This assignment is designed to offer you the opportunity of making connections between and among divers works of World Literature; the paper should be driven by your own interests and enthusiasms, so that the guidelines I offer here are just suggestions. What might a comparative study of such works reveal? I am urging you, here, to work with a purpose in mind as you prepare your comparative discussion. Ask yourself, what is the point of making connections between the works? What is revealed through my treatment of these pieces?
Rather than relying upon critics and other readers for your interpretive discussion, base your comparison on your own reading of the works. Simply support your discussion with specific reference to the texts, as well as with effective quotations offered to demonstrate your points. Of course, when you quote and paraphrase from the literature, employ correct MLA style documentation, and include a Works Cited page at the end of your paper. Be sure to introduce each work clearly, and to offer sufficient summary to orient your reader, so that you can concentrate on comparative analysis without risking confusion or obfuscation of your points. When quoting from the literature, take care to establish context first, so that you avoid “drop-in” quotations, which often remain unclear. Furthermore, follow-up your correctly punctuated quotation with some interpretive analysis or commentary, so that it is clear to the reader why you quote the particular passage in support of your discussion.
Pick between these two topics and you may add to them according to your own interests:
1. The Odyssey, and The Aeneid: the underworld; death, rebirth, fertility, and special knowledge. What do the central figures learn?
2. The Odyssey and the Aeneid, regarding women figures who entangle the hero; also, the same page discusses possibilities within comparative study of the “self-affirming journey” experienced in The Aeneid, and The Odyssey.
Follow the rubric featured below, shaping your draft according to the evaluative criteria outlined.
Evaluative Criteria for the Comparison/Contrast Essay:
1} Introduction/Engagement: _____ (10)
The first paragraph should offer adequate orientation to the reader, including the author, title, and date of publication of the literary work to be analyzed; moreover, this paragraph should engage the reader, so that he or she is compelled to continue reading; finally, once brief background or other orientation is adequately established, the first paragraph should end with some suggestion of the paper’s direction, focus, method, and emphasis; these foci are sometimes melded into what we call a thesis. In any case, by the end of the first paragraph, a reader should be made aware of not only what the writer will concentrate on in the analysis, but also how he or she will proceed; again, this direction, and controlling idea may not be explicit; but at the very least it should be implicit.
2} Focus/Thesis: _____ (10)
Since the opening discussion in an essay is critically important, this criterion treats the controlling idea in and of itself; if the paper’s direction is clear, this criterion should be given a high score. If a reader is somewhat unsure about what will be analyzed in the literature, a lower score might be assessed here. Again, a so-called thesis may not always be explicitly stated in one sentence; a reader should be on the look-out for implied theses, too; if one has the sense of both what approach the writer will take toward the literature, as well as how he or she will proceed, then a fairly high score might be assessed for this criterion. Sometimes, judgment may be abrogated until the reader has accounted for the writer’s conclusion, since it is often there that final reflections and reinforcement make the paper’s thesis most clear. If this is the case, then a keen reader will also judge the apparent significance of such a focus, direction, controlling idea, or whatever we want to call the paper’s main point.
3} Interpretive Response: _____ (10)
In these two words lie perhaps the most critical implications of the paper: the writer offers response in that he or she comments on how the particular elements function in the work; that is to say, if analysis comprises identification of parts to the whole, then interpretive response, in the instance of this assignment, entails the examination of how particular parts, such as character, social context, and point of view, work to express the writer’s vision, or theme. The interpretive aspect of the effort holds that each reader brings to bear his or her own experience and perspective; so that an interpretive response involves the writer’s own “reading” of the material, an appreciation of how it works overall, informed by an analysis of specific elements, and how the coalesce to produce the work’s power and beauty.
All this may be well and good; however, another way to conceive of strong interpretive response is to note that it is distinct from mere plot summary; if a writer simply retells the story of the work in his or her own words, this, of course, does not constitute interpretive response. Expect some summary for the purpose of orientation; on the other hand, expect interpretive response to outweigh and surpass summary. For summary is not analysis, though it does allow one to approach analysis.
Finally, interpretive response may occur throughout the essay; on the other hand, it may be most visible at particular points in the essay, where the writer ventures original ideas or refreshing insights.
4} Supporting Discussion: _____ (10)
Supporting discussion may be seen as somewhat synonymous with Interpretive Response. Yet, this criterion weighs a writer’s evidence perhaps more than his or her insights. Supporting Discussion refers to specific references to the literature, references made to back-up any claims the writer makes. This criterion might also gage whether a writer’s logic is sound; however, if any interpretation may be a valid one, then we rely on the writer’s ability to marshal evidence by resorting to particulars in the text, thereby convincing his or her reader of the validity of the interpretive response.
Hence, Supporting Discussion may also be presented in the form of apt quotations effectively integrated into the writer’s discussion. And this is a nice segue to the next criterion.
5} Use of Quotations: _____ (10)
The first point to consider when weighing the force of quotations is to remember that these are words or passages from the text, and not simply quoted dialogue. Some writers and readers seem to be confused about this. In any case, once again, a quotation consists of three or more words borrowed from a source and presented in an essay in order to provide evidence in support of the writer’s discussion of the work. There are myriad reasons for quoting from a text; however, a writer had better make clear why he or she is doing so; otherwise, the reader may become confused or irritated. If a writer resorts to what are called “drop-in” quotations, for instance, a reader is plagued by vertigo
produced by such disorienting gestures. We need to be give clear context before we can digest a quotation adequately.
Some readers feel that quotation should be used sparingly, their argument being that the discussion should be dominated by the writer’s words and ideas; one does not want to encounter a mere pastiche of quotations from the literature, the apparent assumption on the writer’s part being that they speak for themselves and are delightful to read here in the paper. Ample quotations should be provided, though, in order for readers to make the leap from the discussion about the piece to the primary work itself. Quotations provide excellent examples in support of a writer’s interpretive points.
6} Organization of Discussion: _____ (10)
This category is a bit of a catch-all; if an essay contains an engaging introduction, adequate body paragraphs presenting the discussion, and a resonating and reflective conclusion, then we can suffice it to say that the essay is well-organized and the writer deserves a high score for the criterion; however, there may be other factors to weigh. For example, if a writer simply follows the plot of the story through his or her essay, he or she may be encouraged to shift the emphasis by reorganizing the structure. An essay might begin with the end of a piece of literature, or with its climax, if it has one. Organization may be a quality assessed by the reader based upon his or her preferences for such structural matters. If a writer appears to jump around a bit indiscriminately in his or her discussion, then, of course, this criterion would be assessed with a low score.
7} Grammar and Punctuation: _____ (10)
These two elements of an essay may make or break the grade, but only if there are substantial errors or problems in one or both areas. As for punctuation, it can be minor, as in the omission of occasional commas; or, it can be major, as in writing that is so plagued by comma-splices, fused sentences, and fragments that the errors interfere with the sense that the writer is endeavoring to make.
8} Documentation, MLA: _____ (10)
This criterion seems to be overvalued, since correct use of the Modern Language Association documentation style requires just that one skill or knowledge. In fact, there are many documentation styles with which one might acknowledge sources in a paper, including APA, Chicago Style, and no doubt others. Works written in the Humanities in general and in English courses in particular call for the MLA style for the citation of words and ideas of others. To flesh out this criterion, we can include effective integration of quotations and paraphrases into one’s written discussion, for this in itself is an art well worth mastering; one can, after all, use it in any field, since it comprises the very heart of scholarship; or, perhaps original ideas and driving curiosity, along with the scrupulous search for truth, all make up the heart; synthesis of sources, then, along with accurate documentation might make up the bones and blood of scholarship, if our metaphors aren’t getting the better of us.
9} Reflective Conclusion: _____ (10)
Some instructors advise writers to repeat the thesis statement in their conclusion; I advise against such repetitive stylistic strategy. One might do well to reinforce a thesis in the final paragraph, but mere repetition implies that both writer and reader end up where they began, with nothing actually accomplished. On the other hand, the conclusion is an apt place for Reflection, for effective summary of the discussion, and for any resonating insights; these latter remarks make the essay memorable for readers. They also remind us that such analytical essays are well worth the efforts taken both to write and read them. They have what one wants to call significance.
10} Overall Analysis:
Yet another catch-all, this criterion provides a gesture toward holistic evaluation; whereas each criterion above treats a particular aspect of the written effort, number 10 endeavors to assess the essay for the sum of these parts. Does this criterion contradict some of the results found in other criteria above? Perhaps it does; so be it. One attempts to find successful writing wherever it may be. Essay is French for a try, or to try.
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