Assignment Two

Character Analysis


Due Dates:                                                             Requirements:

Working Draft—December 2, 2010                              4-6 pages, typed, double-spaced

Final Draft—December 9, 2002                                    MLA Format





To construct a persuasive, engaging argument about a chosen character from one of the prose works that we have studied this semester using references to specific quotations as evidence in support of your claims.





Whereas the first paper required you to focus on a single passage for your argument, this paper will require you to consider the work as a whole in which the character appears.  This means that you will include many quotations to support your argument.  Such quotations might be from the writer's description of a character, things the character does or says, settings, or even dreams.  Focus on a few concrete examples and trace the development of your topic through comparison, opposition, and cause/effect relationships. You have already written a paper about a poem, so please restrict yourself to the prose works on the syllabus when choosing a topic.



Some Possible Thesis Statements


What follows are nine possible thesis statements (or fragments of possible thesis statements).  Choose from one of them or choose an argument of your own.  Just be sure that you can come up with an arguable thesis statement and avoid merely summarizing the work in question.  I have left some blanks in these statements for you to fill in as you adapt the sentence into a thesis statement.  You will likely have to revise the thesis statement even further in order to make it workable.


1.    Charlotte Lewes’ experiences in Marianne Wiggins’ novel John Dollar add up to a persuasive critique of the British Empire.


2.    Menaka is a heroic character in Marianne Wiggins’ novel John Dollar because she is not completely British.


3.    David Lurie, the main character in Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee successfully redeems himself over the course of the novel.


4.    Lucy Lurie’s decision to remain on her farmstead at the end of J. M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace represents a logical response to life in post-apartheid South Africa.


5.    _________ is the most memorable character in Raymond Carver’s short collection What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, because . . .


6.    Over the course of On the Road, the most important lesson that Sal Paradise learns is . . .


7.    Dean Moriarity’s influence on Sal Paradise is generally (positive/negative), because . . .


8.    This character only gets to know himself/herself when . . . (insert a key moment from the story that is the turning point in the character’s development).


9.    _______________’s development as a character reveals that ______________ is the key to the empowerment of women in a world that had previously given men most of the power.



Questions for Development


Do not attempt to answer all of these questions in your paper.  These are just to give you some ideas as you attempt to develop your argument.  If you do answer some of these questions in your paper, make sure you do so in a way that is consistent with your overall argument.


    How does the character regard his or her own actions?  Is this the same as how other characters in the work regard these actions?


    What is this character's community like?  What are its standards governing behavior?  How well is the character integrated into his or her surrounding community?  How is this community different from our current community?


    Does this character have any idiosyncrasies that are worth our attention?


    What is the character's gender and how does this gender restrict or liberate this character?


    What are the defining moments in the life of this character?  Are there any defining moments in this character's life that take place outside of the literary work in question (i.e. before the beginning of the story)?


    Why should an audience of readers in the year 2010 care about what happens to this character?


    What does the author of the work think of this character?  (Often, though not always, authors reward virtue and punish evil in their characters, so the story's outcome tips us off as to their attitudes toward these characters.)


    What distinguishes this character from other characters in the work?  What distinguishes this character from other characters in literature?  Does this character have any doubles or counterparts in the work?




1.    Take another look at the book you will be writing about for this assignment.  Look back over your notes and reread important sections of the book.


2.    Develop a thesis statement that addresses those of the questions above that are the most interesting to you.  Of course, this thesis will be subject to revision once you have written an argument.


3.    Write a draft of your argument in support of your thesis.  Refer directly to specific words and phrases in the chosen work in supporting your argument.  At some point, write an outline of your argument, so that you can make its structure as clear as possible to your readers.


4.    Bring a word-processed, properly formatted draft to class on December 2 for peer editing.


5.    Revise your draft after that class.  Consider the feedback you have received from your classmate as you rework your argument.  Of course, nothing obligates you to follow every suggestion you receive from your classmate.


6.    Having completed your revisions, proofread your paper.  Watch out for typos, incorrect punctuation and other problems.  Do not hesitate to consult a style manual if you have questions.


7.    Turn in the completed final draft and peer-edited working draft on December 9 in class.

More Writing Tips


I have developed these tips from comments I had about Assignment One when I graded it.


1.    Do not simply summarize the book when writing this paper.  A summary is an overview of events that take place in the book.  Since your intended readers have already read this book, they will find a mere summary extremely dissatisfying.  A summary will just tell your reader what he or she already knows about the book.


      This paper is an analysis of the work in question.  This means it interprets the work and argues for a particular meaning.  What happens in the story is usually fairly straightforward and not subject to debate, but why it happens and what it means is not straightforward.  People can argue about the importance of a work, or its meaning, for hours, and your paper should present itself as part of such a debate.  Your thesis statement needs to adopt a stance on this work, and that stance needs to be open to argument.  The above suggested topics should move you toward such a stance, but using them is no guarantee that your paper will get beyond mere summary.


      Some summary in any paper is necessary to provide a clear context for your own observations and remind your reader of the important events in the book.  Keep this summary to a minimum (perhaps, relegate it to your introductory paragraph) and devote most of your paper to an interpretation of the work that challenges your reader with ideas that he or she would not have considered before.



2.    Follow the MLA format for citations.  Include a list of works cited at the end according to MLA format as follows.




Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. New York: Penguin, 1957. Print.


Pinter, Harold. The Homecoming. New York: Grove Atlantic, 1994. Print.



3.    Some grammatical tips:


a.    Remember the pointers that I gave you with Assignment One:


    Avoid passive voice.

    Avoid contractions in academic writing.

    Italicize words that you use out of context.  (What does iniquity mean?)

    Remember the difference between its and it’s.

    Avoid sentence fragments.


b.    More about commas.  When using a conjunction (and, or, but, because, yet, etc.) you must often put a comma before the conjunction.  This decision depends on whether or not there is a second subject-verb pair after the conjunction.  If there is a second subject and verb, then you need to put a comma before the conjunction.  If there is only a second verb, but for the same subject as before, then you should not put a comma before the conjunction.


      NO COMMA:  Erica went to Cloquet and ate a nice meal.


      COMMA:  Erica went to Cloquet, and Fred stayed home.

      COMMA:  Erica went to Cloquet, and she ate a nice meal.


c.    Type a hyphen (-) to produce a dash (--).  In Microsoft Word® a double hyphen will become a dash automatically, if you—trust me on this one—set it to do so in “Autoformat as you type” under the “Autoformat…” menu.  However, it is a good idea to avoid using too many dashes in a paper.  Commas often accomplish the same thing more gracefully.


d.    Transitions.  These are words that serve as signposts pointing out the direction of your argument to your readers.  Some of these transitions are like “One Way” signs leading your reader on to the next point.  Others are like “U Turn” signs indicating a reversal of direction.  There are other more subtle transitions that alter the tone or indicate approval or disapproval of what you are discussing.





One Way Signs (leading from before to after or from cause to effect)

Henry has an extramarital affair with Annie.  Subsequently he divorces Charlotte and moves in with Annie.

Dean can never stay in one place for very long.  Consequently, the women in his life become extremely frustrated with him.

Victor Frankenstein never tells anyone about the existence of his creature.  Therefore, he must confront the creature all by himself.


U-turn Signs (establishing a contrast between ideas)

Whereas Chad King and his gang are beginning to settle into more reserved, adult lifestyles, Sal and Dean strive to remain detached and free to wander from place to place.

Henry is a brilliant playwright.  However, he does not understand the motivations of the people nearest to him in the real world.

Though Victor Frankenstein has promised a bride to the creature he has created, he ultimately lets his fears of creating an unstoppable super race prevent him from fulfilling this promise.


These are just a few examples of the numerous transitions out there that can help you arrange your ideas.  Most style manuals will give you a more exhaustive list of options and fuller explanations of how to use them.  Your best resource, however, is your own experience with written and spoken language.


Keep in mind also that these transitions are often the most important as you move from one subtopic in your paper to the next.  Very frequently, the first sentence in a new paragraph needs to provide the reader a clear transition between ideas in the previous paragraph and ideas in the new one.  Think of that first sentence as a bridge between topics.


e.    Verb tense.  Though it may seem peculiar at first, it is customary to refer to events in a story in the present tense.  In discussions of the literature in class, you will notice that we tend to follow this rule as well.  Keep to the present tense in your papers.


      Sometimes, this is hard to do, especially when discussing the author’s life:  “Tom Stoppard grew up in various parts of the world that suffered the ravages of a world war.”  It makes sense to refer to author’s life in the past tense in this case, but return to the present tense when addressing events in the story:  “His play The Real Thing tells the story of a playwright and actresses he loves.


      Every once in a while, it is necessary to refer to past event in the story that you are discussing in the present tense.  The present perfect tense is perfect for this problem:  “Henry becomes more suspicious of Annie when she tells him she has taken the overnight train back from Glasgow and lied about it.”

Paper Grading Standards


In grading papers for this class, I will use the following criteria:


A  Confident, persuasive written expression

      An original approach to the work in question

      A strong thesis statement that is arguable and interesting

      Exemplary in the clarity and organization of its argument

      Engaging to its audience in a manner that commands attention

      Consistently good use of evidence in support of your contentions and in accordance with MLA format

      Nearly flawless mechanically (format, spelling, grammar)


B  Clear written expression with a few minor breakdowns

      Somewhat original approach to the work in question

      A strong thesis statement that is arguable and interesting

      Well-organized argument that signals its structure to readers by way of effective transitional sentences

      Good use of evidence to support your contentions and in accordance with MLA format

      Only a few mechanical flaws


C  Satisfies the basic demands of the assignment

      Generally clear though with some breakdowns

      Makes a clear argument about the meaning of the passage

      A thesis statement that is arguable and interesting

      A well-organized argument

      Use of evidence in support of your contentions and in accordance with MLA format, though not consistently

      Several mechanical flaws, but not so many that they confuse the meaning of your paper


D Almost satisfies the basic demands of the assignment

      Numerous breakdowns impairing the clarity of your argument

      Thesis statement is either not arguable or is uninteresting

      Argument has minimal organization

      Use of evidence to support contentions is wildly inconsistent and/or not in accordance with the MLA format

      Numerous mechanical flaws interfering with paper clarity


F   Does not satisfy the basic demands of the assignment

      Unclear writing style

      Lacks a thesis statement

      No clear argument—seemingly random arrangement of ideas

      Mechanical flaws throughout the paper

      No use of evidence to support the argument

      Plagiarized work