Philip Nel > Courses > English 545: Literature for Adolescents (Fall 2015) > Paper Assignments

English 545: Paper Assignments 

Paper #1


in class, Thursday, 17 September 2015.


3 pages.

            For Paper #1, select a single page from one of the fictional works we have read for the course, and show how it develops a central theme (or, the relationship between themes) of that work.  In the preceding sentence, "single page" can mean (a) a page's worth of material (even if, technically, it covers more than one consecutive page), (b) an integrated two-page spread of a graphic novel, or (c) a full poem (even if it spans several pages).  Your thesis should clearly articulate the theme(s) which you perceive at work on the page; the discussion that follows the introduction will illuminate how the page develops the theme(s), connecting the page to the work as a whole.

            The selection of the page itself represents an important part of this assignment.  Choose a page which provides a rich source for you to interpret.  (If you are uncertain about whether a certain page would work, please ask me.)  Consider how the page contributes to the theme or themes you see at work locally on the page, and globally in the work as a whole.  Consider diction (word choice), tone, style, image, allusion, and so on.  (This page of "Imagery and Figurative Language" will give you a place to start.)  If a graphic novel, you'll also want to consider artistic style, use of space, representational style (more iconic or more realistic), layout and design.  If poetry, you'll want to take into account sound (alliteration, assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia) and meter, too.

            Guidelines for writing an essay are below. If you have particular questions, please ask, of course.

Paper #2


in class, Thursday, 4 December 2015.


3 pages.

            For Paper #2, find a book-for-adolescents published in the last ten years and that is not on our syllabus.  In your introduction, you'll answer the question of which book on our syllabus your new book most closely resembles, and why?  Here are some ways of thinking about the "why": genre, narration (1st-person, 2nd-person, 3rd-person), tone of narrative voice, theme or themes.  Your thesis will make an evaluative claim about the two works.  Please note: there must be a point to your comparison.  Merely noting a difference, similarity, or theme does not constitute a thesis.
            So, for example, if M.T. Anderson's Feed were your choice (and it can't be because it is both on the syllabus and over ten years old) and if I had retained Catcher in the Rye for this iteration of the syllabus, here are some possible thesis claims, ranging from less focused (1) to more focused (4):

  1. The narrators of M.T. Anderson's Feed and J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye each represent teen-age alienation. (1)
  2. In J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and M.T. Anderson's Feed, teen-age alienation creates an opening for adolescent characters to question the society in which they live.  (2)
  3. Like J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, M.T. Anderson's Feed uses teen-age alienation to question social values; Anderson's critique is more successful than Salinger's.  (3)
  4. Narrated by a Holden Caulfield with slightly better social skills, Feed finds in teen-age disillusionment a means for critiquing consumerist values: rather than rail at "phonies," M.T. Anderson's dystopian novel uses adolescents' skepticism to question the ways in which corporate media inhibit thoughtfulness, and limit human agency. (4)

            Hint: you're striving for a thesis that's more focused.

Guidelines for writing an essay:

Getting Started...

1. Read and Reread. Read and reread the work or works you've decided to write about, with a mind to the topic you have chosen. Take careful notes, making note of all relevant words, phrases, images, and (if applicable) illustrations.

Writing the Paper...

1. Formulate a thesis. Make sure your thesis is specific enough to be covered adequately in the space of your discussion. Remember: merely noting a difference, similarity, or theme does not constitute a thesis. So, it would not be sufficient to say that Rebel Without a Cause and J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye both feature alienated, teen-aged male characters who reject the society in which they live. Perhaps, but so what? Instead, you might argue that, in both works, the alienated main characters both reject their society and secretly wish for a way to belong to it; in order to resolve this tension, Jim Stark and Holden Caulfield begin to explore ways that they can both resist and fit in, but on their own terms. Their experiments' varying degrees of success can be measured by each character's ability to compromise and to develop lasting friendships with others. Refer to the handout titled "Thesis vs. Topic."

2. Each paragraph should begin with a claim. Just as a thesis claim guides the paper as a whole, a paragraph's claim (often referred to as a "topic sentence") guides a paragraph. So, at or near the beginning of each paragraph, include a topic sentence that states your paragraph's central argument. The topic sentence serves as a bridge between thesis and paragraph by making an interpretive claim that indicates how the paragraph will support your thesis.

3. Provide support. To persuade your readers to your position, you will need to provide some evidence in support of your claims. Quotations from the primary text should be used as evidence to prove your assertions.

4. Analysis and explanation of evidence. Be sure to analyze the quotation and discuss its significance. Explain for your reader how your evidence supports your claims.

5. Conclusion. Your last paragraph should synthesize, not summarize. You should resolve -- and not merely repeat -- your argument. Think of a conclusion this way: it both reminds your reader of where you've been and suggests new areas to explore.

And, after you finish your draft...

1. Revise and edit. Read your paper out loud to yourself. Often you will hear what your eyes will miss.

2. Grammar and structure are important. To help yourself proofread and revise with both of these ideas in mind, please see the handout titled "Keys to Structure and Style."

3. When in doubt, get help. My office hours are listed on the syllabus, and by appointment. My email address is Also, please make use of a grammar handbook and of the handouts linked to this paper assignment: "Imagery and Figurative Language," "Thesis vs. Topic," and "Keys to Structure and Style."

Useful Handouts: Imagery and Figurative Language | Thesis vs. Topic | Keys to Structure and Style

Return to Syllabus for English 545

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