Hawthorne, Poe, and Contemporary Connections

The assignment. Fiction presents a host of interesting opportunities and angles for analysis. You can talk about character, setting, point of view, style, symbolism, and theme, just to name a few. In a 1000-1200-word essay, however, you cannot talk about all of these things. For this first assignment, you will write a sharply focused essay that compares some aspect of a Hawthorne or Poe story with an aspect from a contemporary work. Here are the specific topics, each of which will need to be further narrowed:

Compare the role of technology in “The Celestial Rail-road” and “My Flamboyant Grandson,” a recent story by George Saunders (story available on Shared Files).

Compare the female protagonists in “The Birthmark” and “Birthmark,” a recent story by Miranda July (story available on Shared Files).

Compare the symbolism of the forest in “Young Goodman Brown” and “Doe Season,” a recent story by David Michael Kaplan (story available on Shared Files).

Compare the theme of revenge in “The Cask of the Amontillado” and “Killings,” a contemporary story by Andre Dubus (story available on Shared Files).

Compare the use of point of view in “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “Big Me,” a contemporary story by Dan Chaon (story available on Shared Files).

The audience. Your audience is a group of college-educated people who have a broad (but not especially deep) knowledge of literature. Somewhere early in your essay, you’ll need to provide the full name of the authors and the titles of the works about which you are writing.In addition, provide brief summaries in order to let the reader know what the stories are about. Remember, however, that the point of this essay is literary analysis. Please do not provide a simple summary of plots. Your goal is to show your readers meaningful connections between the two stories and discuss the significance of those connections. As you write, show that you are aware of your audience by adopting a formal tone. This means you should avoid such things as contractions, slang, obscenities, etc.

Going about it. Read or at least look over a few of the contemporary stories (they’re all on Shared Files) to see which might be appealing to you. Over the weekend, email me your top two options (I’ll try to give everyone his/her first choice, but I don’t want fifteen students writing on the same topic). Once your topic has been OKed by me, reread both stories, identifying key passages and taking notes as you go. You will need to generate a thesis—a main idea, an arguable assertion. This thesis, which will develop as you work on the essay, will be supported by well-developed paragraphs full of specific detail from the texts as well as discussion of that detail. Please note: You are not to consult outside sources for this assignment.

Format. Make sure you format your essay according to the MLA style (see p. 5 of syllabus). Be sure to cite the story you analyze on a “Works Cited” page (see https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/05/). In order to save paper, you may present this “page” immediately following the text of your essay. Simply quadruple space after the last line of your essay, center the words “Work Cited” (do not, however, use quotation marks), double space, and type your entry. Please note: Before the final draft is due, I will give you the bibliographic information you need in order to complete the Works Cited page.

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