Readings and Composition II

Spring 2012

Essay #1 (20%)


Formal Guidelines (these are the terms of compliance for a passing grade): Write a fully developed essay of at least 850 words in support of a clearly stated argumentative thesis. You must support your thesis with evidence from the primary text, including direct quotations in your essay where necessary and appropriate. These must be cited correctly using MLA format for parenthetical page citation. You will need to prepare a works cited page, again according to MLA format, for the end of the essay. For reference, go to Tab 6 in A Writer’s Resource. No secondary sources required.


Thematic Options:


1.   People often think of identity as a stable, cohesive thing. In Little Miss Sunshine, however, characters’ identities are fraught with tension, contradictions, and internal struggle.  Appearance is not reality. Characters may profess certain values and beliefs, but often their actions, behavior, and words undermine them—even unconsciously!  In an essay, explore one character, with particular attention to the complexities, contradictions, and struggles that, in your opinion, most define this individual. What kinds of things complicate one’s sense of identity (i.e., cultural and family expectations that may be in conflict with personal desire, etc.)? How does the film provide insight into this person’s unstated struggles, motivations, fears, internal conflicts? What statement does this film make—about human nature, American culture, ideology, etc.—through this character?


2.   Little Miss Sunshine seems to stray away from the classic gender roles and defines a new archetype where the role of a certain gender is undefined. Explore how the film Little Miss Sunshine makes use of (or challenges) traditional gender archetypes. To what effect, importantly?


3.   Positive psychology, which emphasizes positive experiences, hope and optimism, is highly popular in American culture. Richard’s “think positive” outlook is symptomatic of positive psychology and would be admirable if we didn’t scrutinize the film carefully. In fact, screenwriter Michael Arndt describes Richard Hoover as the film’s “philosophical antagonist.” What do you think he means by this? Explore the multiple ways in which Richard is the philosophical antagonist. Is his outlook positive? How is his philosophy symptomatic of broader American cultural outlooks and ideologies?


4.   Through each of its characters, the film develops a surprisingly sharp look at contemporary America. Develop your own analysis of a character or two in Little Miss Sunshine. Consider these questions: What cultural outlooks and values do these characters embody? What is the film’s attitude toward the character/s, or, how is/are the character/s portrayed (as tragic, victim, antagonist, sympathetic)? How is this character a microcosm of larger cultural concerns, outlooks, anxieties, fears, or even dreams? What is the film saying about contemporary American through this individual? In other words, consider the thematic import of these representations.


5.   Examine any theme, symbol, or concept in the film and develop analytical conclusions about its significance in relation to the film’s broader ideas, messages, and critiques. For example, you might consider the symbolic significances of various settings (why, for instance, does the film set the metaphor of the stage against the cherished myth of the open road? What metaphoric role do stages play in the film?). Or, one could explore the role of silence as a leitmotif. Dwayne refuses to speak, though he is a deep observer and connects in spite of his vow of silence. What role does Dwayne’s silence play in this movie? How (and what) does silence communicate? Quiet scenes also contribute to the poignancy of the movie, functioning in contradictory ways. For example, when Dwayne decides to ‘quit’ the family, Olive comforts him without words. Her soft touch is enough. On the other hand, silence can erect emotional and social barriers or reinforce gender inequities rather than convey understanding and compassion. (Etc. Etc.) Whatever you opt to write about, be creative!


Assessment: All out-of-class responses will be graded according to the recommended rubric: click here. There are a number of different ways to approach this writing task; however, it is very important that your essay establishes and writes in support of a specific thesis (an argument or idea about the work). In other words, your essay must do more than simply summarize or paraphrase a work. Your thesis should be more (substantially more) than simply stating whether or not you like or dislike, agree or disagree with what the work says. Use specific references to and/or examples (quotations) from the work to support your thesis. I will assess your essay based on the following: 1) the qualitative strength of your thesis; 2) your ability to convincingly support your thesis with specific textual and cultural references; 3) the organization of your paper; 4) college-level expectations for grammar, editing, and style.


Note: This is not a research paper, so you do not need to consult or include secondary sources.


If you are having trouble getting started or want to discuss possible ideas, please set up a time to meet with me. I’ll be glad to discuss the specifics of this assignment further with you outside of class.