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Paper Number 1
Paper #1 asks you to compare and contrast two sonnets. Such comparisons can help us to understand the individual works by highlighting some of the features that make them unique, as well as features that link to them to larger literary concerns or traditions.
Any time you compare two things, there has to be some underlying similarity or common ground: there’s no point, as the saying goes, in “comparing apples and oranges.” In this case, you will be comparing two poems written in the same form, the sonnet. They may have other things in common too: for instance, they may be written by the same author, or about the same topic, or use similar forms or poetic devices.
The thesis of a comparison/contrast argument usually notes both the similarities and the differences. In most comparison/contrast arguments, either the similarities or the differences will be more obvious. Generally, the thesis will want to focus on pointing out the less obvious similarities or differences. For example, in a comparison/contrast of two of Shakespeare’s sonnets, the reader might be more likely to expect similarities than differences. Thus, presumably, an interesting thesis would focus on the more surprising differences. On the other hand, one might expect more differences between one of Shakespeare’s sonnets and one of Donne’s Holy Sonnets; in that case, the thesis for a comparison might focus on the more surprising similarities. Such a thesis might look something like this: “Despite their very different tones and subject matter, Shakespeare’s Sonnet #X and his Holy Sonnet #Y use similar metaphors to describe the state of mind of the speaker of the poem.”
Given what we’ve just said, you should pick two poems that seem to you to have some interesting similarities and/or differences. Since you must compare two sonnets, any poems you pick will have at least that in common: they will be in the sonnet form, i.e., 14 lines of (probably) 10 syllables each. Because they are all from the same general time period, and because at that period (as you know from the course lectures) sonnets were expected to be about certain topics, they are likely to have other elements in common. Thus, unless the poems are very obviously different, the similarities are likely to be more immediately apparent to you than the differences. For this reason, you could probably write an interesting paper about any two of the sonnets we’ve read. So pick two that you like or that seem to be particularly interesting to look at side by side.
Analyze your poems: Once you pick your poems, you will probably have some general idea of what similarities and differences they have. But to study them more carefully, use the Know Your Sonnet worksheet in the Course Documents to explore the details of each one. Consider in particular how the parts of each poem work together to create its overall effect: for example, how does it use things like imagery, figurative language, or the structure of the sonnet itself (i.e., English or Italian) to shape what it has to say and the emotional effect it is trying to create?
Formulate a tentative comparison/contrast thesis: Once you have analyzed each poem individually, try to sum up their similarities and differences? Which are more surprising or interesting? Try to formulate a statement of these similarities and differences in a single sentence.
Organizing the argument: Comparison/contrast arguments typically take one of two forms:
Option 1: Discuss the first item of the comparison first, analyzing its different important features, then discuss the second item, analyzing the same components. A comparison/contrast of two cars organized this way might look like this:
I. 1974 Chevy Vega
II. 1974 AMC Gremlin
Option 2: Discuss each feature of the two items, starting with the more obvious similarities or differences and working towards the more interesting similarities or differences (i.e., heading towards your thesis). In this format, the car comparison/contrast paper might be outlined as follows:
The number of features you discuss is up to you; for this paper, which is fairly short, you should focus on the most notable or interesting similarities and differences.
Either option could probably work for this paper, but the first has an important advantage: because it does not skip back and forth between the two poems, it allows you to present a coherent analysis of each poem. Readers are more likely to get confused if you use Option 2, unless you begin the paper with a coherent overview or summary of each poem.
The elements of the poem you choose to compare and contrast will depend on your thesis. Thus, if you want to argue that the themes and structures of the poems are similar, but their imagery and tones are different, your paper should be organized to pay attention to each of those four elements (the number of elements you pay attention to is up to you).
Draft the paper: Once you have developed a rough outline of what your argument will look like, try drafting it out with at least one paragraph devoted to each element on the outline. You can assume that your reader has read the poems and has them handy while reading your paper, but has not thought about them as carefully as you have. Thus, you don’t need to quote the whole poem in your paper. Instead, use brief quotations from the poem as evidence to support your points, quoting only the words that actually help you make your points (you should try to avoid quoting the same lines more than once). Also remember to explain how you draw inferences and conclusions from these details of the poems: these inferences and conclusions may seem obvious to you, but don’t assume they are also obvious to your reader, who has not spent as much time pondering the poems as you have.
Revise and Edit the Paper: When you have completed a rough draft, if possible, put the draft aside for a day or two. When you look at it again, try to read it as if you were coming to it for the first time (as your reader will). In evaluating the organization, try to imagine places where the reader might get lost; make sure the first paragraph tells the reader what to expect, and that transitions between paragraphs help the reader keep her or his place in the argument. In evaluating the sentences, try reading the paper out loud: if you find sentences that are hard to read, or sound funny (or like someone else wrote them), look for simpler, plainer ways to say the same thing. Make sure quotations are formatted correctly. Consult the Course Documents entitles “Some Qualities of Successful Literary Analysis Papers” and “How to Use Quotations” for more details.
If you would like some feedback on your rough draft from the instructor, e-mail it to the instructor by midnight Wednesday of Week Two; it may take up to 48 hours for the instructor to respond. The final draft is due midnight Sunday of Week Two.