Writing Prompts

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Modeling the Writing Process for a Literary Analysis: An Example

In my experience as a teacher, one of the more difficult writing assignments that we attempt to teach is the literary analysis. While some would say that having students write literary analyses can squash the joy out of writing, others would claim that it is an essential part of an English literature curriculum. While I don’t want to get into this argument here, I would like to address the two elements that can  make a literary analysis more enticing for students: choice and accessibility.

Many times we feel that a more focused literary analysis prompt will allow students to write a more focused essay. But many times this just makes it more difficult for them. Not to mention, what if the student really wants to discuss something about the reading they find interesting that has nothing to do with the literary element you’ve chosen and how it contributes to the theme you deem most relevant? The other issue that students have is accessibility. Many times the assignment is too difficult for the student who doesn’t really understand the text or the prompt. Therefore, try giving the students more choice in what they write about and in the text that they analyze. Following is an example of a prompt I would give my students that was the culmination of an author study:

Interpretive Essay

Your next major essay is going to be an interpretive analysis over one of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories. You must keep all prewriting work and drafts with my revisions.

The Assignment

Choose from the following six Hemingway short stories listed below, and in a well-written essay, interpret a scene or a specific aspect of the story, or stories, and its contribution to a greater meaning, message, or understanding. Be sure to use evidence from the story or stories to support your claims.

“The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber”
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
“Hills Like White Elephants”
“A Day’s Wait”
“The Killers”
“The Faithful Bull”

Contrast the above assignment with this more common literary analysis prompt (which also aligns with the essay I want to write):

In a well-written essay, analyze how the setting contributes to the theme of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” Be sure to use evidence from the story to support your claims.

Once you’ve decided on the prompt, now you need to plan. But before you start planning, you need to write the essay. One thing I’m always telling the students in my methods class: “Don’t ask your students to do what you haven’t already done.” This advice serves two purposes: (a) As you plan, you’ll have a better understanding of the obstacles your students might face, which also affords you more credibility when working with them (Yep, I found this to be difficult too because…); and (b) You now have a mentor text for your students that directly addresses the assignment.

I always write the essays that I assign to my students, and when I do I save all my prewriting so that I can show my students the steps I take in my own writing process. For the above prompt, I’m going to share the model I wrote. For this assignment, however, I attempted to capture my thinking process and prewriting in organized graphics and outlines. Please know that I did not require my students to follow the steps that I did. Instead, I simply wanted to break down my thinking when writing a literary analysis, since it is the analytical thinking that is just as difficult as the writing itself. What follows is my attempt at organizing my own thinking in way that also helps guide the students, and the essay at the end is the end product of this process. I first try to explain the step I took and then I give my example. (Again, I emphasize that this was my process, and that there are many ways to go about this essay. This is simply to allow my students to see my own thinking process when writing a literary analysis.)

What are the steps I took in the process?

  1. First I though about what I wanted to interpret or analyze. Following are some of the ideas I brainstormed (hint: many of these came from my dialectical journal entries):
    • How do we see Hemingway’s life represented in the stories?
    • How does Hemingway characterize women and why?
    • The development of a common theme throughout his works.
    • Take a literary element and discuss how Hemingway utilizes it to convey the theme.
    • Discuss Hemingway’s unique style and why you think he wrote it like that.
    • Take a scene from one of the stories that you think is ambiguous and explain its meaning.
  1. After deciding on interpreting the impact of setting in“The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” I listed what the setting offers the story. Does it give the characters an opportunity to reveal something about themselves? Does it give Hemingway the chance to write about something in a specific way? Does it play a part in creating conflict? There are plenty of questions to ask yourself here, so don’t get carried away. I just wanted to look at the role setting plays in the overall story, and list what I felt are the most important.

Example: Interpreting the impact of setting in “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber”

The setting offers:

  • A different environment than the one Macomber is used to. He is used to being successful, and respected. However, in Africa, Macomber is no better than anyone else.
  • It adds to the conflict, showing that survival is part of Africa, more so than in the US. Wilson’s respect for the environment, along with the courage of the animals and their will to survive give the conflict a heightened sense of reality, instead of something more superficial, like in the US.
  • It allows the personalities of the characters to become more evident. Margaret has even less attraction to her husband because of the new environment, giving her more reason to cheat on her husband, and Macomber’s insecurities are glaring since he is no longer in a place where he is the best.
  1. I found quotes to support these aspects.
  1. Next I made connections between what I plan on interpreting or analyzing in the story and the greater meaning (theme) as I understand it. Ultimately, if what you are discussing offers something to the story, then it can easily be connected to a greater meaning or understanding (theme). However, what can make this difficult is that sometimes what you are interpreting will play a smaller role in some perspectives than it would in others. Many times you might need to look at other elements in order to show how your interpretation of an element contributes to a greater meaning (theme). For example, setting might play a big role in the character development or the conflict, and together they make a strong contribution to theme. Therefore, you’ll need to address these other literary elements in your essay.

 

Example using “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

 

What does Setting Offer? A different environment from the one Macomber is used to. He is used to being successful, and respected. However, in Africa, Macomber is no better than anyone else. Greater meaning (theme) Facing your fears can give you a renewed life.

 

Connection Africa strips Macomber of his wealth and superiority. Thanks to the setting, he is considered an equal, adding to the lack of control he has over his surroundings. This is seen mostly in the development of his character, and offers an opportunity for Francis to show bravery and fear. It also adds to the reality of survival, leaving Macomber with escaping death as his only reward, proving to him that life is not about the riches he has come to cherish in the US.

 

  1. Then I organized my interpretation through the elements and connections I made in the preceding steps.

Example using “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

According to the connection above, the development of Macomber is an important part of how setting contributes to theme. Therefore, I must organize the development of Macomber and how the setting plays a part in this development, which ultimately creates theme:

  • Compare and Contrast the US and Africa, and how these differences play a part in Francis finding a new wealth.
  • Describe Macomber’s personality and character traits. How would these traits work in Africa?
  • Describe how the elements of Africa bring about fear in Macomber, showing he is not the man he is in the US.
  • Describe the change in Macomber, and his newfound wealth.
  1. Then I organized my claims and evidence to show the development of my essay. By doing this on paper, it will allow you to show me or your workshop group how you plan to develop your essay before you start drafting.

Example Using an Outline Format

  • In “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” Hemingway utilizes the setting of Africa to exploit the character flaws of Francis, giving the main character an opportunity to face his fears and find a renewed life.
  • Hemingway sets up the change in the environment for Macomber that will eventually lead to his life changing experience.
    • Wilson and Macomber talking about punishing the help by whipping them: “’Do you still have them whipped?’ ‘Oh, yes. They could raise a row if they chose to complain. But they don’t. They prefer it to the fines.’ ‘How strange!’ said Macomber. ‘Not strange, really,’ said Wilson. ‘Which would you rather do? Take a good birching or lose your pay?’ Then he felt emabarassed for asking it…” (Hemingway 124).
      • This conversation shows the priorities that exist in Africa and the US. The fact that Macomber would rather pay the fines than take physical punishment shows that money is something that protects him in America, and keeps him from being harmed. This also indicates that Macomber has probably never been in a situation where he is physically threatened, since he is able to hide behind his wealth.
      • The fact that the waiter is willing to take a beating over a fine shows that pain and physical threat are a part of life in Africa, and evidently a preferred method of punishment over monetary loss.
  • In the US, Macomber is obviously successful, and probably respected considering his success stems from wealth.
    • “Francis Macomber…was considered handsome. He was dressed in the same sort of safari clothes that Wilson wore except that his were new, he was thirty-five years old, kept himself very fit, was good at court games, had a number of big-game fishing records…” (Hemingway 123).
      • Wealth is shown in his ability to go on such extravagant adventures, as well as his ability to become good at court-games
      • He also has self-esteem and Hemingway shows the reader this confidence by telling the reader that Macomber “stays fit.”
      • New safari clothes shows wealth as well.
  • However, these traits that make Macomber successful in America are not the traits that will make him successful in Africa.
    • The first night in Africa and hearing the lion, Macomber says “I’m nervous from hearing him roar all night” (Hemingway 131).
      • Just being in Africa changes the attitude of Macomber. He feels nervous, showing Macomber’s confidence in Africa is not what it is in America.
    • After wounding the lion, Macomber is scared to go in and end the lion’s suffering, and Wilson “suddenly felt as though he had opened the wrong door in a hotel and seen something shameful” (Hemingway 135).
      • Macomber’s fear is what’s “shameful.”
      • Macomber came to Africa to hunt lion’s, and now he is asking to stop the hunt before it is finished because he is scared to finish the job.
      • For Wilson, not finishing the job is disrespectful to the animal and therefore shameful.
    • “The next thing he knew he was running; running wildly, in panic in the open running toward the stream” (Hemingway 137).
      • Scene of Francis running away from the charging lion when he was supposed to stand firm and finish the lion off.
      • Macomber’s actions show his fear.
  • But it seems that facing the fear, the humility, the embarrassment gives Macomber a newfound wealth.
    • When hunting buffalo, Wilson comments on this change, claiming, “he had seen men come of age before and it always moved him. It was not a matter of their twenty-first birthday” (Hemingway 150).
      • Referring to the change in Macomber due to experience, not age.
      • The fact that it “moved him” shows that this type of change was not something he saw very often, and it was significant.
    • Before going into the tall grass to get the buffalo, Macomber turns to Wilson, “’Do you have that feeling of happiness about what’s going to happen?’ Macomber asked, still exploring his new wealth” (Hemingway 151).
      • The “new wealth” is the feeling of happiness that Macomber is experiencing, this newfound bravery from facing his fears and feeling the humility that comes with the exploitation of his fear.
  • Conclusion:
    • The characteristics of Francis Macomber are exploited by the setting of Africa.
    • By taking Macomber out of the environment that makes him successful and placing him in an environment that does not cater to those same traits, Hemingway is able to exploit Macomber’s flaws.
    • Exploitation of fear, giving the resolution a more emotional impact of sympathy for Macomber.

7. Then I write the essay.

 

Literary Analysis
“The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber”
Ernest Hemingway

     In one of Ernest Hemingway’s greatest short stories, Americans, Francis Macomber and his model wife, go on a safari hunt in Africa. However, on one of Macomber’s first hunts, he proves to be a coward. Later on during the safari, Macomber is given an opportunity to redeem himself, and in doing so, finds a newfound wealth that gives him a self-confidence he has never felt before. In “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” Hemingway utilizes the setting of Africa to exploit the character flaws of Francis, giving the main character an opportunity to face his fears and find a renewed life.

To better understand the change in Macomber, it is important to have an idea of the type of person Macomber is. In the US, Macomber is obviously successful, and most likely respected considering his success stems from wealth. Hemingway describes Macomber as being “considered handsome. He was dressed in the same sort of safari clothes that Wilson wore except that his were new, he was thirty-five years old, kept himself very fit, was good at court games, had a number of big-game fishing records…” (Hemingway 123). Here, Hemingway reveals wealth through Macomber’s ability to go on such extravagant adventures, as well as his ability to become good at court-games. The description of “new” safari clothes gives Macomber a lack of ruggedness that is needed in the wild. The reader also gets a sense that Macomber has self-esteem, and Hemingway shows this confidence by telling the reader that Macomber “stays fit.”

However, these traits in America are almost nonexistent in Africa. Hemingway makes this clear by showing the distinct contrast in the African way of life, which will eventually lead to Macomber’s life changing experience. When Wilson and Macomber are talking about punishing the help by whipping them, Macomber asks, “’Do you still have them whipped?’ ‘Oh, yes. They could raise a row if they chose to complain. But they don’t. They prefer it to the fines.’ ‘How strange!’ said Macomber. ‘Not strange, really,’ said Wilson. ‘Which would you rather do? Take a good birching or lose your pay?’ Then he felt emabarassed for asking it…” (Hemingway 124). This conversation shows the priorities that exist in Africa and the US. The fact that Macomber would rather pay the fines than take physical punishment shows that money is something that protects him in America, and keeps him from being harmed. This also indicates that Macomber has probably never been in a situation where he is physically threatened, since he is able to hide behind his wealth. The fact that the waiter is willing to take a beating over a fine shows that pain and physical threat are a part of life in Africa, and evidently a preferred method of punishment over monetary loss.

Moreover, these traits and ideals about wealth that make Macomber successful in America will only prove to make him a coward in Africa. The first night in Africa, after hearing the lion, Macomber says, “I’m nervous from hearing him roar all night” (Hemingway 131). Just being in Africa changes the attitude of Macomber. He feels nervous, showing Macomber’s confidence in Africa is not what it is in America. Later, during the hunt, Macomber wounds the lion, but becomes scared to go in and end the lion’s suffering. Wilson, the hunting guide, sees this fear in Macomber and “suddenly felt as though he had opened the wrong door in a hotel and seen something shameful” (Hemingway 135). Macomber’s fear is what’s “shameful.” Macomber came to Africa to hunt lions, and now he is asking to stop the hunt before it is finished because he is scared to finish the job. For Wilson, not finishing the job is disrespectful to the animal and therefore shameful. Then, after Macomber realizes he must finish the job, he goes in to kill the wounded lion. However, “the next thing he knew he was running; running wildly, in panic in the open running toward the stream” (Hemingway 137). Hemingway describes the scene of Francis running away from the charging lion with an exasperated tone, as if in disbelief. Here, Macomber is supposed to stand firm and finish the lion off, yet his fear gets the best of him, and he “panics.”

But maybe staring these fears down that do not exist in America will prove to make Macomber a better man, because it seems that facing the fear, the humility, the embarrassment gives Macomber a newfound wealth. The day after the cowardice act with the lion, Macomber hunts buffalo and finds himself in the same predicament. Only this time, Macomber shows a bravery that had not been seen by Wilson before. While in the midst of hunting buffalo, Wilson comments on this change, claiming, “he had seen men come of age before and it always moved him. It was not a matter of their twenty-first birthday” (Hemingway 150). Here, Wilson is referring to the change in Macomber due to experience, not age. The fact that it “moved him” shows that this type of change was not something he saw very often, and it was significant. Before going into the tall grass to get the buffalo, Macomber turns to Wilson, “’Do you have that feeling of happiness about what’s going to happen?’ Macomber asked, still exploring his new wealth” (Hemingway 151). The “new wealth” is the feeling of happiness that Macomber is experiencing, this newfound bravery from facing his fears and feeling the humility that comes with the exploitation of his fear.

In the end, Macomber is killed by a shot to the back of the head, ending his newfound life. Leading up to this tragedy, however, Hemingway reveals the characteristics of Francis Macomber through the setting of Africa. By taking Macomber out of the environment that makes him successful and placing him in an environment that does not cater to those same traits, Hemingway is able to exploit Macomber’s flaws.

 

McConn