*this assignment was created by Prof. Catherine Seltzer, with a few modifications by Prof. Joy
I prefer to explore the most intimate moments, the smaller, crystallized details we all hinge our lives on. ~Rita Dove
For this essay, you will choose one theme/symbol/idea/image/mood [tone]/poem [or 2 or 3 poems] that you found compelling as you read Rita Dove's cycle of poems Thomas and Beulah, and make that the subject of a short literary analysis. This paper must be well-conceived, tightly focused, and carefully argued. Here are a few tips to help you as you begin formulating your topic and writing:
Pick a topic that interests you. The best papers are ones in which the author is deeply affected [moved] by and attracted to the topic, and also is invested in the argument. In other words, write about something you actually care about.
Make sure your topic is not too big. In a short paper, it's better to address a narrow topic more fully than to deal with a larger topic [broader scope] in a superficial manner. [You will see below some suggested paper topics that will help you to narrow your focus.]
Make sure your argument is focused and clear. A good thesis statement is essential to any essay on a literary text. And some good advice about developing a thesis in a literary analysis, from DeLombard and White, goes something like this: "It is important to distinguish in your mind between your topic -- what you will write about -- and your thesis -- what you will argue or attempt to prove in relation to your topic. A thesis may be defined as an interpretation that you set forth in specific terms and propose to defend or demonstrate by reasoned argumentation and literary analysis. Your thesis, then, is the position that you are attempting to persuade your reader to accept." And another great tip, also from DeLombard and White, is this: "You do not need a refined thesis in order to start writing. If you begin with a provisional thesis and then do good and careful close readings, you will often find a version of your final thesis in the last paragraph of a first draft. Integrate that version into your first paragraph and revise from there. Do not worry too much about your thesis, therefore, until after you've written out your close readings! A good final thesis should emerge from, not precede, your analyses." And your professor would like to add that a literary analysis need not be thought of too narrowly as an "argument" in which you "prove" you are right about a certain aspect or "meaning" of a text; rather, it is your elegant and detailed explanation of what you believe is meaningful about a text, or texts, in relation to a specific theme, symbol, idea, image, mood, character, etc. It's like saying to your reader, "look closely at what is happening here in this text, which I think is meaningful, and I'll tell you why." And your thesis, finally, should try to move beyond pointing out the obvious features of a text that anyone, with no prodding at all, can see for themselves.
Make sure you support your observations and main points with specific details and examples from the text. Don't just tell your readers what you think: show them, with reference to specific details, images, scenes, language, etc. from the text itself. [Also note: I expect to see you using paraphrase and direct quotation from the text and to include proper citation of both, in MLA-style format].
Don't forget about the SIUE Writing Center. The Writing Center is a tremendous resource at almost any stage of the writing process.
Some possible paper topics [you may choose one of these or devise one of your own]:
The use of color is prominent in Thomas and Beulah. Choose one color -- yellow, blue, white, black, or silver, most obviously -- and trace its progression in a series of poems. How does the significance and use of the color shift and evolve? Or, alternately, how does it help to ground our understanding of Thomas, or Beulah, or their shared relationship?
Work and chores [labor] figure prominently throughout the poems in both sections; explore the role of labor in one or more poems from each section and how that defines Thomas and Beulah's lives, both apart from each other but also together.
Explore the themes of aging, illness, and/or death in one or more of any of the following poems: "The Stroke," "The Satisfaction Coal Company," "Thomas at the Wheel," "Recovery," "Nightmare," "Wingfoot Lake," "Company," "The Oriental Ballerina."
Look at the first poem in each of the two sections -- "The Event" in "I. Mandolin" and "Taking in Wash" in "II. Canary in Bloom" -- and explore the ways in which they inform our understanding of some or all the poems that follow.
Look at the last poem in each section -- "Thomas at the Wheel" in "I. Mandolin" and "The Oriental Ballerina" in "II. Taking in Wash" -- and consider the ways in which that poem operates as a crucial capstone for the poems that precede it in that section. [capstone= the final stroke, crowning achievement, culmination, acme, high point]
Explore the importance of music in Thomas's life in one or more of the poems in the first section of the book, "I. Mandolin."
In what ways do Thomas and Beulah's notions of their gendered identities limit them? [Or perhaps, free them?]
Consider Dove's treatment of racism in the collection as a whole. How does racism impact upon Thomas and Beulah's lives, and how does this shift over time?
Look at two poems that are in different sections but that come into direct contact with one another ["Courtship" and "Courtship, Diligence" is one example]. How do the two poems build upon and/or contradict each other? When read together, side by side, how do they change our understanding of each figure [Thomas and Beulah]?
Despire their more obvious differences, what connections do we see in the ways that Thomas and Beulah view their roles as parents, and why are these difference significant, in your opinion?
Consider the poems in the second section that look at Beulah's life in the 6 years between Thomas's death and her own. How would you characterize Beulah in this period?