Many words have a number of connotations. Your assignment is to pick one such word that appears in Persuasion, Song of Solomon, or both, and analyze it in terms of the way it is used in the novel(s) and in terms of the different definitions you find in the Oxford English Dictionary. (You know you’ve chosen a good word if it has a definition that you didn’t know; you may be on the wrong track if you’re finding only obvious definitions).
How to write this essay:
1. BRAINSTORM: Start by looking at the context in which your word first appears. What does the word mean where it first caught your eye? What are its connotations? Does it mean something different in other appearances? What are the possible implications or innuendoes of the word? How do the different meanings influence the way you read the passage? How does the word impact on/complicate a larger theme in the text? Basically: you want to do a big brainstorming session on the word at hand. You know you’ve got a good one if you can think of lots of different options/resonances for its meaning.
2. RESEARCH: Next, search for your word in the OED. When using the OED online (you must access the OED through your NYU Libraries account; searching “Oxford English Dictionary” in the Bobcat search bar will bring it up), make sure you select the “Quotations” button. (The OED cites examples of usage from the beginnings of modern English until now, and you can chart the interesting shifts in the meaning of words. The examples, as you will see, are often from authors you will be reading). Make sure you get all the appropriate meanings (definitions with examples only from beyond the time of publication don’t count). Download, copy, or print the definitions, or take notes. Although you should certainly quote OED definitions and quotations, do not simply cut-and-paste the whole OED entry verbatim into your essay; use examples selectively as points of analysis and comparison. This is a source that you can use to complement and enhance your initial brainstorming ideas.
3. WRITE: Write up your observations about the meanings of the word, about the meanings of the word in the context in which it was used, and discuss how these multiple meanings influence your reading of the line/scene/chapter/instances in which the word appears. You may also want to include reflections on etymology (what the word used to mean; where it comes from; what it means now).
Make sure that your analysis is not superficial (“Here [the word] means x, here it means y”). Think about the meaning and connotations; give an insightful and original reading. The essay will be evaluated on the basis of its thoroughness and thoughtfulness
This assignment should be written in essay form and should be 1000-1200 words long.
How to Find Your Project
How do you know which word to choose? How do you discover what you want to say about that word and the text it appears in? And how can you create a coherent project?
Well, since your first essay will be on ONE given term, it helps to work on a term that grabbed your attention while reading, that you felt drawn to or engaged by, and you can often see evidence of this in your reading notes. IMPORTANT: being ‘drawn to’ a text is different from liking or disliking it. Whether you like it or dislike it, or agree or disagree, does not matter.
Instead of featuring your opinion, this piece will be about you explaining how the word functions within the text. So, in determining your text, you are looking for the feeling that you could help someone read your text more deeply, see it in a new light, or understand something about the text that he or she might have missed. I find that it very much helps to actively take notes on the text while reading in order to help identify key terms that may be useful for later analysis.
…extend readers’ understanding of a text (“the text is about X, but it’s also about Y”) …illuminate a lacuna (“we have a gap in our knowledge and this is how to fill it”)
…correct a possible misreading (“we may think it’s X, but actually it is Y”)
…demonstrate the relationship of parts to the whole (“we can’t understand X until we can see Y”)
Who Am I Writing For?
Don’t write this essay “for an instructor.” Don’t consider me “your audience.” I am just one reader. Your audience is, more generally, astute, general readers who may be completely unfamiliar with your chosen essay and subject matter. Your readers are willing to be generous, as long as you give them a sense that your analysis matters, and that you have crafted your essay carefully to carry out this project. Be clear, concise, and informative.
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