Comparative Essay (Extensive)4

Comparative Essay (Extensive)

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1) Complete the readings concerning “Comparative Essay” and “Synthesis”

2) Select two works from The Norton Introduction to Literature 

3) Write an essay of 750-1000 words that compares elements of the two different works.  You might consider, for example, comparing the plots of two stories, or the characters in two plays, or the symbols in two poems, etc. 

Comparative Essay (Extensive)

 (Some elements that you might consider plays: plot, structure, setting, tone, language, symbol, theme, character) (Some elements that you might consider stories: plot, setting, character, theme, symbols, narration & point of view.) (Some elements that you might consider poems: speaker, situation, setting, theme, tone, language, imagery, figures of speech, symbol, sounds, structure, form.) 

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Use the rubric to assist you in understanding how your work will be graded.  


The final essay for the course takes a step forward in your abilities.  Thus far, you have worked with one text at a time–one poem, one short story, and one play.  Now you are tasked with addressing TWO works at the same time.  There are several ways to work with more than one work: For this assignment, you will be writing a Comparative Essay.

Here are the steps:

1) Complete the readings concerning “Comparative Essay” and “Synthesis”

2) Select two works from The Norton Introduction to Literature 

3) Write an essay of 750-1000 words that compares elements of the two different works.  You might consider, for example, comparing the plots of two stories, or the characters in two plays, or the symbols in two poems, etc.

(Some elements that you might consider plays: plot, structure, setting, tone, language, symbol, theme, character) (Some elements that you might consider stories: plot, setting, character, theme, symbols, narration & point of view.) (Some elements that you might consider poems: speaker, situation, setting, theme, tone, language, imagery, figures of speech, symbol, sounds, structure, form.)

Use the rubric to assist you in understanding how your work will be graded.  

Do not use any outside sources other than the short story in our textbook.

You are choosing TWO stories, TWO poems, or TWO plays and analyzing them using the elements of the genre you selected.  Whichever elements you select, you are always connecting that element to meaning.  Be aware that an essay about plot is NOT a plot summary.  Your plot summary, if you must have one, should be no longer than one short paragraph (5-6 sentences). 

Be sure to use MLA documentation in the form of parenthetical citations and a works cited page (work from an anthology).

Plays: Henrik Ibsen “A Doll House”, Lorraine Hansberry “A Raisin in the Sun”, August Wilson “The Piano Lesson”

Stories: Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”, Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl”

Poems: (Found in doc Poetry 1) Frost “Home Burial”, Brooks “We Real Cool”, Pound “The River Merchant’s Wife”,

(Found in doc Poetry 2) Williams “The Red Wheelbarrow”, Shakespeare Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day”), Rich “Diving into the Wreck”, Poe “The Raven”, Shelley “Ode to the West Wind”, Thomas “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”



· Is there a main idea/point/thesis?

· If so, is thesis clearly and fully stated? And suggested in title?

· Is this thesis original? To what extent?

· Is this thesis in some way important/significant?

Writer included some sort of justification for essay?

· Is the essay organized according to this thesis statement?

Any sections obviously missing? Repeated? Irrelevant?



· Good textual evidence—quotes, paraphrases,summaries?

· Reliable secondary sources? Fully documented? (At least 3 works cited)

Recognized authorities?

Reputable publishers/journals/websites?

· Reasoning plausible?



· Paragraphs well developed? Unified? Coherent?Good transistions?

· Sentences simple/meaning obvious? Right words? Right number of words? Right word order?



· Format:MLA/APA:pagination,paragraph indentation,margins,line-spacing,word-breaks,block quotes

Pretext(prefatory pages):title page,T/C, etc.

Text:including note superscripts/citations, headings, etc.

Post-text:end notes/works cited

· Mechanics:punctuation,grammar,spelling,caps/lc,italics/roman, etc.

—————————————————————————————————————- ——————————————————————————————————–


Synthesis is a bit more complex than the analytical strategies just discussed. In synthesizing information, you must bring together all your opinions and research in support of your thesis. You integrate the relevant facts, statistics, expert opinion, and whatever can directly be observed with your own opinion and conclusions to persuade your audience that your thesis is correct. Indeed, you use synthesis in supporting a thesis and assembling a paper.

Here is an example, where the writer synthesized his ideas about how your prejudices and cultural orientation transform your voice as a writer at different stages of the writing process.

Example of SynthesisGender, race, and class prejudices can affect the development of a sense of self and voice. Likewise, the rhetorical conventions discourse communities require can overwhelm the personal voices of individual writers. But despite these pressures, a combination of spontaneous and deliberate strategies for writing and revising can help you capture your authentic personal voice when you write. In the planning and outlining stage of the writing process, clustering and nonstop free-writing can let you emotionally connect with the seemingly impersonal information absorbed from your reading.
At the draft-writing stage, open-ended free-writing can help you as you struggle to express your own understanding and engagement with the subjects you write about. At the revising stage, several deliberate strategies methodically applied can improve the tone, emphasis, and readability of the rough draft (University of Maryland University College, 1996, pp. 521 and 522).


The student essay on p. 658 was written in response to the following assignment:

Your second essay for the course should be 6–9 pages long and should analyze two or more poems included in The Norton Introduction to Literature. The poems must be by the same author.

You are strongly encouraged to pay attention to how the poems’ meaning and effect are shaped by some aspect or aspects of their form. Those aspects might include specific formal features such as lineation, rhyme, meter, alliteration, or assonance, and/or external form or subgenre—the fact that a poem is a Shakespearean or Petrarchan sonnet, a haiku, or a dramatic monologue, for example. (In terms of the latter, you might consider how the poem’s effect and meaning are shaped by the very fact that it takes a particular form.)

In her essay, student writer Melissa Makolin draws on three sonnets by William Shakespeare to argue for the distinctiveness and radicalism of the views expressed in two sonnets by another author, Edna St. Vincent Millay. In a sense, then, Makolin’s essay focuses simultaneously on external form, the author’s work, and literary tradition, even as it explores gender and engages in a kind of feminist criticism (see “Critical Approaches”).

That’s a lot to tackle in a relatively short essay, and you will no doubt find things both to admire and to criticize about Makolin’s argument. At what points do you find yourself agreeing with her interpretation? disagreeing? wanting more evidence or more analysis of the evidence provided? more contextual information—about literary tradition, the author, or historical and cultural context? Where and how might the essay’s logic seem faulty or its claims contradictory? In the end, what might you take away from this sample essay about how to craft an effective, persuasive argument about an author’s work?

p. 657

p. 658

Makolin 1

Melissa Makolin

Dr. Mays

English 298X

Out-Sonneting Shakespeare: An Examination of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Use of the Sonnet Form

Edna St. Vincent Millay is known not only for her poetry, but also for the feminist ideals she represents therein. She was an extremely talented poet who turned the sonnet form on its head, using the traditionally restrictive form previously used almost exclusively by male poets to express feminist ideas that were radical for her time. Sonnets, especially as written by Shakespeare and Petrarch, are often about the physical beauty of an idealized but also objectified woman, and they implicitly emphasize the man’s dominance over her.

Millay uses the sonnet form to assert a much different view of femininity, sexuality, and biological dominance. She uses a form known for its poetic limitations to reject social limitations. She uses a form previously used to objectify women to portray them as sexual beings with power and control over their own bodies and lives. The paradox of Millay’s poetry is that she uses a poetically binding, male-dominated form to show that she will not be bound either by literary tradition or societal mores regarding inter-gender relations.

The idea of a woman seeking physical pleasure in defiance of societal constraints is one that was revolutionary when “[Women have loved before as I love now]” and “[I, being born a woman and distressed]” were published, in 1931 and 1923 respectively. They are poems about a woman’s lust leading her to select a sexual partner based on her physical needs rather than on the desire for love. This is a concept that Shakespeare would have found very contentious for three reasons. First, Shakespeare did not agree with acting on lust of any kind; in fact, this is the topic of his sonnet “[Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame].” It is a fourteen-line treatise on the evils that result from acting on lustful urges in which Shakespeare declares,

Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Is lust in action; and, till action, lust

Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,

Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust . . . . (1–4)

Lust, sexual or otherwise, is a pathway to a hell both religious and secular. Seventeenth-century society dramatically constricted the liberties of women in particular and didn’t encourage sexual freedom for either gender.

Makolin 2

Second, the majority of Shakespeare’s sonnets simultaneously idealize and trivialize the two things they celebrate: women and love. In poems such as “[My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun],” he treats women either as objects of an ordered, almost courtly love or as objects of mild ridicule. In this poem’s first twelve lines, he mocks his mistress by describing her halitosis (7–8), referring to her breasts as “dun” (3) and her hair as “black wires” (4), references to all the contemporary conventions of beauty to which she does not conform. He not only tells her what the ideal of feminine beauty is, but also makes light of the various ways in which she does not live up to it.

He justifies these hurtful insults by reassuring the poor woman that his love for her is “as rare / As any she belied with false compare” (13–14). He mocks her appearance by telling her that she is special and beautiful in her own way only because he loves her. Insulting someone, breaking down her self-esteem, and convincing her that she could be loved by no one else are tactics used in abusive relationships to subjugate one’s partner. This is not love, and the role of women in the traditional Shakespeare sonnet is far from empowered.

Third and finally, in addition to idealizing while simultaneously trivializing women, Shakespeare’s sonnets also demean the concept of love. To Shakespeare, a woman is worthy of love either because she is an ideal of physical beauty or because he is noble enough to love her despite her flaws (as in “[My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun]”). He takes this warped concept one step further, though, by creating an ideal of love that is egotistical and unhealthy for both parties. In “[Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?],” he spends the first twelve lines describing the ways in which this particular woman fulfills the contemporary ideals of beauty.

It is clear that he ardently reveres her physical appearance, and the poem ends with the kind of declaration of personal devotion consistent with love. The turn, however, exhibits a malignant narcissism when it reassures the beloved that “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee” (13–14). The object of the speaker’s affection is just that, an object that only exists as an appendage to him. Shakespeare makes it clear that it is only because of his poetic greatness that their love will persist through the ages. He uses the poetic form to relegate women to the position of objects.

p. 659

p. 660

Makolin 3

The sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay use Shakespearean and Petrarchan forms to offer quite a different view of the role of women. She sees herself as a liberated woman, and she is not afraid to defy social conventions by taking lovers and discarding them when necessary. In writing sonnets about actively satisfying her lust, she also defies literary conventions, completely changing the male-female power dynamic of past sonnets by male writers. In “[Women have loved before as I love now],” Millay discusses how women throughout history have felt the same lust that she feels, but unlike other more timid and traditional women, she is willing to join the ranks of the brave women of antiquity and to satisfy her passions despite the potential cost.

This poem celebrates the women who choose to act against the standards set for them. Describing them as “treacherous queens, with death upon the tread, / Heedless and wilful, [who] took their knights to bed” makes them sound heroic, and it shifts control in the sexual relationship from the man to the woman (13–14). In Millay’s version, the women sexually dominate the men and temporarily free themselves from the constraints of an oppressive society.

Further, by alluding to the famous females of the “lively chronicles of the past” (2), she shows not only that this behavior is natural and heroic, but also that it is historically valid. The specific women she alludes to when referring to “Irish waters by a Cornish prow” (3) and “Trojan waters by a Spartan mast” (4) are respectively Iseult, the adulteress of the classic work of medieval passion The Romance of Tristan and Iseult, the Helen of Troy (or any of the other libidinous women) of the Homeric epics.

The fact that Millay uses the sonnet form to illustrate sexual liberation is significant for several reasons. First, it shows that she understands the restrictions placed upon her, both as a poet and as a woman. Second, using the sonnet shows that she can hold her own against the great male poets and write within the boundaries that they have erected; the subject matter of her poetry shows that she chooses not to. Lastly, it is significant because, in using the sonnet form for her own feminist purposes, she directly confronts Shakespeare’s one-dimensional portrayal of women by proposing her own view of ideal femininity.

The second of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnets that defies the ideals set forth by Shakespeare is “[I, being born a women and distressed].” It is a poem about impermanent lust, not eternal love. The speaker tells her lover that her feelings are purely physical (“a certain zest / To bear your body’s weight upon breast,” 4-5) and simply arise out of human biology (“the needs and notions of my kind,” 2) and close quarters (“propinquity,” 3).

Emotional and physical needs are two things which need not be dependent on each other and temporary desire does not have to lead to anything lasting. Consummation of a relationship was never discussed in the time of Shakespeare as a tenet of courtly love because women were supposed to be angelic ideals rather than real people with carnal desires. Millay’s speaker defies these unrealistic and unattainable ideals of eternal adoration by warning her lover not to “Think” that “I shall remember you with love” (9, 11), illustrating that desire is impermanent.

In fact, it is just a temporary “frenzy” and “insufficient reason” even to have a “conversation when we meet again” (13-14). Lust in Millay’s world is fleeting, whereas the love of Shakespeare’s world is final and complete once the man conquers all and the woman takes her place on his arm. Millay’s poem might seem cynical, but it represents a more realistic view of female and male interactions; life and love are transitory and to be enjoyed in the moment because sexual urges can be sated, are biologically determined, and essential to survival, while emotional ones are (relatively) inconsequential and satisfied in other ways.

Makolin 4

Millay draws on Shakespeare as a kind of foil by using the form so associated with his name as a vehicle for her very different views on the same topics. Millay brings sexual relationships to a far more terrestrial level with her assertions that women have primal urges that must be satisfied and that submission to ascribed gender roles is not necessary in order to obtain this satisfaction.

She presents a radically modern view of relationships. She lambastes the Shakespearean paradigm of the idealized woman, a traditionally beautiful possession of the egotistical man. By using the Shakespearean sonnet form to propose her own revamped, modern vision of woman, a self-aware person who fearlessly relishes the idea of her own emotional and sexual independence. Millay redefines both “woman” and “love.”

p. 661

p. 662

Makolin 5

Works Cited

Mays, Kelly J., ed. The Norton Introduction to Literature. Portable 11th ed. New York: Norton, 2014. Print.

Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “[I, being born a woman and distressed].” Mays 652.

—. “[Women have loved before as I love now].” Mays 652.

Shakespeare, William. “[Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame].” Mays 624.

—. “[My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun].” Mays 647.

—. “[Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?].” Mays 569.

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