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Paper 4

Read the assignment very carefully before starting your essay.

Address an analytical or argumentative topic of your own choosing, focusing narrowly on Death of a Salesman and/or A Streetcar Named Desire (there are possibilities listed below)but before you scroll to the options, read all of these instructions and requirements VERY carefully! Your essay should be at least five paragraphs, with a minimum of 1000 words and a maximum of 1250 in the text of the essay, excluding headers, name, date, title, works cited entries, etc.  As with the previous papers, your introduction should end in the literal central question that the rest of the paper strives to answer.

blue bullet Include at least eight quotations from the play or plays you write about to illustrate your claims (eight total, not eight from each play if you write about both). Eight is the minimum: you should probably offer more than the minimum to support your analysis convincingly.

blue bulletFor details of the physical formatting of your papermargins, headers, titles, etc.see the simple stuff page. For guidelines on quotation and documentation, see the quotations page. A works cited page is mandatory.

blue bulletYou must incorporate some token research into this paper, offering quotations from at least two separate secondary sources of legitimate scholarly criticism or commentary on the work(s) you examine. To be more precise, you need one quote from one legitimate secondary source and a second quote from a different legitimate secondary source. ("Legitimate" means truly scholarly sources, so items from the popular press, reviews of performances, encyclopedias, and study aids such as Cliff's Notes, SparkNotes, Master Plots, etc., are not acceptable.) You should most emphatically not consult any open-access world wide web pages outside of our course materials while preparing your paper. For access to many scholarly articles and other materials in full-text electronic form, see the MGA Library website. To clarify, these two quotations are in addition to the eight quotations from the play(s), meaning you'll need at least ten in all.

Note that you must submit the final draft (only) in both hard copy (printed on paper) and digital form (via the Brightspace/D2L dropbox for the assignment).

Vitally important note: Papers that do not meet the research requirements—quotes from at least two secondary sources of literary scholarship or criticism—will automatically receive failing grades.

I encourage you to seek my help with your paper outside of class. I cannot respond to whole drafts through email, but I will be glad to go over your paper from start to finish with you in person before you submit it for grading, and you can email to set up a conference by telephone. 

Paper proposals: before you begin writing the essay, construct a topic sentence outline just as we did with the first three papers: begin the outline with the literal question your paper addresses, then give full topic sentences that answer the question directly for each primary point in your paper (i.e. for each body paragraph), just as they will appear in the essay itself, and conclude the outline with the paper's overall thesis, answering the central question directly and combining your essential points from the various topic sentences. See the sample topic sentence outlines on my writing tips page and on the paper proposal assignment page.

The greatest challenge with this assignment is arriving at an appropriate topic.  Basically, any significant theme, motif, issue, technique, or aspect of either play is fair game.  You are by no means restricted to the suggestions below, but here are a few ideas to consider:

Death of a Salesman:
  • The issue of whether or not the play is a tragedyauthoritative definition of tragedy as a literary term would be key.  Definitions from standard dictionaries (Webster's, etc.) will not suffice.  See me to verify your definition of tragedy before addressing this topic.
  • Miller's commentary on the American Dream
  • Miller's criticism of the American commercial/capitalist system
  • Miller's portrayal of womenLinda, and possibly others
  • Psychological problemsWilly's, Biff's, and/or Happy's in particular
  • The Loman family conflicts: parents vs. children, husband vs. wife, and/or brother vs. brother
  • The translation of the play into filmthe significance of differences between film and print versions
  • Contemporary relevance of the play
  • Comparison of Miller's depiction of dreams or ambitions with Lorraine Hansberry's in A Raisin in the Sun
A Streetcar Named Desire:
  • The confrontation of the "Old South" and the modern American world
  • The theme of desire (sexual, definitely, possibly other as well)
  • Madness and/or mental illness
  • Social criticism: Stanley as representative "100% American"
  • Social criticism: class conflict
  • Gender issues (There are many.)
  • Illusion and reality: appearances and reality
  • Is the play a tragedy?would require authoritative definition of tragedy as a literary term.  Definitions from standard dictionaries (Webster's, etc.) will not suffice.  See me to verify your definition of tragedy before addressing this topic.
  • The impact of the past upon the present
  • Streetcar as quintessentially Southern literaturewould require authoritative definition of "Southern literature."  Talk to me first.
  • The problematic or disturbing ending of the play
  • The translation of the play into filmfocusing on significant differences between film and print versions
  • Autobiographical?  What the play says about Tennessee Williams, how Williams himself is present in the play


blue bullet Make every topic sentence answer the central question directly.
blue bullet Introduce all quotes: see nugget 3.
blue bullet Sweat the details: use the Golden Rules, Nuggets, Simple Stuff, and Quotations pages and proofread carefully.
blue bullet Offer concrete evidence (quotes) in support of each of your major assertions.
blue bullet See me in the office or email if you have questions or problems. 

Use the Writing Center! I encourage you to see tutors for help with your papers at the Student Success Center (SSC) and/or the Writing Center. We have well-trained, qualified tutors who can give you plenty of one-on-one attention with any aspect of the writing process. Be sure to take a copy of this assignment with you to any tutoring session, or show your tutor this assignment page on the web.