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Engl. 772-01 Literary Period

Contemporary American

Paper Assignments

  • Summary/Oral Report

Due: assigned date of author on the Reading Schedule.

Length: 2.5 typed pages; 5-10 minute oral presentation.

Grading: 10% of final grade; based on substantive content, understanding of your material, focus and organization, grammar (written and oral reports), plus clarity (oral presentation).

Topic: Select an author on our Reading Schedule (omit Pynchon and Morrison) and find a good scholarly article on that author/text on our research web page (see Research Links). You will report on this article to your classmates on the day that author is scheduled on the syllabus.

Your report should include the article's thesis (check beginning and ending of the article); the major points developed the body section of the article; and some specific details and examples from the primary text discussed in the article. Remember that the author's argument in the article is just being introduced in the beginning; it is not fully developed and completed until you get to the end of the article.

Several considerations to keep in mind:

  • This assignment is asking you to summarize someone else's viewpoint/argument, not your own opinion on the topic. However, you can briefly indicate what you found most helpful or enlightening about the article, but that is not the main purpose of the report.

  • Do not read your paper to the class. Instead, talk to your classmates about what the article had to say--explain it to them. You may use a short outline of your main points to help jog your own memory. The class might like to have a copy of it also.

  • Remember that the audience for your oral report is your classmates, not the instructor.

  • Scholarly articles are written for other professional scholars. They are not written for students or as class room aids. As a result, you may find your article a bit intimidating at first, and you may have to read it three or four times before you can absorb all the information or ideas. It would be a good idea to annotate the article, make outlines of key points, look up some of the terminology (if needed), circle key words/phrases, etc. After doing all that, then work on your written summary of the article.

  • After you complete your rough draft, you may have to severely condense it in places. The first draft is usually either too long or much too detailed about the first third of the article.

  • Most of the report will be in the form of summary or paraphrase. Only minimal quoting should be included and the quoting should be limited mostly to key words/phrases used in the article.

  • Be very careful not to plagiarize. It is very easy to do when you are mostly summarizing/paraphrasing. See Avoiding Plagiarism.

See Organizing your Paper and Avoiding Plagiarism and MLA style
and Typing Directions.


  • Shorter Paper: Pynchon

Due: Mon., 10/15

Length: 5 typed pages

Grading: 15% of final grade; based on substantive content, insight into your material, focus and organization, quality and appropriateness of your evidence, documentation (if needed), grammar.

Topic: Discuss one of the following topics. Select aspects of character, action, symbols, setting, allegory, point-of-view, etc., and analyze how Pynchon conveys his themes as well as what the themes are.

  • Discuss the images of labyrinths in Lot 49. Are they traps or communication networks? Is there a correct way to go through the labyrinth and a way out, or are there only dead-ends and the labyrinth is a prison? Perhaps compare Pynchon’s labyrinth to Barth’s funhouse. Do they offer a similar views of life, human consciousness, and the process of writing?

  • One critic claims that Lot 49 is about “a world effectively transformed into a simulacrum.” Another critic says that one of the key ideas in the novel is the “‘disappearance’ or withdrawal . . . of the real.” Agree or disagree. What is real or unreal in the novel? What, finally, is the “truth” that explains it all? It would be advisable to use some of Baudrillard’s ideas in this response.

  • Discuss Lot 49 as a parody of the traditional detective novel. What conventions of that sub-genre are being parodied and how? What is Pynchon’s point in parodying it? What is he saying about literary tradition, knowledge, and life? (By the way, what is the name of the first “detective” in literary history? Hint: Think Sophocles.)

As you study the novel, develop a strong thesis about your selected topic--some conclusion you have arrived at--and make sure you cite lots of examples and details from the novel to support your points.

NOTE: This assignment does not require secondary research of Pynchon criticism, but it would probably be to your advantage to browse some of the resources on post-modernism on our Research Links web page. If you consult either type of sources, make sure you cite them in your paper.

See Organizing your Paper and Avoiding Plagiarism and MLA style
and Typing Directions.


  • Longer Paper: Morrison

Due: Mon., 11/26

Length: 8-10 typed pages, plus a "Works Cited" page citing two or more scholarly sources used in the paper.

Grading: 30% of final grade; based on substantive content, insight into your material, focus and organization, quality and appropriateness of your evidence, documentation, grammar, plus responsible use of at least two scholarly sources.

Topic: Discuss one of the following topics. Select aspects of character, action, symbols, setting, allegory, point-of-view, etc., and analyze how Morrison conveys her themes as well as what the themes are.

  • Flying imagery and motifs
  • Pilate as spiritual guide
  • Critique of the American capitalist success myth
  • Significance of names

In your paper you will need to include at least two scholarly sources (one or more may be more theoretical and the other one can be more literary criticism) Some scholarly articles are listed on our web page (see Research Links), but you can also see what is available through the library's online databases. I recommend "Academic Search Premier" or "Article 1st" or "MLA." Even if the library doesn't have the journal in which the article appears, many articles can be electronically down-loaded.

Based on your readings, you will develop your own thesis/argument, but it must be combined with--or better yet, in dialogue with-- the arguments advanced in the scholarly articles. Combining the two while advancing your own argument is the challenge. There are two basic ways to do this:

  • Agree with the thesis in the articles and show how it can be extended to your selected topic.
  • Disagree with some aspect of the thesis or its application in the articles and develop an alternate reading of Solomon that "corrects" the problem.

Either way, make sure you weave your scholarly sources smoothly and effectively into the argument you are developing in your paper. The details and examples that support and develop your thesis should come mainly from your primary source (Morrison's novel). Remember to discuss, analyze, and explain the significance of your examples.

See Organizing your Paper and Avoiding Plagiarism and MLA style
and Typing Directions.


  • Organizing your Paper

All essays should include these three basic parts:


Introductions in short papers should be short--maybe 3-5 sentences long. Begin with some general statement about your topic (if you are going to write about the significance of the settings, get the word "settings," plus the author and title, somewhere in the opening sentence). Perhaps provide some pertinent background, or explain why there have been problems with the topic or even disagreements about it, or how your topic will enrich our understanding of the literary work. Most of the introduction will be your own writing, but it is all right to include short paraphrases/quotations, properly cited, of course. End the paragraph with your overall thesis/conclusion. Remember that your thesis is what the rest of the paper will be about.

NOTE: Longer papers may have two- or three-paragraph introductions, with the thesis introduced in the second paragraph.


Since you can't talk about everything at once, sub-divide your thesis/conclusion into 4-6 sub-points (6-9 sub-points in longer papers). Those sub-points will form the topic sentences-- your own writing, what you have to say about that subject, the point you want to make--for the body paragraphs.

WRITING TIP: Arrange your sub-points according to the Order of Climax--begin with your second-best sub-point followed by your weakest sub-point and then work your way up to your best sub-point at the end so that the paper finishes on a strong note.

Each topic sentence should be followed by lots of specific details and examples and short quotations, etc., from your texts, as well as your explanation/analysis of that information.

For quotations, include a page number (in parenthesis) directly after the quote. If the source is not clear from the sentence or paragraph, insert the author's name in the parenthesis along with the page number (see MLA style). Avoid long quotations in short papers. It is often more effective to work a quoted word or short phrase into your own sentence.

NOTE: I hate skimpy paragraphs that are only 1-2 sentences long; put some meat on those bones--another 6-7 sentences of details and examples and explanations, please!)


Conclusions in short papers should be short--maybe 3-4 sentences long. (Longer papers can support a longer conclusion.) Begin the concluding paragraph with a re-statement of your opening thesis/conclusion--but in language very different than was used in the introduction. In a couple more sentences, refer to your topic as a whole-- why it is significant and worth studying, for instance, or finally, what it all adds up to.

NOTE: In a short paper, do not repeat your sub-points--much too repetitious!

See Avoiding Plagiarism and MLA style and Typing Directions.


  • 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.).

See Organizing your Paper and MLA style and Typing Directions.


  • Citing Sources, MLA Style

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

See this short summary of MLA style: Using Modern Language Association (MLA) Format, created by the Purdue University Online Writing Lab. It gives the basic "rules" for in-text citation and bibliographies, including how to list Electronic Sources. See also MLA Style: Frequently Asked Questions.

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

See Organizing your Paper and Avoiding Plagiarism and Typing Directions.


  • Typing Directions

Use Times New Roman font, size 11 or 12. Double-space everything--no exceptions. Use one-inch margins on all sides. Include your last name and page number in top-right corner (1/2 inch from top).

On the first page, in the top-left corner, put your name, your instructor's name, the class name and number, and the date. Below that, in the center of page, add a title.

See an MLA example (scroll down the page): Paper Format--Example

Put all documentation on a separate page and follow MLA directions.

See Organizing your Paper and Avoiding Plagiarism and MLA style.


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