph then has a clear purpose, something it declares, something it seeks to prove. A strong topic sentence then should be informed by the purpose, or the function, of the paragraph. Another way to think about topic sentences is to imagine that you are giving voice to the central claim of the paragraph. With respect to the provision of evidence and its consequent explanation, I think it can be most helpful to remind ourselves of one of the most important maxims of sound composition: good writing is good teaching. In other words, as writers, we are not telling our readers what we think (like we might in an email or a text message, or even a professional report). Instead, we are teaching our readers how to arrive at the conclusions for which we argue. As such, we must first provide multiple specifics which demonstrate to our readers the validity of our argument. Moreover, we should use our key vocabulary to point to that evidence, including the communication of its purpose, as it relates to plot and its development. In other words, we provide specific, concrete evidence that shows to the reader the validity of your claims. But, evidence is not enough. Good teaching is not only sound evidence but what we do with it. As writers, our job is to teach our readers how to arrive at the conclusions we propose. In fact, without the inclusion of meaningful interpretation, our paragraphs become a list of specifics with no real function or purpose. Worse, we invite the possibility of readers interpreting the specifics differently than we intend, thereby undermining our argument even as we work to produce it. Good paragraphs therefore include meaningful acts of interpretation. We work to teach our readers how to interpret the specifics, including how the specifics relate to and prove the claim, as voiced in the corresponding topic sentence and the essay’s thesis. Our essays therefore are manifestations of our proposed arguments per their respective theses. As we draft our essays, we want to review repeatedly the development of our paragraphs: Does each paragraph have a defined purpose/claim? Does each paragraph cite sufficient specifics to prove their respective claims? Does each paragraph include sufficient explanation to teach your readers how to arrive at the claims you suggest? What is the Introduction? In the course of our essay writing, the first lines of our essays often feel the most elusive. What I would like to suggest is that the first sentences might need to be some of the last sentences you need to write. In other words, just because the introduction are the first words the reader reads, they do not need to be—and likely should not be—the first words the writer writes. One way to think about the formal introduction of the essay is to compare it with introducing a person. Do you know this person? Do you know anything about this person? Clearly, you would need to feel familiar enough with the person to present him/her/them to someone else. If not, a personal introduction would be near impossible to make. Similarly, the function of the first paragraph is to introduce the essay you have composed in as precise and concrete a fashion as you are able. We do not need to generalize. Instead, we direct our introductory comments to the core of paper by working to introduce the topic/subject of our essay to build to our declaration of purpose, the thesis statement. What is the Conclusion? I have a few simple statements of advice for the composition of your conclusions. Please don’t feel like you need to summarize and/or repeat the content of your essay. Instead, I would like you to think of the conclusion as your last opportunity to address your readers: what do you need your readers to consider once they are done with your essay? What thoughts do you want to plant in your readers’ heads? In this way, while you may repeat key content, it avoids formula and, instead, assumes real purpose and meaning. MLA Format You should already be familiar with MLA format as a result of English 001. However, in case you need some reminders, there are a number of good, free guides to MLA. One of the best and most well-known is the MLA resource at the Online Writing Lab (OWL), out of Purdue University. This resource is free, well-indexed and user friendly. It also has many other writing resources, including style and grammar guides. You may access OWL at owl.english.purdue.edu (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. Or, you may link directly to the MLA resources at owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/ (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. Draft, Draft and Re-draft & Editing the Final Copy Once your outline is complete, you are ready to commence writing your initial draft. In an ideal world, you should be able to simply work on the development of your sentence and paragraph structure as you have already figured out the content in your detailed outline. However, this world is hardly ideal. Thus, in the course of the completion of your draft, you may find that you need to expand certain points of your argument or delete one in favor of another or even add while new ones. Leave plenty of time for this process! Ask yourself: Is your thesis (purpose) clear and relevant to the assignment? Does your introduction introduce your topic sufficiently? Concisely? Do you provide sufficient initial background information for your audience? Do you include enough of a discussion (major points) to prove your point of view? Do they follow a logical order? Does each paragraph have a clear topic? Strong evidence? Sufficient explanation? Are your conclusions clear? Edit carefully for sentence-level errors and perfect MLA format including a Works Cited page. Finally, be sure you review and are familiar with our introductory section on Academic Honesty and the consequences of plagiarism at Step 4: Academic Integrity. If you have any questions—any at all—here, please reach out. In the end, while it is up to you to submit an essay to the best of your ability, it is up to me to help you as you require. So, please reach out as needed. I look forward to hearing from you.