ENGL2570: Survey of American Literature 1
Instructor: John C. Havard
Medium-Length Essay Assignment
Assignment: Write an essay in response to one of the following questions. If you wish to devise your own topic, you may do so as long as your topic 1) analyzes at least one of the assigned readings
and 2) relates the analysis to something in your personal life or modern-day America more generally. These two elements are reflected in all the suggested topics, and you will need to address them
both to get a good grade. You may want to consult with me if you decide to develop your own topic.
1. In “Model of Christian Charity,” John Winthrop refers to the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a “city upon a hill.” Explain the meaning of this simile, and discuss its legacy in American culture,
particularly its influence on at least one later text/speech. Discuss the relationship between Winthrop’s statement and American exceptionalism. Consider whether it’s positive, negative, or some
combination of the two that many Americans think of the nation as a city upon a hill. Be sure to provide a reasoned argument and evidence for your position and to take the opposing point of view
2. Choose one of the poets we’ve read: Anne Bradstreet, Edward Taylor, Phillis Wheatley, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, or Emily Dickinson. Highlight a theme the poet explores that is relevant to
something you have experienced in your own life. Describe your life experience, how the poem explores such experiences, and what you learned from the poem. In discussing these issues, be sure to
examine the poet’s style, how s/he uses figurative language to explore the topic, etc.
3. We have met a variety of types of individuals from a variety of walks of life while reading the material in this course. These include but are not limited to Native Americans, colonial
explorers, Puritans, Founding Fathers, slaves, slaveholders, lawyers, and scriveners. Choose one of these types of people or any other that drew your interest while reading. Expand on what you
learned about this walk of life by doing a little library research on the topic. Explain how the literary works that address them reflect on what life was like for this group. Back this element of
your paper up with detailed analysis of the work. Then, reflect on what learning about this group helps us understand about our own society.
4. Compare and contrast Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Frederick Douglass’s Narrative as works of abolitionist literature. Which is the more powerful critique of slavery, and why? Be
sure to take the opposing point of view into account. What could politicians or social leaders today learn from the methods used by the author you chose?
Format: Your paper should be five to six double-spaced pages (not including the works cited section), written in twelve-point Times New Roman or similar font, double-spaced, have one inch margins,
and use MLA style for documentation, headings, and page numbering.
What I’m looking for you to do in this assignment, in order of importance:
• Write a substantive essay. Don’t just summarize. Be a critical reader; ask questions, analyze, interpret, judge. With what you learned in class as a basis, build a thoughtful argument that helps
your reader understand something meaningful that is not obvious.
• Respond to the prompt with a focused argument. This is a five to six page paper about works of literature that you could write books about if you had time. Instead of saying a little about
everything but nothing substantive about anything regarding your topic, focus on the prompt and choose some related passages from the literature that you can discuss in depth to make your point.
Avoid digressions and don’t be too broad.
• Support your argument thoroughly. Much of your evidence will come from specific passages from the literature. Depending on your topic, you may also use biographical information about an author,
historical context, etc. However, I repeat, you should devote most of your paper to analyzing the literature, rather than focusing on background issues such as biography. When analyzing evidence,
state not only what you believe the evidence means, but why. The SIEL method will help you explain yourself thoroughly. I am looking for the ability to not only list important facts about works but
also to explain how the works exhibit the characteristics you ascribe to them. Using the skills you developed while working through the response topics should help you achieve this goal.
• Your essay should be well written. Use the skills that you have learned in your composition classes. The paper should follow a clear paragraph structure; use effective paragraph transitions; use
precise, unambiguous language; be written in standard, grammatical academic English; etc. Think of it this way: Just as you wouldn’t wear blue jeans and a t-shirt to an important interview, you
shouldn’t turn in a formal paper that’s written in informal, unpolished language. Keep in mind that writing is a process and that you will need to devote sufficient time to this essay to produce
work of quality. Start early, get feedback, and revise. No one is capable of producing their best work the night before the due date.
• Don’t forget to include a title. A title tells your reader key facts about your essay, such as what texts you’re writing about, what your specific topic is, etc. It should also be interesting.
Lastly, do not plagiarize. If you use outside sources, make sure you cite and quote them as necessary. See the syllabus and the Student Handbook for further information.
This assignment counts for 25% of your final grade. If you are having trouble, please contact me and/or the Learning Center. Papers should be submitted using the Blackboard assignment link by the
due date listed in the syllabus. Papers that are submitted late without valid excuse will be penalized ten points per day that they are late.
Medium-Length Essay Grading Rubric
I will use a rubric to grade your essays. The rubric contains five categories. I will assign a score of 0-5 for your performance in each category. 4.5-5 corresponds to an A-level performance, 4-4.4
to a B, 3.5-3.9 to a C, 3-3.4 to a D, and 2.9 and below to an F. I will then add your scores in each category and multiply the sum by four to reach a score on a 100-point scale. When I return your
papers, I will provide a table showing how you did in each category, including a brief explanation of areas to work on to improve your future performance.
The categories are as follows, along with brief descriptions of criteria for each score.
1. Does the essay develop an interesting argument (i.e., one that shows critical thinking, analysis, interpretation, and/or judgment rather than just summary) in a focused, organized manner?
Essays earning an A in this category will develop an insightful argument that analyzes select works of literature in a thesis-driven, organized, focused manner. Essays earning a B may develop a
somewhat interesting thesis, but there may be some minor digressions. Essays earning a C may discuss generally relevant points but may lack a clearly focused and/or interesting argument. Essays
earning a D will have a very unclear focus and/or may be comprised almost completely of summary or background information. Essays earning an F will have a completely unclear argument.
2. Does the essay demonstrate understanding of the material in question, in particular via close analysis of the reading selections being analyzed?
Essays earning an A will demonstrate thorough understanding of the material under discussion. Essays earning a B will be largely well-informed, but they may contain somewhat meaningful inaccuracies
and/or reveal a somewhat meaningful lack of awareness of important points. Essays earning a C may show some understanding of the material, but points may contain significant inaccuracies and/or
show concerning lack of awareness of relevant points. Essays earning a D may convey some awareness of key ideas but with numerous inaccuracies. Essays earning an F show little to no awareness of
3. Via usage of the SIEL method, does the student back up points regarding individual literary works with concrete examples drawn from the reading selections?
Essays earning an A will provide abundant quotes from relevant portions of the assigned readings in order to back up points and explain them in a deep, authoritative, and convincing manner. Essays
earning a B use quotes to back up points, but quotation may be used somewhat insufficiently or quotes may be somewhat less relevant to the point being made. Essays earning a C may display more
clearly insufficient or irrelevant usage of quotation to back up points. Essays earning a D provide little to no examples from the readings to back up points, or the examples provided are obviously
irrelevant. Essays earning an F provide no relevant examples from the readings.
4. Via usage of the SIEL method, does the student clearly explain how each example s/he references backs up the points s/he is making?
Essays earning an A will thoroughly explain how the quotes referenced to back up points do, in fact, back up the point in the way the author states. Essays earning a B will explain how the quotes
back up the points but may do so in a somewhat insufficient manner. Essays earning a C show an attempt to explain how quotes back up the points being made, but explanations may be vague or unclear.
Essays earning a D may show some attempt at explanation but in a very unclear manner. Essays earning an F show very little to no attempt at explanation.
5. Is the essay clearly written, thoroughly proofread, and professionally formatted?
Essays earning an A are clearly written and thoroughly proofread, with almost no unclearly written passages, grammar mistakes, typos, or errors in MLA formatting. Essays earning a B are clearly
written but may contain a variety of minor grammar mistakes, formatting errors, and typos. Essays earning a C may be sloppily proofread, with grammar errors and typos making the paper somewhat
difficult to understand and frequent formatting errors making the essay appear unprofessionally written. Essays earning a D are unclearly written, with frequent grammar errors and typos making it
difficult to understand the paper and with a complete lack of an attempt to professionally format the paper. Essays earning an F are so unclearly written t
hat they are extremely difficult to follow throughout.