English 481: Popular Then/Classic Now: Advanced Study in American Authors, 1865-1940

Paper 2

Length: 3-4 typed, double-spaced pages (750-1000 words, but can be longer if you wish)
Due: March 8, 2012. Paper due at beginning of class if you are turning in a paper copy OR uploaded to Angel by 9 p.m. if you are turning in an electronic copy.


  • This paper does not require research, although secondary sources may be helpful. Rather, its purpose is to demonstrate your ability to choose a significant, appropriately limited topic in American literature; to investigate and support a thesis of your own devising; to analyze with skill and insight the evidence from specific literary works; and to present the whole in a clearly organized, well-written fashion.
  • The essay should incorporate at least one work read in class. You may choose your own topic for the paper if you consult with me ahead of time. 
  • Your paper should be limited enough to provide a specific thesis and a close analysis of the texts; repeating broad, obvious generalities (i.e., "Women were limited by society's expectations in the nineteenth century") or ideas we have discussed in class will not be sufficient.
  • Content is very important, but good organization, sentence structure, and editing skills are also important. Citations and the Works Cited page should follow MLA format. More guidelines for turning in papers in this class are here: http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/format.htm. You can find good information on citing sources online here: http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/resdoc5e/RES5e_ch04_o.html

    The following are suggestions for possible topics for your paper, but you can also develop your own topic in consultation with me. Most of them ask you to compare and contrast at least two pieces of writing.


    These topics are broad and are meant to suggest ideas to you; you should think about developing your own ideas using these as guidelines.

    1. Your own topic. Please check with me (via email) about your topic. The only firm requirement is that you must discuss at least one of the works we’ve read in class.

    2. Compare poems by Frost or Stevens with one or more poems of Dickinson. In what way could they be considered her "heirs"?

    3. Visit the MASC and research several issues of a magazine or newspaper. Who are the popular authors? What are the significant topics? Do you see any stories by the authors we are studying? Do other authors address the same kinds of topics?

    4. Choose a story by London or Chesnutt (or another writer) that was published in a magazine or newspaper and discuss it in the context of the other pieces with which it was published.

    5. Choosing at least one poem by Frost or Stevens, compare it with other poems by Stephen Crane or an earlier contemporary.

    6. Compare the dialect and non-dialect poetry written by Dunbar.

    7. How are issues of racial injustice treated in authors such as Dunbar, London, and Chesnutt?