The Water Knife”


Read the book “The Water Knife” and other reading packets attached to answer the questions in the attached document. Use the MEAL formula to answer the questions. Each answer should have more than one evidence/quote from the book or the other reading packets.

Short Answer (75 points each): Please answer 2 of the 3 following questions to complete the short answer section. You’ll note that each question can be answered in 3-4 medium length body paragraphs, although you are welcome to write more; you’ll likely want to include a brief opening and closing for each answer. See my examples and the video for advice on organization and getting started.

Option 1: Sustainability as Social Justice

“El Returno” or “Small Place”: Pick one of the non-fiction stories. Using 3 sustainability criteria related to social justice, argue that the community is or is not suffering from social justice issues and environmental racism.
Note: If you argue that the story does not show a community suffering social justice and environmental racism issues, you’ll also need to use sustainability criteria linked to social justice to prove your argument.

Option 2: About to collapse or not?

Using 3 sustainability criteria related to environmental collapse (mainly the Jared Diamond essay), show that the Michael Pollan excerpt “The Feedlot” on industrial meat and fast food contains evidence (or not) of potential resource abuse and environmental collapse in the U.S. food system.

Note: Remember to use only the ideas in the essay—do not stretch Pollan’s statements into potential futures to evidence your claims.

Option 3: Can culture be sustained in a colonizer’s economic and cultural system?

Using 3 linked criteria drawn from our discussions of cultural preservation, human rights, and/or not stereotyping people as natural, argue that a developed, developing, or indigenous culture can (or cannot) maintain its cultural roots, even when a developed Western nation has heavy contact with it.
That is, can a culture survive, thrive, and avoid oppression once in contact with first-world countries political, cultural, and economic systems? Or does contact with a developed nation almost guarantee the lesser developed nation will “lose,” will be negatively changed. (You might think of sustainability as not only stopping resource pirating, but also preserving a culture and avoiding negative stereotypes.)
Naturally, a good answer might point out both good and bad—positives and negatives—when a developed nation and an underdeveloped culture come into contact.

For this answer you can draw from up to 2 essays. I would recommend 1-2 of the following texts: “Kentucky 1833,” “El Returno,” “Deer at Providencia,” “Small Place,” and/or the Coca-Cola/Mexican town internet readings.

Note on organization: You might use all 3 criteria to analyze both texts you choose; you could also devote two criteria to analyze one text, and your third criteria to analyze your second text.

Long Answer (150 points): The Water Knife as an argument about human rights, social justice, and/or environmental protection

The idea: Books can always be read as an argument—that they are commenting on our way of living—the good and the bad of our human systems that sustain life and our environment. Your essay will see The Water Knife as having an opinion on issues related to our course. The novel is an argument.

Instructions: Please answer the following required question. You’ll note it might break down easily into six body paragraphs (your 2 interpretive strategies of 3 paragraphs each). You might wish to have a brief introduction and conclusion as well.

The Question/Task: Using two different interpretive strategies from class, identify the major reasons you believe the society in The Water Knife is failing.
Your first interpretive strategy (of 3 criteria) will be based in sustainability issues. An easy breakdown of interpretive strategies is 1) social justice and social inequality, 2) economic systems that privilege the wealthy and powerful (gov’t, corporations, etc.), 3) overuse of resources and ignoring signs of environmental collapse; and 4) water as a human right.
 You should pick just one of these 4 areas that you believe is the biggest reason for the unsustainable society that novel depicts.
 After choosing this 1 area of sustainability, break it into 3 criteria to help you analyze and organize your answer. (Use my sustainability review notes to identify criteria.)

Your second interpretive strategy (of 3 criteria) can use either a different area of the 4 sustainability areas listed above, or you can return to a concept from Module 1. The past interpretive strategies for use are 1) fall, recovery, stewardship, and dominion (ancient, modern, gender, nature); 2) pastoralism (Scheese reading plus videos); 3) ecological (Capra reading, all material of 1.4 and 1.5).

For example, you might argue that the biggest reason for failure in the novel is abuse of power (sus. #2) and a belief in the progress narrative. Or you might choose a lack of social equality (sus. #1) and a lack of stewardship. Or you might choose abuse of power (sus. #2 and ignoring signs of collapse (sus. #3).

Again, please have at least 3 criteria for each interpretive strategy and connect them to a reading or idea from class. Each of the 6 criteria should have its own paragraph and be well evidenced—likely with 2-3 examples from the novel. Be sure to define what you mean by each criteria—you can use my handout or the original reading from class. Use these criteria as a major claim, then show how your text exemplifies these ideas.

Organization: It might make sense to have one basic medium-length MEAL paragraph for each criterion—so 3 paragraphs that produce a reading through one reading strategy, then 3 more paragraphs that explain a second interpretation.


  1. See the writing example and rubric for a sense of assessment and grading.
  2. You’ll note I don’t have word requirements for either section. Rather, I want you to focus on strong answers that are well supported and follow the basic advice of the exam prep video. I have given a general sense of length in the advice above—short answers can be achieved in 3-4 body paragraphs with an intro and conclusion. The long answer might be imagined as 6 body paragraphs plus an intro and conclusion. However, these estimates given you a sense of the length. You are free to organize the essays however you wish. I will be grading them in comparison to the elaboration and analysis I provided in the video’s example essay on Robert Frost’s “Design.”