Essay Assignment

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GWRIT 102D/STOREY Fall 2000
Essay Assignment #3*


Essay Topics Note: All essays must cite at least THREE outside sources and a "Works Cited" page. The topics are listed in order of difficulty (most to least difficult) and I will take the complexity of your topic into account when evaluating your work.

1. It is useful to think of Griffin's prose as experimental. She is trying to do something that she can't do in the "usual" essay form. She wants to make a different kind of argument or engage her reader in a different manner And so she mixes personal and academic writing. She assembles fragments and puts seemingly unrelated material into surprising and suggestive relationships. She breaks the "plane" of the page with italicized inter-sections. She organizes her material, but not in the usual mode of thesis-example-conclusion. The arrangement is not nearly so linear. At one point, when she seems to be prepared to argue that German child-rearing practices produced the Holocaust, she quickly says:

Of course there cannot be one answer to such a monumental riddle, nor does any event in history have a single cause. Rather a field exists, like a field of gravity that is created by the movements of many bodies. Each life is influenced and in turn becomes an influence. Whatever is a cause is also an effect. Childhood experience is just one elements in the determining field.

Her prose serves to create a "field," one where many bodies are set in relationship.

It is useful, then, to think about Griffin's prose as the enactment of a method, as a way of doing a certain kind of intellectual work. One way to study this, to feel its effects, is to imitate it, to take it as a model. For this assignment, write a Griffin-like essay that focuses on a particular aspect of history. You will need to think about the stories you might tell, about the stories and texts (not your own) that you may gather. As you write, you will want to think carefully about arrangement and about commentary (about where, that is, you will speak to your reader as the writer of the piece). This essay is quite difficult in that you must make sure that it is focused on an overall thesis and that, of course, your reader is able to understand and follow that thesis without too much strain!

2. One way to work on Limerick's selection is to take the challenge and write history-to write the kind of history, that is, that takes into account the problems she defines: the problems of myth, point of view, fixed ideas. You are not a professional historian and you probably don't have the time to produce a history that covers all the bases, but you can think of this as an exercise in history writing, a mini-history, a place to start. Remember, your thesis must be clear and backed up with examples. Here are two options:

A. Go to the library and find two or three first-person accounts of a single place, person, or event. The topic can be of national or international significance, or it can be something relating to your immediate community (it does not have to be a history of the American West). Try to work with original documents. The more varied the accounts, the better. Then, working with these texts as your primary sources, write a history, one that you can offer as a response to Limerick's selection.

B. While you can find materials in a library, you can also work with records that are closer to home. Imagine, for example, that you are going to write a family or neighborhood history. You have your own memories and experiences to work from, but for this to be a history (and not a "personal essay"), you will need to turn to other sources as well: interviews, old photos, newspaper clippings, letters, diaries-whatever you can find. After gathering your materials, write a family or neighborhood history, one that you can offer as a response to Limerick's work.

Please see our syllabus for the draft and revision general requirements!

*The bulk of this assignment was adapted from assignments presented in our class text, Ways of Reading, edited by David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky.


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