Literary Analysis

This is a literary analysis essay, 5-7 pages in length, plus a Works Cited. In other words, it must be an analysis
of literary work; not a research paper about a current issue with only passing reference to the play(s).

The two plays, A Raisin in the Sun and Clybourne Park are your primary focus. The supplemental materials you read, watched, and discussed will help you contextualize and understand both dramas and can be used as supporting sources, but again, the play(s) should be at the center of your paper

Choose from the prompts listed on p. 3 of this handout. In response to your chosen prompt, write an analytical, thesis-driven essay. “Thesis-driven” refers to an essay that’s shaped by an, arguable main idea (the thesis) that will launch the analysis that follows. You are not writing a theater/literary review, a report on housing policy, assembling a list of statistics, or writing a plot synopsis.

To a great degree, literary essays rise or fall on the clarity, focus, interpretive nature, and specificity of the thesis claim, which should be established firmly in the introduction paragraph in clear, specific and committed language, so it’s advisable you review material on thesis development in the English Skills Handbook and other resources listed in the Essay 3 assignment folder.

As the course’s culminating assignment, your essay should demonstrate your ability to draw conclusions from your reading, formulate a thesis, integrate ideas and evidence from multiple sources into your analysis, write in clear sentences and coherent paragraphs, and meet MLA standards for format and citation.

Do not structure your essay according to the simple five-paragraph model you may have learned earlier in your writing career (introduction + three body paragraphs + conclusion). As a 5 to 7-page essay, this assignment requires you to employ a slightly more complex structure, marked by multiple, thoughtfully chosen paragraph breaks and idea-driven topic sentences that will shape and drive your essay.

• In your understanding of the play(s), rely on close reading, as well as the supplemental materials that might offer historical, social, political, and cultural context. Consider the relationship between these two dramatic works; how do they inform and echo each other?
• Read your prompt closely. Your thesis statement is your response to the prompt.
• Develop, explore and support the thesis via a well-organized essay, integrating supporting examples, evidence and insights from the play(s);
• Apply the revision strategies practiced in this course’s exercises.
• Move beyond the confining five-paragraph model; instead, structure a coherent, unified essay that’s paced by multiple paragraph breaks and driven forward by strong topic sentences – each with a logical relationship to the main idea/thesis.
• Demonstrate competence with conventions of academic writing, and with MLA format and citation

• Required Length: 5 full to 7 pages, double-spaced, with one-inch margins. (MLA doc layout)
• The length refers to the essay only. The Works Cited that follows it is not part of the length/word count.
• The number of paragraphs must exceed five: intro. + conclusion, + five or more body paragraphs
• MLA format & citation: prepare your essay correctly. Cite quotes appropriately. Include a Works Cited
• Include an original essay title – something that offers a bit of insight into the approach of your essay
• Incorporate a minimum of four relevant quotes from the texts, integrated smoothly and cited correctly – review how citation works; do not ‘over quote’– keep them as short as possible. No block quotes.
• Make use of (cited) paraphrased or summarized passages as well, from the plays and/or other sources.

Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking A Raisin in the Sun, debuted on Broadway in 1959. It chronicles a few weeks in the lives of the Youngers, a black family on the South Side of Chicago who plan to move to Clybourne Park, an all-white suburb. The Youngers seek to improve their financial circumstances with an insurance payout following the death of the father. The play’s themes surrounding segregation, race, class, gender, culture, and social change foreshadow the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Bruce Norris’s play, Clybourne Park, was inspired by Raisin, and it echoes the subject matter of the earlier drama. Set in the Chicago neighborhood of the play’s title, Clybourne Park takes place on two distinct afternoons: one in 1959, (Act I), the other, fifty years later, in 2009 (Act II). In Norris’s first act, he places us on the white side of the 1959 racial/real estate divide where we meet Russ and Bev Stoller, white homeowners who decided to sell their house. The head of the Neighborhood Association, Karl Linder (a character who paid a visit to the Younger family in A Raisin in the Sun), wants to stop the sale because he’s discovered the buyers are black. Decades later, in the second act, the once all-white neighborhood is now predominantly black, and its residents are reacting to the advances of gentrification.

The essay prompts are not narrow or yes/no questions. Think of them more like suggested topics for your paper. They offer broad areas of focus for you to choose from as a starting point. Once you choose your prompt, it will be up to you to formulate a (narrower) thesis in response to it. Do not attempt to take on too much. The prompt may suggest a sweeping, or large subject, but your thesis should not be broad or general. Rather, think of it as a subset, a carve-out from the larger ‘territory’ of the prompt that inspired it. The most successful thesis-driven papers are narrow, focused, and specific – they go for depth rather than breadth.

For example, in response to a prompt about gender roles, or gender-based expectations in the two plays, you may decide to focus exclusively on the three female pregnant characters, (Ruth Younger in Raisin, and Betsy Linder and Lindsey in Clybourne) and through close analysis, draw conclusions that lead to a clear thesis claim and a sharply focused essay. In other words, you will define your own parameters in the material, and engage with the larger ideas suggested by the prompt by closely examining your narrower area of ‘evidence.’ As a result, two people who choose the same prompt may easily focus on entirely different aspects of the text(s) and its characters, and therefore write papers that engage with the subject quite differently.

Prompt 1 | The Significance of the Key Character, Karl Lindner:
The character Karl Lindner, who is head of the Clybourne Park Neighborhood Association, appears in both Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and in Norris’s Clybourne Park. Study Lindner’s role in each, and as you do, consider some starting questions:
• What is significant about his role? Does being the head of the association carry symbolic or metaphorical importance in these plays? What does Lindner represent, if anything?
• What does the Lindner character illuminate about racism and racial fears? About housing segregation?
• Do the reactions of both the Youngers and Stollers to Lindner’s entreaties illuminate anything about Linder’s role?
• How does your supplemental research (re issues like redlining, gentrification, segregation, white flight, etc.) contextualize and inform your view of this character’s significance?

In response to this prompt, develop a thesis claim that makes an arguable claim about the significance of the Karl Lindner character. Your thesis and the essay you write in support of it should tackle at least some of the questions suggested in the prompt, and be informed by 1) your close attention to the character in both plays, and 2) your consideration of the relevant supplemental materials.

Prompt 2 | Capitalism & the American Dream:
In A Raisin in the Sun, Walter Lee Younger lives with his family in relative poverty, but dreams of using their windfall to launch his family into the middle class, and thereby obtain his share of the American Dream. To a great extent, both Hansberry’s play and Norris’s play address the issue sof money, socioeconomic class, and notions of success. What do the characters’ aspirations tell us about American society? To what extent are ideas of success tied up with real estate, and the senses of financial security, respect, dignity, community and home that such real estate is meant to provide? How does race and racism shape, complicate or thwart characters’ efforts to believe in, achieve or defend their share of the pie?
Are both/either of these plays offering a critique of capitalism? If so, how so? If not, explain.
(Respond to this question by focusing on one play or both). Develop a thesis that makes an arguable claim in direct response to the question. Your thesis and the essay you write in support of it should be informed by 1) your close attention to the plays, and 2) your consideration of supplemental sources.

Prompt 3 | Gender Roles, Expectations, and Changes:
Taken together, what do these two plays illuminate about gender roles, gender expectations, and the ways they have changed (or not) from the 1950s to the 2000s? Think about cultural norms, social expectations, the constraints and confining pressures of gender roles. Within this topic, you have a choice of where to selectively focus. For example, you may want to focus more narrowly on ideas about sexuality, marriage, or child rearing. Or, you may decide to explore this topic by focusing exclusively on the couples in these texts, and their respective conflicts, roles, and expectations. You may decide instead to write only about confining or changing notions of masculinity and the male characters, or the black male characters only. Conversely, focus on only the female characters in each play, and how they navigate issues like romance, motherhood, beauty standards, sexism, patriarchy, etc.

In response to this prompt, develop a thesis that makes an arguable claim about the dynamics of gender roles in both plays and the notion of social change. Your thesis and the essay you write in support of it should tackle at least some of the questions suggested in the prompt, and be informed by 1) your close attention to the plays, and 2) your consideration of supplemental sources.

The plays are your primary sources, but in this third essay, you will be integrating some select insights and information from other sources, too, (in addition to the plays), to support of your thesis argument. See the Canvas assignment folder for the list of required and suggested/optional sources

• Any sources you quote, summarize, or paraphrase must be cited using parenthetical MLA citations.
• Any work cited in your essay must also appear in the Works Cited at the end of your essay. Take the time to look through MLA format materials to know how to correctly cite videos, essays, dramatic works, etc.
• Do not list any sources in the Works Cited that were not cited within the body of the paper.
• MLA formatting and citation follows specific rules. Don’t improvise
• Your required MAIN sources:
o A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry
o Clybourne Park, by Bruce Norris
• Potential supplemental sources to choose from:
o Richard Rothstein video(s) and accompanying text The video, “Gentrification,” (from Vice)
o Material from at least one of these:
 Race and Redlining (video with accompanying text)
 Clips from our course’s A Raisin in the Sun video page
 Clips and other links from our course’s Clybourne Park video page
o Additional recommended sources are listed in the Essay folder online. Consult those, too.

Close reading is essential to developing an arguable, critical point of view. Read the plays, watch the assigned videos, and closely read the supplemental materials. Take notes, wherever helpful.

This is a 300-point essay (30% of course grade). It will be assessed according to the criteria in the grading rubric, summarized below. Longer descriptions of these five criteria will be available in the online version of the rubric, which allows you to click to “view longer description” for each. To access the online rubric linked to this assignment, go to the Canvas assignment folder for this essay and in the far upper right-hand corner of the page you will see three vertical dots. Click them to “show rubric.”
o Introduction & Thesis Claim 80 points
o Paragraphs & Organization 70 points
o Depth, Focus & Analysis 80 points
o Sentence Skills & Mechanics 35 points
o Format & Citation (MLA) 35 points

• Begin your introduction close to your subject, not at some generic, overly general starting point. Do not pad the introduction with filler or broad, sweeping statements. Refer to John Trimble’s “Openers,” from his book, Writing with Style, for guidance with introductions and first sentences. Find it posted in the Student Support Module.

• State your thesis clearly at the end of your introduction paragraph. Before your readers gets to the second paragraph of your paper, they should be able to identify and articulate your essay’s thesis.
• Avoid wordy, pretentious language or unnecessarily complicated sentence structure. Write in direct, straightforward language. Use William Zinsser’s ideas in “Writing English as a Second Language” to avoid pretension, wordiness, tangled syntax and unnecessary complications that end up obscuring your intentions rather than clarifying them. His essay is posted in the Student Support Module.

• Include the three components of basic essay structure – introduction, a series of body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Write in well-formed, complete paragraphs that have a logical connection to your thesis.

• In each paragraph, make good use of your topic sentences by devoting them to ideas that support your thesis, not to summary or description. Use the bodies of each paragraph for your examples, evidence, summary, and analysis. Each topic sentence should connect clearly to your thesis

• This is not a five-paragraph essay. Include at least five body paragraphs in addition to your introduction and conclusion. The overly rigid five-paragraph model encourages thesis statements based on lists, rather than unified, arguable ideas. This is a college-level academic essay. Aim for a strong, analytical claim rather than a list of three items.
• Do not forget your reader. Phrase your thoughts clearly. Anticipate reader response. Offer examples, explanations, analogies, and evidence.


• Understand your prompt. Know what it is asking. Read it a few times. Ask if you need clarification.
• Don’t forget to accurately identify the titles and authors of your sources. Spell them correctly.
• Do not confuse the writer of a literary work with a character. A play is not a personal diary, memoir or autobiography. None of the writers are characters inside their own poems, plays, or stories.

• The author of a dramatic work (a play) is the playwright. Refer to this writer as playwright, not author. Refer to the play as a play, not a “novel,” “story,” “fictional story,” or other.

• Keep plot summary and description to a minimum; use it efficiently, and only when in service to a point.
• Use present tense to describe plot events in the play. E.g. “His wife learns the neighbor is gone…”

• Revise to eliminate wordiness and passive voice. Use direct, straightforward sentences and active voice.

Reminders & Common Mistakes to Avoid, continued

• Vary your sentence lengths and sentence structures. Use some short sentences of eight words or less. Mix them in to vary the rhythms of your prose. They make a powerful impact. Related: abide by Zinsser’s advice: one idea per sentence.
• After your first reference to an author by full name (Lorraine Hansberry) subsequent mentions should be last name only (Hansberry), not a repetition of the full name again, and never first name (Lorraine)

• Avoid first person: This is an academic essay, not a personal one, so avoid reference to “I,” “me,” “my,” “us,” “we,” or “our.” Instead, make your claims and observations without inserting references to yourself. Focus on the analysis, not “I feel” or “I think,” statements. (Usually, in revision, you can just take the “I feel” or “I think” out and leave the rest of the sentence as-is – and it will work. Other times, you may need to rewrite the sentence to accommodate the revision.

• Also avoid using second-person. Don’t directly address the reader as “you,” “your,” “you all” etc. If first and second-person references are in your rough draft, you can eliminate them at the revision stage of your writing process. Keep the spotlight on your ideas, not the I/you of reader and writer.

• Don’t assume your readers can connect the dots of your argument on their own. Do it for them. Make your reasoning clear and easy to follow. Make transparent the logic of how you arrive at a conclusion. Explain the relevance of your evidence. Demonstrate how and why each paragraph belongs in the essay and is connected to your main idea (i.e., your thesis). As the writer, this is your responsibility. Writing is meant for an audience – readers.
• Before submitting, read your work out loud. This way you will catch the minor errors, awkward sentences, clumsy transitions, and unintentional repetition you did not catch by scanning your screen.

• Don’t forget that writing is for an audience. There is a reader out there, so remember that even an academic essay represents a kind of storytelling. You are telling the reader the story of your thesis idea. Be bold. Have fun. Explain it in straightforward language. Tell it with style, enthusiasm and clarity.

• Final note: The word, “playwright” refers specifically to an author who writes plays. “Dramatist” is a synonym for ‘playwright,’ as is “author of the play.” When using these words, be sure to do so correctly.

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