Essay 2: Literary Analysis
How literature formulates arguments, and how we write about them
What am I supposed to do?
This essay functions a lot like essay 1 — where you were asked to “research some form of sociopolitical system, an injustice, a human rights issue, an environmental crisis, etc., then incorporate that research into an organized essay that adequately develops an argument.” This essay simply asks you to turn your attention to N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (2015) as your “evidence,” as we ask what sociopolitical arguments Jemisin is attempting to make through her novel. Literature often presents us with arguments, ideas, and opinions, and it is our job to understand what they are. Literary analysis essays therefore function exactly like standard argumentative or opinion essays, except that the “evidence” you use is the piece of literature itself.
So this essay is actually a lot like Essay 1, but you will be using The Fifth Season as your “research” or “evidence.” It is less about your opinion on a subject, and more about what the novel is trying to tell us.
What is this useful for?
Essay 1 is useful for understanding how to develop effective arguments that are organized and sufficiently supported with research and evidence, in the event that we want to advocate for ourselves and our beliefs. And, of course, because the university expects this of you. Essay 2 is very similar, but asks you to think about the kind of arguments an author is developing through literature (or media), which is one step removed from the world we live in. Literature analysis is helpful for understanding how all kinds of media — television, video games, films — present opinions, arguments, ideas, and how they effectively (or ineffectively) support those ideas through metaphor, story-telling, or world-building. This is also the focus of ENGL 1C, which is the next course in the 1ABC series.
Basically, everything we consume is attempting to convey some form of argument about the world around us, even the most innocuous form of media, like children’s media. Consider that the Avatar episode “The Painted Lady” shows us how colonialism is violent and harms Indigenous folks; that Pokemon Sword & Shield has a whole environmental argument in its story; that any show or movie or game has some kind of argument, good, bad, or otherwise, and that you are unknowingly receiving that argument into your noggin if you are not aware of it!
But how, exactly?
Having developed wonderful thesis statements about your own opinions for Essay 1, related to something familiar to you, it can be difficult to turn that argument around into something focused on The Fifth Season, where the world-building elements are unfamiliar. To get started thinking about how you will write an organized essay that makes an argument about what message Jemisin is trying to get across, I suggest the following:
- Start with a specific moment or two that you find interesting, shocking, weird, alarming, exciting, confusing, etc., and think about why you find those moments compelling — start from here
- Or, consider a specific theme that you want to identify and analyze, such as racial politics in the novel, gender identity, the portrayal of sexuality, parenthood or childhood, etc., and narrow your focus from there
- Consider what we’ve talked about in class — Residential Schools, abuse of children, racial hierarchies in fantasy genres, how gender and sexuality are portrayed in the text (neutral, positive, etc.)
Next, we return to the basic elements of our essay, which are
- The introduction
- The thesis statement
- Body paragraphs
- The conclusion – so what?
For this essay, once you craft your thesis statement — your “argument” about what message Jemisin is making through the text — you should choose 2-4 very specific examples of plot or key moments in the story that support your thesis. These are your body paragraphs, your evidence, your research. These are the moments you will analyze rather than outside evidence and resources. We will look at sample essays in order to understand how to do this.
What am I responsible for, then?
- Your thesis is strong, specific, & is not overgeneralized
- You have the basic elements of the essay: introduction, thesis, concise body paragraphs, & a conclusion
- Your body paragraphs center around specific moments in the novel, and you have minimum (4) quotes from the text that illuminate your argument and analysis
- You have 3-4 pages of essay
- Your essay is in basic MLA format (not the end of the world tho!)
- Due Tuesday, December 7th, midnight
Per our grading contract, simply meeting these requirements amounts to a B. Going above and beyond these requirements — by having a super stellar thesis, a very strong organizational structure, and excellent use of the novel as your evidence, earns you an extra labor assignment toward a higher grade. We do this because we are creating a space where everyone is rewarded for their labor and not their “skill” or “ability;” instead, what matters is the work you do. Meeting the requirements of the essay is great! If you want to work on other assignments for your extra labor, or you don’t want to do any extra labor — that’s also great. The point is that your grade is clearly communicated to you from the outset, and it is entirely customizable.
Appropriate Thesis Statements
Concept: Gender Representation
Thesis: The Fifth Season portrays its transgender characters with welcome neutrality, referring to their trans identities with mild interest rather than overly-positive or effusive descriptions or with any amount of disgust or over-interest, thus providing neutral — and therefore positive — representation of trans characters.
Concept: Racial Inequality (either epidermal or in/human)
Thesis: Jemisin creates different races in The Fifth Season that mirror the way that we privilege certain aesthetic ideals — white, conventionally “thin” — but by privileging Sanze instead, who are Black with textured hair. She does this as a way to explore racial hierarchies and aesthetic privileges.
Thesis: The different races in The Fifth Season and especially the privileged Sanze show us the absurdity of creating a standard beauty ideal based around whiteness.
1: the way Essun describes her skin color and how she’s internalized this aesthetic ideal – how people internalize beauty standards and how harmful that is
2: the way Hoa stands out
3: how Damaya talks about difference among grits and how she recognizes difference but doesn’t necessarily feel that one person is privileged over another… except that she does say that Maxixe is really beautiful “despite” not having perfect Sanze heritage, which “some” people care about
Themes to Draw From:
Hierarchies – social, racial, financial
Social obligation between men and women
Maternal instinct & children
Abuse – physical in relationships, mental abuse
The idea of being human / inhuman
Human v. self
Survivalism – everyone for themselves, individualism
Abuse in education, or education as indoctrination
Magic power and its relationship to oppression
Abuse of power
Depiction of difference in gender and sexuality
let me know if you can access the book!https://classroom.google.com/u/0/c/Mzg1NTk5MTM0ODg1/m/Mzk1MzczMTY5NDg3/details