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Sheena L.
Graduate Teaching Assistant at Stanford University
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Writing
TutorMe
Question:

Briefly explain the structure of a five-paragraph essay. What are its strengths and weaknesses?

Sheena L.
Answer:

In a five-paragraph essay, the introductory paragraph should set forth the thesis claim of the essay. The next three paragraphs should each contain one argument in support of the thesis, with supporting evidence. The strongest argument should be placed first. Often, each of these paragraphs begins with a topic sentence. Finally, the concluding paragraph should sum up and restate the argument, while also containing a personal opinion, an explanation of the importance of the argument, and/or a further question raised by the conclusion. Learning to write a five-paragraph essay teaches the student to be able to clearly identify his/her thesis claim and be able to list the evidence that s/he has marshaled in support of this claim. This is a skill that remains useful throughout one's academic career, including at the graduate level, and also promotes critical thinking skills that transfer into everyday life. On the other hand, the format of the essay, limited to five paragraphs, does not allow the writer room to explore a complex argument with many strands and more than three paragraphs' worth of evidence. Furthermore, some teachers dislike the five-paragraph essay because they consider it formulaic, or believe that it leads to reductive thinking. However, the five-paragraph essay is an important form to master before moving on to longer essays or ones organized in a different manner. To learn the form of the five-paragraph essay is to prove that one has the ability to logically organize one's thoughts and distinguish thesis, evidence, and conclusions.

Literature
TutorMe
Question:

Compare and contrast Wollstonecraft's "Vindication of the Rights of Woman" and Austen's "Pride and Prejudice."

Sheena L.
Answer:

On the surface, these two works, written two decades apart (1792 and 1813, respectively), are poles apart. Wollstonecraft's work is a philosophical treatise aimed to spur reform and much debated among men; Austen's a novel, in a time when novels were considered light and primarily feminine reading. Wollstonecraft's treatise was met with much harsh criticism upon its publication, while Austen's was favorably reviewed. But digging a bit deeper, we can see that both authors held similar views about women. Wollstonecraft argued that a woman should be educated and well-read, so that she can behave morally, act sensibly, and be a good companion for her husband and mother to her children. Austen implicitly embraces all of these values in her novel. Her heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, loves to read, and the hero, Mr. Darcy, states his opinion that an admirable woman is one who "improve(s) her mind with extensive reading." While Austen does not support all of Darcy's opinions, she clearly agrees with this one. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy meet as mental equals who respect each other, a condition that Wollstonecraft argues is important for a successful marriage. Just as Wollstonecraft laments that women are expected to be frivolous, resulting in unequal marriages, Austen pokes fun at Mrs. Bennet, who is not the mental equal of her husband nor a good role model for her daughters. Why were these two works received so differently upon publication? The fact that Austen's novel appeared twenty years later is not a sufficient explanation; social mores and expectations of women in Britain changed little from Wollstonecraft's time to Austen's. It is more likely that Austen's novel was uncontroversial because of its genre; as a novel, designed for leisure reading, with a cast of genteel characters, it flew under the radar, so to speak. Yet its lessons were internalized by generations of readers. Fiction has the power to reach audiences that are untouched by or hostile to messages conveyed by other mediums.

World History
TutorMe
Question:

In your opinion, how might the history of Russia been different if Alexander II had never been assassinated in 1881?

Sheena L.
Answer:

Alexander II was a liberalizing tsar, under whose watch serfdom had been abolished in 1861. On the very day he was assassinated by anarchists, he had just signed a legislative reform, the Loris-Melikov Constitution, which would have paved the way for a type of representative democracy - a giant step forward for the Russian people. Unfortunately, after his assassination in 1881, his son Alexander III rejected the Loris-Melikov Constitution. Alexander III and his successor Nicholas II saw the assassination as proof that the tsar needed to exercise firmer control and stamp out dissent. Nicholas II's reactionary policies helped turn the Russian people against their conservative government, resulting in growing support for both reformers and revolutionaries. In my opinion, had Alexander II not been assassinated in 1881, Russia might have continued to take steps toward becoming a liberal constitutional monarchy on the Western European model. In this scenario, the revolutionaries, especially the extremist Bolsheviks, might never have gained enough traction to seize power. In this case, there might have been no Lenin, no Stalin. And, I would like to point out, the ripple effect would have been felt across the world; without Stalin there might have been no Mao, so that not only Russia but also Asia would be very different places today.

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