Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Guidelines for English 238 Final Research Paper

Ralph Waldo Ellison (1914-1994), novelist, essayist, and literary critic. Author of Invisible Man, Juneteenth, and Three Days Before the Shooting, and the essay collections Shadow and Act and Going to the Territory.

ASSIGNMENT: You will write a final essay of 6-8 pages, allowing you the luxury of extended thought and discussion of a dominant theme in one of the semester’s readings or on one of the major works we have read (Ex: Passing, The Bluest Eye). This essay will be written utilizing Modern Language Association guidelines. We will have a brief “brainstorming” session in tomorrow's class to talk about some themes.

Sample themes: abolitionism, accommodationism, adventure, aesthetics, alienation, childhood, class distinctions, colorism/color consciousness, community, corporeality, education, equality, family, femininity, feminism, freedom, gender roles, hypocrisy, individuality, integration, intellectualism, interracialism, law, literacy, masculinity, morality, passing, poverty, race relations, racism, radicalism, rebellion, religion, repatriation, responsibility, revolution, science, segregation, separatism, sexism, sexual exploitation, sexuality, slavery, stereotyping, violence. Some of these themes overlap—your thesis should reflect your theme in a clear, well-articulated manner.

The paper will follow MLA guidelines in matters of form (see MLA in-text citation style below—for complete MLA style, click at left on course blog), and it will contain a Works Cited Page, in-text citations to those sources, and a complete outline.

You must use a total of ten (10) in-text citations from at least three (3) of your five sources, in any combination, for your essay.

For this final research paper, YOU MAY NOT USE the following as sources, as they are NOT considered scholarly works: SparkNotes, CliffsNotes, ClassicNotes, Enotes, GradeSaver, or any other student guides.

A Wikipedia entry may NOT be used as a source—however, if the “Source” section of a Wikipedia entry contains a scholarly work (a journal article or academic book) that you want to quote from in your paper, you are free to retrieve the work from the library (hard copy or from a database) and incorporate it into your paper.

(see Student Checklist for Papers).



ABSTRACT: Students must present a one paragraph abstract of approximately 75-100 words summarizing the paper and how he or she plans to proceed, detailing the following: Why you chose it; what is important about it; what you intend to examine; what library resources you intend to use to complete the assignment. 

DUE DATE for Abstract: Thursday, 6/10

Works Cited: You must present a Works Cited Page of sources (books, journal articles, newspaper articles, media sources, Internet sources) that you think you be using for your research paper. The page will consist of no fewer than five (5) outside sources. At least three (3) of the sources must come from scholarly books or articles on the main topic. Internet sources can comprise no more than two (2) of the sources.

DUE DATE for Research Paper (with final Works Cited page): Thursday, 6/17. If you decide to submit your paper on Friday, 6/18, please do so via email: or

Passing, Hollywood-Style!

What follows are two scenes from the film adaptations of novelist Fannie Hurst's Imitation of Life (clip misspells "imitation"). The first version, made in 1934, stars African American performers Louise Beavers (Delilah) and the luminous Fredi Washington (Peola) as the mother and daughter, respectively. The second adaptation, filmed in 1959, features Juanita Moore (Delilah) as the long-suffering mother, and Susan Kohner (Sarah Jane) as her daughter. Interestingly, Susan Kohner is a white actress passing as a black woman passing as a white woman in this version.

Imitation of Life, 1934. Delilah (Louise Beavers) and Peola (Fredi Washington).

Imitation of Life, 1959. Annie (Juanita Moore) and Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner).

Literary Analyis Quiz #3: Nella Larsen's Passing

Literary Analysis Quiz #3 – Nella Larsen’s Passing

DUE IN-CLASS on Thursday, June 3, 2010

No late essays or make-ups will be allowed, per the syllabus.
All essays are due at the BEGINNING of class!

Write an essay of between 300-400 words in answer to ONE of the following questions. Please follow standard essay-writing principles—strong thesis statement, thoughtful, well-reasoned, organized, and fully-developed argument, supporting details, and proper grammar. This essay must be TYPED and DOUBLE-SPACED, per MLA format. Cite specifically to the source, using standard MLA-style documentation.

1) In her introduction to Nella Larsen’s Passing, critic Thadious M. Davis writes that “…Larsen represents passing as a practical, emancipatory option, a means by which people of African descent could permeate what W.E.B. DuBois termed ‘the veil of color caste.’”

Question: How is this idea of “freedom” exemplified in the novel thus far? Cite specifically to the source, using standard MLA-style documentation.

2) Critic Deborah E. McDowell writes: “In Passing, understanding that Irene Redfield, from whose perspective much of the novel is told, is an unreliable narrator, is key to understanding the novel. Equally important is the function of Clare and Irene as doubles, a strategy that undermines Irene’s authority as the center of racial consciousness, and uncovers the issues of sexuality and class that an exclusive focus on race conceals.”

Question: The metaphor of passing accrues several layers of meaning. What are they? How do they relate to each other? Cite specifically to the source, using standard MLA-style documentation.

3) “[Irene] was caught between two allegiances, different, yet the same. Herself. Her race. Race: The thing that bound and suffocated her. Whatever steps she took, or if she took none at all, something would be crushed. A person or the race. Clare, herself, or the race. Or, it might be all three.”

Question: What does this passage mean? Cite specifically to the source, using standard MLA-style documentation.

All best,

Prof. Williams

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Harriet E. Wilson's Our Nig and Nella Larsen's Passing

African American girl, full-length portrait, seated on stool, facing slightly right. Photo by Thomas E. Askew. From Types of American Negroes, compiled and prepared by W.E.B. Du Bois, v. 1, no. 59. Part of the Paris Exposition of 1900.  

Hi, class,

As I mentioned, I would like to you to comment (150 words MAXIMUM) on Frado's new-found assertiveness at the end of Our Nig. Just use the comment function to post your comment--make sure you write your name at the end of your comment if you decide not to log in (you need not log in). If, for some reason, you have trouble, email your comment to me and I will post it for you.    

In addition, please read Part One (Encounter) of Nella Larsen's Passing for Thursday and be ready to comment on some of the intersecting themes of the novel!

PRESENTATIONS for Thursday, 5/27

Fatima Robinson: William Pickens, "The Kind of Democracy the Negro Expects" (1919)

Natasha Armand: Archibald Grimke, "The Shame of America..." (1920)
Athina Johnson: Marcus Garvey, "The Principles of the U.N.I.A." (1922)
Safiyyah A. Muhammad: James Weldon Johnson, "Our Democracy and the Ballot" (1923)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Harriet Wilson's Our Nig and Class Presentations

1861 photo of girls in the school yard of the Colored Orphan Asylum, located at 5th Ave. & 43rd St. in New York City.  

Wilson's Our Nig

Hi, class,

This evening, we will be examining Harriet Wilson's Our Nig. Please note that the subtitle is Sketches from the Life of a Free Black. In this autobiographical novel, Wilson melds the two most popular literary genres of the 19th century: the slave narrative and the sentimental novel. 

I would like you to consider how this novel fits in with the other works we have read this semester, or other works you may have read outside of this class (written during the same era), and to think about the following questions:

  • How does this novel compare with other works--what are the similarities, and what are the differences? 
  • What is significant about the prefatory note that precedes the beginning of the story? 
  • What major themes emerge in this novel? 
  • What is Harriet Wilson's motive for writing Our Nig that sets her apart from her (white women) contemporaries?
  • How do you "read" race, gender, and class in Our Nig?
I would like you to think about these questions and make some notes on passages of significance to you!

In addition, we will have the following 5-minute presentations this evening:

Marcus Hulin: Lucy Parsons, "I Am an Anarchist" (1886)
Makeda Moses: Ida B. Wells, "Lynch Law in All Its Phases" (1893)
Christopher Smith: Booker T. Washington, "The Atlanta Compromise Speech" (1895)
June Joseph: Mary Church Terrell, "In Union There is Strength" (1897)
Anatali SaintLouis: Alexander Crummell, "The Attitude of the American Mind..." (1898)
Prof. Williams: W.E.B.Du Bois: "To the Nations of the World" (1900)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Additional Readings: Harper, Douglass, and Lincoln

Hi, class,

It's only Week 2, and I am already having to make modifications in our reading schedule--lol! I have cut Douglass's "Claims of the Negro, Ethnologically Considered," as it is a long piece, but I will go over the main points Douglass makes as he confronts the pseudo-scientific challenges to black humanity.

Here are links to the additional readings I placed on the syllabus. In addition to this week's discussion of Frederick Douglass's novella, The Heroic Slave, we will be discussing the following:

Frances E.W. Harper readings:
I have cut a couple of the Harper readings, but have added one. They are relatively short pieces--we will take a look at the poems and the short story "The Two Offers" (1859) tomorrow, and the speech "We Are All Bound Up Together" (1866) on Thursday.

From Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854):

Short Story 
"The Two Offers" (click on link)


Abraham Lincoln readings:
These are short pieces that we will take a quick look at on Thursday as we attempt to wrap up our discussion of the Douglass novella. They are extremely important in the context of African American post-Civil War struggle.

As with everything that we will be reading this semester, please be ready to comment on a section that you find particularly significant--pay attention to diction, language, tone, and theme.

Individual Presentations: Guidelines and Schedule

Celebrating Lena Horne (1917-2010)

Hi, class,

I am making a few modifications to the individual presentation guidelines. Please note the changes. You will be responsible for delivering a brief presentation (5-7 minutes maximum) on one of the readings from The Black Past, the online reference guide to African American history (click on link at left). The objective of the assignment is to present the work in such a way as to heighten the class’s interest in learning more about the author or the topic presented in the text.

You must provide a brief overview of the piece, as well as some analysis as to why you think the work is of continuing literary/historic value. Please provide a one-page handout with one or two passages which exemplify the major theme of the piece. This handout should include 1 or 2 educational/scholarly links  to more information about the author (such as an online bibliography, collected works, etc.).

A 5-minute presentation is approximately 2 double-spaced typed pages. You may prefer to write out your presentation or you may work from notes. Time yourself and rehearse so that you may give a polished, professional presentation--I will stop the presentation at 5 minutes. Be prepared to answer additional questions from the instructor and your classmates on the topic of your presentation. Below is the schedule of readings. Class will begin with the delivery of the presentations, so please come to class on time on the date of your presentation.

*There will be no make-up allowed for this presentation, which is worth 10 points.*

Tuesday, 5/11
Gilan Abrams: Frederick Douglass, "If There is No Struggle, There is No Progress" (1857)
Onyinyechi Ubaechu: John S. Rock, "I Will Sink or Swim with My Race" (1858)
Samuel Nash: Frederick Douglass, "Men of Color, To Arms!" (1863)

Thursday, 5/13
Michele Spears: Hiram Revels, "The End of Segregated Schools" (1871)
Steadman Channer, Jr.: Frances E.W. Harper, "The Great Problem to be Solved" (1875)
Karima McGhee: John F. Bruce, "Reasons Why the Colored Man Should Go to Africa" (1877)

Tuesday, 5/18
Kateia Wade: Ferdinand Barnett, "Race Unity" (1879)
Marcus Hulin: Lucy Parsons, "I Am an Anarchist" (1886)
Syeda Fatima: Frederick Douglass, "On Woman Suffrage" (1888)
Daveenah McCallum: Anna Julia Cooper, "Women's Cause is One and Universal" (1893)
William Snell: John H. Smyth, "The African in Africa and the African in America" (1895)

Thursday, 5/20
Makeda Moses: Ida B. Wells, "Lynch Law in All Its Phases" (1893)
Christopher Smith: Booker T. Washington, "The Atlanta Compromise Speech" (1895)
Betty Patterson-Pearson: W.E.B.Du Bois: "To the Nations of the World" (1900)
June Joseph: Mary Church Terrell, "In Union There is Strength" (1897)
Anatali SaintLouis: Alexander Crummell, "The Attitude of the American Mind..." (1898)

Tuesday, 5/25
Samantha Braham: Lucy Craft Laney, "The Burden of the Educated Colored Woman" (1899)
Nathan Odotei: Mary Church Terrell, "What it Means to be Colored..." (1906)
Donna Banks: Ida B. Wells, "This Awful Slaughter" (1909)
Fatima Robinson: William Pickens, "The Kind of Democracy the Negro Expects" (1919)
Natasha Armand: Archibald Grimke, "The Shame of America..." (1920)
Thursday, 5/27
Athina Johnson: Marcus Garvey, "The Principles of the U.N.I.A." (1922)
Safiyyah A. Muhammad: James Weldon Johnson, "Our Democracy and the Ballot" (1923)

Tuesday, 6/1
Jamal Watts: Ralph J. Bunche, "The Barriers of Race Can Be Surmounted" (1949)
Phara Saintlouis: Charlotta Bass, "Acceptance Speech for V-Presidential Candidate" (1952) 
Judy Harris: Malcolm X, "Exhorting Afro-Americans to Confront White Oppression" (1965)

Thursday, 6/3
Judith Nwoso: Bayard Rustin, "From Protest to Politics" (1965)
Nakisha Johnson: Stokely Carmichael, "Definitions of Black Power" (1966)
Stacy Gordon: Shirley Chisolm, "I Am for the Equal Rights Amendment" (1970)
Tiffany Horn: Barbara Jordan: "Who, Then, Will Speak to the Common Good?" (1976)