Paper 1

Paper 1 (5-7 pages) due. Electronic version must be e-mailed to me ( ) by 9 p.m.

The first paper assignment in English 494 consists of two parts: a typed proposal (50-100 words) and a critical analysis of one of the topics listed below.  Your paper can be a bit longer than this if you need more space for your analysis.

The proposal covers (1) the overall subject of your paper; (2) its thesis or overall argument; (3) the works to be covered; (4) outside sources, if any.  Turning in the paper's introductory paragraph will also satisfy the proposal requirement.


  1. The first 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.
  2. Content is very important, but good organization, sentence structure, and editing skills are also important. Papers with comma splices, agreement errors, and other problems will be penalized accordingly. Citations and the Works Cited page should follow MLA format.
  3. The essay should incorporate at least one work read or viewed in class, although you may useother works as well. For example, I do NOT want to see a standard image-analysis paper on The Great Gatsby of the sort you may have written in other classes or in high school, but if you want to discuss The Great Gatsby in terms of Fitzgerald’s other stories or The Beautiful and Damned, that’s permissible. You may choose your own topic for the paper if you consult with me ahead of time. 
  4. Your paper should be limited enough to provide a specific thesis and a close analysis of the texts; repeating broad, obvious generalities or ideas we have discussed in class will not be sufficient.


These topics are broad and are meant to suggest ideas to you; you should think about developing your own ideas using these as guidelines. These topics don’t have an implicit thesis; you’ll need to develop your own.

  1. During our trip to the MASC, you learned about 1920s periodicals and other resources for reading these authors’ works in their original publication format, usually magazines. Look up two or three stories by one of the authors we’ve read in their original publication format and analyze them in the context of other works in the volume, including essays, criticism, ads, and travel pieces. (You don’t have to read them all.) What kinds of expectations would 1920s readers have had when reading the story in this way? Is the picture that the author presents of the age accurate, according to the other things you’ve read?
  2. In what ways can Fitzgerald be called a modern-day romantic? How has he been influenced by the work of Keats and other romantic poets?
  3. Publicity, a concern for appearances, and the importance of advertising and popular culture all figure prominently in works of this era. Choosing one or two works, explore this idea. How does the author’s use of these ideas or references affect the work? You might choose, for example, to investigate Lewis’s use of advertising types in Babbitt or Fitzgerald’s use of popular music and the movies.
  4. Fitzgerald is often credited with inventing the idea of the flapper, but Gloria Gilbert isn’t the only example in his body of work. Using short stories (and perhaps films as well), examine the idea of the flapper in the 1920s. Did she really exist? What makes her unique in the history of female heroines? This is a very broad topic, so you’ll have to narrow it down to a few works and provide a strong thesis. OR Explore another 1920s character type in the same way.
  5. In what way or ways could Parker’s monologues or Fitzgerald’s interpolation of short dramatic scenes be considered innovative? Is there a 1920s style or voice that you’ve seen in several works?
  6. In what ways do these authors use humor to convey their message?
  7. Prominent themes in the works we’ve read include cynicism, loss, and a sense of disillusionment or the failure of an ideal, yet the “Jazz Age” reputation of the 1920s as one long party would seem to negate this idea. Explore the ways in which these ideas operate in the works we’ve read. Why does this contradiction exist?
  8. Your own topic.