Final Paper Assignment

Teaching Associate: Patrick Mooney
Department of English, UC Santa Barbara
English 10, Summer 2015 (session A)


You have two options for this paper. Select one or the other and write a paper of six to eight pages that satisfies the requirements for the option you have chosen. Your final paper for English 10 is due at the beginning of class on Thursday, 30 July. You cannot begin your final exam until you turn this paper in; failure to turn in this paper guarantees that you will receive a non-passing grade for the course. Because of the tight grading window that the Office of the Registrar gives instructors during the summer, I will not grant extensions beyond the due date on this assignment except in very unusual circumstances.

Both of these paper options will require advance thought and planning to do well. Both options will be difficult to do at the last minute. You should ensure that you schedule and plan adequately so that you have sufficient opportunities to consider your ideas in advance. Turning in a successful, polished assignment will depend in part upon having engaged in planning and/or research before you start to write.

Remember that, as with the shorter papers you've written this term, minimum and maximum paper length requirements are bright lines that you either do or do not fall within—coming close is not good enough. Writing too much or too little—even if you're over or under by only a few words—will seriously hurt your grade on this assignment.

This paper is worth 20% of your total grade for the term.

Your paper may, if you so choose, grow out of one of the shorter close reading papers you have done this quarter, and this is arguably a smart move on your part—you will have already received some feedback from me on your ideas and their earlier expression. However, it is not required that you do this.

Your paper should properly attribute words and ideas belonging to others, be double-spaced, have one-inch margins, and in all other ways conform to the MLA standard for academic papers in the humanities. If your word processor does not conform to the MLA standard by default, it is your job to override your word processor's defaults in order to produce a correctly formatted paper. The degree to which you conform to the conventions of formal academic writing will also be a strong factor in your grade. Your paper will be graded according to the criteria specified in my grading rubric for analytical papers, which is available at or from the course website. Any instance of plagiarism will result in removal from the course and referral to the university's Office of Judicial Affairs.

Basic Expectations

You need to conceptualize and write a paper of six to eight pages that explores and resolves a specific question that is in some way related to one (or more) of the (required and/or optional) texts on the course syllabus. (If you want to engage with other primary texts instead of or in addition to the course texts, you should consult with me before doing so. One of the expectations that I will have before granting you permission to do so will be that you have a fantastic idea. However, if you merely have a very good idea, you should talk to me; I may be able to help you turn it into a fantastic idea.) Your paper should explore its area of concern (in part) by engaging in an attentive reading of thoughtfully selected passages in the text(s) with which you are working.

Your paper should argue for (or, possibly, against, though this is harder to do well in many circumstances) a specific claim by presenting, interpreting, and analyzing evidence in a way that is connected to your central claim. In a nutshell, there are three basic requirements for the kind of argument that you should construct in your paper:

If you choose the research paper option, there are additional requirements that apply to it; see the description of this option, below, for more information.

Regardless of which option you choose, you should treat your final paper as an opportunity to demonstrate what you have learned this quarter: by providing an informed reading of a particular text (or texts) from the syllabus; by showing that you have developed your reading, analytical, and expository skills; and by showing that you have been paying attention to our conversations about ethics and honesty this quarter. In particular, you should avoid misleading redirection of focus or misrepresentation of motives (pace Frankfurt), dismissive assumptions about the value of an argument based on irrelevancies such as gender (pace Solnit), failure to treat the texts you are dealing with as if they were written by people who also deserve to be treated as your moral equals (pace James), and the performance of the form of intellectual values without actualizing their substance (pace Scocca). Instead, your basic interpretive model should be the honest, open search for the truth about the topic about which you are writing.

You should also keep in mind the disciplinary expectations we discussed throughout the quarter (especially in lecture 3) about what does and does not belong in college-level papers that perform analyses of literature.

Option One: Research Paper

Students who plan to complete, or are considering completing, a major or minor in the Department of English or another department that emphasizes textual studies are strongly encouraged to take this option: it provides practice engaging with research-based resources and in understanding and evaluating existing scholarly conversations about literary texts. If you choose this version of the assignment, you are strongly encouraged to complete an annotated bibliography as your third short writing assignment instead of a third close reading, though this is not mandatory.

If you choose this option, your paper must be research-based; it needs engage to substantially with at least three scholarly sources in addition to the primary text or texts which you are considering. You may also use additional sources—scholarly or otherwise—beyond your primary texts and the minimum of three scholarly sources, if this is productive and helps to advance your argument. There are many good ways that you can engage substantially with the scholarly research on a text; if you need suggestions, you should consult with me about productive ways to do so. There is also a collection of links to scholarly research sites on the course web page.

The overall goal of this version of the assignment is to have you participate in an existing scholarly discussion about a specific text. This has a number of implications:

In short: be a real participant in the conversation, not just an outsider who snipes at or cheerleads for the real participants. If you find that you can't do this, you should choose option two, instead.

Option Two: Extended Hermeneutic Analysis

If you choose this option, your paper may not cite any texts other than the primary literary text(s) you are analyzing—none. (No dictionaries. No historical works. No encyclopedias. No scholarly articles. No books by experts in the field. No annotations or footnotes by editors producing scholarly editions. You only get to engage with the text as the author him- or herself produced it for publication.) Nevertheless, this requirement does not mean that you are free to take other people's language and ideas without attribution; you are still held to the same high standards for scholarly attribution as you have been in other circumstances. Taking someone else's ideas and not citing them is still a serious academic crime and will still result in failing the course and being reported to the Office of Judicial Affairs. This requirement does not expand your freedom by relaxing attributive requirements: I am not giving you permission to steal other people's ideas or language. Rather, this requirement is a restriction: you have to do all of your own interpretive work if you choose this option. If you discover that you cannot do all of your own interpretive work, then you should choose option one, instead.

Your task for this paper, if you choose this option, is to make an argument about how a text constructs meaning in some substantial sense: you should make a claim about how some substantial aspect of the text, as a whole, functions and should be interpreted. This does not mean that you must present a Grand Unified Theory of a Certain Text that Explains All Details; indeed, this would be a massive and unreasonable task to assign you. (It would also tend to push many of you toward writing an encyclopedic overview that's uncomfortably close to the high school five-paragraph essay, which I've been encouraging you to avoid.) You should, instead, pick a substantial concern that runs through one of the course texts and explicate that thread of your chosen text, and you should do so through a very close and attentive reading of the text itself. We will spend some time talking in class about how to select a topic of appropriate scope. You may also take my own verbal explications of particular aspects of course texts, and the selections of topics for in-class discussion, as indications of how to pick a topic of appropriate scope.

All of this is to say: you should construct an argument about the text that you analyze that is in some ways similar to the shorter close reading papers you have written this quarter: you need, for instance, to show that you are able to construct a logically sound argument about how a text constructs meaning based on close attention to the low-level details of the text(s) you are analyzing. However, it is also different in some ways: you need to look at the whole of your chosen text, not just a short chunk of it, and need to construct an argument about the text at this higher, more abstract level than you will have done so far this quarter.

Getting Started

Previous short assignments have asked you to make nuanced arguments about short passages of text. In this essay, you will perform an analysis of your chosen text as a whole, which requires you to make a unifying argument about the text. You will need to begin by choosing a topic within the text(s) you are analyzing: for example, I might choose to talk about the images of domesticity in Seamus Heaney's sonnet sequence Clearances as my topic. Once you have your topic, you will likely need to reread the text, making note of any quotations that you think might influence your reading of the text. It is important to work with the language of the text itself, rather than trying to impose your own reading onto the text—your essay should illuminate something about the text that someone else may not see, and provide textual evidence to support your argument, rather than attempting to read something into the text. You will develop your argument over the course of rereading, taking notes, brainstorming, and analyzing the evidence you have gathered.

There will likely be a wealth of evidence to support your thesis statement, but you will need to choose which pieces of evidence best support your argument, and analyze those. Remember that quotations from the text cannot stand alone—they must be interpreted and analyzed for your reader in a way that explains how they support your overall reading of the text. You will need to use the close reading skills we have been developing over this course to analyze your textual evidence. Begin by using the Oxford English Dictionary to look up any words that you don’t know or that seem to have a different connotation than you are familiar with. A close reading looks not only at what the passage says, but how the passage says it—or, how the form conveys meaning. Interrogate the text as you read. Ask yourself: What does this mean? Why is it there? How is it attempting to influence or manipulate my understanding of what is going on here? Before writing, ask yourself some of the following questions, as appropriate to your chosen text and topic:

Working closely with the language, form, imagery, narration, and style will allow the text to speak for itself, will allow you to notice how the text is operating, and will prevent you from imposing your own expectations onto it. You do want to have an argument about the text and develop theories about what certain things mean, but those theories should be based on and inspired by the inner workings of the text itself.

After analyzing the text, you will be able to develop an argumentative thesis statement based on the evidence you have amassed during your close reading; this evidence will provide the textual evidence required to support your thesis in the body of your essay. After having written your analysis, review your argumentative thesis statement to make sure that (a) your paper argues what you originally planned to argue, and (b) your thesis predicts the specific argument that you have developed as you’ve written. Arguments can change over the course of your thinking, and your job is to go back, revise, and make your thesis consistent with those developments.

In Summary...

Recall the quote from Longfellow that Frankfurt says Wittgenstein took as a motto:

In the elder days of art
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part,
For the Gods are everywhere. (qtd. in On Bullshit 19–20)

Your paper should be a well-executed, tightly crafted argument that reveals something meaningful about the text(s) with which you are working, and that you have taken substantial care in crafting and executing. You should go out of your way to read carefully, analyze deeply and honestly, and write engagingly.

This is asking a lot in some ways, though it is not asking more than is appropriate to ask in a freshman literature course; in one way or another, everything that we have done and will do this quarter builds up to this assignment. You will have to put a substantial amount of thought and work into this. However, if you run into trouble and get stuck—if you don't know how to get started or to proceed—if you are having trouble picking a topic—if you aren't sure how to execute your ideas—then please come talk to me. My job is not just to set you tasks, but also to support you as you execute them. I genuinely do want each and every one of you to be successful, and will give you all the support that I reasonably can as you grapple with the textual, ideological, and hermeneutic ambiguities that this assignment entails.

I take my pedagogical responsibilities seriously, and want to help each and every one of you to be successful in all course-related tasks. You are welcome to discuss your ideas for your paper at any stage in conceptualizing or writing it; to ask for assistance in evaluating your own rhetorical, analytical, or expository strategies; or to think through difficulties that you encounter during my office hours. If my office hours are at impossible times for you, let me know and we will arrange another time to meet.