Short Essays

Over the course of the semester, you will write three one-page essays (between 275 and 300 words), one on each of the major texts that we read. These essays will precisely lay out the skeleton of a larger argument. My hope is that by distilling your ideas into a one-page summary you will have a greater grasp of their logical arc and significance.

Each essay should begin with an incisive title. The first sentence should be your thesis. Don’t write a normal introduction or waste any words in clearing your throat; just state your thesis. This thesis should be laser sharp, textually based, and clearly argumentative (in other words, it must be controvertible). The majority of your essay will concisely lay out your argument, including references to the text. Don’t take up space with long quotations; you can simply indicate the page number and then give your analysis and show how it supports your claims. In your conclusion, which should only be one or two sentences, be sure to articulate the significance and importance of your argument. The key to a successful essay is a strong argument and precise language; you don’t have any space for padding or vagueness. You may find these successful examples from former students to be helpful.

Here are some potential approaches you might take (if you want to take your essay in a different direction, please run that by me):

  • Choose a specific passage to focus on. How does its form, the particular way in which it narrates the story, contribute to the text’s portrayal of homecoming? In your analysis, connect this passage to other places in the text, but make your argument through the lens of this one piece.
  • Analyze a specific virtue or vice exercised by a character that either enables or prevents them from making it home. Your analysis should deepen and clarify our understanding of this virtue or vice as well as its significance.
  • Identify an apparent contradiction between two parts of the text. Propose an elegant and persuasive way of resolving it.

As you write these three essays, keep in mind that your final essay will be a fleshed-out version of one of them.