3 to 5 page essay american lit

I. Overview:

This first formal writing assignment asks you to seriously contemplate a new phrase: the American Literary Canon

The term canon originally referred to a set of selected books of the Christian bible. However, for our scholarly purposes, canon refers to notable and accepted works of literature that best represent a particular era.

In the last century, the American literary canon has been challenged for many reasons, namely, the lack of diversity amongst these “approved writers.” For instance, an American Literature anthology in 1950 may have contained Walt Whitman but not Paul Lawrence Dunbar or Gertrude Stein. While some critics praise the change to be more inclusive, others argue the classics will always be the classics—as in, what has always been viewed as the iconic writing of a time period should remain so.

This concept becomes an important one for us to contemplate. Why have these texts been continually anthologized? What is it about them that sustains over time and still speaks to readers? Is it because the text itself is entertaining? Is there some facet of the work that is inherently “American”? Or does it teach us something about a past era, an aspect of humanity, societal expectations of the genders, the true meaning of and appreciation for freedom? Some other as yet unnamed reason?

If you’re suddenly concerned that you can’t answer for a whole generation why one text is more significant than another, trust your intuition. You are the life-long reader.

Your reading of a text is as unique as the text itself. You may see something in a Dickinson poem that your peer in the same course does not; you may find bitter truth in Howells’ “Editha” because you too have questioned the true human costs of a nation engaged in war; you may be shocked by the representation of infidelity in Chopin’s short story “The Storm”; you may find beauty in the order and insight of Whitman’s poems.

While you may not “care” for some of the stories, essays, poems, and plays that we read in class, there should be a few that do provoke you intellectually, ones that “speak to you” in some significant way. At the very least, you should be able to make thoughtful connections between the people who were writing the words then, the times during which they lived, and the context during which we read them today.

II. Assignment Specifics:

A. Directions & PROMPT:

1. Select your primary sources:

a. You may choose two works by the same American writer or two works by two different American writers. However, you must show a connection between the works and you must use at least TWO.

b. You may also choose from any one of the American authors, poets, or essayistswho are published in our course anthology, even if we will not or haven’t covered them yet. Please contact me if this is your plan.

2. Your general essay topic:

Your essay should focus upon your experience reading the text(s) you select and a defense of why it should remain a part of the American Literary Canon. Therefore, you should use first person “I” in the paper.


1. Documentation Style: Proper MLA heading and citation; Works Cited page

2. Length: 3-5 pages, double-spaced, size 12 font

3. Secondary Sources: you should use only primary sources for this first assignment.

I want to hear your thoughts, not research from some fancy-pants critic, stodgy historian, or, heaven help us all, a “homework help” website.

You will have the opportunity to research secondary sources for the term project. For this first personal reflection, you should rely solely on your ideas and information from our American Literature Anthology.

If you have questions about this requirement, please feel free to contact me.

4. Due Date: before midnight (11:59 PM) Friday, July 13th

5. Submission Guidelines: Students will submit final drafts of the essays through the VeriCite Tool in Canvas. Essays submitted in other formats (hard-copy, via e-mail, etc.) will not be included in final grade calculations.

Essays submitted late are subject to the late work policy penalties and will be graded at the end of the semester.

Essays submitted one week after the due date will be accepted but not graded.

C. A reflective response illustrates the student has engaged inthe following:

1. Careful reading

2. Engagement with the text

3. Inquiry/wonder about the text

4. Personal expression regarding the content of the text

III. Getting Started: Need help generating content? Consider answering some of the following questions as you brainstorm:

A. General—information to consider including in an introduction:

* What is this essay/poem/story about?

* Who is the author of the piece?

* How does the author’s personality and/or background influence the writing?

* What time period was it first published?

* Does the writing include references to major historical moments? If so, do you think these references to actual events/conditions are fair? Do they fit what you imagined them to be?

* What are some of the characteristics of the writing?

B. Specific— core of your thesis, substance of body paragraphs:

* What are some thoughts you had while reading?

* Were there elements of the text you connected to? How/why? Did something trigger a memory and/or association?

* Do you feel this selection represents your idea of “America”? Do you feel this selection

represents the general viewpoint of “America” to the mass U.S. population?

* What are some “timeless” aspects of the piece?

* What do you like about the reading?

* What do you dislike about the reading?

* Do you feel like anything is falsely or unfairly represented in the reading?

* Create your own questions to explore!


A (90-100%): The student demonstrates superior ability and originality. Thorough knowledge of the material is displayed. The quality of submitted work is consistently high with minimal, superficial stylistic or rhetorical errors.

* The student engages with the text and demonstrates/highlights strong connections with either the author, the story itself, the language and/or historical context.

* It is clear the student has thoroughly read the text and contemplated its various meanings to themselves and in general.

* The student presents his/her ideas in an organized, reflective manner.

B (80-89%): The student demonstrates above average ability. Knowledge of the material exceeds basic requirements: moments of strong insight and/or creativity are demonstrated. The quality of submitted work contains few stylistic or rhetorical errors.

* The student demonstrates interest in the text and provides moments of connection with either the author, the story itself, the language and/or historical context.

* It is clear the student has read the text and has given some consideration to various aspects of the selection.

*The student presents his/her ideas in a mostly organized manner.

C (70-79%): The student presents work that adequately treats the assignment. A “C” paper may also include minor erroneous evaluation of the material and/or sources and/or minor misinterpretations of the assignment. Errors in proofreading, mechanics, style, and rhetorical devices appear throughout less than 50 percent of the essay.

* The student demonstrates little interest in the text and provides few moments of connection with

either the author, the story itself, the language and/or historical context. The student mostly

focuses on reporting back general information on the text, not reflecting on what the text means to him/her.

* It is clear the student has read the text and gives brief/superficial consideration to various aspects of the selection.

* The student presents his/her ideas in a roughly organized manner

D (60-69%): The student submits below average work. This typically indicates that a student has erroneously evaluated the material and/or sources AND/OR has misunderstood the assignment. In addition, the work may also contain repeated mechanical and stylistic errors that compromise the clarity of the student’s writing.

F (0-59%): The student submits sloppy, poorly organized work containing excessive stylistic and rhetorical errors. The work displays little student effort and interest and/or does not reflect the assignment.

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