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Essay 2

The second essay involves a comparison of two works from the syllabus, one of which must be selected from the Term 2 syllabus. Your analysis will be based on both shared elements and points of contrast between the texts, and as with the first essay, requires a strong thesis. A successful analysis will begin by locating what aligns the two works and also identifying where they differ, but the strength of its case will rest on the grounds of your chosen comparison. How might we compare Ibsen’s A Doll’s House with Brecht’s Mother Courage? What connections can be said to link Rimbaud’s “A Drunken Boat” with Apollinaire’s “Zone,” or with Césaire’s Notebook of a Return to the Native Land? Can we legitimately read Lu Xun’s “Diary of a Madman” alongside Conrad’s Heart of Darkness? A weak comparison might restrict itself to pointing out the obvious in terms of character or theme; a stronger one will explore the stakes of each work as a response to shared problems of subject matter, form, genre or address – as varying responses, that is, to aspects or contradictions of modernity as a common condition.

In this essay, you’ll be developing your argument with reference to secondary sources on the two works you’ve chosen to compare. Don’t worry about covering each source from your annotated bibliography within the essay itself; focus on selecting a particular point or argument from your research to ‘enter into the critical conversation’ on these works. Build your argument by extending, critiquing or otherwise developing what critics have said about either (or both) of the works. Some advice to first-year students from Gerald Graff, English professor and past president of the Modern Language Association, may be useful here:

“1. Recognize that knowing a lot of stuff won’t do you much good unless you can do something with what you know by turning it into an argument.

“2. Pay close attention to what others are saying and writing and then summarize their arguments and assumptions in a recognizable way. Work especially on summarizing the views that go most against your own.

“3. As you summarize, look not only for the thesis of an argument, but for who or what provoked it — the points of controversy.

“4. Use these summaries to motivate what you say and to indicate why it needs saying. Don’t be afraid to give your own opinion, especially if you can back it up with reasons and evidence, but don’t disagree with anything without carefully summarizing it first.

“It’s too often a secret that only a minority of high achievers figure out, but the better you get at entering the conversation by summarizing it and putting in your own oar, the more you’ll get out of your [university] education.”

Graff is the co-author of They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing (Norton), a helpful guide on matters of structure and argument.