December 21, 2009

Some Notes on the Essays

A few things I'm noticing about the essays so far:

Sentence construction. Most of us still can't seem to form a coherent sentence. In fact, one of the reasons it is taking me so long to mark these essays is that in nearly all of them, I have to mark up and correct every single sentence. I can't get from one line to the next without having to make multiple corrections and notations. I'm not exaggerating; across the board, there are very few sentences in any of these essays that don't require a correction or markup of some kind.

The Catcher in the Rye. Many of the essays have very little to say about the novel. You need to bear in mind that the main purpose of the essay is to analyze the book. If you only have a few sentences about it, present its characters and events out of context (e.g., by assuming the reader of your essay is already familiar with it), discuss only one aspect of it (and do so briefly and without context), you can't really expect to get a passing score. Your discussion of the book needs to show that you read it, understood it, and remember it well enough, as a whole, to discuss it intelligently in an essay.

Others mention a great many ideas from the text but not in any particular order or with any particular focus or clarity of purpose. Some ideas are left undeveloped or unexplained. Others mention isolated, insignificant incidents and characters as if they are profoundly important to the novel as a whole, e.g., Holden's encounter with the nuns. Some people's discussions only covered the events of one chapter, as if that was all they had read. One person even spent several sentences, for some unexplained reason, on the character "Eddie," (i.e., Eddie Birdsell, a college student Holden once met at a party) who never appears in the novel and whom Holden only tells us about once. Even I didn't remember who he was.

In addition, I still see the title in "quotes" rather than underlined, I still see errors in transcribing the title (e.g., "A Catcher in the Rye," "Catcher in the Rye," "The Catcher and the Rye," etc., which are completely inexcusable, as are capitalization errors in both the title and the author's name (e.g., "J.d. salinger").

Missing or invalid thesis statement. I still can't understand why so many essays lack thesis statements. Some of the thesis statements are indirect or improperly constructed. Others are a little too book-specific to be a valid thesis statement for a critical lens essay. The fact that we did only one book (except the Honors class) might have thrown some of you off, but anything specific about The Catcher in the Rye should have been in your discussion. The thesis statement needs to be a statement that this book does something that all literature tends to do, not that any particular thing happens, or any particular character appears, in this particular book.

Misuse/non-use of literary terms. Still too many discussions of the book without any analysis of literary elements. Still too many literary terms mentioned but not explained correctly or developed properly. Still too many "The literary devices used in this novel are _____." sentences. Still too many misused literary terms; this time, in particular, flashback. There are no flashbacks in The Catcher in the Rye. Not every reference in a story to past events is a flashback. A narrator telling us about past events is NOT a flashback.

"Fake" and "phony." Why on earth do so many of you insist in your essays that "Holden thinks adults are 'fake' or 'phony'", or "Holden refers to adults as 'fake' and 'phony'", when the only word he ever uses is "phony" and he never, ever, ever, not once, NOT ONE TIME in the entire 214-page novel, uses the word "fake"?

I'll add more as I think of them; keep checking back. Final exam is January 8.