Literature in Context

In this essay, you will explore how historical/biographical context or a lens of literary help shape how we read works of literature. This essay focuses on SLO #1 and either SLO #3 or #4.

  1. Students will develop coherent, well-supported interpretations of literary works in formal, argumentative essays that incorporate texts effectively and use MLA documentation competently.
  2. Students will identify and competently analyze specific elements of literature including (but not limited to) figurative language, symbolism, irony, paradox, literary form, genre, point of view, style, tone, purpose, etc., and articulate how specific elements of form and content create meaning in a literary work.
  3. Students will identity and analyze how contextual considerations such as genre, historical context, literary tradition, cultural movements, authorial biography or vision, and the history of ideas shape the composition and meanings of literary works.
  4. Students will identify specific and appropriate critical approaches (including, but not limited to, formalism, cultural studies, new historicism, feminism, reader response theory, psychoanalytical criticism, queer theory, etc.); students will competently apply appropriate literary theories in their interpretations of literary works.

The prompt: Choose…
• TWO shorter works by different authors (poems or stories) or
• ONE or TWO longer works
o “The Things They Carried”
o The Cuban Swimmer
o The Poet X
o On the Come Up
… and examine them in light of one of the following:

• (Focus on Outcome #3) Discuss the work in terms of historical/biographical context. This will require you to do some original research into the author and time period. Identify a major theme of the work and discuss why you think the author chose this particular world to illustrate that theme. If you are looking at two different pieces, consider what the authors have in common. How is that reflected in their work? Are there significant differences?
• (Focus on Outcome #4) Discuss the text through the lens of one particular critical approach (literary theory), such as feminism, Marxism, Post-Colonial, etc. How does this lens illuminate important elements and themes in the text? If you are looking at two texts, how does your lens of choice highlight differences or similarities?
• (Focus on Outcome #4) Find a critical text about the work you chose—it could be a review from a major publication or a scholarly work (use the COS database). Write an essay that is in conversation with that text’s approach. What lens does it use? Do you agree or disagree with the author’s view of the work? Use strong, clear details to explain your position.
• (Focus on Outcome #3) Discuss how intertextuality is relevant to your text. As Culler notes, “Now since to read a poem as literature is to relate it to other poems, to compare and contrast the way it makes sense with the way others do, it is possible to read poems at some level as about poetry itself” (Culler 35). Or this: “Literature is a practice in which authors attempt to advance or renew literature and thus is always implicitly a reflection on literature itself” (35). (How is Acevedo’s novel about novels? Or poetry? How is “The Things They Carried” about the significance of story-telling?)

You will need to:
• come up with a clear and specific thesis
• accurately and concisely summarize the work of literature before diving into your specific analysis
• identify what you see as the key themes and/or author’s purpose in writing the work of literature
• incorporate research from critical sources or biographical/historical information
• develop your argument in focused paragraphs with specific claims, evidence, and analysis
• edit so that sentences are clear, effective, and grammatically correct

Specific Requirements:
• MLA
• More than 4 pages
• Works Cited page
• At least one critical source (in addition to your primary text or texts)

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