Indeed, our students have several misconceptions about argument:
This task is difficult to carry out if you are not entirely clear what the essay is supposed to do. This section focuses, first, on that issue and, secondly, on various ways you can address the question of organizing a suitable argument.
Engaging in discussions and arguments about books and other works is a very common form of human interaction, something we routinely carry out for pleasure in our coffee and pub conversations or read about in the newspapers. It stems from a human desire to engage our imaginations in other people's visions of the world, to discuss them with others, and to evaluate them, especially in conversations.
Such discussions and arguments obviously emerge out of the interaction which occurs when we read another text, and the quality of what we have to say is going to depend in large part on the quality of our reading. Thus, in order to clarify just how one might set about constructing arguments about texts, it is necessary first to say a few things about reading, particularly about intelligent reading or what is called in the following section reading beneath the surface.
These paragraphs deal mainly with works written in prose. A later section concerns itself with writing arguments about lyric poetry, a form of literature which can cause special difficulties for students. One of the main goals of those courses which require arguments about literary texts is to encourage the students to become better readers.
In courses which deal with literary texts, the books we study fall, very roughly, into two groups: Some texts, of course, do both and these books are often relatively more complex because of that.
As we read, therefore, we tend to select a main emphasis arising out of the book story or argument and then to focus upon either the creation of an imaginary world in which particular people act out a story in a specific environment e.
This division may sometimes be simplistic, but it makes a useful starting point. Reading Stories Once we begin to sense that the book we are reading is mainly a fictional narrative i.
We will be following the actions of certain people in particular places and situations, and we will almost certainly develop a distribution of sympathy for the characters some we like, some we do not like.
This process of getting sympathetically involved in the fictional world is, of course, one of the major pleasures of reading stories. Hence, our first entry into an intelligent appreciation of a fictional narrative will usually be a reaction to the characters.
William Empson once observed that all characters are on trial in a civilized narrative. This is a useful observation to bear in mind, since it places us in the position of a judge and invites us to render a series of verdicts on the fictional people we encounter.
Out of this we can normally construct many useful arguments based on why we like, dislike, or have a mixed reaction to one or more characters as we so often do after seeing a film.
All this is natural enough, but there are some initial dangers to avoid. In order to judge the characters fairly and, in the process to extend our own imaginative powerswe need to understand them.
And that will require a good deal more than simply translating them from the text into our immediate world and applying criteria from the world around us.
Eventually, of course, we may want to do something like that, but before rushing to judgement, we need to take the time to sort out why the characters are behaving the way they are.
This caveat is particularly important when we are dealing with stories which come from a culture very different from the one around us either because the stories are very old, or because they come from non-western cultures, or bothsince what the characters do and believe in such stories will almost certainly strike us as odd in some ways.
In close intelligent reading we need to do a great deal more than simply follow and judge immediately what characters do. In many of the stories we read, for example, characters do things which, by modern standards, are odd, abhorrent, sexist, self-destructive, incomprehensible, or lunatic.
If we do not penetrate beneath these actions to explore the reasons--the beliefs which prompt the action--then much of the book will remain concealed from us. Thus, we should not be too quick to impose our twentieth-century judgments upon such matters until we have wrestled somewhat with the underlying beliefs about the world which inform the actions of the characters.
Another way of putting the same point is to stress the old saying that human beings imitate in action their vision of the nature of things.2 In the context of writing essays To think critically is to analyse, and to evaluate the world around us and more specifically, in the context of university studies, the arguments set forth by academics, researchers, and commentators in lectures, notes.
Effectively writing different types of essays has become critical to academic success. Essay writing is a common school assignment, a part of standardized tests, and a requirement on college applications. Secondary students are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills; admission essays are often used by universities in selecting applicants, and in the humanities and social sciences essays are often used as a way of assessing the performance of students during final exams.
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