Notes on structure for Final Essay

I was very inspired while reading your “Identity” exercises, when you described your first memory. This gave me a better idea of what your final essay could be.

I’ll give you a kind of loose structure, but this is what I have in mind:

Opening paragraph (should be brief, 5 or 6 sentences. 100-150 words approximately):

  • State the author’s name and title
  • Give a very brief (one or two sentence) overview of what the novel’s about
  • Explain whether you can relate to Henry’s character or not.
  • Thesis statement: What aspect of Henry’s character can you relate to or not? Be as specific as possible here.

Second paragraph (200-250 words approximately):

Describe a specific event from your life that demonstrates an aspect of your character that is similar (or different) from Henry’s.

This is similar to your “Identity” exercise, where you described a specific event from your life. It should be in the first person (Use “I.”). Use as much sensory imagery as possible (describe things that you can see, hear, feel, taste, or smell). Remember that you can present yourself however you like: heroic, pathetic, sensitive, brash, cool, loserish, etc.

You want this to be one paragraph, so you’ll have to describe this event really concisely and succinctly.

Ideas of specific events you could write about:

  • Any moment of heightened emotion. A moment when you felt something, anything, strongly: shame, embarrassment, pride, confusion, fear, anger, love, etc.  How did you react?
  • A decision you had to make.
  • A traumatic moment.
  • A triumphant moment.
  • The first or last time you did something. 

Next 3 or 4 paragraphs (the bulk of your essay. 800-900 words, including citations approximately):

Analyze how this aspect of Henry’s character’s is revealed in the novel. This part will be similar to literary essays you’ve written in the past. You want to demonstrate the value (or lack of value) in this novel by looking deeply at this one aspect of Henry’s character. Each paragraph could look at this aspect at a different moment from the novel, add new information, or discuss possible contradictions, etc.

There’s one important thing to keep in mind: The one thing I really appreciate about this novel is the genuineness of the writing. There is an honesty and a realness to how Bukowski expresses himself. However you choose to approach this essay, try to do it in as genuine and honest a way as possible. Talk to me, as directly and simply as possible. Write like you speak (like you would speak to someone you don’t know well, rather than a good friend).


Sample, on Voyage in the Dark

Voyage in the Dark, by Jean Rhys, is a novel about one young woman’s descent into the seedy underworld of London. But, beyond this tale of debauchery, lies a story of faint hope and redemption for the protagonist. The hope in this novel, for me, comes from Anna’s personality and the way she deals with hardship. I found I was able to relate to Anna’s honesty and ability to cut through the social conventions that dominate her everyday experience. Anna is very in touch with the emotional truth of every situation, and she is not afraid to express how she really feels, much like a child.

I too try to always be straight with myself in terms of my own feelings. This is something I think about a lot as a teacher. Just this past semester, I was discussing a short story with my 101 class. It was about 3:00 pm on a Tuesday afternoon. We were in the Pepsi Form. The air was stuffy, and the only window in the classroom was a window that looked out at the movie theatre lobby below. I was trying to lead a class discussion, but I couldn’t ignore that people’s heads were nodding up and down and the people in the back were looking at their phones. Students were getting up and leaving to go to the bathroom two at a time. I heard my voice speaking, but nothing was getting through. I was faced with a choice: continue the charade of this class, or take action. “All right,” I said. “This isn’t working. Everyone get up.” We pushed the tables to the side of the room, and made a circle for class discussion. I was glad that I’d decided to admit to the truth of what we were all feeling in the room. With renewed energy, I took my place in the circle, and continued the discussion.

Anna’s genuineness is usually more comical than this, and it helps to cut through much of the tension in the novel.  Her interactions with Walter are particularly blunt, like when she’s talking to Walter about her home town:

‘Everybody thinks the place where he was born is lovely,’ Walter said.

‘Well, they aren’t all lovely,’ I said. ‘Not by a long chalk.’ (47)

It would be easy for Anna to just politely agree with Walter’s statement. But she feels the need here, as she often does, to say something much more profound and honest. The tension in this scene really comes from the contrast between her passion and energy and Walter’s utter disinterest in anything she’s saying. It is precisely her tendency to be fully present and call people on their nonsense that I find so endearing in her character. I WOULD NOW CONTINUE THIS PARAGRAPH WITH AT LEAST ONE MORE QUOTE / EXAMPLE

Next paragraph: Anna’s interactions with her female friends shows that this honesty is not only reserved for men.

Next paragraph: Anna is not totally honest with herself, which hints at a deeper struggle within herself. (showing possible contradiction to my argument. This is good)

Conclusion: final statement about how Anna’s genuineness allows us to root for her, keeps our interest in the novel, or adds complexity to the story, etc.


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