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Essay Guidelines

Assignment. No matter what topic you choose, I’m looking for an essay that (a) argues an interpretive thesis, (b) marshals and analyses textual evidence to support that thesis, and (c) does so in a logical and persuasive way with prose that is largely free of errors in usage. When I say “interpretive thesis,” I mean a thesis that doesn’t just make an (interesting) observation about the text, but that also interprets that observation and argues for its importance in understanding or rethinking the text as a whole.


Topic. The topic is up to you, but some potential questions/topics you might want to consider include:


  • Develop a theory of the road novel. What does the road novel do? How does it negotiate space, history, and identity? What are its generic attributes? Does the road novel have an implicit politics and if so, what is it?
  • Develop a comparative argument. How does the road novel deal with different stages in the rise and fall of US hegemony? Do road novels from the core look different from road novels in the semi-periphery and if so, how?
  • Develop an argument about the relationship between the road novel and the ideology of development. Is the road novel always developmental? Can there be a counter-development road novel?
  • Develop an essay that theorizes the relationship between the road novel and crisis?
  • Develop an argument about the political or liberatory potential of the road novel. How have certain authors attempted to take up the tropes of the road novel and repurpose them for different political projects?


Sources. You can use as many or as few sources as you like. That said, I strongly recommend at least looking at the secondary criticism about your chosen text. I would also recommend that you do some concerted research into broader field your discussing. As well, remember that the syllabus has numerous secondary readings for each week under “Suggested Reading.” These suggested readings are your friend, though of course you should in no way feel limited by them. The goal of this assignment is for you to follow your interests and explore so cast your net widely.


Title. There is a difference between the title of your essay and the question your essay is answering or the argument your essay is making. You are a real literary critic now and I want you to use proper essay titles (i.e. think of the titles of every article you read), which is neither your thesis statement nor research question, but a witty amalgam of the two.

Grading. I will never grade on the basis of whether or not I agree with what you’re arguing. I grade on how convincingly and logically you argue and how ambitious, creative, and original your argument is. Remember, too, that this is an English course. Therefore, the clarity, grammatical correctness, and sophistication of your prose matter


Comparative Essays. You are very welcome to write a comparative essay for this module, but remember that they are tricky. Pointing to two things and saying what they are and how they are similar or different does not make an interpretive argument. If you are going to do a comparative essay, make sure you are not just describing the two texts and how they’re different, but thinking about an underlying problem that both texts are attempting to resolve or considering how a reading of the two texts allows us to understand something we otherwise wouldn't (about the road novel, about both texts, etc..).


Advice It Would Be Smart to Heed. A strong essay should always:

  • take risks, be bold, and be engaged
  • boast a thesis statement that poses an argument rather than an observation;
  • include topic sentences indicating the argument of their respective paragraphs rather than summarizing plot;
  • boast paragraphs built around a unified concept/argument that in turn clearly relates to the thesis;
  • boast paragraphs that develop that concept in an organized way;
  • show how textual evidence supports its claims (i.e., showing is different than telling; overuse of adjectives and adverbs is usually a sign a paper is telling rather than showing);
  • follow all directions, including using proper MLA style.


Parting advice: Think about what you’re writing. Don’t write on autopilot.