other class resources

ENGL150 syllabus

Spring 2022 WGSS481

Feminist Theory

A Short Guide to Analyzing Texts.

In academic writing anything that can be analyzed is called a text. This includes written stories, films, and television programs (episodes and series), which are the texts you are asked to choose from for this class's writing assignments.

Form: Passing papers have all the usual attributes of college essays: a title; an introduction; a thesis; unified, coherent and developed body paragraphs; a conclusion; and standard documentation of quotes (following MLA rules for this class). Standard grammar and usage are also expected. All composition textbooks offer help with these things, as does the Writing Center. Please proofread carefully.

The Topic: The topic is different from the thesis. The topic is what you are going to talk/write about; the thesis is your idea about the topic.

1. The topic should directly concern the text you have chosen to analyze, in other words how specific details of the text work to create specific impressions or to reveal foundational assumptions. For example, your topic might be the use of costuming and makeup to convey a specific idea about female worth. If you don't want to talk about technical details, you can focus on development/organization of the narrative. You need not retell the story or stories presented in the text. Just give a short, one paragraph overview of it.

Instead of a summary, I want to see your ideas about how the text presents ideas about gender/sexuality. Therefore, your paper must focus on the chosen text, not on your own life. Also avoid focusing a paper on explaining how the characters and their experiences resemble or differ from those of our contemporaries and the experiences most familiar to us. For instance, you would make a mistake if the central claim (thesis) of your paper were that the film Shadow of a Doubt (Hitchcock, 1943) realistically portrays gender roles in a typical American family in the 1940s. Such a paper would have to be founded in a great deal of sociological research, and so would take you away from talking about the film works. A better topic would be the ways the film makes an incredible plot seem believable through its use of recognizable details of ordinary life that are determined by gender relations. You could develop a fine thesis by relating this to the film's depiction of the pleasures and dangers of cross-gender identification.

2. The topic should be limited to fit the scope of the paper. Don't try to say everything possible about any text. The title of the text you are discussing can’t also be the title of your paper; this implies you are going to say everything that can be said about the text.

The Thesis: Your thesis is the main point you make about your topic. Your thesis cannot be the use of spiral images in Vertigo. That is a topic. A successful thesis derived from this topic could be something like this: The spiral images in several scenes in Vertigo not only work to mimic the confusion and distorted perceptions of the film's protagonist, they suggest that there is something twisted and dangerous about women and their bodies. You would then proceed to explain how the film tells us that the protagonist is confused and how his confusion is related to a negative view of women and the female body. To do so you would analyze the film's spiral images and bring in feminist theories about representations of female body and its symbolic meanings.

Your thesis must make a different point about your topic than the text you are analyzing does. For instance, if your topic is the depiction of marriage in the novel Jane Eyre, your thesis cannot be that the novel proves that happy marriages entail equality of the partners despite the gender inequality fostered by society and culture. This is a bad thesis for two reasons. First, the novel is fictional and thus cannot prove anything about real life; it can only express an opinion about it. Second, the novel itself makes this point overtly, so if you were to develop it as your thesis, you would just be repeating, in your own words, the plot of the novel. Instead, you might look at the techniques used to convey this point indirectly, perhaps focusing on such things as the novel's use of symbolism. In choosing a thesis, ask yourself not only what ideas the text conveys but how they are conveyed. Ask yourself what details cause you to interpret the text the way you do.

The most important rule to remember is that your paper should not focus on "that" but on "how." By this I mean that although you will often have to say THAT something happens in a text or THAT a particular piece of information is conveyed, what is most important for you to focus on is HOW the text gives us information.

Originality: I know that it's hard to believe, but a paper that argues with me is more interesting for me to read than one that just restates what I have said in class. Note, however, that, if you disagree with me – or one of the theorists – I want you to argue, not simply contradict my (or their) views. You must explain why you have the opinions you do and give support for them.

Supporting Evidence: You need to present your own ideas and also to convince your reader that they are reasonable and worth considering. You do this by presenting supporting evidence for your claims in both of the following two ways:

1. Working with material from the assigned readings and from published essays on the texts. Notice that I say working with rather than quoting. In English studies we treat expert opinions as OPINIONS, not facts, consequently they can never PROVE a point. Therefore, when you quote a film critic's idea about a text or about texts in general, you have not shown that this is the correct view to have. If you agree with the critic you still have to explain what in the text being discussed causes you to agree. It is not necessary to do outside research for your papers, but it is allowed.

2. Referring directly to the text you are discussing. Quote or describe sections relevant to your points. When doing this, avoid providing too much material so that you seem to be summarizing the whole text. Also avoid providing too little material (so that your reason for thinking what you do is unclear). When it is not clear why you think that a particular scene, quote, or feature of the text supports your claim, you must explain how it does. Students often fear that they will explain something unnecessarily. This almost never happens. When in doubt, explain.

Anticipating Objections: The best way to convince other people is to anticipate their arguments with your claims and provide material that will answer those arguments. In a paper, just as in conversation, you don't convince others by repeating the same idea over and over, emphasizing it more each time

other class resources