Final Essay

For your final essay, you will write a kind of book review, where you will compare aspects of your own life to certain aspects from the novel.

  • Length: about 1,200 words, including citations.
  • Due date: Monday, December 12, by 12:00 pm. Post as blog post to category: “Ham on Rye Final Draft.”
  • It will be a mix of memoir (writing about yourself) and literary criticism (analyzing the novel).

I was inspired by this blog post. At a certain point, “BREEZYK” says the following:

I think this book hit me particularly hard because it was so emotionally raw. At times I thought about putting it down, but couldn’t. It was sort of like pressing a canker sore; as uncomfortable as it was, I also kind of liked it. Having read a lot of fluff before this, it felt good to read a book with real pain and tangible feelings involved- one that wasn’t obviously angling to become a Hollywood film.

Chinaski’s experience as a German immigrant also really hit me on a personal level. Like Chinaski, my father was also the son of Eastern European immigrants, and he too was chided by his peers and made to feel unwelcome for his immigrant status. It gave me a whole new appreciation for how difficult it was for my dad growing up. I wanted to reach out across four provinces and give him a great big hug.

What I found interesting about this was how he explains why the book resonated with him by comparing Henry’s experience to his own. And I thought, this is what the final essay will be. Something like the above, except yours will be better and more engaged with the novel.

The assignment, briefly:

If you liked this novel, part of the reason is because you can relate to Henry in some way. If you didn’t, it’s because you can’t relate to Henry in any way.

  • So, if you liked it, explain how and why you can relate to Henry or his experience.
  • If you didn’t, explain why you can’t in any way relate to Henry or his experience.

Note: it’s important to start with the question:

  • Do I like the novel?
  • And not:
  • Can I relate to Henry in any way?

At first glance, it may appear that you and Henry have nothing in common. He’s vulgar, violent, racist, and misogynist. But, if you like the novel, you probably see more to his character than this. Consider not only the surface, obvious characteristics. Consider the deeper emotional landscape of the character.

The assignment, in more detail:

Genre: A book review. You are discussing whether you connected with this book personally or not, and why.

Audience: Readers who are potentially interested in reading the novel.

Purpose: To convince these readers that it is either a worthwhile book to read or not.

Task: Compare certain aspects of your own life experience with specific moments from Henry’s life experience.

Once again, this is the first time I’m assigning an assignment like this, so the form and structure is a bit undefined. It’s up to you to find a form and structure that works for you.

There are basically two components: writing about yourself, and writing about the novel. You’ll probably want to write about the novel a bit more than yourself. If I had to give a rough ratio, say about 30% about yourself and 70% about the novel.

In brainstorming your ideas, think about one or two aspects of Henry’s character that you can really relate to (or not). Then, for each one, briefly discuss who you are and where you’re coming from. If possible, you can briefly describe a particular event from your life. Then look in detail how you see this aspect of Henry’s character playing itself out in the novel.


  • Though part of this essay will be autobiographical, the other part will be analytical. This means you still need to incorporate citations from the novel. I won’t give you an exact number (though I would say 8 would be a bare minimum), but you still need to display significant engagement with the novel.
  • Part of this assignment will be to evaluate how well you integrate citations. We’ll go over this in class. If you got a low mark for “mechanics” on your Film Adaptation essay, this is something you’ll want to pay attention to.
  • When writing about yourself, keep in mind the identity exercise we did in the lab. When writing about yourself, you can present yourself however you like. Put some thought into this question: How do I want to present myself on the page? For example, in the above paragraph I presented myself as someone who likes to cut through the bullshit. Is that who I really am? Well, that’s how I decided I wanted to present myself in that moment.
  • Though you’re writing to someone who hasn’t read the novel, don’t worry about spoiling it. Write about any scene, talk about the ending, etc. Spoilers are okay.
  • You want to convince someone to read or not read the novel based on an in-depth discussion of your personal relationship to it. You don’t just want to keep repeating that you love it or hated it. You don’t want to say something like: “You should read it because Henry is a funny character.” Instead, you’ll want to say things like, “Henry’s sense of humour really comes out in the scene underneath the grandstand…” In fact, you should not use the word “should” anywhere in your essay.
  • More details about this assignment will come in upcoming classes.


How you will be graded for Ham on Rye Final Essay (total 15 points):

  • Ideas (5 points)
    • You engage with the novel in a substantial way
    • You have a clear and focused main argument or thesis about one aspect of Henry’s character.
    • You include enough evidence from the novel. You engage with as many different parts of the novel as possible.
    • You are looking at specific words, images, or phrases from this evidence
    • You are considering the context of citations
    • You are making connections between different parts of the novel
    • You are making an attempt to convey your ideas about what is going on beneath the surface of the action
    • You relate or contrast one aspect of Henry’s character to a specific event from your own life.
  • Mechanics (5 points)
    • You integrate citations properly according to MLA format (How to Integrate Citations)
    • You have a list of works cited in MLA Format
    • You spell and format the author’s name and the book title correctly
    • You have attempted to create an interesting title
    • Your text looks neat and professional
    • You have divided your text into paragraphs of the appropriate length
    • You are using the canvas of the blog in a visually interesting way (consider using photos and hyperlinks. Not mandatory, but could add dynamics to your post)
  • Writing style (5 points)          
    • You have proofread carefully for grammatical precision (hint: print out a sheet and edit on that. Also, read your draft out loud)
    • You are attempting to write in a style that is genuine and human
    • Your sentences are clear and easy to understand
    • When describing your personal experience, you use sufficient imagery (things you can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell).