Literary Comparative Essay: Develop a narrowly-defined argumentative thesis related to a comparison of some aspect, or aspects, of two of the works we have read thus far. NO outside sources are to be used for this paper, which should solely represent your own critical and analytical thinking. Spend some time contemplating connections between the works we have read in order to develop your own, original thesis you want to argue.
Step 1: Identify the Basis for Comparison Identify the two texts and the basis of comparison. In other words, what aspect of the literature will you compare between the two selected texts? (Theme, tone, point of view, setting, language, etc.)
Step 2: Create a List of Similarities and Differences Carefully examine the two literary texts for similarities and differences using the criteria you identified in step 1.
Step 3: Write a Thesis Statement A thesis statement is the author’s educated opinion that can be defended. For a comparative essay, your thesis statement should assert why the similarities and differences between the literary works matter.
Step 4: Create a Structure Before drafting, create an outline. Your introduction should draw the reader in and provide the thesis statement. The supporting paragraphs should begin with a topic sentence that supports your thesis statement; each topic sentence should then be supported with textual evidence. The conclusion should summarize the essay and prompt the reader to continue thinking about the topic.
This paper has 3-5 typed double-spaced pages in MLA format in Times New Roman size 12 font. The paper will NOT have a title page but will have a works cited page with the two selected texts. You should include an interesting and complete introduction, fully developed body paragraphs with an interesting and complete conclusion and is based on literature from class. Do not have fragments or run-on sentences or subject/verb agreement and pronoun antecedent agreement problems.
Below will be three poems that must be read. If you look up the author and the piece required to read you will find it. Make sure you also look over the summary that the instructor wrote for the poems. These are the ones you will refer to, for the essay:
Emily Dickinson’s Poems
“Wild Nights—Wild Nights!” (p. 698): THIS IS THE POEM. LOOK IT UP
When pulling together the poetry of Emily Dickinson for publication after her death, Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote, “One poem only I dread a little to print—that wonderful ‘Wild Nights,’—lest the malignant read into it more than that virgin recluse ever dreamed of putting there.” However, he went on to say that the poem was too good to leave out. So what is so dangerously sexy about this poem?
Some readers have argued that the experience is a mystical one, especially given the capitalized “Thee” in the final line: perhaps Dickinson speaks of God? Others take the maritime imagery seriously: does “Thee” signify a personified sea? Most readers, however, sense passionate, erotic intensity underlying Dickinson’s words, though the deceptively simple, contrasting metaphors have proven difficult to unravel.
Are “wild nights” something to be desired, symbolizing sexual abandon? Or does the speaker refer to restless lack of sleep, tossing and turning with unfulfilled desire, something she could bear once in a while if she were often sheltered in the safety of a lover’s arms? A “luxury” is something extra, icing on the cake. Keeping this definition in mind, the more desirable relationship is a quiet one, and the “wild nights” would be a “luxury” beyond a safe harbor that is not wild at all.
Readers in the twenty-first century most often see the “wild nights” as the consummation of desire. Such readers see the abandonment of chart and compass as throwing convention to the winds and surrendering to passionate love. But we might note that when the speaker is “in port” she no longer needs these tools of navigation. “Rowing in Eden,” she cries out to passionate love, psychologically symbolized by the sea, and ironically she seeks to “moor” in the wild waves rather than to labor over her oars in the lagoon of the garden of innocence. The port may symbolize the speaker’s isolation, the ocean her union with a lover. Perhaps this is Eve, seeking a fall. Were the speaker a man, or a woman who seeks a female lover, the final image would resonate in psychoanalytic terms. A garden in a dream, a poem, or a myth is usually agreed to be female imagery, and a place where one might “moor” has female connotations, as well.
Yet one might also imagine a heterosexual lover’s arms as a harbor and the speaker as a woman who seeks more than one sort of love from a man. Perhaps both the “wild nights” of the opening stanza and the garden and harbor of the final lines symbolize sexuality, the poem engaging in multiple orgasms. In Dickinson’s handwritten manuscript of this poem, the word Ah is followed by an exclamation point rather than a comma. This punctuation invites a reading of sexual climax at this point in the poem, and the sea is often seen as an image of sexual consummation. Perhaps the speaker wishes to stay in the lover’s arms all night in the afterglow of this moment of passion; or she may wish for marriage in contrast to brief, secret encounters. The image of mooring indicates peace and permanence, in contrast to the wildness and the winds of fleeting desire.
“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—” (p. 700): THIS IS THE POEM. LOOK IT UP
The term slant, in its adjectival form, is typically understood as meaning “sloped” or even “tilted.” At the very least, a slant implies an angle, or something neither horizontal nor vertical in orientation. So what might this mean for truth or for storytelling? In “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—,” poet Emily Dickinson argues for a sideways, sloped, or even tilted approach to truth. By this she seems to mean that for truth to have resonance for listeners, for us to actually make sense of it, it cannot be in its purest or most direct form.
Dickinson compares truth to lightning, in that as children we needed to become accustomed to seeing its bright, jagged shape across the sky. Truth, too, must come to us a bit more indirectly so that we can take it in. We need time to let it grow. Like too bright a light, she explains, the truth can dazzle us into blindness, if we don’t come at it gently and from the side.
Poetry, by virtue of its attempts to capture the visual, the emotive, and the ephemeral in verse, coincides neatly with Dickinson’s approach to truth. Even this poem, short as it is, takes more time to work toward its claim about truth, coming into the topic at a slant by using lightning and lighting metaphorically. To come at a slant seems to mean working toward understanding, rather than having pure comprehension thrust upon you.
If we stop at the first line, what level of understanding do we have? How fully can we capture the author’s aims? By working through a text line by line—getting to know it more slowly—we can often have a richer and more nuanced understanding of its meaning.
“Success is counted sweetest” (p. 700): THIS IS THE POEM. LOOK IT UP
We are most thankful, and best able to savor, that which we have previously been denied. That seems to be the central message of Emily Dickinson’s “Success is counted sweetest,” and readers will likely be able to come up with a number of examples from personal experience. This is an undeniable paradox, however, as those most appreciative are the ones most in need (and thus least likely to have that need resolved). People who have always had plenty are arguably less able to appreciate the bounty, just as, in Dickinson’s words, a dying man is better able to appreciate the “distant strains of triumph” than the winning army.
Dickinson’s reference to the “purple Host” implies that the army in question might actually be the North, during the Civil War; but “Host” also invokes Communion and the body of Jesus Christ, adding a holy or reverent implication to the title. The “forbidden ear” of the dying soldier likely refers to his role in the Confederate (rebel) army. Given the poem’s argument, we might read the Northern army, greater in numbers and equipment, as much less able to appreciate the thrill of victory than its defeated counterpart.
“My Life had Stood—a Loaded Gun” (p. 701): THIS IS THE POEM. LOOK IT UP
The significance of the “loaded gun” in Emily Dickinson’s “My Life had Stood—a Loaded Gun” has been long debated by literary critics. Whether spiritual or romantic in nature, the gun serves as a locus point in this tightly-written poem, and the gun’s utility is tied directly to its “Owner” or “Master.” We might read the gun as referring to Dickinson herself, which would highlight her dependence on others, even her alienation from the human experience, given that the gun does not have “the power to die.” The loaded gun doesn’t have the freedom to make decisions; its role is adjacent to or in service of others.
Given Dickinson’s relatively quiet life and prolific written work, readers might also imagine the gun as a pen being manipulated or used by a writer for her own ends. If we apply the poem’s gun-related imagery to a writer’s pen, particularly in the final stanza, we see that poetry becomes a vehicle for not just self-expression but also deep joy, protection, and even power. And from a woman writing in the nineteenth century, this power is one to be feared, especially if the pen does not mince words—and can exist indefinitely through its poetic production.
Dickinson’s reference to a “doe” in the second stanza complicates this reading somewhat, in addition to her gendering of the Owner as male (“Him”). Considering what role gender plays here, readers might attend to the challenges women have faced in publishing literary work—they have written under male pseudonyms, for example—so it would not be unheard of for Dickinson to feel at times objectified and at others potentially powerful in her life as a writer.
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