HE101, Practical Writing
Fall Semester, AY2013

Primary Texts


The Seagull Reader

What It Is Like to Go to War

Titus Andronicus


The Longman Handbook



1. Assignments, Routines and Goals click

2. Guidelines to HE111 and HE112 click

3. Prompt for Paper#1 click

4. Prompt for Paper#2 click

5. Prompt for Paper #3 click

6. Prompt for Paper #4 click

7. Prompt for Paper #5 click

8. Sentences Problems from Paper #2 click

9. Sample Paper on Prompt #3 click

10. Sentence variety exercise click

11. Successful paper on Assignment #3 click









Aug 20

Introduction to Course

In-class writing/brainstorming for Paper #1


Aug 22 

Seagull: Angelou, 22; Buckley, 60

Personal Experience and meaning


Aug 24

Seagull: Staples, 294; Longman: pp. 52-64 

Territory, race, and gender; sharpening and shaping paragraphs

WK 2

Aug 27

Seagull:  Orwell, 242

Colonial assumptions; personal experience as meaning redux


Aug 29

Seagull:  Malcolm X, 224; Longman: 593-601

"Education" (click); discuss pronoun reference

Paper #1 Due (click)

Aug 31

Longman: 69-70,73-74, 76-77, 535-36

In-class exercise on active voice (click); pronoun problems (click)

WK 3

Sep  3

No Class—Labor Day

Write a paragraph about something that strikes you as odd


Sep  4


Discuss Paper #1; keys to successful revisions; “to be” (click)


Sep  5

Longman: 498-99 (“10 deadly errors”)

Work on improving one paragraph from paper #1



Writing work

Begin drafting Paper #2; complete paragraph on something odd

WK 4

Sep 10 

Seagull: Kozol, 186; Hayakawa, 129

Language; how words mean


Sep 12

Seagull:  Tan, 308

Language and the individual


Sep 14

Longman: pp. 65-67; 126-28

Work on drafts of paper #2; opening and closing paragraphs

WK 5

Sep 17

Seagull: Jefferson, 146; Stanton, 290

How to put things like a man

Sep 19

Seagull: Brady, 57; Pollit, 253

How to put things like a woman

Paper #2 Due (click)

Sep 21

Open; bring Longman (553-68)to class

In-class editing; pronoun reference and subj-verb agreement

WK 6

Sep 24


Begin to think about Paper #3


Sep 26

Seagull: Will, 376; Gould, 112

Longman: 553-68 revisited

Distinguishing between words and their meanings

Discuss strengths and weaknesses in Paper #2 (click)


Sep 28

Seagull: Dawkins & Coyne, 69

Challenging accepted notions

WK 7

Oct   1

Seagull: Harris, 123

More challenging of routine ideas


Oct   3


In-class work on Paper #3

Oct   5

Longman: 646-52; bring examples of wordiness

  "           "          "         "; editing for wordiness

WK 8

Oct   8

No class—Columbus Day

Work on Paper #3


Oct 10

Titus Adronicus, Act 1

What’s it all about, Titus?

Oct 12

Longman: 646-52, again

Review grammar and style; construct style and grammar lists.

WK 9

 Paper #3 Due (click)

Oct 15

Longman: 603-607, 77-80, 498ff

In-class editing; sentence variety click


Oct 17

Titus Adronicus, Acts 2 & 3

Feuds and Family Trees


Oct 19

Titus Adronicus, Act 4

What are women?


Oct 22

Titus Adronicus, Act 5

Meaning of tragedy?


Oct 24

Titus Adronicus, view scenes

Performance as interpretation

Oct 26

Titus Adronicus, view scenes

            "                "             "   


Oct 29

Titus Adronicus, discuss Masqueraders production

             "               "            "


Oct 31

What It Is Like . . ., chapters 1-2

Understanding the war experience?

Nov  2

What It Is Like . . ., chapters 3-4

Understanding vs. Prescribing


Nov  5

What It Is Like . . ., chapters 5-6

What is intellectual honesty?


Nov  7

What It Is Like . . ., chapters 7-8

Questions for Marlantes?

Nov  9


Marlantes' Presentation / Work on Essay #4

WK 13

Nov 12

No Class—Veteran’s Day

Work on Essay #4

Paper #4 Due (click)

Nov 14


In-class editing

Nov 16

Seagull: Lincoln, 206

Imagery in non-fiction prose


Nov 19

Seagull:  Ehrenreich, 103; Berube, 53

Thinking out of the box


Nov 21


Discuss Paper #5


Nov 23

No Class--Thanksgiving

Gather magazine ads for assignment #5


Nov 26

Bring "Ads"; Longman: 213-218

Discuss ads


Nov 28

Seagull:  Rority, 276


Nov 30

Seagull: Swift, 297

Classic  Satire


Dec  3


Work on Paper #5


Dec  5

Seagull:  White, 369


Paper #5 Due (click)

Dec  9


Instructor Evaluations















Notes on Assignments, Routines, and Goals


1.    Goals, Grading Standards, Statement on Plagiarism.  See Guidelines to HE111 and HE112 (click).



2.    Assignments and Grading.  



Percentage of Final Grade

Five out-of-class        

papers (including drafts when required)

about 60%

In-class writings, quizzes (many unannounced), homework, contribution to in-class learning

about 40%

3.    Course Policies.


a)    You must complete and hand in all papers and announced in-class work in order to pass the course.


b)    Do not assume that I will be reasonable about late papers:  if you ignore the due date, I can just as easily react in an arbitrary and inconsistent way.


c)    You can rewrite—not superficially revise—two essays.  For an example of a successful rewrite click here.  The grade for the rewritten essay will replace that of the original, provided that it is a better grade.  The rewrite due dates appear in the left column on the reading schedule above.  I do, of course, encourage you to re-write before you submit an essay.  I’m always happy to help you with drafts before the paper’s due date. 


4.  Class Meetings.  Classes will unfold as discussions of assigned readings and other projects, punctuated occasionally by short, informal lectures and reports on group projects, as well as quizzes.  Expect a good deal of in-class writing, at least once a week.


5.  Office Hours.  MWF 3rd period and T, 9-11 & 2:30-3:30.  I read my e-mail frequently and I'll give you my home number, so you won't have any trouble getting hold of me.  My office phone is 36201.
























HE111-112 Information and Guidelines for Students

I.  Course Description.


In Rhetoric and Introduction to Literature (HE111-112), literature is the springboard for teaching composition.  In the two courses, you study the principles of composition and apply them in written responses to your readings.  This combination of composition and literature provides you with experience in performing diverse writing tasks and challenges you to understand and appreciate the ways in which literature expresses human and cultural values.


During the first semester, instructors assign frequent writing tasks designed to help you master content, organization, diction, style, and mechanics.  They also introduce you to the principles of writing critically about the short story and drama.  In the second semester, instructors require more sophisticated essays in which you write about poetry and the novel, and they will introduce you to using the library's resources, documenting material correctly, and quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing accurately.


II.  Objectives.


1.  To improve your ability to read critically and sensitively various kinds of literature.


2.  To develop your confidence and style as a writer so that you can:


        a.  turn a general topic into a purposeful thesis;

        b.  shape your composition so that it has a beginning, middle, and end and so that its organization and content serve
        its audience and purpose;

        c.  write fully developed and coherent paragraphs employing such methods of development as summary, narration,
        description, comparison/contrast, classification, analysis, and persuasion;

        d. edit your sentences so that they vary one from the other, so that they depend mainly on the active voice and
        avoid wordiness, and so that they are grammatically correct; and

        e.  use the resources of the library to research a topic and document the results.


3.  To enhance your understanding and appreciation of cultural values and basic human issues through the study of literature.


III. Evaluation of Written Work.


Your instructors will evaluate your writing to help you to achieve the objectives described above, reading your essays carefully, commenting on both their strengths and weaknesses, and expecting you to use those comments to improve your subsequent writing.

Part of the evaluating role of the instructor is to assign a grade to your work.  Although not all instructors assign grades to every paper, the Academy requires instructors to report grades about every six weeks, and you should be aware of the following guidelines.


1.     Criteria for Grading Writing Assignments:


  A:  The A essay shows originality of thought in stating and developing a controlling idea or thesis.  It employs the
        most suitable kind and amount of evidence, and this evidence, at every stage of the essay, has a clear purpose.
        In addition, the excellent essay is characterized by careful and effective organization of sentences and paragraphs
        and by careful and effective choice of words and phrases.


  B:  The B essay has many of the traits of the A essay, but is usually lacking in one or two areas such as completeness
        of development or clarity of focus in its controlling idea.  The prose in a B essay can be flawless and clear or a bit
        careless, but its general lack of mechanical errors and its "readability" reveal some successful editing and proofreading.


  C:  The C essay has a central idea and a basic plan of organization, though that organization breaks down at certain

        stages and is often not the plan best suited for the controlling idea.  The C essay lacks development either because it
        does not provide sufficient evidence to support its generalizations or because it lists evidence without providing any
        assessment of that evidence. Though it usually needs improvement in mechanics and wording, the C paper can be
        almost entirely free of mechanical errors.  Whereas the B essay can be quite impressive in an area or two, the C
        essay usually lacks an outstanding feature, though it might have outstanding potential.


   D. The D essay shows little understanding of the topic; it usually lacks a controlling idea, and if it states an idea,
        the body of the essay does little to support that idea.  The D essay often has a random order; its paragraphs unfold
        without a plan; and its sentences, though usually understandable, show little evidence of being revised and therefore
        suffer from wordiness and a distracting number of mechanical errors.


    F. The F essay is unsatisfactory.  It fails to state and develop a main idea, often because it does not respond to the
        assignment.  In addition, several of the major mechanical errors listed below occur repeatedly throughout the paper.


English instructors agree that frequent occurrences of these errors characterize substandard writing:


                    (1)  sentence fragments (Longman, chapter 40)
                    (2)  comma splices or run-on sentences (Longman, chapter 41)
                    (3)  dangling or misplaced modifiers (Longman, chapter 43)
                    (4)  faulty agreement:  subject-verb or pronoun-antecedent (Longman, chapter 38)
                    (5)  faulty use of tenses (Longman, chapter 34f)
                    (6)  substandard idioms or expression
                    (7)  excessive misspellings of common words


See the more inclusive list in The Longman Handbook (47), which adds to these the following four: faulty shifts in point of view, misuse of apostrophe, missing or misused quotations marks, double negatives.


2.     Literacy and a Passing Grade:  Instructors will not automatically assign a failing grade to the paper in which some of the seven faults repeatedly occur, especially when the paper has strength in its content or ideas.  However, if you habitually commit several of these mechanical errors in your essay and do not make definite progress toward avoiding them by the end of the term, your instructor is likely to judge your semester's work as unsatisfactory.  You would do well, then, to study all your handbook has to say about these writing faults so as to avoid them in your writing.  Good ideas deserve good presentation.


IV.  Avoiding Plagiarism.


At the U.S. Naval Academy, the least severe consequence of detected plagiarism is a failing mark on the paper containing the violation.  Since plagiarism is a combination of lying, cheating, and stealing and as such constitutes a violation of the honor concept (see USNAINST 1610.3f), plagiarism could result in your dismissal from the Academy.  The moral:  do not sacrifice your personal integrity and professional potential in such high risk activity.  You would be wise to read the sections on plagiarism and documentation in your handbook, where you'll find the correct way to handle writing and ideas that are not your own.  Look carefully at the following document for more explanation:

English Department Standards for Honest Work


1.  Whenever we directly or indirectly refer to the material we’re studying, we’re more persuasive.  Likewise, research—thoroughly studying and investigating a topic—helps us refine our thinking and writing.  Referring to the text and outside sources doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily out of ideas or that we’re in a position of weakness.  Rather, these references further strengthen our arguments, so it’s important that we not undermine that strength by failing in some way to acknowledge our borrowed material.  To this end, we expect you to observe the following standards and always consult the available resources—your instructor, the Writing Center, your Everyday Writer—if you have any questions.


2.  The Honor Concept states that midshipmen “ensure that work submitted as their own is their own, and that assistance received from any source is authorized and properly documented.”  That is, midshipmen do not plagiarize.  What, then, is plagiarism?  Citing the Council of Writing Program Administrators, The Longman Handbook, page 333, explains that plagiarism,


occurs when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or original (not common-knowledge) material without acknowledging its source.” . . . Thus, turning in someone else’s paper as your own, taking someone’s original idea or analysis from a book and passing it off as yours, and copying passages or even sentences from a source into your paper without saying where they came from—all represent plagiarism


3.  At the U.S. Naval Academy, the least severe consequence of detected plagiarism is a failing mark on the paper containing the violation.  Since plagiarism is a combination of lying, cheating, and stealing, and as such it constitutes a violation of the Honor Concept, plagiarism could result in your dismissal from the Academy.


4.  In order to avoid plagiarism it is necessary to document your sources to identify ideas, writings, and material that are not your original thoughts.  Not only must you identify the verbatim use of the words of others, but also those instances that paraphrase or summarize another’s material.  If your instructor doesn’t specify which style to use, you may use footnote, endnote, or parenthetical style; consult The Longman Handbook (332-67) for documentation rules and format.


5.  Here are some methods of using reference material:


a.  You may quote a whole sentence or more verbatim, documenting the source.


b.  You may paraphrase or summarize the writer’s idea or information, in language which is unmistakably your own, and give the writer credit for it in your documentation.


c.  You may wish to combine these methods by working into your paraphrase or summary some brief quotations of the writer’s key words or phrases and then documenting the source.  This is often the most effective way to reference material.


Remember:  all the above methods of citation require proper documentation of the source.  Paraphrasing or summarizing what you use from a source does not relieve you of the obligation to give credit where credit is due.


6.  These suggestions for using reference materials while avoiding plagiarism will also help you:


a.  Quotation marks:  whatever you are quoting verbatim, whether whole sentences or merely words or phrases, must, of course, be identified by quotation marks, unless you are using the alternative method of indentation and single-spacing for lengthy quotation.


b.  Anticipating documentation:  it’s generally advisable when you cite a writer’s opinion (e.g., his or her analysis or criticism of a literary work) that you mention him or her, preferably by name, in the text as you begin your citation, making it clear to your reader beforehand that he or she is about to hear from a source other than yourself.  Don’t rely entirely upon documentation at the end of a sentence or a paragraph; establish a context for your reader.


c.  Documentation at the end of each paragraph isn’t sufficient, since it causes confusion concerning how much material is being referenced.  Avoid the practice of “lifting” sizable blocks of material by including original ideas within and varying the sources of information, producing the true research product—a blend of sources and original thought.


7.  Plagiarism encompasses more than the taking of material from published sources without acknowledgment.  It also includes submitting ideas or papers that are partially or totally the work of another person, including another student.  There is no prohibition against having someone else proofread or type a paper, but you must be sure that the corrections or changes made in your work by others do not alter the substance or style of the paper.


























To be or not to be--An Exercise on Identifying Weak Verbs

Steps to take with any paper, late in the drafting process:

1.  Circle all occurrences of to be verbs, except those in quotes.

to be



's, 're (in contractions)

2.  Count all the to be verbs you have circled.

3.  Count your sentences, excluding quotations.

4.  Divide the number of to be verbs by the number of sentences.

40% and below suggests that you have probably taken the time actually to think about and choose the verbs in your sentences.  You have avoided the following structures:

                          the passive voice
                          the "it is . . . . that" 
                          the "There is" 
                          noun formations--"he is supportive of me" (as opposed 
                          to "he supports me")

 Click here for some examples of how to turn to be sentences into active ones.  Read about the passive voice and active verbs in your Handbook, as well.














Paper Assignment #1

Due:  31 August

Length: about 3 pages

Audience: your classmates and instructor

Format: double space, 1 inch margins, title on first page


Purpose:  write an organized essay in which you recount a personal experience that mattered to you, that was important in a way that you can explain to your classmates and me.  Your paper, then, will have to do three main things, even though they may be intertwined:  1) recount the experience; 2) create a context for the importance of the experience; and 3) out of that context explain why the experience mattered (still matters) to you.




a) A controlling idea that holds the paper together

b) An interesting, inviting opening that also includes that controlling idea

c)  Paragraphs that develop fully through details, examples and explanation

d) A final paragraph that does NOT simply repeat in another form the opening

e)  Signs that you’ve made a good effort at proofreading






















Paper Assignment #2

Due:  21 September

Length: about 3 pages

Audience: your classmates and instructor

Format: double space, 1 inch margins, title on first page


Purpose:  write an organized essay in which you do a similar thing that you did in the first essay, but instead of focusing on an event, you focus on an object or place that matters to you and also that essentially captures you as a person.  Same expectations as for Paper #1.  You have to describe the object, establish a context for its value and thereby explain why it indicates who you are in terms of essential character traits and/or the “history” that has made you who you are.  Here’s an example of such a paper: click.




a) A controlling idea that holds the paper together

b) An interesting, inviting opening that also includes that controlling idea

c)  Paragraphs that develop fully through details, examples and explanation

d) A final paragraph that does NOT simply repeat in another form the opening

e)  Signs that you’ve made a good effort at proofreading





















Paper Assignment #3


Due:  15 October

Length: about 3 pages

Audience: your classmates and instructor

Format: double space, 1 inch margins, title on first page


Purpose:  write an organized essay in which you critically examine a saying, cliché, slogan or term you often hear.  You might want to include in your analysis the needs or level of awareness of the person who uses it, if you are troubled, say, by someone using it.  Take a look at George Will’s reflection on the term “value” and also, by connection, “role model” (Seagull, 377ff.) and Jay Gould’s discussion of “median” (Seagull, 112ff.) as samples of the rhetorical area in which this assignment puts you.  Other such terms that we hear all the time include “It is what it is,” “At the end of the day,” “Move on,” etc.  You might want to focus on more proverbial sayings:  “A stitch in time saves nine,” or “six one, have a dozen the other,” for example.  A slogan would be something like the reference to midshipmen as “the cream of the crop” or “America’s finest.”   Click here for a sample paper on “role model” that you can use to help you get a sense of what this prompt asks of you as a writer. 




a) A controlling idea that holds the paper together

b) An interesting, inviting opening that also includes that controlling idea

c)  Paragraphs that develop fully through details, examples and explanation

d) A final paragraph that does NOT simply repeat in another form the opening

e)  Signs that you’ve made a good effort at proofreading


























A Vessel that Matters

    Just a glance is all it takes. Then I get that wonderful feeling of ease and promise.  In my office that means a look over the top of my monitor at the framed three by five photo of my green Old Town canoe.  In the picture it sits atop my dilapidated Toyota pick-up against a cloudless blue sky.  The picture was snapped from down the hill a bit, below the truck, so the canoe, along with the truck, of course, stands above the eye, almost in a place of eminence.  At home, that feeling of ease and promise comes after I simply gaze out back to where the canoe sits about five feet above the ground on its rack, beneath the hollies, next to the shed, bow pointed my way.  In as literal way as you possibly can take the cliché, that canoe means the world to me.

     Don't be alarmed.  It's no secret to those who love me.  My wife and daughters, in fact, took that picture of the canoe on the truck, framed it, and gave it to me for Christmas some years back.  A simple gesture, but the kind that counts, the kind that matters.  They know better than anyone what the canoe means.  I can remember, in fact, the day they took the picture, though I never saw them snap it.  I was busy shoring up a rock planter on the front lawn.  Having gone fishing the day before, I left the canoe on the truck as I often do--there's just something about leaving it there that I like, the picture of readiness, perhaps, or maybe just the way the canoe lies across the ladder racks of the shell on the back of the truck and overhangs the windshield, seemingly out of balance in relation to the truck as it hangs three feet beyond the tailgate, but perfectly symmetrical upon the racks themselves.  Maybe I just like the prompt it gives me to day dream about the previous day of fishing.  At any rate, as I was lazily stacking stones on that gorgeous fall day, I repeated aloud to whoever emerged from the house something like this:  "Isn't that just a beautiful sight?  There's nothing around as pretty as that canoe on the truck."  Partly I was just tweaking my daughters and wife:  having to drive the truck--even the thought of driving it--is for them the same as having to inhabit a spot in Dante's hell.  Partly, too, I was making fun of myself--nerdy, uncool, tasteless, even perhaps pitiable in this undue pride in ownership of something so humble and, yes, "embarrassing."  And more than partly I meant it all.  I certainly made an impression because with about the same mixture of sincerity and fun-making that I displayed, they snapped that picture to which I so often turn for relief.  So you see, there's no need to worry about my misplaced devotion to a canoe:  my loved ones are complicit in promoting that devotion.

     Keep it simple--that's my motto.  Reduce the number of moving parts: it works for a golf swing; it works for longevity in a car; it certainly can be said of a canoe.  All I need is a paddle.  No trailer, no faulty wheel bearings to sweat over, no anxiety about hauling something that might start slithering on its own in the wind or around a curve.  The canoe requires little care--a couple of bungee cords and two tie down ropes and I'm off.  I can move it into the tightest, shallowest spots; and guide it over rocks and ledges and even now and then class III rapids.  No exhaust; no gas spills; no wakes; little noise.  All that simply means so much to me.  I've never wanted to "make an impact" on the world, make an "impression," as they say.  It seems that those aims speak of a kind of violence to the surroundings and even to others; that's never "floated my boat," if you will forgive the pun.  I like "cohabitation," getting along with others and the world; certainly the canoe does this.  Sure, there are limitations.  I can't speed out into the Chesapeake Bay at 40 miles an hour, spill some reeking chum into the water, and snag a few rock fish with a heavy duty rod, geared reel and 50lb test line.  I can't achieve that kind of dominance, that mastery of my environment.  But I can slip along quietly with the world, catching a rising trout or small mouth bass lying beneath a tree or over-hanging bank, then feeling its deft runs and earnest tugs, and finally returning it to the current.  That's intrusive enough for me. 

      Perhaps I appreciate this simplicity of the canoe--and the simplicity and even escape it represents for me when I look out the back window or over the top of my monitor--because I also am so often intimidated by the complexity of our lives: obligations, things to do (so many things to do!), egos to nurse, gadgets to repair, desires to control, and dreams to forget.  The canoe gets me away from all this.  As I push off from the shore and settle into the seat, I'm safe.  The canoe is another skin, another barrier, inside even another one, the bank of the pond or river.  I've got space.  I've got only concrete, physical things to worry about--the canoe's drift, the push of the wind, the height of my back cast, the right fly to tie on, all the stuff that obliterates the other sorts of cares that can "fry the mind."  Nobody can get at me while I'm on the water. And all the time I think, thanks to Frank Sinatra, "I'm doing it my way."

     I always feel special, even original and individual in doing this, even though on reflecting, I know I'm nothing more than just another expression of the American Dream, that desire to "light out for the territory," as Twain puts it at the end of his book about Huck Finn.  I think I'm getting away in my way, but ultimately I'm just expressing the same desire that the guy does who "hauls ass" in his power boat.  Modest as it is, then, that canoe is my American Dream, my own form of self-deception, I suppose.  If you've read Great Gatsby, you'll know what I mean: it's that green beacon, that mistaken promise of a return to Eden-like simplicity and fulfillment at the end of Daisy's peer. It's the world to me.




















Paper Assignment #4


Due:  14 November

Length: about 3 pages

Audience: your classmates and instructor

Format: double space, 1 inch margins, title on first page


Purpose:  write an organized essay in which you respond to some element in one of the works you have read, an idea, opinion, or attitude expressed in one of them.  You might criticize the idea and disagree with it, or you might want to offer even more support to it.




a) A controlling idea that holds the paper together

b) An interesting, inviting opening that also includes that controlling idea

c)  Paragraphs that develop fully through details, examples and explanation

d) A final paragraph that does NOT simply repeat in another form the opening

e)  Signs that you’ve made a good effort at proofreading


Sample thesis statements/opening paragraphs


1)  Something bothers me about even the title of Marlantes’ collection of essays dealing with his war experiences:  I wonder why he couldn’t have made the “it is” in the title an “it’s.”  That sense of correctness, the need to avoid the contraction almost in a schoolmarmish way, undermines the essays themselves, at least to my mind. On the one hand the scenarios Marlantes describes have incredible power; that is, they communicate the emotional and physical experience of combat.  Too often, however, they also result in a kind of morale, an obligation to offer a piece of corrective advice, that ends up making the experience of reading the book fall flat. I know Marlantes sets himself up as a guide in the book and feels the need, therefore, to point to a way of “civilizing,” if not war, at least the experience of war, but the prescriptive aspect of the books nevertheless undermines its descriptive power.  This tension emerges most notably in three of the chapters.


2)  Buckley’s essay, “Why Don’t We Complain?,” actually undercuts its own thesis with its final anecdote, the one about the writer finally getting up the gumption to complain about not getting any service at the ski resort only to learn that’s he complains about the lack of service from a man who has just had a heart attack and is awaiting forf an ambulance.  Though I can’t be sure that Buckley intends to do it: his undercutting of his own resistance to address problems actually focuses on the personality type that suffers the most in these situations—the “complainer,” one who actually has the time and luxury to worry about minor concerns and rather than one who remains so involved in simply holding her head above water that a blurred movie and too much heat in a train might be an incidental, not an essential, concern.
























Paper Assignment #5


Due:  14 November

Length: about 3 pages

Audience: your classmates and instructor

Format: double space, 1 inch margins, title on first page

Purposecarefully analyze the workings of an advertisement from a magazine.  Discuss the way in which its parts—the wording of its captions and its illustrations, for instance, even its dependence on cultural assumptions about such matters as power, sexuality, gender—develop a certain appeal directed at a particular audience.  In making its appeal the advertisement will probably forgo careful, correct reasoning:  it will fail to define its terms; it will "beg the question"; it will flatter its audience; and it will commit some of the other "logical fallacies" mentioned in you’re the Longman Handbook (126-29).  Be alert for those illogical techniques.  Also be alert for hidden ideological assumptions, such as the ones about progress and female attractiveness that the sample essays click uncover.  On pp. 215-17 you will also find a nice model of this sort of paper.

Your paper will have a narrow thesis identifying the "ad's" appeal and naming the "ad's" major methods of making that appeal.  The body of the paper will explain those methods.



a) A controlling idea that holds the paper together and that specifically identifies the advertisement’s appeal and names its major methods of making that appeal (the body of the paper will explain how those methods work to make a “pitch”

b) An interesting, inviting opening that also includes that controlling idea

c)  Paragraphs that develop fully through details, examples and explanation

d) A final paragraph that does NOT simply repeat in another form the opening

e)  Signs that you’ve made a good effort at proofreading





























Two sample papers follow.  As you'll see, in the first the thesis and then the topic sentences of its paragraphs appear in blue type, as an example of the kind of framework around which I would like you to flesh out your essay.  I also have highlighted in purple its rather sparing--and therefore good--use of the forms of the "to be" verb.  Try to emulate its use of mainly active verbs when you work on the final draft of your essay.

Sample #1

Progress, Happiness, and a Chevy

       The mythic foundations of American life are choice, especially the winning choice, and progress.  These ideas formed our country and made heroes of great American inventors such as Edison and Ford. Though this advertisement for the Chevy S-10 Blazer click shoves Henry Ford aside, it still depends on those two American values—and the feelings associated with them—to insinuate that the reader who does not purchase this and other Chevy products will remain utterly dissatisfied. Both the visual details and the wording of the "ad" develop this contrast between a winning choice and a losing one and between progress and stasis.

       Visually, the theme of choice dominates the ad.  The Chevy is a fire-engine red—lively and daring.  The Ford is a metallic-blue—lifeless and ordinary.  The lettering above the Chevy slants to the right, almost moves forward along the page in the direction our eyes automatically move.  The lettering above the Ford slants ploddingly, even stiffly "backwards."  And because the Ford's back wheels don't even appear in the picture, the ad subliminally implies that with Chevy the buyer gets a whole vehicle, while with Ford he gets only half.  In addition, the advertisers make the drivers' expressions just visible enough to emphasize the emotional quality of the choice between Ford and Chevy:  smiling and possessing a full-jawed, confident face, the driver of the Chevy looks ahead.  The poor fellow in the Fords looks behind him—he has to do this before he can engage the four-wheel drive.  But his down-turned brows, his shallow, weakly oval face betray that his choice has left him behind, made him a loser.

        This contrast between the two vehicles and their drivers is persuasive.  The eye follows the lively, "natural" images associated with the Chevy and shuns the pitiful, "unnatural" images of the other.  However, the contrast depends on the reader not recognizing a basic logical problem, the false choice or "either/or fallacy."  The market-place offers other four-wheel drive vehicles (Toyota and Nissan, for example), some of which can, in fact, be shifted on the move.  So this ad really offers a restricted choice appealing to a simple mind that wants the simple—really emotional rather than thoughtful—answer, but also wants to come out of it all feeling like the winner.

       At the same time, this ad appeals to the American desire for progressVisually the ad displays a tension between "forward" and "backward."  Buying a Ford means having to back up ten feet in order to put it into four-wheel drive; buying a Chevy, of course, means going straight ahead.  But his basic comparison quickly becomes an ideological one:  does the reader believe--as all true-blooded Americans should—in progress or unpatriotic backwardness.  Again, the advertisers use the seduction of a false choice:  many choices exist between the extremes of progress and backwardness.  The advertisement boxes the reader in between two false alternatives so as to create in him an urgent need to avoid the negative one.

       The language describing the two vehicles further builds upon this choice between an obvious winner and a loserThe wording that captures the Ford plays on this backwardness, and it does so ingeniously.  Look, for instance, at the description of how to shift the Ford:  "Stop . . . Shift the transfer case . . . Shift into Reverse . . . Back up at least ten feet . . . Shift into Drive to go ahead."  The lack of transitions between these short, stiff commands simulates the rough, jerky, even primitively mechanical process of driving this vehicle.  The language also resembles that of the second grade reader—elementary and simple-minded.  Naturally, the Chevy requires no such fuss:  "But in the Chevy S-10 Blazer 4X4 with standard Insta-Trac, all you do is sift once."  The directness and "flow" of this sentence mirrors the ease, the simplicity of driving the Chevy.  And its graceful subordination suggests a reading level years above that of the second grade.  Clearly the ease of this sentence mirrors the simplicity of driving the Chevy.  This ease of operation in turn suggests progress, but so too does the very name of vehicle, "Chevy S-10 Blazer 4X4."  With its noisy "z" and its airplane-like "S-10," this name captures a sense of speed.  On the other hand, "Ford Bronco II 4X4," with its heavy consonants and its "horsy" associations, simply sounds slow and implies the standards of a by-gone era.  Moreover, the Chevy's name implies a great deal more refinement than that of the Ford:  the Chevy is an "F-10," having gone through, perhaps, ten whole versions before it reached this level of development; the Bronco is a "II," as in "two" and as in "old-fashioned" Roman numerals, both indicating that this vehicle remains in its early stages of development, is even ancient history, so to speak.

        All these carefully orchestrated comparisons lead up to one half of the advertisement's conclusion:  "Today's Truck is Chevrolet" (emphasis added).  It is current, up-to-date, while the other one is not.  But the ad's pitch remains incomplete without the patriotic outburst of emotion:  "The Heartbeat of America."  "Heartbeat" appears in red script and thereby ties together, at least on an emotional level, the entire advertisement.  The red "Heartbeat of America" shares its color with the Blazer; it also leans forward, even upward, full of the vital blood of life and progress.  And because, as the explanation section says, the Chevy is more popular than the Ford, it stands as an expression of the American right to choose.  No wonder the slogan at the bottom right of the page appears not only in red, but also in white and blue!

Sample #2
                                                                                                  Perry Ellis's Eve—All You Need in Threads

        Sex sells just about anything—we all know that.  And so even the wildest connections don 't faze us much anymore.  Cars, cigarettes, clothes, even the internet—they're all connected routinely with what Freud identified as the most basic of human drives.  But the Vanity Fair "ad" for Perry Ellis (click here), a men's clothing company, takes this standard connection to the extremes, shunning almost any gesture at rationalizing the connection between the product and desire.  And that apparent disconnect is part of its appeal, but so too are its conscious allusion to the Eden myth, its exploitation of the actual conventions of so-called "natural" beauty and sex-appeal, and even its suggestive use of black and white photography.

        First I want to deal what I just called the ad's disconnect—its reveling in the apparent ridiculousness of advertising clothing with a nude women and its shunning any display of its product. There are no clothes--if this is what it is advertising rather than, say, perfume!--to be found anywhere. It displays itself almost as an anti-advertisement advertisement.  We see nothing about fine craftsmanship, nothing about the latest styles. This ad is literally, in the perhaps unforgettable words of Right Said Fred, "too sexy for the runway."  The sophistication of the New York or Parisian fashion show is out of place in the primordial forest represented on this page.  Oddly, though, the ad, because of this "unad" approach, appeals to the sophisticated audience, to the crowd that can appreciate subtlety and allusion and that already knows—or ought to know—what Perry Ellis for Men is.  This appeal to sophistication, of course, does not exclude the basic power of sexual attraction in the ad.

       It's not difficult to discover the allusion to the Eden story.  An advanced version of our picture-book Bible stories indeed, this ad displays Eve's transgression.  There she is in the tree, reaching for the forbidden fruit (I'm assuming that this is definitely NOT an allusion to the Statue of Liberty, though the posture resembles that of the lady in New York harbor.).  The basic premise of this allusion is that Eve's transgression and of course Adam's complicity brought with it our first clothing, the infamous fig leaf.  Notice the positioning of the ad's only text right there with the fruit that "Eve" picks.  Yes, the ad's allusion implies, Perry Ellis was there with the first clothing.  That clothing company, the ad faintly suggests, has over every other company a prior claim to the job of clothing the human body.  What's more, the Eden story treats the theme of temptation, a temptation that could not by denied.  Again, in spacial terms, Perry Ellis and what that company offers is in the same location as the forbidden but, alas, unavoidable fruit.

        This allusive quality of the ad is likely not its most powerful element.  However it does make its audience part of a special group that can decode the allusion and thus interpret the ad as a sophisticated document, in spite of its apparent simplicity.  Thus the ad's audience is not just the sex-driven male ape in us but the thinking, cultured, sophisticated male.   Again, as with the ad's attempt at "anti-ad" status that I earlier discussed, the allusion to Eden works to reach a sophisticated taste.  In fact, I would suggest that even the decision to compose the photograph in black and white enhances this sense of sophistication.  Think for instance of Ansel Adams photos or uncolorized "old movies"—or modern movies whose directors have chosen to film them in black and white.  In each case black and white corresponds to the taste of the "artsy crowd," the people able to recognize lasting value in cultural products.  Not only, then, does Perry Ellis have some prior claim on all clothing, beginning with the fig leaf; he is associated with fine taste. And we ought to assume that his clothes will appeal to that taste.

       More basic than all this, you might very well argue, is the raw sex-appeal of the female in the ad.  There's something elemental in it, something fundamentally natural, you might say.  Yes, we're in Eden, but not so much to test our skills at literary allusion as to appeal to our unadorned, basic, original (as in "genesis') impulses.  And I would agree.  The ad does take the "natural" approach to sex appeal. You've seen the other alternatives: the James Bond female—red lip-stick, hair sprayed and impeccably in place, clothing accentuating cleavage; the prostitution fantasy—just think of Julia Roberts in the early scenes of "Pretty Woman," for instance, and put her in an ad for men's suits; and others I'm sure you can describe.  This ad represents "original woman" as youthful to the extreme, somewhat of the nymphet; it represents her as unadorned, as the very image of the original object of sexual desire before we got all complicated with clothing and all the other barriers of civilization.  The suggestion, then, is that Perry Ellis can produce this for men who buy his product, "this" accessibility without the complications, gratifications without much delay, and of course beauty.

        Notice once again, though, that the ad depends on a contradiction that goes unnoticed to the "panting" male observer.  What appears natural is highly conventional: underarm shaven, brows plucked, lips apparently glossed, if not enlarged by plastic surgery, even hair frosted.  Do you suspect that Revelon was there in the original garden with Perry Ellis?  Perhaps Gillette as well?  Even the leaves are strategically placed to hide the woman's breasts.  Sure that's so that the ad can in fact be published in a "for-the-general-public magazine."  But the placement of the leaves functions in two other important ways related to the ad's theme connecting Perry Ellis clothing with sophisticated taste and a certain kind of sexuality.  First, by covering up the forbidden areas of the body, the leaves serve to accent sexuality.  The assumption here is that sexuality arises more readily from suggestion than from blatant nudity.  In addition to this accenting of male desire, the leaves also, as a form of clothing, set up a series of connections more to the point:  leaves = clothing; clothing = Perry Ellis; Perry Ellis on your back=this woman in your sack, to put it crudely.

        Though "crudely" is not necessarily "inaccurately": the woman looks curiously, almost desirously at those leaves with which she covers if not caresses her herself.  Thus, although the ad plays with its audience's sense of sophistication through its allusion to Eden and its play with the whole genre of sex-appeal ads, it nevertheless comes around to the same claim as all ads make:  you buy what we offer; you get what you desire.  In the case of this ad, by purchasing Perry Ellis clothing you become the leaves in the foreground of this ad.  That's the most basic way in which Perry Ellis is "for men."




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Sucessful re-write of a short story paper

Here's an example of a successful re-write.  The first paper, a low "C," gets transformed into a paper with thesis that controls the paper's organization.  It's a "B" paper.  Notice that the re-write amounts to a rather massive reshaping and rethinking, not just a superficial alteration of some stylistic elements. The paragraphing has improved; the recurring reminder of the main idea becomes less mechanical; and the use of of quotations unfolds more efficiently and gracefully.

                                                            Setting and Clothes Matter

     Stephen Crane’s “A Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” declares the end of the “romantic” West due to the shift of modernized eastern ideals.  The West no longer represents the wild frontier where only brave souls dared go seeking adventure.  No longer did it represent gun-shootouts, Indian battles, and saloons full of drunken men and women.  The narrator manifests this change by the tide of west flowing east by the movement of the train, the scene outside of the train, and by the clothing of the characters.  The train and clothing foreshadow the eastern ideals and institutions that modernize the west.

     The opening paragraph starts foretelling the theme of western modernization by the train, the illusion looking through the window of the train, and the meaning of that illusion.  The opening sentence reads, 

               “The great Pullman was whirling onward with such dignity of motion that a 
               glance from the window seemed simply to prove that the plains of Texas 
               were pouring eastward.” (29)

     The train immediately suggests the idea of western modernization.  Before the train, people traveled west by wagon or horseback.  The creation of the train revolutionized the west by making it accessible for eastern Americans.  With eastern Americans came eastern people, clothes, and ideas; thus altering the culture of the west. 

     The end of the first sentence mentions that, “the plains of Texas were pouring eastward.” (29)  This line describes the illusion when one is moving and looks out at the surroundings.  For a split second, one thinks that the outside surroundings are in motion.  This illusion of a shrinking gap between the east and west foreshadow the theme of eastern influence and the modernization of the west. 

     Notice that the narrator now zooms in closer into the scene describing, “…mesquite and cactus, little groups of frame houses…” (29)  This shift from a panoramic view of the scene outside of the train to the minor details of the scene calls that the reader to pay attention to the details in the story.  The foreshadowing of the details is what leads to the theme of the shift of western life. 

     The narrator remarks on the details of the scene with, “…all were sweeping into the east, sweeping over a horizon, a precipice.” (29)  The distinct symbols of western life-beautiful green grass flats, cactus, and wooden framed houses- come essentially to a dead-end at the end of the sentence with the usage of “a precipice” or cliff.  The significance of this imagery suggests the end of the west.

     By shifting the reader’s attention from a panoramic view to a more zoomed-in view, the narrator focuses on the clothes of the couple in the train.  The passage tells of the man,

                   “… he constantly looked down respectfully at his attire…The glances 
                   he devoted to other passengers were furtive and shy.” (29)  Furthermore, 
                   the narrator remarks on the clothing by of the woman by, “She wore a 
                  dress of blue cashmere, with small reservations of velvet…with steel buttons…
                  her puff sleeves, very stiff, straight, and high.” (29)

     Granted they just got married-and when people marry, they wear nice clothes- the narrator implies the clothes obviously did not represent who they were.  Jack Potter acknowledges the awkwardness of wearing a suit.  A town marshal never wears a suit.  Nevertheless, he looks down and respects (emphasis added) his new attire because he realizes this is the new Jack Potter. The sophisticated clothes anticipate the shift of eastern culture and styles to the west.

     At the opening paragraph of the third chapter, the narrator remarks on the clothing of Scratchy Wilson,

                   “…a maroon-colored flannel shirt, which had been purchased for
                   purposes of decoration and made…by some Jewish women on the 
                   east side of New York…his boots had red tops with gilded imprints, 
                   of the kind beloved in winter by little sledding boys …of New England.” (34-35)

     Again the narrator mentions the east when describing the clothes of the story’s antagonist, Scratchy Wilson.  The paradox is that Scratchy Wilson represents the ideal western man.  He gets drunk in the bar and then roams the town streets in search of a gun-fight.  Although the actions of Scratchy Wilson embody the western man, the details of his attire reflect eastern culture.  Notice how the narrator mentions that the shirt’s designer is a Jewish woman from New York.  The narrator mentions a Jewish Designer because the reader infers that there are no Jewish women currently in the west. However, the clothing represents a foreshadowing of Jewish people living in the west.  Not just Jewish people, but other eastern icons as well.  This imagery relate back to the opening paragraph where the narrator’s illusion of the closing gap between the east and west by focusing on the details.

     In the opening paragraph, the narrator starts off telling the story from a panoramic view.  His shift from a train heading west to the specific cactus that passes by outside shifts the narrator’s interest to the minor details.  The story continues its “zoomed in” perspective by constantly discussing other details such as the clothing of characters.  In the end of the story, the narrator “zooms out” from the tangible to the intangible.  When Scratchy Wilson and Jack Potter encounter each other, they remark,

                    “’I’m married,’ said Potter…’Married? said Scratchy…’No’…He (Scratchy) 
                     was like a creature allowed a glimpse of another world.” (37) 

    Jack Potter, the town marshal, violated the “code” of the west.  A town marshal never gets married because he puts himself in harm’s way when he fights the tough guys like Scratchy Wilson.  Furthermore, the tough guys don’t feel guilty killing a town marshal because it is all for sport and tradition. However, a wife in the mix and the idea of marriage complicates everything. If Jack returned with his eastern black clothes and without a wife, the gun-fight still takes place.  Because Jack marries, the gun-fight does not happen with Scratchy.  No more will the western event of a town marshal fighting the town tough guy occur.  Thus, no more will the west be the same due to the eastern institutions such as marriage that modernize the west. 

     The narrator’s shifts of focus throughout the story skillfully hint at a change to the west.  The symbolism of the train, the scene outside of the train, and the clothing of the characters leading to the eastern idea of marriage help depict the modernization of the west.  It is that the ideas and institutions of the west, foreshadowed by the clothing, that modernize the west.

                                     Foreshadowing the Modernization of the West

     Stephen Crane’s "A Bride Comes to Yellow Sky" portrays the end of the “romantic” west as a result of modernized eastern ideals. In the world of the story, the west no longer represents the wild frontier where only brave souls dared go seeking adventure. No longer did it represent gun-shootouts, Indian battles, and saloons full of drunken men and women.  The west changes and the narrator implies this change through the opening paragraph and clothing of characters.  Ultimately, the clothing and opening paragraph foreshadow the inevitable:  the eastern ideals and institutions modernizing the west.

     The train in the opening paragraph immediately suggests the idea of western modernization. Before the train, people traveled west by wagon or horseback.  Mass transportation was unheard of and thus limited the number of people in the west; and insured that those in the west really wanted to be there.  The creation of the train revolutionized the west by making it accessible for eastern Americans. The western, life-daring adventure, transformed into a tamer “getaway” for many Americans. With the “Pullman” (29) came eastern people, clothes, and ideals.  The culture of the east soon mixed with the west.

     The motion of the train in the opening paragraph visually suggests an end to western icons through the mixing of the west and east.  The narrator describes the motion of the train stating, “a glance from the window seemed simply to prove that the plains of Texas were pouring eastward” (29).  The narrator creates this visual image of the west literally moving east. Notice how the narrator refers to “the plains of Texas”: the gun shoot-outs, horses, and long strolls into the sunset do not go east, just the plains themselves.  Furthermore, the visual illusion of the gap closing from the east and west implies that the change is continuous.  Thus, changes have already occurred and will continue to do so as the train “whirl[s] onward” (29) to the west.  The narrator continues describing the setting,  remarking on the “dull-hued spaces of mesquite and cactus…frame houses, woods of light” (29).  In addition to the shifting of the western icons to the east, the narrator states that, “all were sweeping into the east, sweeping over the horizon, a precipice,” a cliff or ledge.  The first paragraph suggests, or anticipates, the end of western icons while simultaneously implying the shift of eastern inventions westward. This shift, moreover, amounts to the destruction of the west and its values, as it is pictured falling to its death, in a sense, over the eastern horizen.

     The narrator also foreshadows the modernization of the west by intentionally describing closely the clothing of a western man, Scratchy Wilson.  At the opening paragraph of the third chapter, the narrator notes that he wears “a maroon-colored flannel shirt, which had been purchased for purposes of decoration by some Jewish women on the east side of New York” (34). The irony of the ideal western man--one who drinks often in town and is notorious for gun-fights--wearing clothes made by a Jewish woman from New York hints at the presence of the east in the west.  This imagery of an eastern artifact embodying a western man correlates back to the opening paragraph suggesting that eastern culture is influencing the west.  Also, notice that the narrator refers to the “flannel shirt” as mere “decoration,” suggesting Scratchy Wilson just wants to appear as a “tough western cowboy”.  Essentially, the narrator implies that by “looking like a western” figure one becomes one.  Thus, the narrator reveals the shallowness of the surviving western culture: it derives its culture from appearance rather than from ideals.   Furthermore, the narrator goes on to describe Scratchy’s boots as having "red tops with gilded imprints/ the kind beloved in winter by little sledding boys [in] New England” (34-35). The narrator’s connection with a western man to an eastern child suggests the fragile nature of the west.  Although the actions of Scratchy Wilson embody the western man, his eastern-made clothes suggest a fragile childishness and superficilaity that suggest something wquite different from the gritty, manly ideal.  The clothes of the Scratchy Wilson foreshadow eastern influence on the west.

     The opening paragraph and clothing of Scratchy Wilson clearly foreshadow the modernization of the west by eastern ideals.  Ultimately-=as is revealed in the end of the story-- the eastern institution of marriage directly changes the west.  Scratchy Wilson, the ideal western man, “walks off into the sunset” with his “funnel-shaped tracks in the heavy sand.” (37)  The clothes and view outside of a train going west alone do nothing to change western culture.  What those images do, however, is to foreshadow what eventually changes the west:  marriage, increased population, and other eastern mainstays such as clothing factories and advertising agencies that make and sell an image not a life.

























Problems with Pronouns from In-Class Paragraphs—9-29

1.  If one knows the concept of its spelling and it’s meaning they have some understanding of being intellectual.

2.  The word has meaning to Malcolm X which while in jail gave him meaning in that it starts the dictionary and in some ways connects him to his heritage.

3.  Malcolm was so enamored by the word that it got his brain to work which allowed him to entertain himself with the tight spaces.  Aardvark was the first word in the dictionary, probably meaning that it was Malcolm’s first word to learn, which meant he love it because it was the start of a new stage of learning. 

4.  In his essay he gave an exact dictionary definition of aardvark to give the reader an example, pulling them into the moment.


Malcolm X wouldn’t have been able to write as well.  The word aardvark sparked his learning in prison, he says he learned more in prison than any college student.  Malcolm has more real world knowledge.  He educated himself.  To demonstrate Mohammad’s teachings. 



















Example of Excessive Use of the “to be” Verb

          There have been many events in my life that have had some importance, but there is one that specifically sticks out to me.  This event is when I hurt my back lifting weights.  My mom used to always tell me, “don’t lift anything off the ground without using your legs,” and I’d just say, “whatever,” and pretend like I was listening.  The thing is, what my mother was telling me was very important, but I was young and too ignorant to listen.  My mother was consistent though, always reminding me even if I didn’t want to hear it.  It think she either knew I didn’t always have my full attention on her or she was just smart.  Either way, my mother drilled it into my head so I would hopefully never forget.



















Sentences Problems from Paper #2

My father had a smile that showed an expression of amazement.


Inside was a small, petite white cross.


Complacency was not something my family was built on, when I wear my cross, and touch it, I remember the words of my mother . . .


The feeling of having control invigorated me knowing I had the freedom to go wherever I want whenever I want was something no one could take away from me.


I learned quickly that you have to respect it or it could kill you.


In training to become a mechanic, everyone had flashlights, there were many lights, but this one is mine. 


As, I push myself over the limit because I am never satisfied with the standard I meet.


As a Christian, I believe in Jesus Christ.


Each one of those bikes had a story behind them, and each story lives within me today. 


Those abilities would follow me when it came down to identifying my weaknesses as well as others, especially when I trained for sports.  Derby time gave you the most adrenaline rush you probably had as a kid. 


Veronica taught me how to stay calm and focus when everything around me was moving fast.  When you slow things down you move through life smarter and faster than going fast.


My father’s naval career took my family and I to Spain for three years.


The generations of adults older than me have their opinion of how a young man should dress himself.


As I walked down the aisle to find my seat, kids yelled at me, made fun of me, and screamed, “Americano,” as I walked past them.


Also, you have to be poise under uncomfortable situations like losing a close player to injury.


In my opinion, I know football players make the best leaders when they come out of the academy.






















Sample Paper on Prompt #3 (about 3 ½ normal pages)


My Problems with the Cult of the Role Model

            Role model, role model, role model . . .  I’m sick of that term, weary of it being used without question and, worse, becoming almost an act of exhibitionism.  Problem is, I also worry that my trouble with the term betrays some unacknowledged attraction to it, almost on the order of Jung’s shadow, that element in our personalities, manifested often in other people, that we loath, but that really shapes us if left unaddressed.

            But first my objections to the term.  Place accounts for much of my irritation.  Here at USNA the term pops up repeatedly and automatically.  It emerges as praise, advice, and even blame.  CDR X is “a true role model”; “take a look at CAPT Y and just watch how she goes about dealing with people—you’ll learn more from her than from all the books you read in English or Leadership”; “Professor Fallible—he’s smart as a whip, but no way you want to be like him (just look at his scuffed shoes, for God’s sake!); we need faculty who can set examples, be great role models for our mids and younger faculty.”  I’ve heard the likes of all these comments and more. Aspects of the third example, as a matter of fact, got played out some time ago when a member of the faculty was disciplined—docked pay––for not, according to the authorities acting as a proper role model for other faculty.  This faculty member, as the newspapers have recorded, spoke out against the Academy’s admission policies, publicizing what she thought were misrepresentations.  As it turns out, the Academy, not the professor, was actually subject to disciplinary action because of punishing this faculty member: you see, she actually exercised her freedom of speech.  Those authorities who spoke of “role model” behavior, in fact, violated the Constitution, the document that amounts to the final say in national “role model” behavior.  Complicating this episode is the fact—and it’s a fact––that this professor was seen as a role model by most of the midshipmen who took her class.  They thought she spoke the truth, stood up for what she believed, kept in fantastic physical condition, and actually cared about their improvement.  Not only that, she too saw herself as a role model, almost aping the military ethos which authorities thought she was subverting in going to the papers.  She would require students to stand, to address her by her rank—“Dr”––and even throw herself into the spirit of the place by wearing various military garb on Friday, “warrior day.”

            I spend time on this episode not to criticize any one element involved in it, but to suggest how useless and also charged with personal meaning the term “role model” is.  It means different things to different people and to different interest groups. Like the term “natural,” it carries considerable power; it makes emptiness full and the insubstantial seem substantial. For a professor who fancies herself as one who upholds true standards of discipline and high expectations for students in his classes, the term means something quite personal; it expresses a desire to be the object of desire. In this way use of the term is more about the user than the audience.  For an academic administrator who is trying to project a certain image of the institution and perhaps is trying to please her military overseers, it means something quite different, a term to control and regularized behavior of subordinates, even in a climate of scads of rhetoric about diversity and appreciation of differences; and in terms of career, a currency by which to purchase credibility with superiors.  In both cases, though, the term expresses a need for a culture to replicate itself, reproduce its gestures and expected behaviors, finally to remain safe in similarity rather than to risk embracing difference.  It is quite conservative, in the end. 

            The other feature that troubles me about the term, as I’ve hinted in the situation I just described, is its exhibitionistic tendency.  The speaker of the term—whether faculty rebel or administrative protector of the institutional homeland––always speaks from a position of unassailable privilege, of always already being the unquestioned role model, simply because he or she can name it, identify it, and invoke it.  That exhibitionistic tendency becomes supercharged in the environment of USNA, with its overdeveloped super-ego, or what might be described as a sense of someone always watching “you.”  The uniform itself is a form of display: it says of its wearer, “look at me, look at how I appear, look to see how you can resemble me.”  Inspections themselves institutionalize this exhibitionistic tendency, as do other spectacles such as parades and noon formation. My problem with all this “modeling” is just that; it’s modeling from without, not integrating from within. Sure, it amounts to another form of peer pressure, the crucible in which most of us are formed, either wholly or partially.  But the consciousness of display, the acting as if one is someone to be imitated, the display of oneself as something to be desired seems “over the top.” Where has modesty gone? Where is “the self” in all this aping behavior?  Can the “self” survive it? 

            The notion of role model at the Academy is so powerful finally that it becomes a part of the muted heroic story of development that many midshipmen have put into their “tool boxes” to feel fully formed, whether during their stay at USNA or retrospectively when reassessing their experience here and beyond.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a graduate document how important one person or another was in turning her life around, making her more “locked on,” causing her to see her way to important goals in life.  So-called sea stories, as you might have by now noticed, more often than not turn toward the trope of the role model’s powerful intervention in one’s life.  I don’t have any problem with that story, mind you, but it sometimes becomes desperate for those mids who probably don’t learn that way, probably didn’t need to fix upon one role model, but who nevertheless need to have that episode as part of their life story just to fit in. Twice, in fact, I’ve been “blown out of the water” to learn from graduates that I was the person whom they looked up to.  When mids, you see, they slept through my English classes and in the three years after that barely could recall having me as a teacher—“Hi, sir, I really enjoyed your History course when I was a plebe.”  Incredulous and amused at the thought of it, I now realize that those two souls simply needed to have installed in their life stories a person who played the part of “role model.”  Truth does not matter. That “character” functions as an obligatory element in the formulaic narrative told at USNA and in the Fleet about leadership development.

            During supper some ten or twelve years ago, when they were both visiting, I asked my early twenty year-old daughters what they thought of this ridiculous business about “role models,” how everyone seems to talk about it. “It’s bunk,” I exclaimed, and then asked rhetorically, “You don’t really buy into that, do you?” As if in chorus, they said, “yes we do, dad; it’s important.  You have to have someone to look up to.”  I was horrified, suddenly recognizing my failure as a parent, one who tried to keep his daughters sober about all authority figures in their lives, able to recognize failures and limitations in their coaches, teachers and media idols.  I did, of course, emphasize that the recognition of human fault in these authority figures did not mean my daughters should organize rebellions, but rather that they needed to work around those faults in order to learn from those figures, in order to form their own sense of self.  No matter: even they, two daughters of a parent openly disrespectful of authority, still needed the concept of “role model” in their lives and in their sense of how others develop.  Perhaps it seemed particularly powerful to them because they were grade school teachers and saw all the aping that formed the behavior of their students.  Whatever the explanation, when I reflect on this supper table conversation, I realize that maybe I’m the one who’s out of touch.  More than likely, I’m wrong. And more than likely I too am susceptible to the influence of role models, but don’t even know it, or refuse to admit it out of some attempt to maintain a diffident individualism. As a matter of fact, I am a second child, a sibling who more than any other learns most readily by imitation, by noticing what #1 does and developing from it. 

            If that weren’t enough, I now find myself engaged in an act that contradicts everything I’ve heretofore argued.  I’m writing a paper on the deficiencies in the term “role model,” hoping that the paper will help my students understand how to approach the prompt for their third essay of the semester. Yes, I can argue at some objective level that as a teacher of writing I know the research, which shows that imitating of models is perhaps the single most effective way for students to improve their writing.  In hiding behind that official pedagogical stance, however, I undermine my own view: those studies actually prove the importance of modeling and, by extension, of identifying a role model.  Even more devastating to my position, I’m practicing the same exhibitionistic behavior that I’ve criticized.  I’m displaying what I’m herein doing as activity worth imitating. Can I be anymore self-contradictory?  My last resort in this failing attempt at criticizing the role model cult, weak retreat though it seems, is simply to maintain the following:  let’s at least stay aware of what we’re doing when we extol the cult of the role model, remain alert to our subjectivity, to our need for power and control, and even to our desire to belong when we invoke it and pass it along to others as the be all and end all of character development. 





















Sentence Variety Exercise

Three steps:

1.  Identify all "regular sentences," those unfolding in the order subject-verb-(object).  Do this by drawing an inch-long line beneath the beginnings of the sentences.

Here are some "regular sentences":

       s           v
--Dickens writes in an ornate style.

       s                                             v                o
--Writing in an ornate style can confuse readers.

       s                                                                                                       v
--Dickens, writing in what we think of as a conservative age, described some 
pretty strange relationships between men and women.

Notice that it doesn't matter how long the sentence is, what form the subject takes (the gerund, for instance, in the second one is a bit unusual), or how many words occur between the subject and verb (the long phrase modifying "Dickens" in the third example). 

2.  Identify all "irregular sentences," those delaying the subject-verb-(object) pattern.  Mark them by putting a squiggly line about an inch long beneath the beginning of each sentence.

Here are some sample "irregular sentences":
                                                                                           s                   v 
--Writing in what we think of as a conservative age, Dickens described some . . .

--In order to get readers to slow down and think about words and their meaning, 
   s                   v                     o
poets often make their language more difficult than simple prose.

                                                                   s                        v
--Without any fear at all of censors, Thomas openly displays the unconscious 
fantasies of his characters.

Treat all questions as "irregular sentences"
--Do you think Dickens consciously imitates Shakespeare? 

3.  Total the two kinds of sentences and figure the ratio.  You're looking for a balance in your prose, something in the area between 60:40 to 40:60.





























Successful Paper on Assignment #3


The Abuse of the Word “Rah”

                                                       Jonah Tucker


            The word “rah” has become a phenomenon in the Marine Corps and Naval services. The term has many meanings, ranging from “I agree” to “what are you talking about?” But the usefulness of this term has made it one of the most commonly used, and, in my view, abused terms in the military, but especially at The United States Naval Academy.

            At the Academy, rah has slipped its way into our everyday conversations. I often catch myself saying it when feeling particularly excited or motivated, but I instantly chastise myself. The term has no true meaning, so why should it be part of my vocabulary? This question is unanswerable, but proves an interesting idea that motivates me to write this paper.

            The people who use rah most frequently are rarely aware that they say it at all. When I addressed one of my upper-class, Mr. Garrett Gray, about his use of the word, he stated “I don’t think I say it too much.” On the next day, I planned a conversation with Mr. Gray, and I attempted to motivate him by talking about going for a run and physical training day with him this Saturday. Mr. Gray used the word rah more than 15 times in a 10 minute conversation. When I told him about his use of the word, he denied it at first, but, to prove my point to him, I recalled the specific parts of the conversation which motivated him enough to use the word. After Mr. Gray referred to me as “a strange little man,” I explained that I was remembering certain parts of a conversation to prove a point. Once he understood why I was doing this, Mr. Gray gave me a list of my classmates who overused rah as badly as him. I was amazed to find that I could get almost all of my classmates to use the word rah at least twice in a five to ten minute conversation.

            Of course, behind every action there is a cause. What social pressure pushes midshipmen, sailors, and marines to use rah on a regular, almost obsessive, basis? I believe it has to do with the masculinity expected from future officers in the United States Military. As a whole, the military is a very strong-willed, forceful group. This manliness is almost a remnant of the actions of prehistoric humans, and although we differ from the cavemen of the past, there is still that certain animalistic power inside of those willing to go to war. Perhaps this power brings the mindset of the warrior back to a simpler time, when communication consisted of grunts and meaningless phrases. Perhaps rah amounts to an almost genetic adaptation inside of those willing to go to war, passed on from generations of hunters and warriors, ready to take life for the benefit of their kind.

            When silence is required for a dangerous mission, warriors rely on hand signals and taps of the shoulder and chest to get the attention of their brothers in arms. The man or woman who thought of this “tap system” must have, at some point, thought of the prehistoric days of cavemen, pounding their chest, and the chest of others, to show dominance over property or territory. After a short period of time, the tap system became second nature for men and women in combat, both overseas and in domestic paramilitary units, such as SWAT, CIA, and FBI, each masculine in its own right. The taps system was natural to these groups, because the warrior genetics inside of them “remembered” this action from the days of cavemen.

            Of course, if the motions and actions of prehistoric hunters became second nature to the warrior, the next step is the vocabulary. For cavemen, communication was nearly nonexistent, but to get the attention of other hunters in a pack of primates (the closest relative to our prehistoric past), an alpha male will let off loud yells to gather his tribe. These yells, in comparison, have the same effect as the word rah; they are both used to rally support, whether in battle or in simple conversation.

            But if this term is used by those who have seen combat, why has it become such a common phrase in an academy that, while preparing its students for combat, gives them no true experience? This thought almost negates our right to use this word. Who are we to use a term of war, when most of us have never truly experienced it? Again, these questions are almost unanswerable. If I am correct, and the masculinity implied by the term is genetic, then we have the right to use the term, because that war is in our blood. If rah is just a psychological side-effect of generations of warriors building off of one another, then the term is used properly.

            There is no way to truly tell if the masculinity implied with rah is genetic, mental, or even spiritual, but there is no doubt that it is a term of war, of conflict inside and out. The students of the United States Naval Academy, as well as other service academies, have always and will always attempt to prove their masculinity and power by imitating those who have already proven it in combat.