Machine Dreams -- PAPER 1


Length: Approximately five typed pages

The word "analysis" comes from a Greek word that means "untying." When you analyze a story or novel or poem, you "untie" its meaning in an essay by interpreting a portion of it. You can analyze a character, a single incident, symbols, narrative point of view, allusions, structure, and so on. No writer should try to take into account everything that goes on in a story; the paper would be longer than the story itself. So your paper should focus on one or two elements that you think contribute to the overall meaning or purpose of the story. A good analysis concentrates on details: you should quote portions of the story to show how the text supports your thesis. Then you should offer comments that show how the portion you're interpreting contributes to the story as a whole. You will need to write your first essay on Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein.

Suggested Approach:

(1) Read back over the novel, until you think you have an idea of the overall theme or thesis or meaning. Jot down notes as you read.

(2) Choose an element of the story (incident, character, style, symbol, structure) that seems to you to enhance or define the meaning as you understand it.

(3) Construct a THESIS that indicates (a) your focus, and (b) the relation of that focus to the story as a whole. A thesis represents your conclusion or opinion about the story. Thus your thesis is argumentative; it should not be an obvious point, but should be a thoughtful statement that indicates some of the complexity and depth of the story, a statement that needs support and proof. Don't settle for the first generalization that comes to your mind; that approach almost always leads to trite responses and poor grades. I'm always on the lookout for the "So what?" factor in paper topics. Ask yourself: "Could my thesis or opinion cause a reader to respond, 'Yes, that's true, but so what?' Or will my thesis illuminate for the reader some point that he/she might not have noticed at first reading?" Some examples:

A Non-Argumentative (and Therefore Bad) Thesis: "The characters in Frankenstein are mostly Swiss." This thesis is not an opinion; it's a fact. Facts can't be argued, so the paper is finished before it's been started. The reader will ask, "so what?"

A Too-Vague (and Therefore Meaningless) Thesis: "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is about science." This statement is a little more argumentative than the one above (a novel could give many different perspectives on science), but it's still primarily factual, and it gives no indication of the author's focus or opinion.

A Better Thesis: "In her novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley examines the dangers of the search for knowledge cut off from general human society. Shelley demonstrates Dr. Frankenstein's isolation from other humans in a number of ways in order to demonstrate the importance of ethical discussions and consensus in making scientific decisions." Another Good Thesis: "In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley uses contrasting images of nature as symbolic backdrops to her tale of scientific experimentation gone wrong in order to make the reader think about the boundaries of scientific discovery."

(4) EVIDENCE: Find quotations and examples in the story that support your thesis, and organize the rest of you paper around this evidence. In a paper based on the "Better Thesis" above, the reader will expect evidence that shows how Frankenstein's isolation allows him to evade issues of moral responsibility. Reading the last thesis above, the reader will expect

(a) that the paper will examine nature imagery as it relates to the main themes of the novel, (b) that the writer will offer quotations from the text that incorporate this nature imagery, and (c) that the paper will conclude by showing how this imagery or symbolism contributes to the meaning of the story as a whole.

(5) CONCLUSION: Your paper should conclude by summing up your argument so that

(a) the reader sees that the evidence you've given does in fact support your thesis, and (b) you offer some indication of how your focus/thesis fits into the whole of the story.

Schedule: You should begin your prewriting immediately--look back over Frankenstein, brainstorm and make lists of ideas for papers, begin a tentative outline, etc. We will meet during the week of September 26 - 30 to discuss topics and drafts.

Other Important Advice--

1. Follow your direct quotations with the appropriate page number from your textbook in parentheses.

2. When you write about literature, always write in the present tense:

"Robert Walton finds Dr. Frankenstein in the arctic wastes of the North Pole," not "Robert Walton found Dr. Frankenstein . . ."

3. MAKE SURE YOUR PAPER IS NOT MERELY A SUMMARY OF THE PLOT OF THE STORY. I already know what happens in the book. You may offer a very brief plot summary (one short paragraph maximum) early in your paper in order to provide context, but the majority of your paper must be analytical.

4. Include a title for your paper. "Analysis of Frankenstein" is not enough. Give some indication of your topic (for example, "Isolation in Frankenstein"). Center this title on your first page a few spaces below your name, the course title and number, and the date of composition.

5. A decent paper takes some time. Don't wait until the last minute and then rush to complete the assignment. That way lies madness and bad grades.

You may e-mail your essay to me as an attachment, you may drop the completed file into the "Drop Box" area of my public space, or you may print it out and bring it to class.