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Their Eyes Were Watching God . . . Need Help Outlining an Essay

Notoman 20 / 419  
May 6, 2009   #1
Let me whine for just a moment here . . . my English teacher doesn't often hand out assignment sheets. He likes to assign essays orally. I am more of a visual learner. I like to analyze the prompt and peruse the assignment sheet to ensure that I am meeting the criteria. I don't even know how many pages he wants for this particular essay! From previous assignments, I can guess that this essay is supposed to be 3-5 pages. I am a little hazy on the subject as well . . . the treatment of women in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Okay, I am done whining.

Being an Oprah-Book-Club pick, the women in the book face a lot of strife. I could focus on the protagonist or I could talk more about the other women in the novel as well.

I don't know if I should try to break it up into types of treatment . . . how they are treated by the men in the novel, how they are treated by each other, how they are treated by society.

Or if I should organize the essay along some brilliant path that has yet to be revealed to me.

It doesn't help that I haven't finished reading the book yet. I'd like to know what direction I want to take with my essay so I can find supporting material as I read, but I might not know the best tack to take until I read the end of the story. It is a Catch-22.

I wish I had an assignment sheet (Don't accuse me of whining. That last one was said in my big-boy voice.)
Gautama 6 / 133  
May 7, 2009   #2
Remember that if you are going to be writing an essay on the types of treatment you need to go into why the women are treated the way they are. If you just talk about how the women are treated the way they are you will be essentially summarizing the plot.

Ask a question that pertains to the novel as a whole. This question will probably be about the way the women are treated. The question must be a why question. "What" and "how" questions lead to plot summary. Then you should try to answer the question. The answer is your thesis. Then you can have different paragraphs talking about the different types of treatment the women deal with and how these various types relate to and support your thesis.

(I love whiners. They are just adorable!)
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
May 7, 2009   #3
Have you ever seen that comedian, Gallager, painting with fruit and a sledge hammer? He uses smashed fruit like the splotches of paint some painters toss onto the canvas.

You can skim through the book and pull out splotches of relevant content. Describe 5 key sections -- parts of dialogue, thematically significant events, etc... stuff related to this topic of how women were treated.

You can talk about how they were treated by other characters, or by the author as he wrote what they did and said. You can speculate about the author's intended meaning.

The key is that the sections you pull out are like splotches of paint, and the structure of the essay takes care of itself.

Start each splotch with a quote, citation, or your own description of what happened on page 53. Then, elaborate on one of the splotches. Then, give it a reflective conclusion sentence for the paragraph it is to become. Then, see what the general topic of that para was and express it in the topic sentence. It's like coloring in a picture of a paragraph, you visual learner, you!

Good luck with it!!
Gautama 6 / 133  
May 7, 2009   #4
Ha ha, are you likening Hurston's style to that of random fruit-canvas-smashing?

Also, make sure you go talk to your teacher again in order to confirm exactly what the instructions are. Write them down as he dictates if you have to. To many people write great essays and get Cs because they got the prompt wrong.

(Most of the time those people deserve Fs, but if the teacher sees that they put in a lot of work and quality, no matter how off topic it is, he/she might give a "pity C."
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
May 8, 2009   #5
"What" and "how" questions can lead to good theses too. "How do patriarchal structures of oppression repress the women of the novel through mythologies of race and gender?" For example. Or, "What was the author trying to say here?" But "why" questions are easier. So, finish reading the book, make a list of interesting things that other people say and do to the women in said book, then ask, "why did the author have the other characters in the book treat the women like this?" And behold, on the seventh day, the clouds did part, and a thesis shone through, and the essayist saw that it was good.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
May 8, 2009   #6
are you likening Hurston's style to that of random fruit-canvas-smashing?

Ha hahahah, no! That is MY strategy for research writing. You have a great way with words.
OP Notoman 20 / 419  
May 8, 2009   #7
Loving the conversation here! I need that seventh day to come. I am not one of those to leave things to the last minute (usually) so at least I do have some time to let the thoughts flesh out.

As crazy as it sounds, I am not sure how much "depth" my teacher wants here. He seems to score the essays that merely summarize higher than those that analyze. If I weave quotes from the book into my analysis, I think I can craft an essay that analyzes and summarizes as the same time.

The Gallagher approach to writing has me laughing here. I can just see my teacher saying, "I get the pear analogy with the springtime blossoms and budding sexuality. The apple as forbidden fruit is a longstanding euphemism. But what in the world is the grape doing in paragraph three??"

I always buy the required-reading books so I can mark them up as I go. I have a couple of highlighters working in this one with different colors for the various tacks I might take with the essay.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
May 8, 2009   #8
Cool, good luck with it! And about the paint splotch approach... just think about it:

If you write a blurb about each article you read, and then you tie it all together and draw conclusions, etc.. that is a powerful, intellectual exercise! So, splotch them into a word document and connect the dots later. Write the intro last.

Well, in your case it would not be splotches from various articles, but instead splotches from the book. Splotches of citation.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
May 8, 2009   #9
If I weave quotes from the book into my analysis, I think I can craft an essay that analyzes and summarizes as the same time.

Writing an analysis of a work by using quotations to back up your points! I don't know, seems highly unorthodox to me. :-)

You might want to try creating a quotation outline. Type out all of the quotations that seem relevant to your topic. Then organize them in the order you think you'd incorporate them into the essay. Once you've done that, the essay itself you can get written in an hour or two, usually. Really, assuming you can type at least 60 words a minute, you can average 12 pages an hour. What takes the time is the thinking, and once you've decided on your evidence and its presentation, you've pretty much finished all of that.
OP Notoman 20 / 419  
May 8, 2009   #10
Duh! I am laughing at myself here. OF COURSE I will weave quotes into my essay. The point that I was trying to make-without much success-is that my teacher doesn't seem to expect much analysis or desire it for that matter. There are days that I feel like I am back in the fifth grade writing book reports. I want to learn to write higher-level essays, I want to be able to wield a comma with confidence, I want more powerful verbs in my writing, and I want to avoid looking stupid.

I am probably going to finish the book tonight or tomorrow and then start outlining. I wasn't in English class today because of AP testing (history, not English. AP English scares me) so I didn't have an opportunity to clarify the prompt and expectations with my teacher. I sent him a quick email, but he hasn't responded yet.

I like your idea of a quotation outline, Sean. I have quite a few highlighted now, but I need to get some of them into Word so I can move them around and find a semblance of organization.

Thanks for your input guys! I enjoy hearing how respected writers approach an assignment.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
May 9, 2009   #11
Oh, now you're being too hard on yourself. You made your point quite successfully -- I just couldn't resist pointing out how funny that particular sentence was out of context. Your writing is actually very strong, and I am not quite sure why you find the idea of AP English intimidating. You would surely have no trouble with it.

The quotation outline, btw, works even better if you can track down an electronic copy of the text, as you then just have to copy and paste, which saves an awful lot of time. Unfortunately, I couldn't find one for this particular novel for you, but it is worth bearing in mind when you study older, non-copyrighted texts (Shakespeare springs to mind).
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
May 9, 2009   #12
Yeah, for real. When you get into college, do the honors program, etc. It is not really more work, just sold as such. Okay, maybe it is a little more work. But your mind shifts into a higher gear when necessary, rises to the occasion.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
May 11, 2009   #13
Depends on the college, I should think. Mostly, taking honors means having to take more courses in your chosen field, which is not really a problem if you have a single focus that you are passionate about. It can be a bit more difficult, though, if you wanted to double major, or have a major with several minors, as then you can have a lot more trouble scheduling things, and may have to overload to meet all of your requirements. Apart from that, the only additional requirement I remember is an honors thesis (or possibly some other special project for non-humanities fields). Really, though, writing a single long paper over the course of an entire year is no harder than writing several smaller term papers for another course. And there are no classes either, so the thesis is easier than a course in that respect. You just have to make sure you don't leave the entire paper until a week before its due.

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