Paper Assignment #2

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English 2120, Paper Assignment #2

Choose ONE of the topics below and write a 1000-word, double-spaced essay in response.

The topic is ONLY a prompt. You must develop your own focus, angle, and argument. Your thesis and paper itself are not meant to display your personal opinion about the works we’ve read, but about the techniques (verbal, poetic, characterization, plot arrangement) the authors use to create the desired effects and the ways in which their works are similar or different to other works. Before writing your paper, you should work out your topic and a tentative thesis statement by writing a 250–300-word proposal or abstract. This should make it clear what texts you’re writing about, what aspect of these texts you intend to examine in-depth, and what you will argue in the paper. (This is not a binding commitment–if your argument changes in the actual paper, that’s fine). The proposal is due Friday, March 26. Your first draft of your paper is due Monday, April 5, and the final draft is due between Monday, April 12 and Saturday, April 17.

Your paper should have:

A good title: One that is both clear (a focused introduction to the paper) and interesting or vivid. Sometimes using a colon in a title can help you do both.

A focused introduction: Don’t generalize about literature as a broad field or about the history of the world. Start quickly on point—that is to say, “zoom in” on the work you’re talking about and what exactly you want to say about it.

A strong thesis statement: You need to make an argument that is significant (why should we care about what you’re saying? How does it affect our understanding of this work), specific (e.g., don’t just tell us what a writer’s doing, tell us how), and arguable (nobody can argue with the statement that The Saga of the Greenlanders is about a lot of trips to Vinland. It just is. That’s a fact. Go beyond the obvious.). Start with what’s actually on the page before drawing conclusions: look at the plot construction or arrangement of events, the dialogue, description, or actions the writer gives a character, specific images that characterize the setting, etc., before moving beyond to make your argument.

A conclusion: In a paper such as this, conclusions need to strike a balance between reinforcing what you’ve already said and leaving the reader with something to think about. One way to accomplish this last goal is to leave the reader thinking about what you’re thinking about: do you have any questions left you’d like to explore? Are there things about the story that didn’t quite work with your argument that you’d like to work out? If you had to write a fifteen-page paper on this topic, what else would you want to go into?

Organization: Each paper should have a clear principle of organization: you shouldn’t just be going through the work chronologically from beginning to end but structuring an argument. This means that your topic sentences, the first sentence in each paragraph, are crucial. The topic sentence is a hinge: it gets us from the previous paragraph to the present one in a clear and motivated fashion. It should rarely if ever simply enumerate the point (first, second, third); we should get a clear sense of why this paragraph needs to happen now. Don’t just add one point to the previous one; actually connect points.

One of the best ways to do this is to use a subordinate clause and conjunction leading up to a main clause: subordinate conjunctions include words like “because,” “although,” “insofar as,” which can establish a more precise connection between points.

Evidence: In the body of the paper, you should introduce evidence by quoting your text. The sentence leading up to the quotation should tell us what to look for in it; then the sentences after the quotation should explain how the language captured the idea that we were looking for. The more important the actual language, the more you should quote. The more you quote, the more you need to talk about that quote. There is no rule for under or over-quoting. This is something that you must weigh carefully: how important is this passage? How much do I have to say about the metaphors or images or connotations of the language? Or is it just a key term that the author repeats that I want to cite? Quotations should never be freestanding: always attach them by comma or colon to a sentence, and they must work grammatically in the sentence to which they are attached. Don’t forget to cite your quotes parenthetically (see below).

Variety: Be careful not to use the same word over and over again–this is very easy to do, but makes your paper sound repetitive and uninteresting. The same goes for sentence structure: if every sentence is phrased as “X does Y,” no matter how good your points are, you’re not going to be making a smooth argument.

Verb tenses: Write about what’s happening in the world of the text in present tense and what happened in the real world in past tense: “The Book of Ibn Fadlān was written in the tenth century” vs. “The Book of Ibn Fadlān depicts the Rūs’s religious rituals as primitive but powerful and somewhat mysterious.”

Citations: If all of your work is based on one text, you don’t necessarily need a “Works Cited Page”—you can put in a footnote with the full citation on the first page of the paper:

All quotations are from Eirik the Red’s Saga in The Vinland Sagas, trans. Keneva Kunz with introduction and notes by Gísli Sigurđsson, New York: Penguin, 2008, pp. 25–50, and will be cited parenthetically by page number.

(Note: If you’re not actually using Eirik the Red’s Saga in your paper, don’t just copy and paste this, use it as a template!)

Any other material must be cited separately in either MLA or Chicago style. If you use outside sources, please choose them carefully using the library catalogue or other academic resources: using sources that you found on Google is a gamble. If you want any help finding sources, I am more than happy to sit down with you and help you navigate the library website.


1)      The fantastic or supernatural appears in several texts we’ve read this semester. Choosing one such text, analyze its treatment of supernatural themes (or one aspect of the supernatural as it appears in the text), making an argument for how the supernatural fits into the texts’ larger themes.

2)    Several of the texts we’ve read focus on specific historical events, often taking place many years before the text was written and with a good deal of poetic license taken. Choosing one historical event that appears in a literary text we’ve read (i.e., not historical or scholarly background reading), make an argument about how the author depicts this event. This might but does not have to include the language used to describe the event, the historical figures emphasized, any inaccuracies you can identify and what might explain them, the message or messages the author might have wanted to convey about this event and why, given the author’s context, they might have depicted it in this way.

3)   Though many epics focus on the military exploits of kings and other male leaders, women often play important roles as queens or other leaders, mothers, opponents, etc. Choosing a female character from a text we’ve read this semester, make an argument about the role she plays in the text or what her depiction might indicate about the text’s attitudes toward gender.   

4)      You can write on a topic not listed here, but talk with me about it before you start writing.

Proposal Rubric

CriterionPoints possiblePoints earnedComments
Your proposal gives a clear explanation of what texts you will look at and what aspect of the texts your paper will examine.6  
The proposal makes it clear what your paper will argue and why that argument is significant (How does it help us understand this text?)6  
The proposal includes any background information or context necessary to understand the argument you’ll make in the paper.4  
The proposal is 250-300 words long, in a legible 12-point font, and has your name on it. Its title makes the topic of your paper clear.4  

Final paper grading rubric

CriterionPoints possiblePoints earnedComments
Your paper makes a clear, significant, and arguable claim, which is easy to find.20  
Your paper makes use of well-chosen textual evidence to support your arguments. These quotes are not simply dropped into the paper but fit grammatically into sentences, and their relationship to your argument is explained.20  
The argument in your paper is logical; each of your points supports your larger thesis, and the arrangement of your ideas makes their relationship clear, with strong transitions between different points.20  
All quotes and any secondary materials used are correctly cited.7  
Your paper is carefully edited, with few to no grammatical errors and awkward or confusing sentences.5  
Your paper is around 1000 words long, double-spaced, in 12-point font, with page numbers and a descriptive title.8