Engl 771-01
American Authors:

Paper Assignments

Fall Semester 2008

MWF 10:00-11:50, Grubbs 312

E-mail: knichols11@cox.net

Short Online Report--10%

2 typed pages, double-spaced, font Times New Roman 11 or 12; oral presentation: 5-7 minutes.

Topics and Due Dates:


Select one of the above online articles, read it several times, draw an overall conclusion about the material presented and use it as your thesis. Briefly expand upon that thesis in your introduction, but remember that the introduction to a short paper should be short--several sentences long at most.

For the body of your short report, organize it around 3-4 significant points your source made about its subject and include significant details the source used to support those points. Since you can't include everything in a short report, you need to weigh your material carefully, deciding which information is more important, which material is less important. Include the most important material, but write in a compressed/compact style that will allow you to include as much information from your source as possible in a short report. Divide this material into several paragraphs.

The conclusion to a short report can be very short--perhaps only one sentence long.

WARNING: Since you will be summarizing and paraphrasing throughout the report, it is important that you remember two basic rules that will help you avoid plagiarism: 1) Summarized/paraphrased material must be in language very different from the original; and 2) quoted material must be in exactly the same language used by the original and placed in quotation marks. For this report, keep your quotes to a minimum--perhaps quote a few particularly well-chosen words or phrases, maybe a sentence or two, at most.


Do not read your written report to the class. Instead, talk about the information in that report. What are some significant things the class should know about the subject? What are some helpful details that will aid the class in understanding the subject better. You may jot down a brief outline of what you want to cover--talking points, in other words--but know your subject well enough so that you can talk to your classmates.

If you would like to show some online pictures or charts, either print off copies of them to hand out to the class, or let me know ahead of time so that I can call up the appropriate pictures from your online source. I will need a list of the exact URL addresses for the web pages, in that case.

Short Literary Analysis Paper--20%

Due Mon., Oct. 13: 4-5 typed pages, double-spaced, font Times New Roman 11 or 12.


  • Select one character (other than the protagonist) in Invisible Man and analyze that character in some detail based on what he/she says and does and on what the narrator or others say about him/her. Some possibilities are Grandfather, Barbee, Clifton, Ras, Mary, Brother Tarp or Brother Jack, Rinehart, Sybil, etc.

    Study closely the scenes in which your character appears and consider some questions like the following: What are that character's motivations, hidden or otherwise? What makes that character tick? What does he/she value, fear, desire, etc.? What makes that character do and say what he/she does? Does the character undergo a significant change? Why or why not? What causes it? For better or worse? How does the character relate to society? to the protagonist? to important themes in the novel? You might also want to compare and contrast your selected character with another one somewhat like him/her--in order to highlight the distinctive differences of your selected character. And finally, what impact does your character have on the protagonist's life and on the plot as a whole?

    As part of this essay, select an interesting idea Ellison expresses in one of his essays, explain it, and show how it helps us understand better the role of your selected character in relationship to the novel as a whole. (Keep the focus mostly on how it applies to the protagonist and/or the novel, not on the essay itself.)

For more information on organizing and typing your paper, go to Organizing Your Paper and to Typing Directions.

Summary Report--10%

Due: Nov. 17 (written and oral)

Directions: Select one scholarly article on Invisible Man, Song of Solomon, or Beloved from this resource page: Slavery and Freedom Literature: Resources. Write a 2-3 page summary of that article and give the class a 5-7 minute oral summary of its key points. To do a good job on these assignments, you may need to review the article several times and, before your oral report, review your summary paper several times so that the material is fresh on your mind.


For the written report, the introduction should include the author and title of your selected report and several sentences summarizing the overall thesis/point of the article. (Essentially, your thesis will be the same as the author’s thesis.)

For the body of your written report, divide the scholarly article into about 4-5 significant points it makes in its body section. Summarize those points and some of the evidence and reasoning the author uses to support those points. You will need to write in a compact, concise style so that you can pack in as much information as possible in the fewest words possible.

Make sure you give the second half of the article the same attention that is devoted to the first half of the article. If the article also covers some literary works beyond the scope of this class, you can skip most of that digression, simply noting that the article includes a long discussion of novel X. Probably no quotations will be needed in your summary.

For the conclusion of your written report, summarize your article’s conclusion, which may be mostly a brief restatement of the author’s overall thesis or what significance the author emphasizes in his/her conclusion. You may not need more than one sentence to cover this.


Do not read your report to the class. Talk to them for 5-7 minutes. The purpose of the oral report is to provide your classmates with some additional information or ways of reading our novels, so try to make it understandable in terms of the students sitting there listening to your talk. Explain the article’s thesis and key points. Refer the listeners to several key scenes or passages that illustrate those key points, and be ready to explain the connections.

You may use a short outline for this report—a couple words to remind you of each of the key points and examples you want to remember to cover.

NOTE: In either the written or oral report, if the first part of your article has a long review of previous studies that have been done on that novel, probably skip that information unless you see something very interesting or helpful mentioned there. In that case, mention it only briefly. We want to get to the meat of the article, so don’t get bogged down in the opening sections, thus leaving little or no time to cover adequately the rest of the article.

Remember that “summary” does not include making personal responses or evaluative judgments on the article. The main goal is to be factual, accurate, and informative.

Longer Documented Paper--40%

Due: Mon., Dec. 1: 8-10 typed pages, double-spaced, font Times New Roman 11 or 12, plus documentation.

Topic: Select one of the following topics and write a comparison-contrast paper analyzing its importance or significance in two of the following novels: Invisible Man, Song of Solomon, Beloved.

  • Discuss the journey motifs in Song of Solomon and Invisible Man. What motivates the journeys? What obstacles obstruct the journeys? How and why do they succeed or fail?

  • Discuss the portrait of White America presented in Invisible Man and Beloved. What are the major characteristics of White America? How does it differ from Black culture? What is the relationship of White America to Black America, especially to the main characters?

  • Discuss Black spirituality/beliefs in Song of Solomon and Beloved. What are some significant beliefs that affect the lives of the major characters? Is the impact for better or worse? Which characters best embody those beliefs?

  • Discuss Beloved as Morrison's revision of Ellison's novel, looking in particular at the conflicts between individuality and community. How does that conflict relate to the problem of invisibility experienced by the main characters? Is community the problem or the solution to invisibility? How does Morrison's "answer" differ from or "correct" Ellison's?

  • Discuss the theme of "best friends" in Song of Solomon and Beloved. In particular, what is sustaining and destructive in the relationships of Beloved/Denver and Milkman/Guitar? Why is the friendship so important to the characters? How does the relationship help or hinder the main plot?

As part of this assignment, you will need to study two scholarly articles (or a chapter in a book-length scholarly study) related to your topic and to weave those studies in with your own discussion of the novels as you develop and support your own thesis. Think of the articles as sources you can agree or disagree with. What do they add to your discussion? What can you add to their discussion? In other words, carry on a "dialogue" with your sources while you argue for your own reading of the novels.

Links to online scholarly articles on these novels are available here, or you may find books or additional articles in Axe Library (see the MLA Bibliography online database). Documentation should should be based on MLA Style. For information on MLA Style, see Documenting your Paper. See also Avoiding Plagiarism and Organizing your Paper.

Organizing your Paper


Introductions in shorter papers should be short--maybe 3-5 sentences long. Include authors and titles and your general subject in the opening sentence. Add a sentence or two suggesting how or why that subject is significant or some significant context or background for it. In the last sentence in the introduction, state your thesis--the conclusion you have arrived at as a result of this study.

Body of Paper

Since you cannot talk about everything at once, divide your thesis into 4-5 specific sub-points you want to make about your topic. (NOTE: Save your best or most meaningful point for the last section of the body of the paper.) Each sub-point will be the opening topic sentence for each body paragraph.

Immediately after each topic sentence, begin citing specific examples and details from your primary texts to illustrate and support the points made in the topic sentences. Sometimes you might discuss one example in considerable detail, milking it for every drop of meaning you can possibly find; other times, refer to multiple examples that reinforce each other and develop a certain line of thought. With multiple examples, your discussions will be more limited, but should briefly make a specific point. The majority of each body paragraphy will be your reference to and discussion of these examples.

Your examples can be a scene, a specific passage, a pattern of imagery, etc., but make sure you look closely at the actual language used--the connotations or symbolic resonances suggested by the word choices (i.e., squeeze all the meaning you can out of the language).

Sometimes you will want to paraphrase the material (make sure you use language very different than the original); other times you will want to quote (make sure you use the exact language from the original and use quotation marks). However, do not use long quotes in short papers. In fact, combining paraphrase and short quotes of key words or phrases within your own sentence is often the best way to cover more material without losing specificity. For direct quotations, place the page number after the quote, in parenthesis.


Conclusions in shorter papers should be rather short. At the beginning of the conclusion, restate your overall thesis, but in different language than was used in the beginning (and do not begin with "In conclusion"). Do not re-state your sub-points in a short paper. Instead, add a couple sentences indicating why or how your thesis has (hopefully) provided a helpful or meaningful way of understanding better the novels.

Avoiding Plagiarism

  • The language used for paraphrases/summaries should be very different than the original language used by your source.

  • The language used in quotations must be exactly the same as the original language used by your source.

  • Quotation marks must be used around all quotations. If you have a quote-within-a-quote, use a combination of double and single quote marks (see me for assistance).

  • Cite a source for ALL summarized and paraphrased and quoted secondary material (articles on your topic, etc.).

Citing Sources, MLA Style

See this summary of MLA style: Using Modern Language Association (MLA) Format, created by the Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Scroll down near the bottom of the page to find the appropriate links for in-text citation and bibliographies, including how to list Electronic Sources. See also MLA Style: Frequently Asked Questions.

Put all documentation on a separate bibliography page (labeled "Works Cited") and follow MLA directions.

A sample paper, properly formatted, can be seen here--scroll down the page.

For more detailed information on MLA style, consult a hardcopy of the "official" MLA Handbook.