Objective: To closely read James and the Giant Peach, and to explore the text in an analytical way.
Introduction: There are many themes going on in this text below the surface of the plot. Through your reading journal and class discussion, you should have come to some conclusions about the roles of particular characters, setbacks, or even the songs in the book. Your goal is to focus on one of these, and explore it from varying perspectives.
Choosing a Topic: Remember that when you're analyzing a whole book, you want to find a dynamic idea that runs through it like a thread. When you make a list of possible topics, ask yourself if this is an obvious thread that lives on the surface (plot), or if there's something to say about it-if it's dynamic. For example, an overly obvious idea would be to try to analyze the supernatural things that happen in the book. This would just be a summary of an oversized peach, and oversized insects that talk. This isn't digging into your ideas at all. A better idea would be to explore the peach changes roles throughout the story.
Developing a Thesis: Just as your topic has to be something interesting and dynamic, so does your thesis. Remember, you're writing to an audience of intellectuals. While you're not using outside sources for this essay, you do need to support your views with evidence from the text. Your thesis should be one that is open, that leaves room for anomalies and alternative interpretations. This should be an idea that can be developed throughout your essay. An example of a not-so-great thesis would be:
As an orphan, James is a sympathetic character.
This thesis doesn't leave any room for movement. It is actually one piece of evidence to a larger claim-that James's character is sympathetic. Instead, try this more open thesis:
James plays a very sympathetic character from the start, but seems to gain his own self-esteem as he grows through the story.
This thesis leaves a lot of room for discovery of the progression of James's character.
Using Evidence to Support your Claims: Chapter two of Writing Analytically taught us to say ten different things about one particular example. You will want to substantiate your claim (thesis) with evidence from the text. That means to analyze it, quote it, and explain the movement of it. Make sure not to just depend on the text to explain what you're thinking about the text; you need to do that. For example,
We first feel bad for James after his parents die a most horrible death. "Poor James… was still very much alive, and all at once he found himself alone and frightened in a vast unfriendly world" (1). The "poor" starts the pity, and as the passage continues, we have a vivid picture of a pitiful dirty orphan with nothing to his name. At this point, James is nothing more than a picture; he hasn't spoken, and we have no other basis for his character other than this caricature, which is enforced and even felt by James as his aunts begin to abuse him.
One note: make sure the evidence you're giving from the text actually has something to do with the point you're trying to make, and isn't just repeating a summary you've just given.
Consider using part of your reading journal as a starting point. It's usually next to impossible to begin by writing a great thesis. Instead, have the general idea in mind, and begin writing about that topic with the evidence. Come back to the introduction later.
As you draft, don't worry about the organization. You can always fix that later. The important thing is to look at your work at the paragraph level: does this paragraph (or group of paragraphs) explore the implications, assumptions, and possibilities of this particular point? Is this fully developed? Is this point or idea directly opposed anywhere else in the book? How? This is your next paragraph.
It's always best to keep evidence with the claims it's trying to support. In other words, don't lay out a claim and say "I'll come back later to find the quote." The evidence, or quote, is intrinsically a part of the whole idea, and it will seem choppy to the reader if you don't tie them together with your own ideas.
Finally, remember your goal and your audience. As you move into revising your draft and developing your ideas more, remind yourself of your thesis and your goal of the essay.
Revising is re-visioning, or re-seeing your work. As you finish your first draft, give yourself a pat on the back, and then get back to work.
To help with organization, with a pair of scissors cut up your draft into each paragraph. Get a big enough space to lay them out, and then re-organize them in another way, reading the last sentence of a paragraph and the first sentence of another.
If the introduction and the conclusion are interchangeable, they're not doing their jobs. Look again: does the conclusion raise some issues that take us out of JGP? Does the introduction give us the context we need to understand what the rest of the essay will be about?
Re-read each paragraph (or set of paragraphs) on its own. Are you making a claim that moves on from the previous claim? Is it supported enough? Have you directly connected the evidence with the claim you are making? After re-reading and answering these questions, try to summarize each paragraph to yourself. If you can't, you need to look again at the way you are describing your claim.
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