Literature and CultureEssay


For this essay you need to use one academic/critical article as your secondary source. You can look for a good article in JSTORE or MLA International Bibliography databases.
The essay should be between 1200-1400 words, excluding longer quotations. You will need to have a formal introduction and conclusion, a title, and all the other elements that go to making a good thesis (thesis statement, logically broken paragraphs with topic sentences, proper citation). In addition to at least one article of secondary criticism you find in the MLA bibliography or JSTORE, you are welcome to cite the Norton Anthology historical introductions if they will help support your thesis.
These are potential essay topics. They are made to be examples of what you can write about if you do not have more motivating questions about the texts we have read thus far: (if you have a topic that engages you more directly, talk with me to accept it). You are welcome to tweak these questions towards your own questions.

• Take two different sonnets (either two of those read for the first seminar, or any two sonnets you have been exposed to) and compare and contrast them in theme, imagery and formal differences. Remember that even sonnets have a great deal of variance (Petrarchan, Shakespearean, Spencerean and modern much freer forms). In your conclusion you may consider what the virtues are in the variances between your two sonnets.

• Macbeth is a drama about characters and actions, but it is known to us through its language and imagery. Choose a group of related images in the play, for example, images of clothes or of sickness and stunted growth, animals,light/darkness, or sleep, or blood (there are other repeated motifs that you may have noticed). Interpret these images in connection to a theme. Your thesis should state a theme and show how the images you have selected help to illuminate it. (In your conclusion you may consider how this theme is connected to one or some of the central concerns of the play).

• Poets of the 17th century, such as Donne, assumed that their readers enjoyed the intellectual complexity they wove into their poems: as intricate and artistic ways to discuss real topics. Do a close reading of one of these poems explaining what you see the central argument or theme of the poem is, as well as how the imagery and the form (including meter and rhyme and other sonic elements) supports this theme.

• Discuss the portrayal of Satan in Books 1 and 9 of Paradise Lost. Pay very special attention to the language and the imagery that is associated with Satan in contrast and comparison to other characters in the epic poem. You will need to focus on some specific passages and lines to show how Satan is portrayed, and what the effect of this portrayal is. Can you imagine why it is that Blake said that Milton was unknowingly in Satan’s camp?

• Take one passage from Gulliver’s Travels and suggest how it functions as an effective critique of human nature or the social world of Swift’s day. Remember that satire cannot function if it is only a rant against something. It has to seduce us into a kind of wrong thinking before is springs its trap on us. Consider in Gulliver the levels of ambivalence that are in so many of the portrayals. How can this ambivalence be expected to affect the reader.

• Write a careful reading of “Ode to the West Wind” and how the values Shelley is expressing in the poem are central to Romantic ideas which sustain revolution change and the role of poets to be the “unacknowledged legislators” and “prophets” of their day. Since the poem is long, you may have to focus on specific repeated imagery. How does the imagery and the form of the poem suggest the poet’s despair and hope? Organize this into a specific thesis or claim.

• A final topic might be to take two short passages of texts from different periods and show how they deal with the same theme or idea, but in different manners. Here the Norton introductions might help you set up historical contexts for this contrast.

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