Engl. 772-35 Period in Literature:
American Realism


Writing Assignments

Paper 1: Article Summary (written and oral)

DUE: See due dates on Reading Schedule.

LENGTH: 3-4 pp. (typed, double-spaced); 10 minutes (oral).

GRADING: 15% of final grade; based on substantive content, focus and organization, accuracy, grammar.

DIRECTIONS: Select one scholarly article on your assigned author listed on our Authors resource page. Write a summary of that article and give the class a short oral summary of its key points. To do a good job on this assignment, you may need to review the article several times and annotate it. 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.

NOTE: If the first part of your article has a long review of previous studies that have
been done on that novel, probably skip most of 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 no time to cover adequately the rest of the article.

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.

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.

Possibly no quotations will be needed in your summary, or perhaps quote a few particularly well-chosen words or phrases, maybe a sentence or two at most. WARNING: When quoting, paraphrasing, or summarizing, it is important that you remember a few basic rules that will help you avoid plagiarism.

You should also periodically remind your reader that your information came from a secondary source (i.e., Thompson claims that . . .; According to Thompson, . . .; Thompson also argues that . . .; Thompson's point is that . . .; Thompson notes/analyzes/cites/classifies/etc. . .).

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.


Do not read your report to the class. Talk to your classmates for 10 minutes. The purpose of the oral report is to provide them 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 discuss 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.

See also: Organization/Focus and MLA Documentation and Typing Directions and Avoid Plagiarism.

Short Twain Analysis

DUE: Mon., 2/07.

LENGTH: 4-5 pp. (typed, double-spaced).

GRADING: 15% of final grade; based on substantive content, insight into your material, focus and organization, documentation, grammar.

TOPIC: Choose one of the following topics.

  • Trace the romanticism vs. realism theme through Twain's treatment of the river which runs through most of the novel. Discuss 3-4 significant examples in some detail.

  • Discuss the Grangerford episode as a kind of fictional microcosm of the social values Twain satirizes throughout the novel.

  • Discuss the theme of lying in the novel--different kinds or degrees of lies, for instance. Select 3-4 significant examples to discuss in some detail. How does this theme relate to the other concerns of the novel?

The topics are deliberately somewhat narrow because I want you to select a few significnt examples and analyze them in detail. Treat your examples as "representative" or "typical" of what the rest of the novel covers. In fact, the introduction and conclusion would be good places to give that broader sweep, while the body of the paper will scrutinize more minutely the specific details.

Although you may refer to material we discuss in class, the main focus of the paper should go way beyond what we covered as a class and/or relate material we did not mention to the material that has been covered. You may focus on any of the elements of fiction--setting, plot, character, point-of-view, symbol, and/or theme--as seem appropriate for your paper, but do not restrict your discussion just to theme.

NOTE: If you use any information from the article we discuss in class, make sure you properly document it. See the online directions below about using MLA style.

See also: Organization/Focus and MLA Documentation and Typing Directions and Avoid Plagiarism.

Longer Dreiser Analysis

DUE: Mon., 4/27.

LENGTH: 8-9 pp. (typed, double-spaced), plus Works Cited page consisting of two secondary sources (scholarly articles) and your primary source (Dreiser's novel).

GRADING: 25% of final grade; based on substantive content, insight into your material, focus and organization, documentation, grammar.

TOPIC: Discuss one of the topics listed below. If you want to explore a different topic, get your instructor's permission first.

As part of this assignment, read two scholarly articles on the selected novel(s) and incorporate that information into your paper. You can find links to online scholarly articles on our class web page: Authors. If you need additional articles, use "MLA International Bibliography" listed on the library's databases by title.

  • Treat the city in Dreiser as a "character" or active agent in the novel, and analyze its major characteristics and influence on the main characters. To what extent does it dominate and shape the lives of Dreiser's protagonists? Does it have the same impact on all the major characters? Is the urban world "reality"?

  • Discuss the various stages in the decline of Hurstwood. How does Dreiser work to present him at each stage as more a victim (of what?) rather than a fully capable moral agent in control of his own destiny? Do Veblen's theories help explain Hurstwood's decline?

  • Compare-contrast the women protagonists in Dreiser and Chopin in terms of gender and class. How do the authors' conceptions of women/women's roles differ in different classes? How do the social environments/constraints of their respective classes differ? Why can Carrie "succeed" in society, but Edna cannot?

  • Discuss Carrie and Lily as "actresses" performing "femininity" for their respective "audiences." Compare and contrast the acting/theatrical motifs in these novels. In these novels, is femininity real or constructed? Is there a "real" identity that exists independently of their assumed roles?

You will develop and support your own thesis/argument in this paper, 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 novel or in ways not fully developed in the articles.

  • Disagree with some aspect of the thesis or its application in the articles and develop an alternate reading of your novel that "corrects" the problem.

Either way, make sure you weave your secondary sources smoothly and effectively into the introduction and body of your paper. Typically, a number of those secondary sources are briefly covered in the introduction to your paper. Use them to show your reader that you are aware of other work that has been done on the novel and to clarify how your thesis differs from or adds to those studies. However, the details and examples that support and develop your thesis should come from your primary sources (the novels you are discussing). Remember to discuss, analyze, and explain the significance of your examples.

Use standard MLA style for your in-text citations and works Cited page. Consult the links below for directions on Focus and Organization, Avoiding Plagiarism, and MLA Documentation.

See also: Organization/Focus and MLA Documentation and Typing Directions and Avoid Plagiarism.


Focusing/Organizing Your Paper

Introductions in short papers should be short--maybe 3-4 sentences long. (For a 10-page paper, the introduction might possibly consist of two paragraphs, if needed.) Begin with some general statement about your topic. If you are going to write about a novel, include the author and title somewhere in the opening sentence. Or if you are writing about race issues during the Realistic Period, actually use those words in the opening sentence. Other information in the introduction might include a one-sentence statement of what the text is about, or some pertinent background, or a brief explanation of why there have been problems with the topic or even disagreements about it, or why that topic is a significant approach to understanding the Realistic Period. Most or perhaps all of the introduction will be your own writing, but it is all right to include a short paraphrase/quotation, properly cited.

NOTE: End the introductory paragraph(s) with your thesis statement. Remember, your thesis is what the rest of the paper will be about. Do not phrase it as a question, but rather as an assertion--your overall conclusion about what your paper adds up to.

Since you can't talk about everything at once, sub-divide your thesis/conclusion into 5-6 sub-points. Those sub-points will form the topic sentences for the body paragraphs--the point that you want to make in that paragraph.

The topic sentence should be placed at the beginning of the body paragragh and followed by lots of specific details and examples and short quotations from the texts, as well as your explanation/analysis of that information.

WRITING TIP: Arrange your sub-points so that the body section always ends with your strongest material.

For quotations from your primary source (the Dreiser novel), include a page number (in parenthesis) directly after the quote. The author's name may precede the quotation or be placed in the parenthesis with the page number. (I prefer the first option.) Avoid long quotations in short papers. It is often much more effective to work a quoted word or short phrase into your own sentence. Follow the same rules when citing anything (summary, paraphrase, quotation) from your secondary sources (scholarly articles).

NOTE: I hate skimpy body paragraphs that are only 1-2 sentences long;
put some meat on those bones--another 6-8 sentences of details
and examples and explanations, please!)

Conclusions in short papers should be short--maybe 3-4 sentences long.

NOTE: 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 also: MLA Documentation and Typing Directions and Avoid Plagiarism.


Avoiding Plagiarism

  • Summarized/paraphrased material must be in language very different from the original.

  • Quoted material and punctuation must be exactly the same as used by the original.

  • Quotation marks must be inserted 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.).


MLA Documentation

See this short summary of MLA style: Using Modern Language Association (MLA) Format (see sub-headings in left column). Together, they give the basic "rules" for in-text citation and bibliographies, including how to cite electronic sources.

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

See an example of Basic Paper Format (scroll down the page) and an example of a Works Cited Page.

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

See also: Organization/Focus and Typing Directions and Avoid Plagiarism.


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. (Carefully handwrite it in if you do not know how to do that on a computer.)

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 the page, add a title.

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

Put all documentation on a separate page as shown here: Works Cited Page.

See also: Organization/Focus and MLA Documentation and Avoid Plagiarism.

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Updated: 10-24-12