As the question asked, please please identify clearly in title or heading the question number you have chosen.
Possible Texts (you will choose two of these)
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Herman Melville, “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street”
Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author”
Joe Sacco, from Journalism
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
Edward Said, “Reflections on Exile”
Mahmoud Darwish, “Diary of a Palestinian Wound,” “Bread,” “From: Beirut,” “After Beiruit”
Bertolt Brecht, from Svendberger Poems
lê thi diem thúy, The Gangster We Are All Looking For
Please choose one of the following questions to respond to. You should choose a question to which you
can respond with an original idea and develop an argument using two of the above texts. In your essay,
you should present a unique and arguable thesis statement and develop your idea and argument with
textual evidence, making use of interpretive claims and passage analysis (evidence + warrants).
These essay questions require you to establish a connection between two texts. Your thesis statement
should make a claim about how the texts you are drawing into correspondence are related (i.e. you should
say something more concrete or specific than that they are similar, or do the same thing: you should tell
your reader how they do something similar or different or what this relation is). The two texts should be
from different authors. If you are dealing with some of the poetry, you can decide whether the “text”
would be a single poem or would include more than one of an author’s poems.
Developing Your Argument
In the development of your idea and argument throughout the course of the essay, you are expected to
integrate passages (evidence), make interpretive claims about these passages, and provide analysis
(warrants) of these passages. In your development of claims, evidence, and warrants, please continue to
pay attention to details of literary genre, form, and language.
Please choose ONE of the following questions.
1.! In the “Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes claims that we can approach texts without regard
for the biographical or historical information about an author. Yet, in all of the texts we looked at,
the author’s biographical story is important, and in many of these texts, the main character is
him/herself an “author-figure” (Bartleby is a scrivener; the lawyer is a narrator; Alison Bechdel is
“herself,” an emerging comic book author; Brecht and Darwish are poets and write about poets).
Choose two texts from the list above that depict a prominent author-figure and develop an
argument about the role or function or work of the author. What is the task of the author?
2.! Many of the texts we have looked at rely on depictions of difficult or traumatic moments in the
past, and part of the narrative effort is then to recover these experiences or to bring them into
words. Choose two of the texts from the list above that ultimately present a reconciliation with
the past, with one’s parents, or with a loss (of homeland, loved one, etc,…) and develop an
argument about how the texts present a way of working through past trauma or loss. What is
represented? What cannot be?
3.! The experience of exile is famously described by Edward Said as “a condition of terminal loss.”
Choose two of the texts from the list above that offer ideas or images or metaphors about exile
and develop an argument about how you understand exile or the estrangement of one from his/her
homeland. What kind of perspective does the experience of exile bring about?
4.! Bertolt Brecht’s idea of the “dark times” describes not just Hitler’s rise to power and the atrocity
that accompanied it, but the repression of public opinion and the restriction of the freedom of
expression. In Men in Dark Times, political theorist Hannah Arendt took up Brecht’s phrase,
stating that the dark times refer to a period “where there was only wrong and no outrage.” Arendt
then goes on to describe how the difficulty of speaking out in such times leads to the inability to
bring things to light in “the public realm.” Instead, she says, the speech of the day “does not
disclose what is but sweeps it under the carpet, by exhortations, moral and otherwise, that, under
the pretext of upholding all old truths, degrade all truth to meaningless triviality.” Arendt believes
that artists and intellectuals can keep alive some light during these times. How does literature
keep alive this light? How does it enlarge this “public realm” and what can be brought to light
there? Does literature provide an alternative to nationalism’s dangerous aspects while also
offering some form of “roots”? Choose two of the texts from the list above and develop an
argument about how you see literature either expanding ideas or combatting assumptions in the
5.! Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is a story about identity, about accepting or coming to terms with
one’s sexual identity, or sexuality, and about what happens when one’s identity is oppressed or
repressed. In earlier texts this semester, we also considered some of the negative aspects of
racialized identity, and this issue continues to be important in lê thi diem thúy’s The Gangster We
Are All Looking For. Choose two of the texts from the list above that describe how the oppression
or repression of one’s identity has to be overcome and develop an argument about what leads to
having an empowering experience of human identity. How does this dynamic of
destruction/creation give rise to a new, contemporary “hero” or “heroine”?
6.! Read Joe Sacco’s “The Unwanted” (uploaded on Moodle), which depicts the current
European/Syrian refugee crisis, and evaluate Edward Said’s claim that literature can’t deal with
mass politics. Is it true that “literature” cannot present stories (narratives) that capture or depict
the “scale” of contemporary displacement? Choose one other text (it could be Said’s) and develop
an argument about how Sacco either does or does not succeed in representing the scale and
complexity of the problem of displaced peoples.
7.! Develop your own question. This is an option for people who have an idea they would like to
pursue that does not follow one of the above questions. In order to take up this option, you must
write out a question following the form of those presented here and meet with me before the last
day of class to discuss your proposed idea.