American Literature

Fall 2009

Essay 2


Write a fully developed essay of at least 750 words in support of a clearly stated argumentative thesis. You must support your thesis with evidence from either Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” or Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, 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 cite page, again according to MLA format, for the end of the essay (cite Emerson’s text as a source from a website). For reference, go to Tab 6 in A Writer’s Resource.


Make sure you use the MLA header in the upper left margin and give the paper a title:



Student’s Name


American Literature 2130 (include your section #)


Professor McFarland







1)        Select any text from the media—perhaps an advertisement in a magazine, a commercial, or even a song—for the purpose of analyzing and explicating how it draws upon Emerson’s ideas (those laid out in the excerpt from “Self-Reliance”) to communicate its message. Keep in mind that this topic calls for a close reading of the text. Consider 1) how the text promotes an Emersonian view of the individual (whether through its lyrics, the words, the people, colors, and images associated with the ad or picture, etc. –this will require you to describe and explicate the ad or image), and 2) to what effect (this is the “so what” question that your thesis should address: why, specifically, does the text promote, extol, or imbibe Emersonian themes, ideals, arguments, rhetoric?). In order to address this question, you will have to consider the text’s “argument,” theme or purpose, as well as its intended audience. How does the text draw upon Emersonian appeals to attract or draw an audience and frame its argument?


This assignment asks that you take an intertextual approach—which sees any text as infused with echoes, repetitions, language, and transformations of other texts. The assumption behind your paper is that Emerson’s ideas—his romantic celebration of selfhood and nature as the sanctum as non-artificiality, his rugged philosophy of individualism and anti-institutionalism—still impact and influence our thinking today. Throughout your paper, consider why these ideals still influence us—what about his ideas attract audiences today?—and why marketers draw upon these seductive ideals to sell a product.


2)        Perform a close analysis of the role and portrayal of gender in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. While there are a number of approaches to a gender reading of the novel, any of the following questions may be the basis of an essay:

a.        Does the text adhere to and privilege patriarchal norms—does it uphold them? When? If so, how does this text help us to understand the novel at large: its themes and implicit arguments about gender roles, masculinity, and/or femininity?

b.       How does the text “wage war” with patriarchal norms? Can you site examples? (Consider, for instance, Chapter 2: the narrator expresses disapproval, disgust even, at the hypocrisy of the male leadership and the ways in which Hester is sexually objectified—what conclusions can we draw about such places?)

c.        Is the text ideologically divided in its treatment of gender? Is the narrator’s treatment of the female protagonist consistent or divided? If divided, what are the implications? Interpretations?

d.       What ideals does the female protagonist embody: revolutionary or conservative values? (Is Hester Prynne a type of feminism or an agent of social cohesion—perhaps both?)

e.        Does Hawthorne use any binaries or dichotomies, images, symbols, or metaphors to develop a gender critique in the novel?


The key here is argument. You must form a clear and specific argumentative position in this essay. If the novel’s treatment of Hester Prynne is divided, what are we to make of this? What conclusions can we draw? This is the larger “so what” question that the thesis should explicitly address.


You must also use direct support (this included quotations and plot events) from the texts to delineate and frame your reasoning. In each body paragraph, draw upon the M.E.A.L. plan as a model for paragraph construction. Be logical and reasonable in supporting your position.