Open Topic Essay 2

Your second short essay will be an open topic essay. You can choose one work that we have already read--or that we will read--and explore a topic that you think is interesting and significant. You can formulate your own topic or focus on a topic from our class discussions. You should not, however, just summarize or repeat class discussions.

Because this is a short essay, your topic should be narrow enough so that you can develop your discussion thoroughly. It is possible to compare and contrast two works, but be sure you can address both works in sufficient detail.  Check with me if you have questions.  You cannot write on Wuthering Heights (movie), but you can reference it or make appropriate connections to the work you are writing about.

This is not a research paper. You do not have to use sources. Base your response on your own close reading of your chosen work. You can, however, use a few sources if you would like to. (See me if you have questions about sources you think would enhance your essay.)  Most likely sources will be journal articles and book chapters.  Use the library databases to search for articles (e.g., JSTOR, MLA International Bibliography).  Books can be found in the upper floor shelves.  Some websites may be helpful.  See our course website: Resources menu----British Literature Links ("Victorian Literature")

Once you chose your work and topic, begin by r(re)reading, notetaking, and thinking about the work you are writing about. Formulate a main question your essay will answer. Study your chosen work and line up your evidence. Draft a working thesis and then an outline that gives you a view of the entire essay - structure and content. You might also try freewriting as an invention strategy.  Write out your work and topic.  Then write nonstop for 20-30 mins--everything about the topic that comes to mind without worrying about structure or grammar. Analyze this freewriting for key ideas. Then proceed to your working thesis and outline.  **You will need to turn in your outline with your final essay, either handwritten or typed.  Turn in the actual outline you use throughout the writing process.


Your introduction should be brief for a short essay--most likely one paragraph. Begin your essay by naming the work your are writing about. Frame the issue you are exploring or ask a key question(s) that you will address. You might also briefly contextualize the work you are writing about within the author's other works. Then state your thesis--the main point, conclusion, or claim you are making about your chosen work(s).


(Thesis is in brackets)

Title: Marriage as an Experience in Eliot's Middlemarch

Intro: After reading Middlemarch, one's thoughts focus on the novel's two central marriages. Since both marriages result in unhappiness, it appears as though George Eliot views marriage as a confinement or a source of self-inflicted pain. This interpretation results from taking a narrow view of the novel, not considering its entire scope. [Through its central marriages, Middlemarch reveals the growth or loss which results from marriage. Marriage is not an end, but a beginning, a single fragment of human experience resulting in a fruitful relationship or an unfortunate loss.]


After you have formulated a thesis, find the best evidence you can to support it. Do not organize your essay around "the plot"; organize it around the central idea you are presenting (in your thesis). Select the best examples to illustrate your ideas. You should use a few/some direct quotations--let the poem speak for itself and present readers with emphatic or telling examples that would lose their impact if paraphrased. Be careful if you use block quotations (make use of ellipses?) and do not use too many quotations. Remember, quotations are not a substitute for your own thinking. You must interpret them for readers. Quotations supplement your thinking.  For prose, fiction, and drama, use page numbers; for poetry cite line numbers.  See the MLA Handbook (7th ed.) for the mechanics of quoting. Copies are in the library.  For this essay, you will use in-text or parenthetical citations and a works cited page.

For citing dialogue from the movie, you do not need parenthetical citations if it is clear you are citing from the movie since there are no page numbers.  If you are citing the movie plus other sources in the same paragraph, then use parenthetical citations--for the movie, cite the title to match the works cited page.

In your essay, you might reference other works we have studied this semester to make apposite comparisons.

Even if you are just using the Norton Anthology, you need a works cited page.  Again, consult the MLA Handbook (7th ed.) as needed.

Style/Grammar/Formatting Audience

Assume readers, who are students taking a 200- or 300-level English literature course, have a basic knowledge of the work's plot. What would this audience expect to learn from your essay? What would be their reason for reading it? Keep these questions in mind as your draft and revise.

Feel free to see me if you have any questions. I'll also be glad to look at drafts as you write them.

The essay's due date is on the syllabus.