Essays and Revision

1 Ses #9

Write a 5-page essay in which you argue a persuasive point about either one of the
following topics:

  1. Judith Butler claims that gender is performative. She writes, "the action of gender requires a performance that is repeated. The repetition is at once a reenactment and reexperiencing of a set of meanings already socially established; and it is the mundane and ritualized form of their legitimation." In what sense does Melville's "Benito Cereno" suggest that race is also an act? How do the gestures, movements, and speeches performed by black and white bodies, alike, help to maintain the illusion of a so called "natural" racial self?
  2. In Leguizamo's Cross-Over King, the disguise is seldom uniform—i.e., it seldom goes uninterrupted by eruptions of "truth." Leguizamo's masquerade is often punctuated by moments of passionate, "flamboyant" Puerto-Ricanness. He can't seem to help himself, no matter how hard he tries to suppress his "true" identity. For whom, if anyone, is the act of passing ultimately harmful—the passer or the passee? How does Leguizamo address the following question: Yes, it might be fine to "pass in order to get what you have not," but at what cost is this ruse to the passer himself? Is Leguizamo truly a master, a "king" over his "crossing over"? Why/Why not?
2 Ses #17

Write a 5-page essay in which you argue a persuasive point about either one of the following topics:

  1. In The Scarlet Letter (1850), Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: "No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true." I'm interested in this notion of "considerable period" and its relationship to identity. What is the relationship between time and racial identity? Using any of the texts we have read up to this point in the semester, try to answer that question—drawing attention to how race is viewed as either something one can temporarily appropriate or something one has, forever, to carry.
  2. In Eddie Murphy's skit, there is a strong element of hyperbole that permeates his "experiment." Yet couched in these moments of exaggeration and incredulity is an element of truth—perhaps? What might we claim is that "truth" Eddie Murphy is exhorting us to understand about American society? Does Eddie Murphy go undercover as a white person simply "for a lark," as Goffman puts it, or is there also a serious subversive element to his motives? How does Goffman's notion of anxiety and threat (as it relates to misrepresentation) come into play here?
Revision Ses #22 Revise the essay either with the lowest grade or the one you would most want to revisit. Revising this essay will most likely require that you do a massive overhaul of the structure and maybe even the overall argument of the essay itself. Merely inserting conjunctions and transition words at strategic points in the paper or running spell check and grammar check certainly will not suffice. Please consult my suggestions and comments on that essay to guide you along in the revising process, and do come by to see me to discuss any problems or even epiphanies you might be encountering.
3 Ses #26 Using evidence from one or two texts, which you have not yet written on for this course, write a 10-page paper in response to the following question: What does it mean to "keep it real," particularly in the context of the texts we've read for this class? Is keeping it fake the new keeping it real? What is at stake in ostensibly keeping it real, keeping it authentic, keeping it fixed? What are the underlying anxieties implied when keeping it real proves to be either too difficult or too impossible? In other words, is "keeping it real" a defense mechanism (recalling James Baldwin's, "I'll be black for as long as you tell me that you are white.")? Who gets to decide if an individual is "keeping it real" or not, and what does it mean that such decisions don't belong only to the individual him/herself? Is identity communal or individual, after all? Use at least 2 other secondary sources to support your argument. Secondary sources include scholarly journal articles of literary criticism or scholarly books on biographical or historical contexts (FYI: Spark Notes or Cliff Notes do not count as secondary sources).


Criteria for Grading

Each paper will be judged according to the following criteria:

  1. Its demonstration of clarity, depth, and complexity of thought.
  2. It should be focused and coherent with transitions that help to unify, link and guide your paragraphs.
  3. It should demonstrate ease with language.
  4. Its major ideas should be substantially developed.
  5. It should make a cogent and persuasive argument. In other words, it should have a specific, thesis—the answer to the main question that you're hoping to raise, which you're posing of the text, which you think remains to be answered.
  6. It should offer ample and solid evidence to support your claims.
  7. It should include a title and a conclusion that not only summarizes your argument in one or two sentences but also offers me a sense of what work still remains to be done in light of the work that your essay itself has begun.
  8. It should not be plagiarized! Plagiarism is cause for expulsion!


Plagiarism–use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgement–is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available at MIT Writing and Communication Center and MIT Academic Integrity.