I have to write a standard 5 paragraph essay, but I don’t really understand what that means. I know what I want to write about and what I want to say, but I’m unclear on the format for this kind of essay. Can you help me with this?
Absolutely! This is such an important skill to have, so good job getting some help to understand it. To start, I’m going to explain as simply and briefly as I can the structure of a five paragraph essay. After that, we can discuss it more deeply and you can ask any questions that come up so we can really nail down how to do this. Sound good? Great. The most basic structure is this: Paragraph 1: Introduction with Thesis Statement Paragraph 2: First Body Paragraph with Topic Sentence Paragraph 3: Second Body Paragraph with Topic Sentence Paragraph 4: Third Body Paragraph with Topic Sentence Paragraph 5: Conclusion [Open for questions and clarifications to begin the discussion] The first paragraph serves two important purposes: one, to give context and background about your topic, and two, to state your thesis. A thesis statement is simply a clear, one-sentence statement of the argument/point/position/view that the rest of the essay will set out to prove. The thesis statement should very clearly lay out your position. I often like to include in my thesis statement a brief mention of each of the three supporting points that I then expand upon in the body paragraphs. The body paragraphs are the “meat” of your essay. For each paragraph, you need a sentence (usually the first sentence of the paragraph) that states your topic and how it helps to back up the larger argument you make in the thesis statement. The rest of the paragraph is where you expand on this topic and tie it directly to the larger topic and thesis. The conclusion is often the hardest to write. What you want to achieve with this paragraph are two things: 1) summarize the points you’ve made in your body paragraphs and remind the reader of your thesis (in slightly different words than you used in the introduction) and 2) make a larger connection to the reader or society at large. Basically, give the reader an idea of why the argument you’ve just made matters and what it means in a larger context. [Open for more questions, clarification, and discussion] Lastly, I like to use the classic (if somewhat oversimplified] version of what I’ve already said. It goes something like this: Paragraph 1: Tell them what you’re about to tell them. Paragraphs 2-4: Tell them. Paragraph 5: Tell them what you’ve told them and why you’ve told them. I hope this helps!
What was the Dred Scott case about, and why is it important?
The Dred Scott case (specifically, Dred Scott v. Sandford) was an 1857 Supreme Court case, in which a slave, Dred Scott, sued for his freedom from his owners. His claim was that he should be considered legally free because his owner had taken him into free territory (states that outlawed slavery). What do you think about this argument? Why would Scott think that he should be free after setting foot in free territory? Exactly! His argument was that, since slavery was illegal in the jurisdiction that his owner brought him to in the North, that he was technically not a slave when he was there. There was a concept at the time known as “once free, always free” which said that if a slave was freed, he or she could not become enslaved again later. According to these premises, Scott argued, he ought to be considered free. However, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roger Taney ruled against Scott in what has become known as one of the most infamous decisions the court has ever made, on the grounds that, as a slave, Scott could not ever be an American citizen. And since slaves aren’t legally citizens, they have no right to bring lawsuits. The infamous quote from the Chief Justice is: “[Blacks are] considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been subjugated by the dominant race...and have no rights which the white man is bound to respect.” Considering this, and the fact that this case was decided only a few years before the outbreak of the Civil War, why do you think this ruling was so significant? What did it mean for the Supreme Court to decide that, even though slavery was outlawed in many states, individuals remained slaves if they were in that territory? What effect does this have on the laws of the free states?
Student: “I’m supposed to write a paper on a major theme in Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible,’ but I don’t fully understand what ‘theme’ means. So, what is ‘theme,’ and how do I find it in a text?”
Great questions! Theme is one of the more difficult and misunderstood concepts in literature, so you’re not alone in being a bit confused. One reason it’s difficult to grasp is that it is such a big, abstract concept. Really, that’s exactly what a theme in a piece of literature is: a big, abstract concept that runs throughout the whole work. In literature, themes are usually a kind of view or perspective on big topics. So, if you consider a big topic like, for instance, “love,” a literary theme would present some kind of perspective or view on the topic of love. Some examples might be: “forbidden love”, “dangers of love”, “unrequited (one-way) love”, or “love’s ability to cross borders or differences.” What’s important when trying to pick out a theme in a literary work is to pay attention to the big idea or ideas that the WHOLE text seems to be driving at; so, you wouldn’t choose as a theme something that is only a minor issue in the work. The focus should be on what the work as a whole presents as its main interest. Does that make sense, or should I try a different approach to explain it (don’t feel bad if you’re still confused; this is complicated stuff!)? ... Now, since you’ve obviously gotten the idea of ‘theme’ down so well, let’s move on to talking a bit about The Crucible itself (we can talk more about how to analyze and write about themes for your paper once we’ve had a chance to think about what’s going on in The Crucible). To start, let me ask you a tough question: now that you’ve read the play and have a strong understanding of what theme in literature is, what are the first few things that come to mind when you think about the play? What are some of the ideas, conflicts, and questions that seem to keep coming up throughout? Don’t try too hard to come up with a specific theme just yet; instead, just try and pull out some of those big topics. We’ll use those to investigate whether or not one of them might be the basis for a theme. Take your time; this is the hard part, but it’s also the part where you get to really use your critical thinking skills to dig deep and get something out of the text—this, believe it or not, is what makes literature enjoyable and rewarding! [Possible answers from student: fear, religion, witchcraft, trials, lying, etc.] Outstanding! I had a lot of those in mind too. Your list is an excellent starting point to begin to search for a theme. Let me ask you this: is there one topic in particular that stands out to you as the most important or, even better, as the most interesting? Or, do you maybe see any connections between any of the topics you mentioned? [At this point, I would mostly let the student take over the conversation, allowing her to draw connections and conclusions about the text and these broad topics. I would take on the role of facilitator, asking guiding questions to help the student probe deeper into her own ideas, clarifying and synthesizing them into a more specific statement about theme in the text.]