Essay Assignment

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Paper 1: Negotiating Identity

Breneman, GWRIT 103
Spring 2008


Argument is a truth-seeking process. Using argument, we work together as a community to find the best solutions to the problems that face us. During this unit, we have explored history and identity and used our critical thinking skills to work to uncover some truth(s). Now it is time for you to craft your own argument; you will work to uncover the truths about your own history and identity, and to consider the ways your insights can benefit others in your community. You will engage in a conversation with your readers as you engage in your own truth-seeking process. 

To meet those goals, select one of the following topics to develop into a 1250-word essay. No matter which topic you choose, you must establish an appropriate audience and a specific purpose for your essay. While the essay must be argumentative in nature, how you craft your argument is up to you. One goal of this course, and, more specifically, this assignment, is to help you develop strategies for critical thinking and writing in your personal, academic, and civic lives. Since this is a relatively short essay, be sure to select a topic that is narrow and specific enough to fully explore in four to five pages.   Be sure, too, to select a topic that inspires you.  Understand the urgency of the problem you are choosing to explore, and communicate that to your audience.   Answer the questions "So what?" and "Now What?" for yourself and your readers. 

The content of your essay must reflect more than superficial thought on the subject. Your essay should also reflect your understanding of the principles of argument that we have discussed so far this semester. Follow research and document design guidelines (available under "Course Documents" on Blackboard), and keep the grading criteria (also available on Blackboard) in mind. Using vivid details to support your ideas is especially important for this essay. In order to fully support your points with evidence, you must have at least three reliable outside sources for this paper; remember, however, that this is the absolute minimum. Due dates and other paper policies appear on the syllabus. Be sure to turn in all drafts, peer consultation sheets, and hard copies of your sources with your essay. Please see me with any questions or concerns.

1. In "i like guys," David Sedaris vividly demonstrates the multiple ways social constraints on identity made it difficult for him to be the person he truly was as he entered adolescence. Anna Quindlen, in "Evan's Two Moms," also discusses societal limits on the rights of individuals. Paragraph 175 recounts an extreme example of social constraints taken to a terrifying level. Consider the ways social constraints on identity have limited your personhood, or kept you from being yourself. Be sure to select a specific form of constraint and a specific incident or set of closely related incidents to reveal this constraint. Write an argumentative essay in which you not only explore the specific constraint but also make a larger claim about the limitation on your identity (for example, you might argue that this form of social constraint must end, or, you might explore the benefits of certain social constraints). Be sure to select a specific audience and purpose for your essay.

2. Family members and friends have a significant impact on our lives. Think of Quindlen's description of Evan's two moms, or Sedaris's humorous rendering of his sister's transformations during the trip to Europe, or Gad Beck's life-altering relationship with Manfred in Paragraph 175. Consider a specific incident or set of closely related incidents involving a family member (you choose how to define "family") or close friend that helped shape your identity. Now consider the greater social or political significance of that incident, similar to the way Quindlen uses Evan's case to argue for the legalization of gay marriage. Write an essay in which you craft an argument based on your experience with your family member; use the insights you've gained, as well as the research you will conduct, to seek answers to a problem we face.  Be sure to select a specific audience and purpose for your essay.

3. Unfortunately, people sometimes use stereotypes to judge, discriminate against, or otherwise harm others. Sedaris uses humor to address racial and gender stereotypes. The clips we viewed from The Times of Harvey Milk, Common Threads, and Paragraph 175, on the other hand, showed the tragic potential of the issue. Consider an incident (or set of closely related incidents) during which you were either the victim or perpetrator of stereotyping. What did you learn from this incident? What can your reader learn from this incident? After reflecting on the incident and its consequences, write an essay in which you craft an argument based on this experience. Be honest with yourself and your reader; honesty helps establish ethos and builds a bridge between you and your reader.  Work with your readers to solve the problem at  hand. 

4. In "Notes from the Unmapped," Steven Blaski writes: "Your voices, distant and insistent / as foghorns heard in sleep, enter my dreams: / Remember us, Remember us."   In his poetry, Blaski opens the "locked vaults of history" and honors that call. Consider the voices that call to you.  In your own life, what person, group, or event do you feel has been overlooked or erased?  How can we all benefit from finally recognizing and honoring this person, group, or event?   Now, write an essay in which you unlock the vaults, calling attention to what has been overlooked or erased; educate your audience about the omission, and argue that it must be corrected. Note that you will not be writing a report on the topic, but rather crafting an argument about it; in other words, you will attempt to change the way your readers think, feel, or act regarding the issue, in order to work toward a solution to a problem. 

5. Gad Beck's story of Manfred in Paragraph 175 reveals the devastating consequences of hatred and fear, as well as the surprising love and courage individuals can summon within themselves.  The same could be said of Roger Lyon in Common Threads, who fought to get the government to respond to the AIDS crisis, or Harvey Milk, whose assassination ended his life but not his legacy.  Consider a story of courage in your own life. Has there been a time in your life when you've had to be stronger than you realized you could be? (Are you going through such an experience right now?) Or, consider an act of courage you have witnessed in another person. Just as the stories in the films were part of a larger social fabric, think about how your story fits into larger social issues. Now, craft an argument in which you explore both your story and the larger social and political implications of your profile in courage. Use your story to seek solutions to a problem we face. 

6.  Imagine yourself in another identity.  Consider what your life would be like in this new identity. What would a typical day in this identity be like?  How would other people treat you?  What advantages or opportunities would you have?  What difficulties would you face?  What challenges and what possibilities does this identity offer?  Use your critical thinking skills to delve beneath the surface of this new identity and discover what issues, controversies, and problems posed within this new identity.  Write an essay in which you engage in an argument based on this new identity, seeking truth in order to find the best solutions to the problems at hand.  Be sure to select a specific audience and purpose for your essay, and to use good reasons and evidence as you engage in truth-seeking.  Some writers may choose to respond to this prompt with creative nonfiction; if you would like to take this approach, please see me to discuss the particulars of this type of writing.

7. In consultation with me, design your own topic. Select a topic related to the readings, to the unit, or to the general issue of negotiating identity. Feel free to create a topic of your own, or to adapt one of the above topics to fit your needs as a writer. However, you must receive my approval before you begin drafting the essay. Remember, it's vital to write about something that interests you. 


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