ESSAY 2 TOPICS: The Novel (City of Refuge)

ESSAY 2 TOPICS: The Novel (City of Refuge)
ENGL 201

Choose one of the following discussion questions and write a thoughtful, precise, and well-organized essay in response.  Your essay must be a minimum of 750 words.  Content is of primary importance, but your insights must be clearly and persuasively articulated.  BE CONCRETE.  USE EXAMPLES FROM THE TEXT.  REMEMBER:  ANALYSIS > SYNOPSIS.

1.    At certain points in the novel, Tom Piazza departs from the ground level point of view, which examines the lives of his individual characters, and looks out over the action from a higher, more omniscient vantage, commenting on the Katrina catastrophe in terms of its broader social, political, and historical significance.  Examine this technique in Chapter 13, the final chapter of Part I, explaining why this sort of departure from the established norm is appropriate to the subject matter under consideration, and what effects result from this technique.  Discuss also his contention that “you can’t construct a sequential narrative” (167) in the days immediately following Katrina in New Orleans and how this relates to the disruption in point of view.

2.    Discuss the effects of Katrina on SJ and his relations.  Discuss their experiences in the city during the hurricane and flooding; their varied experiences in Missouri, Albany, and Houston; as well as what appears the future may hold for them.  How are they damaged?  How do they grow?  How do they change?  Consider these questions as they apply to individual characters but also as they apply to their relationships with one another.

3.    Discuss the effects of Katrina on the Donaldson family.  Discuss their evacuation experience and their time spent in Chicago, as well as their decision to leave New Orleans.  What specific reasons lead them to move back to the Midwest?  How does the stress of evacuation impact the relationship between Craig and Alice?  What self-knowledge do they achieve?  Consider Alice’s attitudes toward New Orleans and her growing need for the sort of “normalcy” in her life that she once rebelled against, as well as the alterations Craig recognizes in his relationships with friends such as Bobby and Jen.

4.    Both SJ and Craig suffer symptoms of what might be diagnosed as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as did many Katrina survivors.  Compare and contrast how these problems manifest themselves, what effects PTSD has on these two men and those around them, how they cope with the symptoms, to what degree they are aware of their condition, and what their long term prognoses are.

5.    City of Refuge is one of the earliest and most critically acclaimed attempts in fiction to articulate the Katrina experience, as Piazza tells “a story of devastation and exile, a story of grief and loss, and a story of how the Crescent City irresistibly calls its people home” (Holmes, “Negotiating Diaspora” 11).   Both SJ and Craig also have their own Katrina Tales to tell.  Compare and contrast the media they choose to tell their stories, what drives them to tell their stories, and what the ultimate goals are for these narratives.

6.    In many ways, Piazza might be considered a local color writer, insofar as City of Refuge is rich with detailed descriptions of New Orleans neighborhoods, bars, food, music, social traditions, and cultural activities.  Demonstrate with particular references how Piazza creates an authentic and nuanced portrait of this haunting, haunted and utterly unique American city.  You may wish to look in particular at the NOLA seasonal calendar in Chapter 3, Malcolm’s third birthday party, and the italicized preface that opens the novel, among other passages.


1.  All papers should be critical or analytical in nature.  They should never be mere summaries of the subject work.

2.  The paper should be written for an imagined reader who is oblivious of the fact that the paper was created as a class assignment in a university English course.  For example, no expressions like “the play that Dr. Holmes assigned us to read” should appear in the paper.

3.  The paper should reflect certain assumptions about this imagined reader.  First, and most important, it should be assumed that s/he has already read the subject work.  Secondly, it should be assumed that the reader is at least the writer’s peer, educationally speaking.  Third, that reader should never be equated with the instructor.  In other words, s/he is part of a general audience of fairly well educated people.

4.  The paper writer should not confuse subject, topic, and thesis.  A specific work can be the subject of a paper, but the topic must be more specific.  Consider the following differences:

a.  Shakespeare’s King Lear (subject)

b.  Beast Imagery in Shakespeare’s King Lear (topic)
Note: When the work of a writer is almost universally known (like Shakespeare’s), it is not necessary to identify him/her in such a title.  The following would be wholly acceptable:

Beast Imagery in King Lear

c.  In Shakespeare’s King Lear, beast imagery is used to evoke and intensify the thematic focus on lust, avarice, and ingratitude.  (thesis)

5.  The title of the paper should always reflect the TOPIC of the paper.  Note the following:

a.  King Lear (Wrong!  That is Shakespeare’s title.)

b.  Shakespeare’s King Lear (Wrong!  That is still the subject, though more fully identified.)

c.  Beast Imagery in King Lear (Right.  The title gives the TOPIC.)

6.  Note the following about titles of critical papers:

a.  The title should never be either in quotation marks or italics (underlined) except for that portion which is the title of the subject work.  Examples:

1.  “Beast Imagery in King Lear” (wrong)
2.  Beast Imagery in King Lear (right)

b.  Remember that titles use upper case letters (capitals) only in the initial position of words.  Definite and indefinite articles, conjunctions, and prepositions are not capitalized except at the beginning of the title (common), at the end (rare), or in the initial, final positions of words in titles within title, or after a colon.

7.  The first paragraph must identify the subject of the paper and must either explicitly state the thesis or predication of the paper or make it clear by implication.

8.  The theme of the subject work is frequently identified in the first paragraph of a critical paper because it offers an excellent departure point for a critical analysis of the subject work.  The theme of a work of literature, like the thesis of a paper, is its keystone.  It holds everything together.  Here is an example of an opening paragraph that (a) identifies the subject, (b) identifies a theme of the subject work, and advances the thesis of the paper:

In his festive comedy As You Like It, Shakespeare investigates the idea that man, freed from the press of court, can rediscover an Eden-like innocence and goodness if he learns to live by the rhythms of nature and its inviolate laws.  Key characters in revealing this theme are Orlando’s brother Oliver and Duke Frederick.  Both men undergo a metamorphosis that begins with their entrance into Arden Forest.

9.  Please note the use of the historical present tense in the above example.  In literary analysis, the historical present tense is used by all professional writers.  A work may have been written hundreds of years ago, and its author may be long dead, but his/her work lives in the here and now.  If we write on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we discuss the characters and their actions as if they are unfolding in the present.  Here are a couple of sample sentences:

a.  At the time his father dies, Hamlet is in Wittenberg, and by the time he arrives in Elsinore, Claudius already sits on the Danish throne.

b.  Hamlet refuses to kill Claudius while the latter is at prayer because he wants to catch his uncle in some act “that has no relish of salvation in’t” (3.3.91-2).

10.  Note the parenthetical citation at the end of the quotation in the last example.  When quoting from a play, make such citations after the quotation.  Use either the older method (III.iii.91-92) or the newer (3.3.91-2) to refer to act, scene, and line numbers; use one method consistently (the newer is preferred).  You may exclude information provided before quoting.  If, for example, in your text you stipulate what act and scene are involved, the citation need only be to the lines, e.g., (91-2).

11.  The middle of the paper should be devoted to advancing the thesis through examples and illustrations, i.e., proof.  This part of the paper should be rich in references to the subject work, including key quotations and other specifics.  It should not simply reiterate the thesis in the same general terms of the opening paragraph.

12.  The conclusion, perhaps the most difficult part of a paper to write, should not be a mere rehashing of the thesis.  There are numerous other things it can be.  For example, it can “culminate” the paper by giving the most important proof of the thesis, the clincher, in a separate final paragraph.  Or it might make a valuative comment on the work’s theme, or show how the theme is related to a larger issue.  Or it might be an appreciative comment, noting that while the theme is perhaps not unique, the manner in which it is developed is memorable and effective.  The point is that the conclusion should be in some sense additive, not merely reiterative.

13.  Students should be careful to learn the correct use of critical terms.  Technically, many of these are rather restrictive, and it is important to realize that nothing will call attention to a writer’s shallow abilities quite so quickly as their misuse.  The term “story,” for example, is descriptive of a short, narrative fiction.  The word should never be used to refer to a play, which is a presentational form.  They are different things altogether.  However, it is proper to write of the “story line” of a play or of some poems.  Read the glossary handout.  Also, it is wise to learn to spell terms correctly.  The road to hell is paved with those who, for example, tried to pass “tradegy” off as “tragedy.”

14.  For documentation and manuscript conventions, consult the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, seventh edition, edited by Joseph Gibaldi, and published by the Modern Language Association.  The “Research Paper” section of the Harbrace Handbook or those in other similar manuals also illustrate these conventions.  The following is a brief overview of the correct techniques:

a.  Citations are placed in parentheses after quotations or ideas taken from secondary sources.  Usually the author’s last name and the source page number suffice, and if the author in named in conjunction with the quotation, the page reference alone is sufficient.  Examples follow:

One critic notes that “Hamlet’s anguish is partly based on a frustrated death wish” (Goerich 72).

As Cecil Goerich notes, “Hamlet’s anguish is partly based on a frustrated death wish” (72).

b.  If two or more sources from the same author are used, a “short title” method is employed.  That simply means that a key word or two from the correct title is used along with the author’s name and page reference:

One critic notes that “Hamlet’s anguish is partly based on a frustrated death wish” (Goerich, Morbidity 72).

c.  Footnotes or endnotes should not be used for the purposes of citation.  They need not be used at all.  If utilized, they should be used for commenting, explaining, noting and remarking on sources, or listing multiple sources, as in the following example:

5For a different interpretation, see the works of Owen Deridder and Francis Cornwall.  Both writers maintain that the origins of medieval drama lie outside the church.

d.  When quoting several lines of verse, either from a poem or a play, do not align them on the lefthand margin; rather, indent them ten spaces.  Also, do not put the lines in quotation marks.

e.  When only quoting two or three lines, put them in quotation marks but do not indent them.  Show line separation in such cases by using a virgule (/):

It is the melancholy Jaques who points out that “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players” (2.7.147-8).

f.  The works cited page should be on a separate page.  Entries (actually double-spaced) will usually be either books or articles.  Although there are numerous variations and modifications that might be necessary, the two basic forms can be illustrated as follows:

Beckerman, Bernard.  Shakespeare at the Globe: 1599-1609.  London: Collier-
Macmillan Ltd., 1969.

Bradbrook, Muriel C.  “Virtue is the True Nobility: A Study of the Structure of All’s Well
That Ends Well.” Review of English Studies 26 (1950): 298-301.

15.  Secondary sources should be used to support a paper, not control it.  Students should not reduce their role to providing transitions between quotations from either the primary or secondary works.  To that end, secondary materials should be used sparingly.  The paper’s thesis, organization, and bulk of the writing should be the student’s work.

16.  Documentation is necessary for the following reasons:

a.  It fulfills the ethical requirement of acknowledging one’s indebtedness to the author of ideas or statements.

b.  It authenticates the information presented by allowing the reader to check the source of such ideas or statements against the use made of them by the writer who employs them.

c.  It provides information that will help the reader who might wish to do further research in the topic area.

17.  To document or not to document, that is the question.  There is, in fact, a “gray” area when it comes to the question of documentation that often results from deficient knowledge on the researcher’s part.  However, there are certain situations in which no question can arise and documentation is mandatory, the most obvious being the use of direct quotations.  One must always acknowledge the source of statements and phrases used verbatim.  However, paraphrases of the content of a passage must also be documented if the passage deals with an opinion, speculation, or judgment as opposed to fact.  While it is not necessary to document material that is considered common (even if common only to a specific discipline), if the material is found only in a few sources or is controversial rather than factual, documentation is generally required.

18.  A problem that from time to time rears its ugly head is plagiarism, one of the nastiest problems in education at all levels.  Students who attempt to present another’s work as their own are guilty of intellectual dishonesty and cheating.  It is also rather risky.  Penalties can include an F in the course and/or dismissal from school.  Do not plagiarize.

N.B.  These notes on “Manuscript Form for Papers” and “Guidelines for Writing Critical Papers on Literature” are largely excerpted from Dr. John Fiero’s Course Manual for English 312 (Shakespeare), Version 2.0, Summer 1992, published by Kinko’s for USL.  Thanks, John.


1.  All papers will be typed or printed on unlined, 8 ½” x 11″ (standard size) paper.

2.  The paper should be double spaced so that there is ample room for the grading symbols and comments of the instructor.  There should also be sufficient white space (margins) on all sides (at least one inch).

3.  The paper should be written on only one side of each page.

4.  Each paper must be identified with the following information:  student name, course name and section number, paper identification (e.g., Paper 1) and date.  Each paper should have a title.

Note that the title should NOT be underlined or in quotation marks (though a portion may be in cases where part of the title is the title of another work).  The first letter of each word of the title should be capitalized except in the case of articles, conjunctions, and prepositions–unless the word either begins or ends the title, in which case it is capitalized regardless of its grammatical function.

5.  Each paper should observe the typical conventions of expository essay structure: introduction, main body, and conclusion, with a paragraph or paragraphs dedicated to each section.  Avoid the 5 paragraph template; let the content determine the form, not the other way around.  The body of the essay will require just as many paragraphs as are needed to explain what needs explaining.

6.  All pages should be numbered in the upper right-hand corner, except the first page, which should have its number centered at the bottom.  Precede all page numbers from page two on with your last name (e.g., Smith – 2).  This is best done by creating a header.

7.  Students should strive to make their papers as legible as possible.  However, it is better to catch and correct a mistake than to submit a paper with known mechanical errors.  Strikeovers and inserts are permissible as long as the paper can be read.  If it is undecipherable, it is wrong.

8.  Ideally, a paper that a student submits will not be a first draft corrected by hand but rather a polished, final draft in which all errors have been corrected and all revisions made.

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