ENGL 202, Spring 2011 — Essay 1

Background:  Many Romantic texts tell stories of humans who dare to do something that crosses boundaries or defies rules.  Both “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and Frankenstein depict central characters who attempt to control nature, and perhaps defy other rules, too.  In some way, each character could be said to over-reach, or, in other words, to transgress against rules or guidelines in admirable, bold, or even wrong-headed ways.  Think about what those rules or guidelines are, and what purpose or consequence there might be in their defiance.

Texts: Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” OR Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Task: For this assignment, you will first select one of the above texts — you may not write about both texts.  Then, you will write a 5-7 page response (formatted in accordance with the guidelines set forth on the syllabus) to the following question:

How does the work you have selected depict the idea of mankind’s over-reaching?

Tips to help you:

  • It might be easier to use a character as a representative of mankind (the word that the assignment question uses) — focusing on the choices and actions of just one character is likely to give you a stronger essay.  You could then discuss that one character as representative of mankind.  If you really get stuck, you can discuss the over-reaching of more than one character, but keep in mind that widening your focus in that way isn’t as likely to lead to a strong essay.
  • A strong thesis for this assignment will provide one unified answer to the “how” part of the question.  Don’t create a list for your thesis; instead, think about the way in which the pieces of support that you’ve found are able to relate and tie together. 
  • You might think of the “how” part of the question as asking you whether the text endorses or condemns over-reaching.  Then, your thesis’s rationale can explain in what way over-reaching is beneficial or detrimental (a “rationale” is a thesis’s main reason, and often is a phrase beginning with “because”).
  • Remember that body paragraphs need strong topic sentences (which provide the main point of the paragraph, and often include some form of transition from a previous idea to the main idea of the new paragraph).  They also need evidence, which usually takes the form of a quotation or a short piece of plot summary.  But that’s not all: the most important part of a body paragraph is your interpretation of how your evidence supports your thesis.
  • If you feel that a summary of the overall plot of the poem or novel is necessary, include a brief summary (only a few sentences) in your introduction.  Many students’ grades suffer because their entire essay simply summarizes their primary text.  Do not do this.  The most interesting and important part of an essay is your analysis and explanation of your evidence — it should be the biggest part of each body paragraph, too.
  • Want to know the rubric by which your essays earn their grades?  See this post for clarification.

Due date:  Monday, January 31 (beginning of class).  A hard copy is required — an email copy will not take the place of a hard copy.