ENGL 3000            Instructor Mitzi McFarland

Fall Semester 2013                Essay 1: Acts of Reading


General Guidelines/Constraints of the Assignment (noted on the rubric as requirements for minimum grade of C)


Your goal on this and all essays for our class is to write a well-developed, unified, coherent response in support of a clearly stated argumentative thesis. Your paper should be at least three (3) full pages, typed double-spaced, in a 12-point font with one-inch margins on all sides. You must support all your claims with specific evidence from the texts, quoted and cited correctly according to MLA guidelines. All papers should also include a works cited paged, again prepared according to MLA guidelines. If you are unsure about these guidelines, please refer to Tab 6 in A Writer’s Resource.




Judith Fetterly, in The Resisting Reader, argues that male authors presumed for centuries their readers all were male. Describing phallocentric assumptions as “universal” (xii), Fetterly explores the ways in which patriarchal practices in literature penetrate the “consciousness” of female readers who must learn “to read like a man” to successfully navigate a masculine language community (which has its own codes and conventions). Because women were and are raised in a language system and literature that still presumes its authors and readers are male, Fetterly argues that they become psychologically “immasculated”—not “emasculated,” in the sense of having “maleness” taken away from them, but rather they learn to think and read and write like men (what she calls an “assenting” reader).

    Topic: Apply any one or more of these concepts to a reading of The House on Mango Street. You could explore:

·     Characters who have become psychologically “immasculated,” “assenting readers” of their patriarchal environment in that they comply with dominant assumptions about gender, as well as reproduction, marriage, careers, and many other things in a culture which may be identified by the gender of its participants.

·     How does the narrator herself, for example, function as a “resisting reader”? What “texts”—gender, cultural, and racial,-- or considerations of what is “normal” and “natural”—does she learn to resist?


Developing a specific argument about the text based informed by a certain theoretical praxis is the means by which you will most successfully accomplish this assignment. Whatever idea(s) you explore, through a close analysis—serious theoretical questioning of the topic—you should develop conclusions regarding the meaning of the work.




Notice that throughout the novel that the narrator and different characters are engaged in acts of “reading.”  Characters, for example, struggle to read and interpret various texts (actions, events, language acts, or symbols) and often end up interpreting them in very different ways. Write a paper that focuses on one of these acts of reading.

·         Why do these interpretive acts differ? 

·         What creates or causes the differences in interpretation? 

·         Do characters change their interpretations through subsequent re-readings? 


Consider for example: Esperanza and Sally interpret the “text” of male-female interaction in the Monkey Garden very differently.


Also consider: What processes are at stake in the different attempts to read, interpret and assign value to the idea of “home”? One interpretation is imposed upon Esperanza’s home at the beginning of the novel (the nun) but Esperanza works to destabilize that interpretation and ultimately changes its meaning(s). Is this related at all to struggles over power and the interpretation of individual identity within the Chicano community and broader American culture? The home (object) reveals how acts of reading are literally embedded in the novel. 


Furthermore, notice how Esperanza is engaged in a continual struggle to read and interpret the notion of home, an object that functions as a kind of text that Esperanza reads and interprets. How and why do her interpretations change and evolve? What interpretive communities inform her understanding of “home,” its meaning and significance?

Please see syllabus for appropriate due dates for essay and supporting assignments.