Essay 1: Exploring Concepts of Childhood in Golden Age Literature
Purpose: This assignment gives you the opportunity to produce an essay that provides a formal literary analysis of the novel A Little Princess (1905) by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This assignment is intended to help you engage a topic of interest in greater depth and helps sharpen your ability to think and write critically about A Little Princess, the Golden Age of children’s literature, and about children’s literature more broadly. The skills you exercise in writing this essay (close reading of primary texts, historical and cultural analysis, and producing scholarly prose) are essential in the field of literary study, as well as in other professional and public arenas. You are welcome to consult with me about any aspect of the assignment, at any stage.
Length: 1,250+ words (~4-5 pages typed); 12-point font; 1” margins all around; double-spaced; MLA or APA format for in-text citations and a works cited page
Drafting: Drafting is strongly recommended. I will give feedback on drafts in office hours or by email. Here’s a how-to guide:
o Don’t send entire paper drafts as email attachments;
o Copy and paste the part of the essay you want me to review into the body of an e-mail message;
o Send no more than about 1 page of your paper at a time;
o Consider what revisions your paper might need and include a specific request about the type of feedback you want;
o After I return comments on one part of the paper, you are welcome to resend that portion after it is revised, or to send another 1-page section of the paper;
o I will usually reply to emailed requests for help up until the day before the paper is due.
o Your paper should begin with a brief introduction and thesis statement in which you state the argument your paper will make and it should end with a brief conclusion
o You should include a works cited page in MLA or APA format listing the novel and any other sources you consult;
o You are required to use paraphrase and brief direct citations from the text/s, and they should be like this: “References to quoted lines from texts with page numbers, like Reading Children’s Literature, should be indicated in parentheses and cited like this” (Hintz and Tribunella 5); if there are no page numbers in your edition of the novel, provide the author’s name and the chapter number in parenthesis after a quote or paraphrase as shown here: (Burnett Ch. 6).
o Your body paragraphs should contain analysis that is specific and focused on the parts of the novel or course concepts you are discussing in that paragraph;
o You should assume that your reader has read, but is not an expert on, the assigned text;
o Your role as writer is to persuade the audience that you have read the novel/s and other texts carefully and that your own analysis of the subject is credible;
o You are to be the sole author of this assignment; you may use outside sources as long as you cite them (that is a key aspect of being a persuasive writer!);
o Your analysis should be drawn primarily from Dr. O’s lecture slides, the assigned texts, and any related course material;
o I have posted a detailed guide for how to write a literary analysis essay in Bb under the Weekly Work for Week 2
o See me with any questions!
Grading: Please consult the “Essay 1 Grading Rubric” posted to Blackboard for detailed information about how your paper will be evaluated.
Select one (1) of the topics below. The topics are intended to spur your own thinking; they are not intended as a kind of checklist where you write out your responses to each item and call it an essay. Instead, you are encouraged to think about and respond to these questions as a way to develop your own ideas about the text, and then you organize those ideas into a coherent argument of your own. For help with essay development, see the detailed guide for writing a literary analysis essay. It is posted to Bb under the Weekly Work for Week 2.
1) Becky, the abused scullery maid in A Little Princess, is greatly impacted by her
relationship with Sara. Though these two characters are both white and English, their socioeconomic backgrounds are very different, as are their eventual outcomes. Write an essay in which you examine how Becky’s character transforms over the course of the entire novel and evaluate her transformation. Though Becky appears to undergo many significant changes through her bond with Sara, it is possible to argue that her transformation is limited in certain significant ways due to her social station. What role does Sara play in Becky’s transformation? Is it entirely positive, negative, or is there a more subtle mix of impacts? In thinking about Becky’s character, you should pay close attention to how the narrator describes Becky and how other characters talk to her and about her, as well as to the language that Becky herself uses throughout the novel to describe her situation, her needs, her desires, etc. It is also essential to consider how Becky “ends up” at the close of the narrative. Is she better off, and in what way/s? How does that compare to Sara’s ending? How does the novel’s depiction of the relationship between Sara and Becky give greater insight into the structure of Victorian society and the values and behaviors it promoted?
2) Sara can be characterized as a “romantic child,” defined by Hintz and Tribunella as a
child who is “somehow purer and more virtuous than adults, closer to nature and God, and beautified by their naivete” (Reading Children’s Literature 17). However, Sara can also be characterized as a child who is a “miniature adult,” taking on roles and responsibilities typically associated with grown women, not young girls, even from the novel’s earliest pages (Reading Children’s Literature 26). Looking at the entirety of Sara’s story, including the way her story ends, write an essay that explores her relationship to these contrasting conceptions of childhood. Which of these models is most dominant in Sara’s character? Does she find a balance between the two types, or does one type win out over the other? What insights about childhood in Victorian England do you gain from considering these questions? What insights about gender roles in Victorian England do you gain from considering these questions? Another option for this topic would be to argue that Sara fulfills one of the other “types” of child defined by Hintz and Tribunella better than these two. Or, you might pursue an argument that Sara combines several models of childhood to create an idealized character who exemplifies how a young Victorian woman should think, act, and speak.
3) The male characters in A Little Princess play an important role in Sara’s development as a
character. Sara’s father shows her great love, affection, and indulgence until his death; Ram Dass shows her great compassion at her lowest points; Mister Carmichael shows great dedication in finding her; and Mister Carrisford shows her great charity and love once she is discovered. Focusing on one or two of these key male characters, write an essay in which you analyze the man’s (or men’s) specific social role, the assets of each man, and his shortcomings or limitations. How do these factors impact Sara as a young girl and young woman in Victorian society, either positively, negatively, or both? You are expected to consider the man’s socioeconomic position and profession, his race, culture, and language, his wealth (or lack of it), his social and legal power, his desires and fears, and his eventual fate—how does this man (or men) “end up” at the close of the narrative? Does this novel present a man character who is the ideal of Victorian masculinity? If so, which man or men embodies this ideal, and why is that significant? Is there an implied critique of masculinity in this novel, or is there a targeted critique of only certain aspects of masculinity, or of certain male characters? What insights about gender roles and masculinity in Victorian England do you gain from considering these questions?
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