English 285: American Ethnic Literature
Prof. Cameron Leader-Picone
In this essay, you will closely analyze one of the literary sources that we have read so far in order to argue what the author represents as the meaning and structure of racial identity, race as a concept and racism. This essay builds off of the techniques practiced in our first close reading assignment. Your essay must make a clear and explicit argument, contained in a thesis, about what the text you choose says about the meaning of racial identity. Your argument does not have to be totalizing, by which I mean that it is fine to focus on one aspect or particular meaning of racial identity in the text. There is no need for your argument to seek to encompass all aspects of race. Your thesis should be developed and proven in the body of the essay through the close analysis of the source itself. Close reading is the foundation of analysis, and your argumentation must be based on specific textual evidence. When close reading a text, that evidence comes in the form of quotations from the source. When working with evidence, the first thing to recognize is that evidence does not speak for itself. You are using that evidence in service of a specific argument of your own. In other words, the process of interpretation should be reflected on the page. You should guide your reader through the process of explaining what your quotation is evidence of, and how it fits into the larger thesis you are arguing. When constructing your argument you should focus on how the piece is formally constructed, word choices, image/symbol patterns, and not just what is present also what is not. What is on the page is the product of hundreds of choices which the author has made and it is your job to interpret what such choices tell us as readers. This is not to say that your job is to try and decipher a singular meaning of the author’s. To the contrary, close reading is the process by which you, as a writer, provide and interpret evidence to convince your reader about the meaning for which you are arguing. Close reading is based on the detailed analysis of text. As you look through the source again, the following is a (non-exhaustive) list of textual elements to consider:
Relationship between form and content
In your writing, it is important to move beyond description to conduct analysis. To analyze the text means not just to identify evidence as interesting or important, but to construct an argument based on that evidence about what that evidence means. In this sense, an essay is like a legal case. You are summoning evidence to persuade your reader that your argument is correct. To do this, you have to explain, in detail, exactly what you are saying each piece of evidence means. On the page, this means that a quote must be followed by at least as much analysis as the length of the quote, so that your reader does not just see the evidence but is told what that evidence means, and how it fits into your larger argument.
Note: The purpose of close reading analysis is not to state your agreement or disagreement with the author’s representations. Your argument is about what the text means, not whether you agree with the definition of race proposed by the author.
The following topics are suggestions only. You may choose to write about one of them or one of your own. If you are going to use a topic of your own, make sure that you are making a strong claim about the meaning of race in the context of one of our sources. You should feel free to arrange a time to meet and discuss your ideas and your analysis. My office hours are Wednesday 10:30 to 1 pm in my office (Eisenhower 004). If you cannot meet during those hours, we can arrange a time by email.
1. What is the meaning and