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Academic but not stuffy. Introduction: Language and power are bound together and

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Academic but not stuffy.
Introduction: Language and power are bound together and often unnoticed. We read and enjoy a work of literature without paying close attention to which structures of power it reinforces and which structures it resists. Your goal for this essay is to explore how the language of one of the novels we read for class does just this. Your objective, as always, is meaning-making. That is, you are trying to explore how a text creates meaning beyond plot. Specifically, you will explore how the language (in a large structural way or in a small diction- or syntax-focused way) affects how an audience perceives different structures of power within a text. So, you might look at diction and syntax to consider how the words’ arrangement and the word choice highlights an imbalance in power (or fails to do so). To do this well, begin with a location of power you want to discuss. If that is difficult for you to think about, consider the titles of each chapter in Language, Society & Power. Gender, ethnicity, race, age, and class are all sites of disputed power. All texts, intentionally or otherwise, assume a position regarding these issues (and others)—even if that position is to simply reinforce the status quo. Your job is to unpack a small portion of this. But, more importantly, your job is to show an audience (not me) how this is functioning within a text. For example, it should take little imagination to realize that The Handmaid’s Tale means to take on issues of power regarding gender. But, how it does this is what your paper might attempt to clarify. To be clear, your positions can and should wildly vary. A good thesis might suggest that the playful language that Margaret Atwood uses in the Handmaid’s Tale is intended to breakdown the ridiculousness of power awarded to a group of people on a basis of gender. However, you could just as easily suggest that while that might be the goal, the text fails to do so, or that there are other language related concerns that supersede her puns in creating a critique of patriarchy. There are countless avenues, so ask me if you are struggling.
Assignment: Write a 5-7-page essay focused on ONE OR MORE of the NOVELS we’ve read for class. Explain to your audience how you know that the novel(s) has staked a particular position on religion, colonialism, or the media (also loci of power). Then take a position on this. Is it a good thing? A bad thing? Could it be done better? Did the author miss their mark? Highlight examples in the text—these examples must be representative; that is, they must be similar to most of the rest of the text. Then, and most importantly, you must explain how you came to your position. So, a thesis might look like: “Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things, uses unusual capitalizations and paragraphing as well as nonlinear plotlines to disrupt an easy, escapist read. In so doing, she forces readers to pay attention to things we typically overlook as ‘normal.’ Her reasons for doing this are to highlight that normal is just another way of saying, ‘in keeping with what those in power like.’ Her novel means to challenge that power structure, specifically as it pertains to gender.” Notice that my thesis is many sentences long, that it doesn’t have a 5-paragraph model, that it directly confronts an issue, and that it focuses on language.”
Construction: Your essay should have a provocative introduction that quickly narrows into your thesis. Remember, a thesis must be concrete, argumentative, and well-written. It’s also not a single statement. It’s every word of your paper. Everything you commit to writing should be making your point or defending your point. Your introduction should include the name of the author(s), the name of the work(s), and what you are arguing about the work(s). Each subsequent paragraph must support your thesis by highlighting those parts of the text that work toward the unveiling of your argument. Don’t get carried away with too many options. Be direct. Be narrow. Most importantly, your argument is won or lost in the body of your paper. So, find examples from the text and support them with reason and, where necessary and helpful, with secondary sources like Language, Society & Power and More than Cool Reason. Every quote you provide as evidence should have a minimum of a paragraph explaining how you know it supports your point. Two or three paragraphs makes more sense. In other words, show your work. If a passage makes you sad and that’s part of your point, explain how it does this. Track down the connotations of the individual words. Highlight the historical context. Cite secondary sources. This is the bulk of your essay. Do it well.

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