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KESSLER/GWRIT 101

Topic suggestions for Essay #3

Most of these suggestions are variations of questions in Presence of Others.


The theme in this unit is "Who We Are." Who we are is usually grounded in ourselves in relation to others, and to our society's mores. We usually feel compelled to tell our stories when something about ourselves, especially in our relationships with others, differs from the status quo.

*****Think of an incident of deviation from the social norm in your life, or in the life of someone you have learned about intimately. Write their story, perhaps through several different perspectives, using it to tell a larger "lesson" about their behavior in relation to their social environment. For example, in "No Name Woman" Kingston shows the severity of penalties villagers inflict against anyone who deviates from prescribed behaviors during a time of stress. Within this framework, she is also commenting on women's conditions in rural China. You might consider an incident where you or someone close to you has a story to tell from both a personal and a societal point of view.

*****Practice imitating Dave Barry or some other author. You can use humor! Use it to illuminate some of our society's most ridiculous stereotypes. Make sure you make your rhetorical stance (who you are in relation to the topic) clear. You could, like Barry, make your points through the perspective of a pet or some other grounding device. You could contrast things that we might at first think of as similar ("Guys vs. Men," "Cops vs. Police Officers," "Freshmen vs. First-Year Students," etc.) but have subtle differences!

*****Take on a sensitive issue that either you or someone close to you has some personal experience with. Look up a term used in Sullivan's article-"etiolation"-and apply it to emotional, psychological, and social plagues we suffer from in our society: anorexia and bulimia, anxiety, the pursuit of buffness, our "masks" (make-up, clothing, haircuts, and other pursuits of appearance), our obsession with financial wealth, the pollution of our environment, etc. Examine how a real person would feel suffering from such disease, how it began, how society reacts to it, etc. Besides becoming "more wary and distant, more attuned to appearance and it foibles, more self-conscious and perhaps more reflective" what behaviors do people develop in order to survive social diseases than result in etiolation?

*****What does it mean when our culture defines "normal" through the prism of heterosexual marriage? What does that make those of us who do not fit into that prism's picture? Even as teenaged adults, many of you have experienced what it means to come from nontraditional families. (You might relate this to other societal pressures. For
example, in this election year, candidates use the terms "Family" and "American" when
pitching campaign issues. What does that make those of us who do not fit their definition of "family" or who do not support that candidate or his issue? Are we then without family? Are we not American?)
*****Sometimes a rule or a law is a symptom of a larger issue that a group is trying to control. King discusses whether English should be a law in the context of other national problems. Think of a rule or law that does control one thing but which, when examined, seem to also be attempting to control other things. Examine the social and political processes at work. For example, why is marijuana illegal? Why is napster under attack? Why must we register cars? Why must we register guns? If we require a license for fishing and driving, why not for raising children?

*****Where do our tastes in art come from? What personal and social or national forces are at work in our preferences for some music, painting, performances, movies and our sometimes extreme distaste for others? (Why does your mother hate rap while you live for it?) You could look at why country music won't touch homosexuality, even though statistically there are as many homosexual country performers as in every other group. You could look at why many Jews won't touch Wagner, or why neo-nazis won't touch klezmer music. Why are some movies so popular? Why do certain groups organize boycotts of others? Why do conservative governments cut funding for the arts?

*****Examine common themes of music genres. Why is country preoccupied with family and relationships? Who does country music make out to be heroic? Why is rap music preoccupied with street violence and profanity? Who does it make out to be heroic? You could apply this to any form of music. Examine your own preference for music.

*****Why is JMU mostly female? Mostly white? Mostly upper class? Mostly Virginian? Why did you come here? Look up demographic statistics and compare your profile to them. What do demographic statistics say about a place? What do they say about you and your choices? Discuss these issues in both personal and societal terms. Are there things about JMU you would like to see changed?

 

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