The Legend of Sleepy Hallow

For this first essay, you’ll develop your own thesis and argument about one (or perhaps two) of the primary texts we’ve read so far. Doing so can be quite a challenge. The best approach, therefore, is to actually have something to say about the material, and to formulate the kinds of questions that will lead to an interesting analysis or interpretive position. You’ve already seen the kinds of questions that I’ve created for our discussion boards. These tend to be a bit narrower than those which would motivate a full essay, but they should give you an idea of the wide variety of possible ways we can enter into the task of writing about a literary text. You might even choose to build on one of your existing discussion posts, taking it as a springboard, so to speak, into a broader, more sustained argument.

A good way to think about a critical essay of this sort is to imagine that it’s doing some kind of work – more specifically, that it’s addressing an interpretive problem or issue in the material that calls for analysis and explanation. Your job as a writer is, first, to identify that problem issue and then, second, to explain it to your reader and show how we can think about it more deeply or more clearly. That’s what “at stake” in your analysis, and that’s why your reader (your hypothetical reader, not just me) will benefit from having read the essay. (If you get completely stuck, of course, I’ll be happy to help you think through what you want to write about.).

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Once you’re clear on the question, issue, or problem that’s driving the essay, there are several principles to keep in mind as you build out the argument:

· The topic shouldn’t be so vast as to be unmanageable in the space of a short essay, nor so narrow that there’s not much to say about it.
· Your essay should be guided by a clear and purposeful thesis that expresses that the main idea of the paper. Have a point, and a sense of the destination of the paper. This is your “argument.”
· Stay focused on your argument. That means you should avoid summary, historical digressions, and wordiness while working closely with the primary material.
· Ground your claims in the textual evidence, which is your “raw material.” Avoid free-floating generalizations. Be judicious in your use of evidence, using brief quotes or passages that allow you to develop an insight or present a point about the text.

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