Synthesis Essay Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been
Over the last few weeks, we have been exploring a variety of texts that deal with issues of morality, justice, and the roles of individuals and groups in negotiating their places and rights in the larger society. The literary works may seem especially grim or disturbing, but it is not necessarily their aim to just bum you out! Rather, think of the works we have read as thought experiments designed to prompt you to think–perhaps to question and evaluate how societies sustain themselves–for whose benefit and at whose expense? Your task in this essay is to analyze one of the literary works we have read in light of either Didion’s “On Morality” OR MLK Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” This technique of combining texts to find meaningful connections and reach a deeper, more informed perspective of both is often called “synthesis.” You will not necessarily be comparing or contrasting, nor will you simply be summarizing each text, but rather think of your essay as answering the question, “What is the relationship between two texts?” or “How do we benefit from reading one text in light of the other?” Or, “What insights can be gained from using one text as a ‘theoretical framework’ for another?” A theoretical framework, by the way, is just another way of referring to a “lens” through which we approach another text or topic. For instance, if someone has a particular background, nationality, religion, or political bent, that person may approach issues and reading material with that perspective in mind. For this essay, you will temporarily adopt the “lens” as it is expressed in either the Didion, or King texts we have read, and apply it to one of the works of literature to see how each text engages the other.
First, pick ONE literary work from this list:
“A Good Man is Hard to Find”
“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”
“The Ones Who Walk away from Omelas”
AND pick ONE of the following:
“Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Then start answering this question: How does (literary work you chose) either demonstrate or contradict a principle or idea expressed in Joan Didion’s “On Morality,” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”? Think about what the key ideas are in Didion or King. Look back on your response paragraphs for ideas (yes, you may recycle material from these as long as they are your own), and gather key quotations that you may be able to use (you will need to summarize, quote, and paraphrase authors’ ideas in this essay). Then, think about how they may relate to concepts or ideas implied by one of the pieces of literature. As always, you need to focus on what each text is DOING or DEMONSTRATING to its readers–in either a direct or indirect way–and how this idea relates to Didion or King either by affirming or contradicting one of their claims. When you have a key relationship in mind, construct a tentative thesis statement and scratch outline to help you plan the content of your essay.
Structure of the essay:
• Intro paragraph that introduces the text(s) and describes what it is DOING using action verbs; a thesis statement that articulates a claim about the text(s) and answers one of the prompt questions.
• 2-4 body paragraphs (with topic sentences) that focus on specific aspects of the text(s) in support of the thesis. You should provide some quoted and/or paraphrased material (properly integrated, cited, and analyzed) to illustrate your points.
• A conclusion that re-emphasizes your main point and reinforces why it (or the text) is important.
• A works cited page that includes entries for each work discussed,
formatted per MLA guidelines
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