Discussion: Arguments About Plot

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Before you begin writing your discussion post, review the Module 1 Writer’s Workshop, “Writing A One-Paragraph Argument About Literature.”

Respond to this discussion activity by constructing a one-paragraph argument about the plot of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

  1. Make a claim about how one of the concepts covered in the assigned reading about the plot (conflict, exposition, complication, protagonist, suspense, antagonist, climax, resolution, in media res, flashback, foreshadowing) is meaningful in the assigned novella.
  2. Add evidence to support your claim in the form of a quote from the novella to illustrate the point you are making.
  3. Add analysis by explaining how your quote proves or illustrates your claim

Module 1 Writer’s Workshop

The goal of this module’s workshop is for you to learn how to write a one-paragraph argument about literature. This type of paragraph will provide you with a means of effectively communicating your ideas about the literature you read for this class and will be foundational for your ability to be successful with the three essay assignments in this course. You will practice writing one-paragraph arguments each week for your discussion activities, which will allow you to see the usefulness of this form for persuasively sharing your ideas about and interpretations of literature. You will also have the opportunity to read and respond to your classmates’ arguments, which will continue to reinforce the value of this skill as a means of sharing ideas in an intellectual community.

The Components of an Argument Paragraph

When writing any argument paragraph (for literature, science, history or any other discipline), you should include three key components:

  1. A claim (also known as a thesis).
  2. Evidence (in order to support that claim).
  3. Analysis (which is when you explain how your evidence supports your claim and, possibly, why your claim is important).

What is Different About a Literary Argument?

How might a literary argument paragraph be different than any other argument paragraph? For this class, your literary argument paragraphs should meet these criteria:

  • Your claim should involve one of the formal literary elements we are studying that week (plot, character, setting, symbol, etc). You should be discussing how that particular element creates meaning or is significant to one of this module’s assigned literary texts or how it works in conjunction with another literary element. For example, your claim might answer one of these questions: Why is the setting significant in this story? How does the point of view in which this story is told help the reader to better understand one of the characters?
  • Your evidence should take the form of references to specific examples from the assigned literary texts. Optimally, this evidence will take the form of a quote that illustrates the point you are making. Occasionally, it may be more effective to reference several different examples from the text with page numbers but without using a quotation.
  • Your analysis should explain how the evidence (quote or reference) you provide shows your claim to be true. It is also useful to have a sentence that explains why your argument/claim is important. In other words, why should your reader care about your idea?

Your one-paragraph arguments for this class should be very brief — no more than 5-7 sentences in length. Conciseness means communicating your idea using only words that add value — in other words, after you draft your paragraph, re-read it and eliminate any unnecessary words and sentences. Keep it short and simple.

Let’s look at an example one-paragraph argument about the literary element point of view that is related to this week’s assigned reading:

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is written mostly in the third-person by a narrator who is not a participant in the story but who narrates the story from the limited perspective of a supporting character, a lawyer, Mr. Utterson. In other words, the reader knows only what Mr. Utterson knows. However, in the final chapter of the novella, the first-person point of view of the protagonist emerges through the literary device of a letter addressed from the protagonist to Utterson. This use of the first-person point of view in the final chapter is crucial to the understanding the full meaning of the novella’s events and ending the suspense that has been building up during the course of the plot. In the letter, the protagonist tells his life’s story from its beginning until the time of the novella’s conclusion: “I was born in the year 18 — to a large fortune, endowed besides with excellent parts, inclined by nature to industry, fond of the respect of the wise and good among my fellowmen, and thus, as might have been supposed, with every guarantee of an honorable and distinguished future.” In this way, the protagonist solves the mysteries of the novel as he tells his story using the first-person point of view (“I”) for his confession.

Now, let’s break that paragraph down into its respective components: Introduction (optional), Claim, Evidence, and Analysis.

Introduction (optional)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is written mostly in the third-person by a narrator who is not a participant in the story but who narrates the story from the limited perspective of a supporting character, a lawyer, Mr. Utterson. In other words, the reader knows only what Mr. Utterson knows. However, in the final chapter of the novella, the first-person point of view of the protagonist emerges through the literary device of a letter addressed from the protagonist to Utterson.

Claim

This is what I am claiming to be true about the importance of a particular literary element in the assigned reading.

This use of the first-person point of view in the final chapter is crucial to the reader understanding the full meaning of the novella’s events and ending the suspense that has been building up during the course of the plot.

Evidence

In the letter, the protagonist tells his life’s story from its beginning until the time of the novella’s conclusion:

“I was born in the year 18 — to a large fortune, endowed besides with excellent parts, inclined by nature to industry, fond of the respect of the wise and good among my fellowmen, and thus, as might have been supposed, with every guarantee of an honorable and distinguished future.”

This quote supports my claim about point of view, demonstrating the use of the first-person (“I”) point of view and relating it to the protagonist’s confession.

Analysis

Here I explain how my evidence (quote) “proves” my claim about the importance of point of view in the final chapter of the novella.

In this way, the protagonist solves the mysteries of the novel as he tells his story using the first-person point of view (“I”) for his confession.

What is the Difference Between Plot Summary and an Argument About Literature?

Plot summary is simply retelling what happened in a story in your own words. With plot summary, you are not adding your own ideas, you are just restating (perhaps for someone who did not read the story) a short version of what happened in the story. Plot summaries do not meet the requirements for the discussion boards or essays in this course. An argument requires you to put forth your own ideas about and/or interpretations of literature. For this class, we will use formal literary elements (plot, setting, symbol, etc) to give your arguments focus. You can ensure that you have an argument by making sure to include claim, evidence, and analysis in your argument paragraphs.

In Conclusion

Building an argument paragraph is a rigorous intellectual exercise that requires critical reading, thinking and writing. If writing argument paragraphs seems difficult at first, your comfort level should increase with weekly practice in the Discussions area (very low risk in terms of your overall grade) and the support of your instructor as a writing coach who is available to answer questions and give feedback. Once you’ve mastered this skill of writing literary argument paragraphs, you should feel much more confident in your ability to complete the three required essays for the course.

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