We’ve read three classic, American short stories so far this semester (“Rip Van Winkle,” “Young Goodman Brown,” and “My Kinsman, Major Molineux), and we’ve discussed the structure and dynamics of fictional narrative. Now is the time to show me what you’ve learned.
Your goal in this assignment is to compare the stories we’ve read in class to a narrative from outside of class and explain the continuities – – thematic and structural – – among these narratives. To do this, you’ll need to:
1) find a narrative that seems to resemble one of our three stories. This narrative can be a print narrative (short fiction, non-fiction) or a media narrative (music video, movie, etc.).
2) analyze your short story. We’ve talked several ways of getting at the narrative structure of the journey narrative. Start with dividing your story up into a tripartite structure (the A – B – A’ of setting or character). Then, start thinking about the significance of these structural elements: how does the starting situation of your narrative (setting or character) differ from the concluding situation? who or what has changed? what kind(s) of action occurred in the middle of the narrative? how does this action account for or explain the changes between start and conclusion? As you do this work, try to find very particular textual elements and details that signify these changes. (Think of the way the forest is described in “Young Goodman Brown,” or night versus day in “My Kinsman,” or how “petticoat government” is defined in “Rip.”)
2) interpret your short story. Interpretation is about meaning, and analysis helps to lay bare your the ways your narrative organizes meaning. Some tools to help you interpret your story (recalling our class discussions): how is the initial setting contrasted with the space of transformation? (Recall the “pious” vs. “heathen” in “Young Goodman Brown,” or country vs. city in “My Kinsman,” or duty versus leisure in “Rip.”.); to what extent is your story’s space of transformation similar to and different from the classic versions of “nature” in each of our three stories? how is the conflict defined in your story? (Remember, conflict isn’t just about people – – it’s also about values, e.g. the pious v. the profane in “Young Goodman” or male v. female in “Rip.”); do you see any examples of “pollution” – – the confusion and mixing of things that should be separate – – in your story? Interpretation is where you give a more general significance to your analysis, e.g. “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” is really about maturity and immaturity; or, “Rip Van Winkle” associates culture with feminine authority.
3) argue for your “reading” of the stories. Now that you’ve analyzed and interpreted the stories – – you’ve probably noticed some interesting similarities and differences between your story and those we read in class. Which of these interpretations seems the most interesting? You won’t have time or space to explain all of the similarities and differences that you’ve discovered – – so you’ll need to focus on the most interesting. Use your essay to explain why and how these similarities and differences are interesting.
Your essay should be no more than two, double-spaced pages. Be sure to include the authors and titles of the narratives that you examine. Don’t worry about page citations or bibliography/works cited. Be sure to double check for typos, spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors. I will stop reading your essay after the first error.
Remember: the goal of the essay is to show me what you’ve learned about narrative structure and meaning.