The Take-Home Exam. I’ll distribute the topics for the take-home in class on April 5.
The Essay. Remember the final essay, worth 25% of the total grade, is due in class, typed on paper, on April 5. If you want your copy back with my comments, please submit your essay in a self-addressed stamped envelope. If you do, I will mail you back your essay when the course is over.
Here, as promised, is the model of an essay’s first paragraph, as shown in class on March 29. The thesis is in bold. I acknowledge that it’s a bit on the longish side (but I don’t think it’s too long), but I really wanted it to model the crucial qualities of a thesis statement, especially specificity (its focus is pretty narrow, looking at a single pair of terms, dark and light) and disputability (it is possible to argue against it).
The opposition between light and darkness is not neutral. Because it is associated with other oppositions, it implies certain values and hierarchies. Light, for example, is often associated with knowledge and goodness, while darkness is associated with ignorance and evil. For an African-American writer like bell hooks, the light/dark binary also raises the issue of race and racial inequality because it parallels the white/black binary that underlies “institutionalized racism” (hooks 165). In order to challenge these parallels in her essays on writing, hooks dismantles the light/dark binary by making both light and darkness crucial to her understanding of self-expression, race and authorship. She disrupts the opposition between light and dark because writing and being black “is not an either/or issue” (hooks 57). Darkness is not the opposite of light: indeed, for hooks “there is light in darkness, you just have to find it” (3). By dissolving the light/dark binary, hooks disputes the notion of writing as a path from darkness to enlightenment—which is also symbolically the path from disenfranchised blackness to white “class privilege” (102). By mixing light with darkness,she also breaks apart the related binaries that serve to suppress black women’s voices, such as knowledge/ignorance, white/black, and male/female.
hooks, bell. Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work (Holt: 1999).
This thesis can be divided into the WHAT, HOW and SO WHAT parts of a thesis:
WHAT am I arguing? hooks disputes the notion of writing as a path from darkness to enlightenment—which is also symbolically the path from disenfranchised blackness to white “class privilege” (102).
HOW will I support this argument? By examining where hooks addresses the light/dark binary, as noted in “By dissolving the light/dark binary” and “By mixing light with darkness.” By reading this part of the thesis, a reader has a pretty good idea of what kind of evidence the essay will be using to support and demonstrate its point (the many places where bell hooks uses and/or complicates the light/dark binary).
SO WHAT? How does this argument help us understand hooks’ larger concerns? Why does it matter? Why is it interesting? In this case, I suggest that the way hooks uses the simple light/dark binary is not just interesting in itself–it also connects with and participates in her larger political concerns with race, gender and class. Analysing this binary is thus also a way to see how hooks challenges related binaries that serve to suppress black women’s voices, such as knowledge/ignorance, white/black, and male/female.
We can also look at a simplified version of the same thesis by plugging it into Erik Simpson’s “Magic Thesis Sentence”:
By looking at _____, we can see _____, which most readers don’t see; this is important because _____.
(Note that these blanks correspond to HOW, WHAT and SO WHAT.)
By looking at hooks’ use of the light/dark binary, we can see that she complicates traditional associations between the writing life and racial identity, which most readers don’t see; this is important because it reveals the hidden political dimensions of the creative process.
Note that the Magic Thesis Sentence is a tool for making sure your thesis has all the necessary parts. You definitely don’t have to (and probably should not) keep the exact structure of the MTS in your final draft. Indeed, you can improve the thesis by removing explicit aspects of the MTS:
Hooks’ use of the light/dark binary allows her to complicate traditional associations between the writing life and racial identity, and thus she reveals the hidden political dimensions of the creative process.