Paper (HUM415)

4-6 pages. Consult the Paper Guidelines page of this blog.

Due MAY 3: BOTH a hard copy in class AND an ecopy to ilearn by 6 pm.

If you have any questions about the final paper, please direct them to this post.


Choose one of the novels. Your goal is to produce a thoughtful, creative, and informed critique of your chosen text. To do this you will need to

  1. research your novel’s social and historical context and critical responses to your novel. [NOTE: A simple google search will not be adequate for this task. You will need to use the databases provided by the library. NEVER use wikipedia on your Works Cited page unless you are writing a paper about wikipedia.]
  2. use at least two of the theoretical readings we’ve discussed this semester, one of which MUST be Hawkes.
  3. focus on formal aspects of the novel. In other words, consider the how as well as the what of the narrative.

Notably, the novel itself functions as a kind of critique. In other words, in telling a story (in constructing a storyworld, selecting specific language, creating characters, and inventing and organizing events in the form of a plot) the novel constitutes an effort to describe and criticize the society in which it was made.

At the same time, the novel will unavoidably contain its own critical blindspots. Specific themes and other formal elements mobilized in the service of criticizing contemporary culture and society will also represent the text’s ideological limits– its contradictions and “common sense.” Where does the novel stumble? Where does it come up short?

The novel is both a critique and a symptom. As art, it bears the imprint of its moment in time and space even as it attempts to explain, address, condemn, celebrate, or even transcend those coordinates.

Consider Timon of Athens. Shakespeare and Middleton’s play was written during the reign of James I, at a time when commercial relations were proliferating in English society. As the introduction to the play notes, the social effects of these commercial relations– the increase in usury, the beginnings of a truly global economy with the “discovery” of America, etc.– are in some sense the true concern of the play. Yet this is not to say that Timon of Athens is a mechanical response to that situation. Clearly, Shakespeare and Middleton express their themes imaginatively by locating the action in Athens, embellishing what little was known of the historical personage Timon, and carefully crafting the poetry of the play’s dialog. It follows that the play does not simply consist in responding to its immediate social context. Instead, broader, deeper themes are developed to a greater or lesser extent– for example, friendship, obligation, justice, and revenge.