We expect, since students taking this class will have a wide range of interests, that essay topics should reflect those interests. If you would like help developing your ideas, you may consult with the instructors any time.

Each essay will take up a different format so that students may practice different writing skills. The descriptions below offer some guidelines; you may adapt these as your topic and ideas demand.

With each essay and revision, you should submit a cover letter that details the process, the rewards or frustrations, and/or the discoveries you experienced during the assignment. This cover letter heightens your awareness of your own writing practices and helps you to chart your progress in writing throughout the term.

Essay One: Personal Essay

Due in Ses #7—5 pages

In this essay, we want you respond to the Rozin and Fallon article and/or biblical readings by tying together those readings and your own experience. Choose an aspect of the topic that interests you and to which you can bring vivid examples to bear. You might, for example, want to talk about the rules, written or unwritten, that govern your own choices about what to eat. Your approach will be partly narrative, but you should also have a point to make. This point should be clearly set up early in the essay and should develop through your consideration of the readings and your personal experiences. If you have made your point clearly, you will not need a High School style summary at the end (you know: "In conclusion, I have shown that…"). Instead, try to use your concluding paragraph to open up questions, enlarge the paper's scope, suggest an irony or twist, or reflect on some related angle. Give your essay a provocative title.


To isolate a point in the reading that seems promising for further expansion and reflection; to relate the reading to your own experience, focusing on issues of psychology, culture, religion, gender, race, or family as they seem appropriate; to organize materials in a coherent, thoughtful, and exciting way; to write fluently, with attention to mechanics and style.

Revision of Essay One: Developing a Point

Due in Ses #10—5 pages

You will get your first paper back with suggestions for revision. In your revision, you will want first to improve on ideas, organization, use of examples, style and mechanics. A good revision will also develop the original point, going beyond cosmetic changes to refine and expand the ideas and make the essay more subtle, rich, or sophisticated. For this draft you may also draw on new reading in Rowlandson to offer new examples of your idea. Or you may even want to focus on Rowlandson more explicitly, or take your original point in a new direction. Remember that your reader already knows the best ideas from your first draft. You need not only to improve that draft but also to engage the topic anew, with fresh material. Notice that the page limit is the same. So the challenge will be to produce a paper that revises the old, adds the new, and stays the same length!


To look critically at an essay and make changes that will develop its ideas as well as address weaknesses in organization or writing style; to see the potential for growth in your original point and make it happen; to take risks, if your original essay played it safe; to grapple with the organizational challenges of adding new material while not adding length or losing focus; to amaze and delight a reader with your new insights into the topic.


  1. Read the whole essay first thoughtfully and appreciatively. Mark points you like, find questionable, or think could be developed further. Note areas that you now find repetitive, uninteresting, or unnecessary.
  2. Rethink your main idea. Did you make it as clearly and fully as you thought? What has occurred to you since you wrote the essay? Remember that the reader of this revision will already know your best material on a second reading. Is it still fresh? What can you do to renew the humor and insights?
  3. Developing your point: What can you do now to expand, complicate, or enrich your main idea? Consider:
    • Including new evidence from the readings, or expanding the coverage of themes;
    • finding new narrative or descriptive examples;
    • locating problems or ironies in the subject that could be more fully explored.
  4. Adjusting to the expanded ideas: As you develop your point, what changes will have to take place in the existing structure? Which areas will need to shrink, which expand? Be brave in envisioning a new essay. For this process to work, the first paper should start to feel too small in some fundamental way, too limited. It is not a criticism of the existing essay to find the places where it doesn't go far enough but rather a necessity for letting the new essay develop.
  5. New structure: A new logic, new material, will demand a new structure. Don't fall into the trap of grafting new ideas onto an old framework; that seldom works unless you reconsider each element carefully: topic sentences, transitions, evidence, explanation.
  6. New conclusion: At the end of your essay, think of it as a draft of a larger work rather than as a completed entity. What, then, might be the contours of this next version? What ideas might lead you to another essay/chapter/article/publication? Every essay can develop further; you just choose when to stop.
  7. Include your original paper and a new cover letter with the new essay.

Essay Two: Close Reading

Due in Ses #15—5 pages

Select a brief passage from the reading (Melville's Typee) that seems to you to present interesting thematic, stylistic, or narrative problems. Does it show a significant conflict in the speaker's thoughts or feelings? Does the language exhibit tension, irony, an interesting shift in sentence structure or rhythm or imagery? Does this passage depart from or contradict views expressed elsewhere in the text? Examine specific details that reveal the problem you've detected. These form the basis of your "close reading." We will illustrate this idea of close reading with examples in class. You will write a paper that uses your analysis of the passage to point out the problems it seems to pose. You should explain why understanding these issues is important if a reader is going to understand or engage with the text. What do you think Melville's intentions or meaning might have been at this moment in the text? You may be tempted to venture some larger opinion about the book as a whole, but you would be wise to resist making vast generalizations in such a brief essay. You do not have to "cover" the novel: just address the interesting peculiarities of this particular bit of it.


To write concisely, to the purpose, and in an organized way about details in a literary text; to develop a literary analysis as a way of making an argument about the language an author uses (as distinct from theme); to reflect on problems rather than reaching for answers in making an argument.

Essay Three: Research Essay

Due in Ses #25—10 pages

This longer essay will draw on the writing skills practiced in the earlier assignments and the research skills developed in the library research workshop on Ses #14 and your in-class presentation. You will need to meet with an instructor in the week of Ses #21 to develop your topic, based on the readings in Kafka and Shakespeare, and your research goals. In the Psychology and Literature class, your task is to come up with a topic that has some psychological content. We will be happy to help. At your conference you will present your topic, a summary of your research to date, and your bibliography. Your bibliography must contain at least two sources beyond the Kafka and/or Shakespeare that you are writing about. Your essay will then present your findings in a clear, organized way, making connections between your research materials and details in the text(s) under consideration. How does the psychological material inform or alter your understanding of the literary text? You do not need to agree with your psychological source. For example, it would be perfectly acceptable to write a research paper that asserts that so-and-so's Freudian interpretation of Twelfth Night was unconvincing. Just be sure that you make that point convincingly.


To frame and develop a valuable research question (i.e. an idea that requires and structures your research and essay in interesting and manageable ways); to achieve a good balance between research materials, interpretation of texts, and your own ideas and argument in the essay; to make sense of a problem in the reading by turning to sources outside the class readings; to document those sources correctly and use them legitimately; to organize and write with care, addressing details in the texts.

A Bibliographic Note

There are many ways to cite your sources and these differ across disciplines. We will use MLA style: brief in-text citations, with a list of Works Cited at the end of the essay. For help using MLA style, see The Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Scientific Writing (written by members of MIT's Writing Program). Or try the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL).

In-Class Report

You will work with another student to present, in 10 minutes, information about the author or reading for the given day (please see readings). This report should include a paper handout, with a bibliography of print and digital sources for facts and ideas, using correct MLA Citation Form; you should also include discussion questions. You will be graded on the content and delivery, as well as your ability to inspire discussion, but you are not required to lead the discussion after your presentation.