Twain mask

Length: 7-9 typed, double-spaced pages

This paper presents the opportunity to research a topic based on one or more of the novels we have read. The choice of topics is somewhat open; however, your choice should demonstrate your ability to ask and answer interesting questions about the works, to read carefully, to interpret with skill and insight, to integrate secondary sources effectively, and to write a clear, well-organized paper.
No set number of sources is required, but you should use some sources beyond the novel(s) about which you write. These sources could include another novel not assigned in the course, secondary critical sources, or materials found in the periodicals in which the novel was originally published. If you choose Option II, your paper should show an awareness of critical issues surrounding your topic, including a discussion of secondary sources.


1. For this paper, you will want to use either secondary sources (i.e., literary criticism in the form of books and journal articles) or additional primary sources--stories, poems, plays--beyond the ones we've read in class.
2. Remember, Wikipedia and "student help" sites like Sparknotes, eNotes, pinkmonkey,, and the rest are NOT legitimate sources for this paper. The phrase "secondary sources" means "journals and library books," along with some legitimate literature web sites. Ask me if you're not sure whether a site counts as a legitimate source.
3. Web pages are someone's intellectual property and ALL WEB PAGES MUST BE CITED just as journal articles must be. Copying without attribution is plagiarism, and you will receive an F for the paper even if your paper is only partly copied from a source without attribution. See the syllabus for more information on the consequences of plagiarism.
4. Style counts as well as substance, so edit and proofread your paper carefully.
5. Bring your paper to me before it is due if you'd like to discuss it.
6. Check the various guidelines carefully:
Citing Sources
Formatting Papers:
·  Prospectus. Your prospectus (50-100 words) should be emailed to me on the proposal due date. It will receive comments rather than a grade, but if you do not send one, your paper will lose 5 points (about ½) grade.
·  Paper version and electronic version. You can either turn in a paper version at the beginning of class or upload an electronic version to Angel by 9 p.m.
Paper. The paper should be 7-9 typed, double-spaced pages long. Use a standard (11-12 point) font and be sure to number each page. Staple the pages together. Do not use paper clips or a plastic report cover. See the Format page for more details:

Option I. Texts in Context Paper

Examine the periodicals in which one of the works appeared (Holland Library has many of these in their original bindings) and read selections from the other works included in the same volume. You’ll probably want to choose 3-4 pieces from the volume and analyze them in detail. You may instead want to work with the primary source materials to which you were introduced when we visited the MASC. You might also choose to look at a work's reception in the popular news outlets of the day or to compare it with a popular story on a similar topic.

1. Open question. Here are some questions that you may want to consider, although you don't have to address them all in your paper.

  1. How do the works of this author compare with those of his or her now-forgotten contemporaries?
  2. What was the context within which this work was originally read? What works surrounded it—travel articles, short stories, author profiles, opinion and commentary, or some other form of writing?
  3. What kinds of fiction appear in the same volume with the work? Do they address similar themes? Do you notice a preponderance of one kind of story or setting (e.g., dialect stories, stories about the West, stories about courtship, and so on)?
  4. In what kind of publication does the work appear?

2. Look up the original serial publication of The House of Mirth in Scribner’s or Wharton’s stories in magazines. You can see the original places of publication at this link: What stories surround them? What kinds of advertisements, news, notes, or other information would her original readers have seen in looking at her work?

3. What is the publishing context for The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man? How was it seen in its own time? What materials relating to African American experience were published in periodicals of the same time?

Option II. Traditional Critical Analysis Paper. Write a research-based analysis of one or more of the novels we’ve read.

  1. In what ways does science (and race science in particular) inform novels such as Pudd'nhead Wilson, McTeague, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, and The House of Mirth? Choose any two novels and narrow this topic; you might want to talk about the nature-nurture controversy, social Darwinism,cultural differences (including music or religion), and so on.
  2. Examine the role of naturalism in one or two of the novels we've read.
  3. Analyze a symbol, image, or theme used in more than one novel (such as gold, violence, the use of writing and literacy) or discuss the ways in which an author uses a particular technique (journalistic techniques, humor, repetition, limited omniscient point of view, and so on) to convey his or her message.
  4. The novels we've read for this part of the course have intelligent women in them--even New Women--but intelligence does not seem to translate into a happy ending for any of them. Choosing one or two novels, explore this idea.
  5. Choosing one of the authors we've read this semester, explore the varying ways in which the author was perceived in his or her own time and at the present time. You will want to look at contemporary book reviews of the author's work for this paper.
  6. Compare Lily Bart with another Wharton heroine, such as Undine Spragg of The Custom of the Country. What challenges do they face, and how do they solve them?
  7. Is The House of Mirth a naturalistic novel? Can you compare it with McTeague and The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man?
  8. Analyze in depth a pattern of imagery, symbolism, theme, or feature of one or two works (such as architecture or music).
  9. If you have special knowledge of some aspect of the culture of this era (e.g., paintings, sculpture, fabric or decorative arts, or music; the landscape or vegetation discussed in the work; the architectural features; etc.), analyze one of the works in terms of this knowledge. You might find good information at the Library of Congress's American Memory Home PageHarpweek, or other sites (see
  10. If you would like to continue to explore the ideas in a previous paper, do some additional research in critical or historical sources to expand the paper for your final project.
  11. Your own topic.

Option III Web Text

Texts produced:

Option III asks you to prepare an annotated hypertext (web site) or wiki version of works studied this semester. Your web site or wiki will define words, analyze images and themes, create a coherent interpretation, and provide a brief bibliography of works consulted. If you choose this option, your prospectus will outline your plans for the project.  You may work in a group if you choose this option; all participants will share in the final grade. 


Free wiki sites (for setting up a wiki) include I don't recommend because it has several layers of usernames and passwords, and it can be very difficult to log in to the site.


Length: About 5-10 minutes for the presentation. (No additional written work must be turned in for a grade.)
As part of your final assignment, you'll be presenting your original research to the class during one of two presentation days at the end of the semester. You may also choose to present your research on a different, but most people will probably want to combine the presentation with their research for the final paper.

Your purpose is to inform the class about some facet of your research project. If you've done the "texts in context" paper, for example, you may want to discuss what you've discovered about the periodical or author you focused on for the paper. If you've completed a web project, you may want to show that project on the screen and discuss it with the class. If you've worked with someone else on the project, you can present your research together.

Although this presentation will be based on your final project, you shouldn't simply read your paper to the class, although you can present portions of your paper in your presentation. Instead, you should feel free to bring in film or music clips, use PowerPoint or pictures, ask students questions, and otherwise make your presentation lively and informative for the class. You can also present your research in innovative ways.