Sample Essay Reviews

Below are links to some sample essay reviews, some that are published and some that are in response to a similar assignment for other graduate courses.

The published examples all review books rather than articles, but the format (as you'll see) is generally the same: An introductory paragraph which introduces the material under review, providing a brief summary and a sometimes implied rather than explicit claim about the reviewer's response to the material; summary and evaluative paragraphs of the material; a closing paragraph or two which renders an over-all critical evaluation of the material reviewed. For your assignment, you will want to offer in your introduction an explicit claim about your evaluation/response to the book-length study or 4 articles; you can organize your summary of and response to the book/articles as you think best, offering a conclusion at the end of the essay review. Four sample essay reviews by former students offer examples of how to meet the assignment's expectations.

Michael Kimmel. Manhood in America: A Cultural History. New York: The Free Press, 1996, 1997. 544 pp. Illus.

In his recent book, Michael Kimmel provides a thoughtful, carefully researched, and extremely readable cultural history of manhood and masculinity in America, beginning with the eighteenth-century debates about the new man for a new country: Will he be the Genteel Patriarch, a founding father with a slight air of the Continent and its foppery? The Heroic Artisan, a hardworking patriot whose physical labor is an art as well as a product? Or the Self-Made Man, who can craft his body and image many times over to traverse the shifting cultural shoals of the ensuing decades? With the help of historians and theorists like Nancy Cott and Eric Lott as well as cultural texts ranging from the novels of Herman Melville to the "M-F Test" of the 1930s that tested for appropriate gender role identification, Kimmel retraces the journey American society has asked its men to take towards that ideal of the Self-Made Man, a journey often completed at the expense of women, minorities, and their own happiness.

Just as women have been asked to survey themselves and shape their bodies and minds towards cultural ideals of the feminine, Kimmel neatly illustrates the degree to which men have been asked to perform an analogous task. As the ideal of manhood (a state attained at adulthood which signaled maturity of the inner self) gave way in the early nineteenth century to the ideal of masculinity (a state which must constantly be proved and re-proved), America's men started down a parallel path to the one that women tread—albeit one that provided greater scope for adventure on the frontiers of the Wild West or greater privacy in the domesticated "den" of the bourgeois home. Kimmel's discussion of American men’s increasing lack of control in the workforce at the end of the nineteenth century echoes the recent work of Susan Faludi, who traces the effects of America’s downwardly mobile culture upon the men of the 20th century. Fears of feminizing effects motivated these men to exert their masculinity by escaping to the "homosocial island hideaways" of drinking, fraternities, the gym, and magazines like Playboy, as well as asserting control over traditionally female preserves, like elementary education in the 1930s.

Indeed, reading Kimmel's cultural history one is struck by how familiar the situations are across the decades -- how men in the nineteenth-century struggled to find and maintain a self commensurate with the consumer capitalist ethos of competition, just as they do at the end of the twentieth century. Kimmel addresses this recurring pattern in his "Epilogue" to emphasize that this identity of the Self-Made Man is not natural, that it has a history, as his previous chapters so clearly illustrate. It is, therefore, an identity that can be altered. Kimmel concludes by calling for a new conception of masculinity, one not based on the "trail blazed by Self-Made Man," for this trail is in truth but "a spiral path leading only back to itself, to a relentless retesting of an unprovable ambition" (333). Instead, we must initiate "a democratic manhood" that "renounces" the battle to prove manhood, since that battle cannot be won as it is currently configured (335). Claiming that "the real 'man-haters'...are those right-wing zealots who believe that men cannot change their violent ways," Kimmel advocates support for a feminism that recognizes men and women as socially constructed beings who can be equal and still remain different. Too optimistic? While Kimmel spends most of the book marking the extremely well-worn road men have followed to self-made manhood, he does note those who have advocated a different path, like William Lloyd Garrison and sociologist Lester Ward. Perhaps, then, we have a right to be optimistic as we look into the next century -- perhaps we must be, if we wish to resolve the cultural tensions that fray the selves of both men and women at the end of the twentieth-century.

from The Forum: Women's Studies at the College of Charleston. III.1 (1999).

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