Write about each of the three major works we’ve studied—Beowulf, Gawain, and The Canterbury Tales–in roughly equal measure.


There’s an intense focus on material wealth, the status it accords, and various types of material exchange in the works we’ve read thus far. In a detailed, thoughtful essay supported by textual examples, discuss how material objects are represented, the degree to which they are valued, what kinds of cultural meanings they carry, and how they affect human and social relationships in Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and either The Miller’s Tale/Prologue or The Wife of Bath’s Tale/Prologue. Does the importance of material exchange and status transform over the course of the works we have studied? What conclusions do you think each of the works arrive at concerning materialism, greed, or perhaps the possibility of upward mobility through various kinds of exchange? 1. Grammar/Mechanics. During a timed test, I don’t worry much about minor organizational and grammar issues. However, I expect the writing to cohere to the grammatical/mechanical standards of conventional written English and academic prose. A comma splice or fragment here and there are not going to cause me much concern, but the writing should be clear, the sentence structures varied, the essay’s content easily comprehensible. 2. Textual Accuracy. The things that a student writes about happening in a text should have happened in the text.  Characters and locations should be called by their correct names. Answers should demonstrate a knowledge of narrative/plot progression in the text. When basic narrative facts are presented, they should be presented with accuracy and in their proper context. 3. Arguable Assertions. All interpretive writing is a form of argumentative writing. Students are making forceful assertions about certain elements of the text, why they are important, and what they mean in relation to themselves and other parts of the text. “Grendel is crazy,” is an arguable assertion, but not a very ambitious one. I will be looking for upper-division lit course sophistication in the stances you take. An assertion more along the lines of: “Grendel’s insanity results from (insert cause) and (insert cause) and serves as window into and a critique of (list various aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture),” increases the sophistication of the argument and gives you a clear roadmap for organizing and detailing your assertions. 4. Supporting Textual Detail. This is where you can really show off your knowledge of the text, your ability to synthesize information, and your ability to draw interesting and valid comparisons and parallels within or between texts. The types and amount of details that will work best will vary by assertion. For some of your points, an accumulation of small details might be the best way to build your argument. If certain motifs occur again and again—similar gestures, responses, symbols, situations—listing a series of occurrences is an effective way of underscoring your point. If you can identify interesting differences in how these elements occur each time, your accumulation of details will transform into an act of more nuanced associative/critical thinking, and some assertions may require that degree of nuance. In some cases, a closely-read, well-presented, single compelling instance from the story, in the way of an action, piece of dialogue, metaphor, important scene, or allegorical passage may be resonant and powerful enough to support the assertion. The type and amount of textual detail you choose to support each assertion will vary. There’s no magical formula. Just strive to include as much relevant detail as you can to build a convincing argument. 5. Counter-Argument. (5-7 are closely related. The order I put them is arbitrary, but these are the elements that separate “B” and “A” essays from “C” essays). One of the most effective ways to enhance your argument is to consider a possible objection or an alternate interpretation to your argument, present that alternate interpretation in fair and detailed terms, and then show why your argument/interpretation is “superior,” i.e. more well-supported by the details in the text. The ability to consider and implement counter- argument will help a satisfactory essay move into the A/B range. 6. Divergent/Associative/Speculative Thinking. This is related to counter-argument, but doesn’t require such a lockstep progression. Simply having the ability to consider and detail multiple possibilities for interpreting a specific textual element shows thoughtfulness, textual knowledge, and intellectual curiosity. 7. Creative Thinking. There’s lots of ideas about these texts inside the Learning Modules and on the Discussion Boards. Finding new and creative approaches to the texts that you can support with textual details and examples combines all kinds of skills—comprehension, synthesis, critical thinking, associative thinking, imaginative power, and will set your essay apart as an exceptional work of student scholarship.

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