American Literature I Final Paper

Directions for Essay Three
Directions for Essay Three

Purpose and Instructions

This essay will give you the chance to explore in-depth a writer or topic of interest to you. Your essay should be a minimum of 6 double-spaced pages and must present an argument—some interesting, relevant, debatable, and original claim about the work of the writer or topic you choose. Take care that you don’t produce a report or mere regurgitation of facts found in research. You want to analyze and interpret your material, then present the results of your analysis as a developed and supported argument.

No matter what your focus may be, you’ll need to do a little research. What have other writers said about the same subject and issues? Do you agree or disagree with those sources? Through what critical lenses has your topic been explored? Are there any issues or approaches which you believe have been neglected? What are some recent debates concerning your topic? How does early criticism on the topic differ from very recent criticism?

Author Approach

Your critical essay may be about work by any writer or topic listed below. It’s a good idea to pick your writer and focus early. Also, be aware that a good many classic works are online these days, so you can save yourself time and money if you don’t mind reading on a screen!

Any novel, play, essays or poems by authors in our anthology (here are a few popular ones past students have chosen):

Anne Bradstreet

Jonathan Edwards

Washington Irving

James Fenimore Cooper

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Edgar Allen Poe

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Henry David Thoreau

Walt Whitman

Emily Dickinson

Frederick Douglass

Note: Yes, you may certainly propose your own author, though you’ll need to discuss your choice with me and present an argument as to why the writer is worth examining.

Topic Approach (Keep in mind these areas are not covered in the class)

Rather than focusing on a particular writer, you may wish to tackle a particular topic in American literary studies. SEE BELOW LIST OF IDEAS.

Critical reception of a particular writer over time.

The influence of a particular writer on other writers, old and new. Ways in which a writer has influenced contemporary culture.

Two poems or prose works: comparison and contrast.

American understandings of either personal identity, gender, race, or nation—and representations of that understanding in literature.



Imagine that your essay will appear in a casebook on a particular writer, genre, and/or topic inAmerican literature. Your reader is any undergraduate college student and instructor interested in learning more about your chosen subject. This reader wants new ways of interpreting the subject, but is critical of any argument. That is, this reader is a tough sell and will question your claims, expecting ample supporting evidence of several kinds.

Suggested Format:

Introduction: One paragraph. Peak your reader’s interest and focus your argument. You do not need to include a plot summary; assume your reader is familiar with the text. Introduce the aspect of the historical, literary, or cultural context that your analysis will illuminate.

Thesis: Place your thesis as the last sentence in the first paragraph. The thesis should be purely analytical rather than descriptive. For example, this is a strong thesis: “Jane Doe’s short story ‘Family’ responds to what many conservatives in the 1990’s described as the ‘Crisis of the Family’.”

Interest! Make sure your reader understands what makes this argument worthwhile. What will the reader gain from reading your argument?

Body: Multiple paragraphs. The paper’s support. Start each paragraph with a clear topic sentence that connects the evidence with a portion of the thesis.

Conclusion: Can be brief- one paragraph. Wrap up your argument.

Evaluation Criteria

• Your essay must be a minimum of 5 typed and double-spaced pages with a Works Cited page.

• At least 5 outside sources (other then the primary source or reading selection) are to be incorporated at least once into the essay and formatted on a Works Cited page. You may choose the source types as long as they are credible.

• If a website is used as a source, it must be from a .edu, .gov or .org website. WIKIPEDIA may not be used.

• It should include a helpful and engaging title.

• It must have a clear, debatable central point (thesis), supported and developed with plenty of detail, analysis, and research, as needed.

• Your essay should show awareness of its audience’s expectations and needs.

• Your essay should be focused, unified, and well-organized, with appropriate paragraphing and transitions. It must be written in 3rd person.

• Your essay should show virtually no spelling or grammatical errors, vagueness, or awkward sentence constructions.

• All sources should be documented and the manuscript formatted according to MLA guidelines.

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