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ENG 111 & 112 Assignment Playbook

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Assignment: Research Paper

For this assignment, you will write an essay that is part compare/contrast and part argument. You will compare/contrast two plays:  A Raisin in the Sun (library call number PS3515.A515 R3 1995) and The Glass Menagerie (library call number PS3545.I5365 G5 1999), and you will also make an argument about the plays, choosing a literary or non-literary focus. Part of your argument will entail considering what makes a "good" or "bad" mother, father, or sibling.

This is a time-consuming, labor-intensive assignment.  You would be wise to start working on it early. 

Step 1: Learn about the author(s)

The first step towards being able to succeed at this assignment is to learn about the authors.  Why?

  • Authors' works are greatly influenced by their lives and their environment; learning about these will increase your understanding of their works.
  • Books and articles about the authors often discuss themes and symbols used in their work. This will increase your understanding of their work and make it easier to know what to compare/contrast.
  • Books and articles about the authors usually include information about the environment they lived in. This will increase your understanding of their work and any characters or situations depicted in the works.

Begin by looking for author information in the Gale Virtual Reference Library, or by running a subject search on the library catalog, using the author's name.  You can also start with the sources below, both of which combine biographical information with critical analysis:

Lorraine Hansberry

Hansberry, Lorraine, 1930-1965, from American Writers: A Collection of Literary Biographies

Tennessee Williams

Williams, Tennessee 1911-1983, from American Writers: A Collection of Literary Biographies

Step 2: Learn about the work(s)

A. Read the play(s)

Read the plays more than once to become familiar with the plot, characters, themes, symbols, historical background, etc.

The Glass Menagerie

  • PS3545.I5365 G5 2011
  • PS3545.I5365 G5 1999

A Raisin in the Sun

  • PS3515.A515 R3 1995
  • PS3515.A515 A6 1995b

B. Watch the plays on DVD

A Raisin in the Sun

  • DVD #1753
  • DVD #1217

The glass menagerie

  • DVD #1625

C. Read criticism and analysis of the play(s)

The Glass Menagerie

A Raisin in the Sun

Step 3: Choose your focus

Decide whether you're going to examine the play from a literary point of view (for example, focusing on imagery, symbols, characters, use of language, etc.) or if you're going to examine it in terms of universal themes (such as depression, family dynamics, gender and racial stereotypes, fantasy as a coping mechanism, etc.).  Your decision will guide what databases you will use to find additional sources, and what terms you will enter into them.

Here are some questions to get you thinking about the play(s):

The Glass Menagerie

  • What does the glass menagerie represent? Does it symbolize the same thing all throughout the play, or does its meaning change?
  • Who is the main character in the play?
  • Is there an antagonist in this play?
  • Are there similarities between Tom Wingfield and his father?
  • Why does Tom go to the movies so frequently?
  • Why does Laura give the unicorn to Jim?
  • How does memory affect emotions?
  • How did the Great Depression affect families?

Raisin in the Sun

  • Is there a relationship between the themes of the play and the poem by Langston Hughes? Why do you think Hansberry chose this poem?
  • Is Beneatha different from the rest of the family, and if so, how?
  • What are the problems faced by Ruth and Walter in their marriage?
  • Why is Mama's plant so important to her?  What does the plant represent?
  • What are the dreams of the main characters and how are they deferred?
  • What is the role of money in the play, and how does it affect each character?
  • Did the Jim Crow laws affect the lives of the Younger family?

Glass Menagerie vs. Raisin in the Sun

  • Who's the better mother, Amanda or Mama?
  • Who's a better person, Walter Lee Younger or Tom Wingfield?
  • Who is more ambitious, Beneatha Younger or Laura Wingfield?

Comparing characters from the two plays

To compare characters to find out who you think is "better," you should to do the following:

  • Read the two plays closely.
  • Choose the characters you will compare.
  • Highlight the scenes and what they say.
  •  Decide who you think is the better character, why you think so, and how you can back this up using the plays, your own ideas, and outside sources. Remember that  "good" and "bad" are vague, relative terms, and that you may have to prove your arguments indirectly (This means you will not find a reliable, academic source that lists the characteristics of a good vs. a bad parent, for example -- you will have to look at many sources and piece together bits of information from them).
  • Read literature review sources that describe and analyze these characters, and use these sources as your evidence.
  • Read the book The Family in Twentieth Century Drama
Examples of Subject Search Terms:

Some terms for personality traits: integrity, virtue, reliability/unreliability, ethical behavior/unethical behavior, honesty/dishonesty, truthfulness/falsehood, humility, selfishness/selflessness, thoughtfulness/thoughtlessness, loyalty

Some terms to use with database or book catalog searches: fatherhood, motherhood, parenthood, parenting, good mothering/fathering/parenting, good mother/father stereotype, family loyalty, family responsibility, personal obligation, American family, family dynamics, family relationships, dysfunctional families, gender roles

Tip: When running book catalog searches, run a subject search.

Step 4: Find additional sources

Find additional sources by searching the databases listed below. Before you do, think of appropriate terms to search with. For example:

  • Hansberry AND gender roles
  • African Americans AND stereotypes
  • glass menagerie AND escape
  • glass menagerie AND nonrealism
  • motherhood AND The Glass Menagerie

Step 5: Write and cite

When writing an essay or paper, you are creating new information.  Do not just repeat what others say; you are the central voice in the research, and the others are there as your supporting cast. Interweave their information with your own, and use what they have to say like you would use a spice: sparingly.   When incorporating your sources into your essay, remember to

  • Use quotes sparingly; paraphrase instead  (unless you are quoting directly from the plays. If this is the case, use the exact wording and quotation marks)
  • Use signal phrases to introduce the ideas of others
  • Make sure quotes don't stand alone; they should be integrated into your sentences

Use the library's MLA citation playbook to construct your cites.  Do not trust citation generators, even if they are part of a database; they often make mistakes. Learning how to cite from scratch will save you a lot of time in the long run.

Note: you will need copyright and publishing information for your cite -- if your copies of the plays lack this information, please contact your instructor.


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