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Writing about the “real”

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Based on exchanges I’ve had with a couple of you, I feel like there’s a point that needs to be clarified regarding your second composition.

You’ll remember from assignment sheet that this assignment requires you to write an analysis that “focus[es] on a theme or issue in the text that corresponds with an issue (philosophical, social, ethical, political, religious, etc.) in the ‘real’ world. What does the text make strange and why?”

I’m concerned that some of you may be approaching this like a comparison essay, in which you will compare your selected text to some specific scenario. But that isn’t the assignment–in fact, for this paper, your object isn’t to compare but to analyze. Of course, the two categories aren’t mutually exclusive, but this essay shouldn’t be a comparison.

So, for example, let’s imagine that I’ve decided to write my paper on reality tv and The Hunger Games. I will NOT be comparing The Hunger Games to Survivor. Instead, I’ll be analyzing how the novel explores the idea of reality tv. Suzanne Collins says that reality tv was one of the major influences on the novel, and that’s pretty obvious because of how much the text emphasizes cameras and audiences, and the Games as a highly produced spectacle. But it’s also obviously not a mirror image to reality tv as we know it; as far as I know, no shows are forcing children to fight to the death. My job as a writer, then, is to think about what the novel says about reality tv. Clearly, it’s not a positive message, and I would tentatively suggest that the negativity is geared toward the viewers of reality tv. So as I’m researching this topic, I’m hoping that I’ll find sources about reality tv in The Hunger Games and I’ll also be looking at sources about the phenomenon of reality tv, like this article, which (according the abstract) focuses on the emotional experience of viewers who watch reality shows with the aim of offering an answer for why people watch. Ultimately, this paper is going to answer the question, “What does The Hunger Games say about reality tv, and in particular, what does it say about viewers of reality tv?”

For the next paper, the rhetorical analysis, I’m going to find a non-literary, non-fiction source that engages the same issue. Again, my issue is NOT Survivor; it’s the phenomenon of reality tv. So maybe I’ll use this article from Slate.com about the unique vocabulary of reality tv, or maybe I’ll use this infographic that gives statistical data about reality shows. Or maybe I’ll choose a source about Survivor and analyze what it says about reality tv.

Another example: Imagine I’m writing about Ender’s Game and genocide. I will NOT write a paper in which I compare the genocide in Ender’s Game to, for example, the Rwandan genocide or the Holocaust. I will write about how the novel explores the concept of genocide. I will focus on answering the question, “What does Ender’s Game say about genocide?” I would expect that question to develop and become more nuanced as I worked, but that’s the basic question.

For the second paper, I would find a non-literary source about genocide, like this infographic or maybe this BBC News article about the Rwandan genocide. In either case, the question is still, “What does this text say about genocide?”

I hope this clears things up. We’ll talk about this in class tomorrow, but I wanted this to be available to you here so you can come back to it if you need to.

 

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Critical Thinking and Jobs

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Today a friend posted an interesting New York Times article on Facebook. The article summarizes a study about the quality of college education in getting and keeping jobs after graduation. Basically, the article suggests that students who don’t develop strong critical thinking skills in college are less likely to get and keep jobs. It also says that students often believed they got a great education in college, even when tests indicate that their critical thinking skills had not improved, and in some cases had even gotten worse from beginning college.

Now, I don’t know much about this study other than what this article reported, so I’m not sure what the researchers methods were, or how generalizable their results are. But I agree with the main premise of the article–that everyone loses when colleges fail to teach their students good critical thinking skills. In fact, I think that learning to think critically is the most important thing you can do in college.

I’m sharing this because I want you to keep it in mind going forward. The kinds of writing skills you develop in this class go hand-in-hand with critical thinking skills. All of our class discussions and assignments are intended to encourage you to think critically.

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Literary Devices in Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains”

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Ray Bradbury’s short story “There Will Come Soft Rains” is full of literary devices. That’s why I asked you (my students) to read it for class on the day we were going to talk about literary devices. We listed out several devices that Bradbury uses, and I’m going to write about a few here.

[There are a few things I want you to keep in mind while you’re reading this post. First, this is a loose example to help you if you are confused. I don’t expect your post to copy or mimic this. In fact, please don’t mimic it. Do your own thing. Also, you don’t have to write as much as I do here. Second, I’m only going to hit a couple of examples, but you are identifying at least five in your post. Third, your post will be on The Hunger Games.]

For me, the most prominent literary device that Bradbury uses is personification. While it is in some ways the central conceit of the story and therefore runs all the way through, I’ve chosen one example. Bradbury writes, “At eight-thirty, the eggs were shriveled and the toast was like stone. An aluminum wedge scraped them into the sink, where the hot water whirled them down a metal throat which digested and flushed them away to the distant sea” (1). In this passage, Bradbury gives the house the human characteristics of a eating and digesting, which is interesting because it emphasizes the fact that no one is there to eat the food the house makes. It makes the technology of the house and the absence of humans more strange.

Another device that Bradbury uses in this story is setting. He places the story in a specific town–“Allendale, California” (1)– on a specific date–“Today is August 4, 2026″ (1). Now, I know that this story comes from a larger collection of related short stories (The Martian Chronicles), and if I were reading the whole book, I would probably be able to find ways that this place and date are significant in the larger context. But even without that context, by assigning a specific place and date to this story, Bradbury has made it more real and immediate. This is really different than, say, opening a story with “Once upon a time” or “A long time ago in a galaxy far away,” because it gives the reader an immediate, concrete context for imagining the story not in the vague past and some unknown place, but in the real world that we live in. It makes his futuristic tale seem more possible.

 

 

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