Critical Method: New Criticism on Narrative Theory

Paper 3: Apply a Critical Method to Your Interpretation of a Text

Draft Due: Draft Introduction, Thesis, and Outline Bring three (3) copies to class.

We have learned about many critical methods this term: the close reading of New Criticism, the structural emphasis of Narrative Theory, the empirical investments of the Digital Humanities, the networks of Network Analysis, and the idea that texts try to construct literary worlds. Each of these is a method or tool one might use in the interpretation of a text. Now, at the end of the term, it’s your turn to use one of these interpretive methods to offer your own interpretation of a text.

What is My Goal?
Your goal for this final research paper is to choose one of the methods we have learned this term and apply it as an interpretive method to either a reading of Bleak House OR Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Which books or texts am I allowed to use for this paper?
Bleak House OR Tess of the d’Urbervilles, but not both.

May I cite outside evidence from the critics?
Yes. In choosing one of the critical methods, you may quote textual evidence from one or more of the critical texts we read in that Module of the course to support and frame your argument. You may also do research on your text for scholarly articles or book chapters relevant to the method you are using and interpretation you are offering. Provide correct in-text and works cited bibliographical information for all quoted textual evidence, critical or literary. Outside research is, however, not required. Outside research is choice.

Do I need a thesis?
Yes. As with all papers in this course, this paper must have a complete thesis (make a debatable claim, offer a What? How? and Why?).

Can you give me the assignment goals in bullet points?

  • Formulate new interventions into critical conversations.
  • Identify a problem that is worth addressing.
  • Formulate a claim that makes a strong argument and is not obvious.
  • Establish a motive for the essay. Here you will answer the “So what?” question, suggesting why your essay is important and interesting to an intelligent reader.
  • Why might your observations about this tension, contradiction, or problem be valuable for thinking about the text itself and/or the world beyond the text? What models (social, political, aesthetic, etc.) might it offer?
  • Structure the essay around your central claim, making sure that each paragraph is adding an essential piece to your argument.
  • Use textual evidence persuasively, quoting from the text when necessary, summarizing accurately and responsibly when appropriate.

What format should the paper be in?
The paper should be 8-10 pages long double spaced. That is approximately 20-30 paragraphs. Outlining for this paper will not only be required for the peer review workshop, but outlining will also help you to organize and structure your claims in this longer paper.

As you did with each of your prior papers, you will have to think about the scope (size) of the evidence you choose and claims you make. Be sure you can give an effective reading of the text in this number of pages.

What citation method should I use?
Please use the standard MLA format: 12-point font, 1-inch margins, double-spaced, with pages numbered and the title of the paper (centered), your name, date, course number, and my name (all upper left) on the first page.

How do I get started?

  1. Develop Your Own Prompt: Select a passage or series of brief passages from Bleak House OR Tess of the d’Urbervilles that contains textual echoes. Identify a key word for these textual echoes. What is the tension, contradiction, or problem you wish to explore?
  2. Choose a Critical Method: Now, which method that we’ve learned this term strikes you as the most useful way to demonstrate your interpretation? Why does that method seem best for the argument you want to make? What evidence from the scholar or critics you’ve read would be useful to bring in as support? Where do you agree or disagree with their method or their claims about their method? How might you build on or push away from the critic’s thinking about the way that kind of interpretation works with the text you’ve chosen?

Will I be able to get an extension on this assignment or revise it for a higher grade?
Unfortunately, no. Because this is the final assignment in this course, I have to submit final grades for the term one week after it is due. Since I have 70+ other students in three other classes, there’s simply no time to allow for extensions. If an emergency arises, contact me immediately so we can discuss an Incomplete for the course.

Where can I find models of how this is supposed to look?
If you want to look at some longer model essay assignments from prior students, visit Files >>> Model Assignments on Canvas.

  Top Range Bottom Range
A 100 93
A- 92 90
B+ 89 87
B 86 83
B- 82 80
C 79 71
D 70 51
F 50 0

Dear XXX,


My best,


Scoring Breakdown An A paper…
X/35 Thesis/
Successfully argues a clear and compelling thesis that illuminates a problem, tension, or contradiction, providing a valuable insight into the text. Focuses on a key word and has endeavored to control scope of project by narrowing focus for length of paper.
X/15 Originality Makes us think about the text and the ideas explored in the text in a new way. It advanced an argument, illuminates a problem, and offers new insights into the text.
X/10 Evidence Offers textual evidence that supports the thesis statement. Uses a pattern, set of textual echoes, or series of evidence to support claims rather than one observation.
X/15 Significance Interprets evidence to support the argument toward a clear analytical payoff. The argument has an evident “so what?” or “why?”
X/15 Organization Progresses through the argument logically, advancing the claim at each stage. Ideas develop throughout the paper. There are logical transitions between paragraphs. Author integrates multiple sub-claims into a coherent, overarching argument.
X/10 Style Clearly conveys the argument and meets expectations for technical writing skills and formatting protocols. It is carefully edited, free of grammatical errors and typos.
X/100 TOTAL  

Grade: XX

*For a detailed explanation of an A, B, C, D paper, see below.
Grading Rubric
An “A” essay is excellent and makes us think about the text and the ideas explored in the text in a new way. The essay has a clear and compelling thesis that is supported with careful, rewarding analysis of the text.

It makes an original, illuminating, and coherent argument that has a clear analytical payoff: it enables us to see new, interesting, and important things about the text (through careful readings and comparisons of scenes, moments, details, or formal elements) and also about a theme, idea, or concern (or connection between ideas) explored by the text.

The essay gives us new insight into what the author is saying or showing about this idea, issue, topic, or question; ideally, the essay helps us think about this idea, issue, topic, or question in a new way. The argument of an “A” essay progresses logically, coherently, and productively.

Each paragraph develops a discrete analytical claim and conveys this claim in its topic (usually its opening) sentence; the claim developed in each paragraph clearly and strategically advances (i.e., builds upon, refines, qualifies) the claim developed in the previous paragraph. Each paragraph represents a clear, useful step that propels the argument to its conclusion.

A “B” essay is good and makes a clear argument. A “B” paper will have a clear thesis supported with adequate textual analysis. Its organization will be coherent, with each paragraph serving as a clear and useful step in the development of the overall argument.

The textual analysis will adequately serve the essay’s thesis but may not be original or penetrating enough to substantially advance our understanding of the text or the ideas explored by the text. Likewise, the treatment of the author’s intentions, while clear, may present insights that are already clear to many readers.

A “C” essay will have a recognizable attempt at a thesis statement and show some effort to support it with observations about the text. The essay may have lapses in clarity, logic, or coherence. Its analytical payoff may be anemic or opaque.

Its textual analysis and its larger claims about the author’s intentions may seem obvious and may not diverge significantly from points made in lecture or discussion. The logic organizing the argument may be unclear or unproductive.
A “D” essay meets the minimum page length requirement but has no clear analytical payoff. This might be because it contains mostly plot summary instead of analysis; or its major claims are not readily discernible (perhaps because its prose is confusing or tangled); or it fails to develop a coherent or comprehensible thesis; or its logical organization fails to cohere or advance.

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