American Literature Response Paper

Read the requirement and choice one of the questions to discuss.
The book is The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Shorter Eighth Edition (2 volumes)
Response Paper Instructions


Write a thesis-driven response to one or two of the assigned readings that moves beyond our class discussion of the text. The paper

should make a compelling and arguable claim about the literary work and support it with textual evidence. Remember that a thesis is

your best reply to an important question that doesn’t have a “right” answer. You may respond to one of the discussion questions I have

provided or one of your own, but make sure that the question you select can sustain a complete, well-developed response.

Your thesis should be original and should challenge or complicate a simple reading of the text. You’ll likely have succeeded in your

thesis statement if your readers pause after reading it and think, “What an interesting idea. I wonder if that’s really true.” Once you

have offered an intriguing thesis, you must support it with ample evidence from the work itself. Offer paraphrases and direct quotes as

evidence, but don’t assume that they alone will convince your readers. Instead, provide analysis of and commentary on your textual

evidence to demonstrate what a particular paraphrase or quote means in your view, why it is significant, and how it supports your



You dress your ideas with your voice, diction, and sentence fluency, so use them appropriately. When you get ready for a party or a job

interview or church or class, you choose what you will wear based on certain conventions and expectations as well as the impression

that you’re trying to make. Writing is no different. You have a range of options when it comes to your writing style; select the one

that is best suited to your purpose—to convince me that you have something worthwhile to contribute to a discussion of the text.

Do not try to steal from someone else’s wardrobe by adopting a writing style that is not your own. Make sure you are comfortable with

the language you are using, that you truly own it and that it feels natural to you. Use a thesaurus to remind you of words that have

momentarily escaped you, not to find new ones. There is no need to be overly formal, but be aware that casual language often reflects

(or even leads to) casual thinking. Feel free to use first-person, if it strengthens your paper, but avoid phrases like “I believe,” “I

think,” or “I will argue.” Humor and wit are always welcome, but they are never substitutes for sound reasoning or solid argument.

For additional help on writing about literature, visit

Sample Topics:
These are designed to give you an idea of the kind of questions you can answer in your paper. You do not have to use them as your

actual topic, and I’d prefer it if you didn’t.

• Analyze a work as it relates to the culture or history of the time in which it was written. What historical events secretly

influenced some part of a text? It’s too obvious to say that the American Revolution was an influence on “Rip Van Winkle,” but perhaps

you can find a lesser known event that changes how we read the text.
• Offer a theory driven thesis. Do a feminist reading of Anne Bradstreet or a Marxist reading of “Bartleby, the Scrivener.”

Research other papers of this kind to see how they work and how you can apply the same theoretical framework to your text.
• Compare and contrast two different works that deal with the same theme, image, symbol, etc. Compare the use of fire in “Barn

Burning” and “To Build a Fire.” How do Dickinson and Bryant address the subject of death differently? How does jazz influence Hughes

as opposed to Kerouac? Focus here on explaining how the different use of a common element illuminates both texts more fully.
• You can also simply focus on one work and a symbol or image that is used frequently but which we didn’t discuss in class. See

if you can come up with a thesis the helps to illuminate the text by analyzing the way in which the author has used a repeated image.
• Analyze the influences on a particular work. In other words, what allusions or references to other works of literature,

historical events, scientific discoveries, etc. are there in the text you’re studying? How does a better understanding of that

allusion help us understand the text in a new way? Hawthorne refers to an early form of photography in “The Birthmark.” How does that

help us understand Aylmer’s relationship with Georgianna? Frost’s “Out, Out—“ takes its title from a line in Macbeth. What does

Shakespeare’s soliloquy tell us about the poem?

Submission Guidelines

• 3-4 pages; double-spaced; stapled, with the rubric as the final page
• MLA guidelines: no title page; running header: last name and page number; heading on first page: name, instructor name, course,

date; an interesting and compelling title; 12 pt. Times New Roman font; 1” margins; parenthetical page citations; no Works Cited needed

if you use only the Norton Anthology

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