Critical annotation and thesis proposal back

Historical/Cultural Analysis of a Short-Story or Poem

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Reading a work from a distant time or place involves a back-and-forth movement between the familiar and the unfamiliar.—David Damrosch, How to Read World Literature

For this two-part assignment, you will write a critical annotation of a scholarly source and thesis proposal (Unit 3 “Complete” Assignment) that will help you develop a researched argument (Unit 4 “Complete” Assignment) about the ways in which historical or cultural contexts shape one of the texts below:   


W.H. Auden, “Musée des Beaux Arts,” pp. 475-476

Ishamel Beah, “ABC Antidote” (pdf. in Unit 3 CM)

Louise Erdrich, “Indian Boarding School: The Runaways,” pp. 507-508

Thomas Hardy, “The Convergence of the Twain”

Langston Hughes, “Theme for English B,” p. 510

Susan Glaspell, “A Jury of Her Peers”

Nadine Gordimer, “The Train from Rhodesia”

Jomo Kenyatta, “The Gentlemen of the Jungle”

Jamaica Kincaid, “Girl,” p. 104

Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried,” pp. 232-239

Tillie Olsen, “I Stand Here Ironing,” pp. 162-167

Marge Piercy, “Barbie Doll,” p. 515

Amy Tan, “Two Kinds,” pp. 336-340

            Richard Wright, “Big Black Good Man,” pp. 184-190


UNIT 3: Critical Annotation and Thesis Proposal for the Researched Argument

Complete and turn in ALL parts of this assignment in the same order below as one document.

This assignment helps you with critical summary and analysis skills while leading to the focus in your Researched Essay, so you may want to read those criteria before deciding on a scholarly text (secondary source) for this assignment. 

  • Read the Researched Essay criteria (see Unit 4 “Complete”) so you know where this work is heading.
  • Go to the Edens Library databases (Literature Resource Center, Academic Search Premier, Project Muse, JSTOR, etc.) Find a scholarly/peer reviewed article or chapter from a scholarly text that is relevant to the selected literary work and helps you contextualize it historically/culturally. Thus, even if the scholarly source does not address this particular literary work, it should provide enough information to help you place the text in its original social, historical, and/or biographical context.
  • Skim over the article/chapter.
  • Reread the article/chapter and take notes, underline key points, annotate important ideas in the margins, summarize aloud, put points in your own words, etc.
  • Walk away.  Go have a cup of coffee.  Come back and—WITHOUT looking back to the actual text—write a one-sentence summary of the writer’s thesis (main purpose).


Part I (Summary Sentence)

Using this sentence structure and format, type a summary sentence completely in your own words:

In “Full Title of Article,” Author’s Full Name argues X in order to show Y. 

            Example: “In “Gender and the Heroics of Endurance in Oroonoko,” Mary Beth Rose argues that the ideal of male strength jeopardizes Oroonoko’s ability to act and, therefore, serves as an oppressive model for heroic action.




Part II (Main Ideas)

Using complete sentences, list 3-5 main ideas from the article/chapter (in your own words).  If you use the writer’s words, put them in quotes, but mostly summarize in your OWN words.  The gist of the list should be in your words, your terms, your syntax (word order).

1.  ___________________________________________________________________________

2.  ___________________________________________________________________________

3.  ___________________________________________________________________________

Part III (Textual Evidence)

Choose and retype three key quotes from the article/chapter.  DO NOT COPY AND PASTE.  TYPE WORD-FOR-WORD. Remember to put “opening and closing quotation marks” and the page number for proper attribution (#).   If you cut out part of the quote, use the ellipses brackets: [ …].  Then go back and highlight key words/terms from those quotes (be selective and intentional).

1. ____________________________________________________________________________





Part IV (Response) 

Write a solid paragraph (200 words +) in which you respond to so-and-so’s (critical) argument in terms of its relevance and usefulness for understanding the historical/cultural context of the primary source (literary work). Specifically, your response should answer the following sets of questions:

  1. What information, if any, does the source provide about the author’s background: their nation of origin, the political events and struggles of their time, their family structure, their education and social class, etc. How do these (biographical) facts influence or enhance your understanding of the text in question?
  2. What insights does the secondary source offer into the time and place in which the text was produced and/or set? What social issues, cultural trends, historical movements, etc. does it highlight? How does the critic’s argument confirm, challenge, or complicate your interpretation of the primary source?

You must integrate at least three small but significant textual references that illustrate the points you are highlighting.  Remember to integrate your evidence using signal phrases (So-and-so argues that “key words or phrases,” and as a result … (#).  Always introduce and explain quotes.  Never drop a quote (a.k.a hit-n-run), and never let the quote do the work for you.  Keep in mind that small snippets (close reading) of parts of lines are better than long block quotes.  Paraphrase when necessary, but be sure that the bulk of the writing is entirely yours.When commenting on the source, be sure you won’t later confuse your comments with what the source itself asserts. Provide an APA reference for the source, but use the MLA format for in-text citations.

Sample Response

In the following passage, the writer sets up a main idea that connects both sources, gives background about the primary source, introduces the secondary source, quotes from it, and returns to her main idea:

Idealization of women is nothing new. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1846 short-story “The Birthmark: illustrated the tragedy of seeking ideal beauty. In the story, a scientist attempts to remove a birthmark from his wife’s face in order to perfect her appearance. Although he is successful at ridding her of the mark, the process kills her. In a recent essay, Chester McCovey discusses “The Birthmark” and its relevance to our own culture: “As for physical imperfection in the twenty-first century, it seems odd that on one level we promote respect for all sorts of human “imperfections,” yet on the other level, we strive as we do to eliminate them whenever we can. It seems odd because so many times they are not imperfections at all.” In other words, what we consider imperfections are also what make us unique, which we are told is important. Still, we make great effort to get rid of imperfections so we can get closer to the ideal.

Part V (Thesis Proposal)

Based on your preliminary research, explore in no less than 200+ words what you think you’re going to write your Researched Essay on and why.  In this proposal, position yourself as a researcher and hone in on the research question that you’re formulating.  Again, explore what you know and don’t know.  What do you need, want, hope to find out?  What’s your tentative theory, at this time, and why? For this part, the more you collect and shape your preliminary ideas, the easier it will be to write the Researched Essay.

A strong thesis is focused and makes a specific claim about the text in relation to its context. One way to narrow the focus of your argument is to examine the nature, causes, and consequences of the conflict explored in your selected text. As you know, in both life and literature, conflict refers to a clash between opposing forces. An internal conflict involves the struggle of opposing needs, desires, and emotions within a single individual/character. An external conflict can occur between individuals who disagree or between groups with interests that cannot be reconciled. Cultural conflicts involve a clash of ideas, values, and traditions. They often include a fight for freedom and equality, for justice and political recognition without which a group cannot maintain its cultural identity. With this in mind, consider how the conflict plays out in the text and to what effect. 

REQUIRED: You must submit your assignment in two places. First, you must upload the paper into the V-Camp Dropbox. Second, you must submit your essay in Turnitin by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, January 15. Paste a copy of the grading rubric below at the end of your document (immediately following the References page/entries). Failure to do so will result in loss of points.


Unit 3


Grading Rubric

Excellent (A) 70-75

Good (B)


Adequate (C)


Inadequate 4


The student completes the first 3 parts of the assignment in an effective way. The scholarly source is accurately summarized and paraphrased. 15





The student’s response to the secondary source is both thoughtful and thorough. 20





The thesis to be explored in the researched essay is clearly stated. 10





Direct quotations are properly framed and documented throughout. 10





The writing shows precise diction and correct word usage. 5





The student uses proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. 5





The student follows proper MLA format for in-text citations and APA format for the Reference page.  5



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