Before writing a whole essay, I need a few topic ideas and I will choose which one sounds best for you to continue writing about.

Assigned texts:

  1. Andrew Delbanco, Melville: His World and Work (0375403140)
  2. Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (Norton, 1988; 0393956164)
  3. Dan McCall, ed., Melville’s Short Novels (Norton, 2002; 0393976416)
  4. Herman Melville, Moby Dick (Norton, 2002; 0393972836)

This essay should argue for the literary, cultural, or political significance of one or more of the course’s assigned texts; the topic is subject to my pre-approval but otherwise up to you. Please frame your argument as part of a larger intellectual conversation by citing at least three relevant outside sources – e.g., book or film reviews, “middlebrow” essays (e.g., The Nation, New Republic, or National Review), or academic books or articles (such as those found in the journal Science Fiction Studies).

Effective scholarly writing often uses the “They Say, I Say” model, in which you summarize and critique what other critics have said about your topic, then indicate how your understanding differs from theirs, and finally defend that understanding with a well-reasoned argument of your own.

In The Philosophy of Literary Form, the literary theorist Kenneth Burke explains this dialogical conception of literary study like this:

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.

For practical guidance on joining in on Burke’s “unending conversation,” I recommend the book They Say, I Say, by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein.

In your formal essay you should assume your audience is intelligent and reasonably well informed, but not familiar with literary-critical jargon or the specific texts you will be discussing. Length should be about 4,000 words.

In addition to clearly expressing and adequately supporting an original and significant argument, it should make appropriate use of its sources, have no significant grammar or spelling errors, and use MLA style and format for in-text citations and Works Cited page.

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