Haunted House image

Theme: American Gothic

Paper Directions

Shorter Paper #1

Longer Paper #2

Organizing Your Paper

Avoiding Plagiarism

Citing Sources, MLA Style

Typing Directions


Length: 4-5 pages (typed, double-spaced). If secondary sources are consulted, use MLA documentation (online) and add a separate "Works Cited" page. See also typing instructions (online).

Due Date: Friday, 2/10. Late papers will be downgraded.

Grading: 15% of final grade; based on substantive content, insight into your material, focus and organization, quality and appropriateness of your evidence, documentation (if needed), grammar.

Topic: Discuss the ways in which one of these elements--the setting or the unreliable narrator--creates a sense of horror in one of these Poe stories: "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Cask of Amontillado," or "The Tell-Tale Heart." Make sure you relate your chosen element in meaningful ways to other significant elements in the story (character, plot, symbols, etc.), as appropriate.

Study Questions:

  • Setting: In gothic fiction, the element of setting assumes a prominence beyond its usual role in most stories that is disturbing. Why? What makes it a "gothic" (horror-inducing) place and/or space? What themes are implied by the detailed descriptions of Poe's gothic places/spaces? Are the places/spaces symbolic? Of what? What language describing the places/spaces suggests those ideas? To what extent could the gothic places/spaces, perhaps, be considered active participants in the stories? In what ways? Can the descriptions of the settings be read as a projection or reflection or revelation of the character's psychological state, perhaps of his/her sub-conscious? If so, what do we learn about the inner world of the character? How does the language describing the settings contribute to the horror effect in general? Look closely at language as you answer these questions.

  • Narrator: See definition of unreliable narrator (online). Discuss some of the ways the author undermines the "reliability" of the narrator's presentation of the story. How and why does that undermining create a sense of horror? To what degree is the narrator's narration unreliable? What is his motive? Is he lying? mistaken for some reason? unethical? indifferent or lazy? downright crazy? Or what? Does the narrator think he is unreliable? If we can't believe everything the narrator says (and have good evidence for our skepticism), then how do we know what "really" happened or what is the "correct" way to interpret signs or actions or passages? Keep in mind that the author has to provide us, through the narrator's narration, with enough information to determine the possible shortcomings of the narrator--very tricky technique since the narrator cannot be aware that he is undermining his own narration. Is the revelation of the narrator's shortcomings gradual throughout the story or a surprise (shocking?) revelation near the end of the story? In looking back over the story, where has the author inserted some foreshadowing of the unreliability of the narrator--or with-held information that would make us question the narrator more closely? Why? How does all this contribute to the overall horror-effect of the story?

As you study your selected story, develop a solid thesis about this topic--some conclusion you have arrived at--and make sure you cite lots of examples and details from the story to support and illustrate your thesis and sub-points. And make sure you discuss and explain your evidence.

And please read Organizing your Paper (online). One thing you do NOT want to do is to produce a paper that just answers each of the above questions, one after another. There is no particular reason or purpose in the order of the questions, so you would end up with a very unfocused and disorganized paper.

For a good example of a 4-page student paper on gothic "place," examine this paper: Placement in Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland (online). Here is a fine example of a student paper focusing on the unreliable narrator in Wieland (online).

Our Poe assignment assumes that you will not be consulting outside sources; however, if you do, you must still develop and support your own thesis/analysis, plus cite the outside source(s) according to MLA requirements. See Citing Sources, MLA Style (online) and Avoiding Plagiarism (online).

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Length: 6-8 pages (typed, double-spaced). For the secondary sources you consult and/or use in your paper (two are required--see below), use MLA documentation (online) and add a separate "Works Cited" page that lists both your primary and secondary sources (alphabetically by author's last name). See also typing instructions (online).

Due Date: Monday, 3/26. Late papers will be downgraded.

Grading: 25% of final grade; based on substantive content, insight into your material, focus and organization, quality and appropriateness of your evidence, documentation, grammar.

Topic: Discuss how Eleanor's relationship with her mother is a key to understanding what happens in this novel. How have Eleanor's attitudes and needs been shaped by her mother? How do they affect her relationships with the other people at Hill House and with Hill House (and its "ghosts"?) itself? Analyze her interactions with several of her colleagues and any others (living or dead) that you think are significant. What do we learn about her from those interactions? Why is she drawn to the history of Hill House? To what extent are the strange occurrences at Hill House an unconscious projection of Eleanor's hidden needs and conflicts? Does Eleanor have tele-kinetic powers? Or do the strange happenings have an independent existence? Either way, what do you make of the fact that those strange powers eventually seem to chose her? For what? What changes does Eleanor go through in her new environment? Why? You might also want to consider in what ways this modern novel might be read as an update or revision of the Bronte tradition of the "Female Gothic" as represented by Alcott's 19th Century story. Can it be read as an alternate ending to Alcott's story? Or maybe as an alternate ending to James' version of the female gothic? What does the "revision" add to the tradition? How does the beginning of the novel foreshadow the shocking ending--and maybe even reveal the CAUSE for the shocking ending?

As you study the novel, develop a solid thesis about this topic--some conclusion you have arrived at--and make sure you cite lots of examples and details from the novel to support and illustrate your thesis and sub-points. And make sure you discuss and explain your evidence. Please read Organizing your Paper (online). Focus and organization do count towards your grade.

This assignment requires that you consult two secondary sources, at least one of which is a scholarly article or scholarly book chapter (see online Resources page). You may agree or disagree with the secondary sources you cite. Either way, it is your job to weave those secondary sources smoothly and meaningfully into your paper as you develop your own thesis and provide your own evidence from your primary source (Jackson's novel). You must also cite the outside sources according to MLA requirements. See Citing Sources, MLA Style (online) and Avoiding Plagiarism (online).

Here are two examples of good articles incorporating secondary sources into the main argument: student article The Theme of Obsession in "The Yellow Wallpaper" (online) and scholarly article Seeing Madness, Speaking Madness: Transitions in Cultural and Medical Modes of Representing Mental Illness Between “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” (online). Note in particular how these authors weave their secondary sources smoothly into their articles.

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All essays, long or short, should include these three basic parts:

Introductions in short papers should be short--maybe 4-5 sentences long (in a long paper, perhaps 2 paragraphs long). Begin with some general statement about your topic (if you are going to write about the significance of the settings, get the word "settings," plus the author and title, somewhere in the opening sentence). Perhaps provide some pertinent background, or explain how your topic will enrich our understanding of some aspect of the literary text, or briefly indicate some point of scholarly contention or divergent interpretations of the literary text or some aspect of it. Most of the introduction will be your own writing, but it is all right to include short paraphrases/quotations, properly cited, of course.

End the introductory paragraph with your thesis statement. Remember, your thesis is what the rest of the paper will be about. Do not phrase it as a question, but rather as an assertion--your overall conclusion about what your paper adds up to.

Body of Paper:
Since you can't talk about everything at once, sub-divide your thesis/conclusion into 4-6 sub-points. Those sub-points will form the topic sentences--your own writing, what you have to say about that subject, the point you want to make in that paragraph. The topic sentence should be placed at the beginning of the body paragragh.

WRITING TIP: It is often effective to arrange your sub-points according to the Order of Climax--begin with your second-best sub-point followed by your weakest sub-point and then work your way up to your best sub-point at the end so that the paper finishes on a strong note. Whatever order you use, always end with your strongest material.

Each topic sentence should be followed by lots of specific details and examples and short quotations, etc., from your texts, as well as your explanation/analysis of that information.

NOTE: I hate skimpy paragraphs that are only 1-2 sentences long; put some meat on those bones--another 6-7 sentences of details and examples and explanations, please!)

For quotations, include a page number (in parenthesis) directly after the quote. The author's name may precede the quotation or be placed in the parenthesis with the page number. (I prefer the first option.) Avoid long quotations in short papers. It is often much more effective to work a quoted word or short phrase into your own sentence.

Conclusions in short papers should be short--maybe 3-4 sentences long (longer papers can support a somewhat longer conclusion.)

Begin the concluding paragraph with a re-statement of your opening thesis/conclusion--but in language very different than was used in the introduction. In a couple more sentences, refer to your topic as a whole-- why it is significant and worth studying, for instance, or finally, what it all adds up to.

NOTE: In a short paper, do not repeat your sub-points--much too repetitious!

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  • The language used for paraphrases and summaries should be very different than the original language used by your source.

  • The language used in quotations must be exactly the same as the original language used by your source.

  • Quotation marks must be used around all quotations. If you have a quote-within-a-quote, use a combination of double and single quote marks (see me for assistance).

  • Cite a source for ALL summarized and paraphrased and quoted secondary material (articles on your topic, etc.).

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Use standard in-text citation (author and page), and put the source information on a separate bibliography page (labeled "Works Cited"). Follow MLA directions.

See this short summary of MLA style: MLA Formatting and Style Guide (online), created by the Purdue University Online Writing Lab. Scroll down the page to find a long list of links for in-text citation and bibliographies, including how to do electronic sources (online).

Also check MLA Style: MLA Style: Frequently Asked Questions (online).

For more detailed information on MLA style, consult a hardcopy of the "official" MLA Handbook.

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Use Times New Roman font, size 11 or 12. Double-space everything--no exceptions. Include one inch margins on all sides. Put your last name and page number in top-right corner (1/2 inch from top)

On the first page, in the top-left corner, put your name, your instructor's name, the class name and number, and the date. Below that, in the center of page, add a title (and sub-title, if needed).

See an MLA formatted paper: Paper Format--Example (online).

Put all documentation on a separate page and follow MLA directions.

See Organizing your Paper and Avoiding Plagiarism and MLA style.

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