Help with a "research paper"

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jewish_scientist
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Help with a "research paper"

Postby jewish_scientist » Thu Apr 28, 2016 4:21 pm UTC

The person my college hired to teach us about English composition has this project for our final. We had to read a book and then write a research paper about the 'Truth' of that book using >2 secondary sources. All works, regardless if they are fiction or non-fiction, are based on a fundamental concept at their core. That is the 'Truth' of the work. I decided to read Death of a Salesman, and I have no idea what the 'Truth' is. I really need the help so any advice anyone can give (besides reading another book) would be greatly appreciated.

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Re: Help with a "research paper"

Postby lorb » Thu Apr 28, 2016 5:21 pm UTC

Getting a student/annotated edition of the book will be very helpful. You have to use secondary sources anyway, so just do that :)
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Re: Help with a "research paper"

Postby Sableagle » Thu Apr 28, 2016 5:29 pm UTC

We read that one in school.

The central truth of English Literature classes is that they make reading, once a pleasure, into a chore that is somehow at once entirely dull and intensely irritating.

I had to read the SparkNotes version of that play just to remember what happens in it. Near the end it says someone says Willy had the wrong dreams, which is kind of what I was going to say: that letting other people define your dreams and aspirations will leave you unable to find your own happiness. Alternative phrasing: "THE American Dream ought to be just one of THREE HUNDRED MILLION American Dreams."
Oh, Willie McBride, it was all done in vain.

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Re: Help with a "research paper"

Postby AffinityDesigner » Tue May 10, 2016 8:16 am UTC

Not true that it kills the joy of reading. It helps you develop analytical skills, and when you can think analytically about a work, you can then think deeper about it and take more out of it. It gives more substance and weight to an experience and more understanding. Also, an annotation guide or notes on the book won't qualify as a secondary source, but can be helpful to use to understand the work a little better.

Death of a Salesman is one of those works that is a classic and a Pulitzer Prize winner for a reason, you just have to go deeper than what you see on the surface.

One thing you should always do when approaching a work is to consider what was going on in society at the time that the work was written, and consider what it might be critiquing. It was published and performed in the USA in 1949. So consider what was happening in the USA in 1949. The USA had gone through The Great Depression just before the second world war and at this point in a post-war reality, life in general and the economy was still getting back to normal. President Truman just proposed his Fair Deal initiative (one month before the play was published and performed). The Fair Deal initiative has a lot of ties to "The Pursuit of Happiness" or "The American Dream" and Death of a Salesman calls into question what that really means. You can read up a little on these socio-cultural issues and see how what was written in Death of a Salesman might correlate and perhaps it exposes about these ideals. What does it mean to be successful, what does it mean to be happy?

You can also consider how the ideal of the nuclear family has shifted post-war and how this play reflects that shift. This requires a little research into how the family has been portrayed in the past and seeing how that has changed. Especially in today's society, the concept of "family" has drastically changed and keeps on changing; there is no "nuclear family" anymore. So it is a "truth" that still holds true today.

The fact that the assignment is to discuss "the truth" of the work is kind of ironic, since the entire play seems to criticize the concept of any one truth or any one ideal or way of thinking.

You should be able to find many good secondary sources. If it helps, go to Wikipedia first, lets say to look up 1949 USA, the Fair Deal initiative, or the Nuclear Family, and then scroll to the bottom of the page where they list their secondary sources (since Wikipedia is not an approved secondary source). You should be able to find good secondary sources in the list of references at the bottom.


Good luck!

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Re: Help with a "research paper"

Postby Sableagle » Tue May 10, 2016 4:17 pm UTC

AffinityDesigner wrote:Not true that it kills the joy of reading. It helps you develop analytical skills, and when you can think analytically about a work, you can then think deeper about it and take more out of it. It gives more substance and weight to an experience and more understanding.
Well it sure killed it for me. Guy Gavriel Kay, Wilbur Smith, Arthur Conan Doyle, Frederick Forsyth, Robert Ludlum, J.R.R. Tolkien, Raymond Feist, Orson Scott Card, Peter O'Donnell, Ian Fleming, Alistair MacLean, Terry Pratchett, Anne McCaffrey, Susan Cooper and a lot of other authors brought me pleasure, excitement, curiosity about the world, other points of view and enough experience of reading to recognise ways characters are introduced and presented, ways events are portrayed, ways viewpoints colour narrative and honest narration distorts facts, tropes, cliches and paragons ... then I went to school and had to read some utter crap and write essays about it that always got a C+ or a C++ if I did them at home like I was supposed to but got a B-- or B- if I wrote them in class instead of taking notes because agreeing with the teacher was worth a lot more than proper structure or good handwriting, and it all got very boring very fast. I'd much rather have dropped the subject after 1 term and taken Spanish or Russian lessons instead, or maybe Farsi. Farsi would be useful.

Apse, rood and nave: three things found in a church.
Adam: first man.
Eve: first woman.
Cain: first murderer.
Abel: his victim.
Serpent: problem in the Garden of Eden.
Genesis: first book of the Bible.
That's nine things I learned in Religious Studies that have helped me fill in cryptic crosswords, which is more good than Eng Lit lessons ever did me.
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Re: Help with a "research paper"

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed May 11, 2016 5:49 pm UTC

AffinityDesigner wrote:Not true that it kills the joy of reading. It helps you develop analytical skills, and when you can think analytically about a work, you can then think deeper about it and take more out of it. It gives more substance and weight to an experience and more understanding. Also, an annotation guide or notes on the book won't qualify as a secondary source, but can be helpful to use to understand the work a little better.


Nah, school totally kills the joy of reading.

Agreed entirely with the essay thing. I learned to stop thinking about the books, and faceroll out a marginally different spin on whatever the teacher said. Amazing grades, almost zero work.

School isn't for joy, or learning. School is for copying. You learn to emulate established wisdom, not to find it.

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Re: Help with a "research paper"

Postby lorb » Fri May 13, 2016 12:13 am UTC

That's a very resigned and cynical view. I had one awesome teacher for two years and although he made us read pretty advanced stuff that was sometimes hard to grasp I very much enjoyed it. He also would give good grades for dissent, if done well. But I understand that reading for school can suck too, if you have a crappy teacher and are forced to read crappy authors.
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Re: Help with a "research paper"

Postby doogly » Fri May 13, 2016 12:53 pm UTC

And if you have gotten the impression that every teacher you've had and every book you've had to read throughout your education has been crappy and joy killing... maybe it's you?
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Re: Help with a "research paper"

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Jun 21, 2016 10:40 pm UTC

I don't think either of us who complained about school had an inherent issue with enjoying books.

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Re: Help with a "research paper"

Postby doogly » Wed Jun 22, 2016 11:42 am UTC

I meant with education. Books qua books are not that important.
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Re: Help with a "research paper"

Postby DanD » Mon Jun 27, 2016 9:19 pm UTC

The Great Gatsby and the Scarlet Letter sucked. Candide was great when I read it on my own, long before it was assigned. Much less so when I read it for class as a refresher. Shakespeare should never be read, but acted. At a minimum, read aloud by parts.

I have to agree, literature courses tend to degrade the joy in a good story. (Humor Comedy and Satire, in College, wasn't horrible)

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Re: Help with a "research paper"

Postby Euphonium » Mon Jan 30, 2017 1:17 am UTC

Sableagle wrote:We read that one in school.

The central truth of English Literature classes is that they make reading, once a pleasure, into a chore that is somehow at once entirely dull and intensely irritating.


Translation: "It was hard and I struggled with it; therefore it's pointless."

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Re: Help with a "research paper"

Postby Sableagle » Wed Feb 01, 2017 6:35 pm UTC

Er, no. Nope. You just called me stupid, and I do not agree with you, not just because I won the biology prize, the creative writing prize and the mathematics prize twice at a selective-entry school where the nominally bright pupils largely shunned me as too brainy and not enough of a lager lout to fit in with them. I didn't struggle to understand the texts. I understood them just fine. You, however, apparently failed to read and understand what I posted. Don't let it worry you. I'm used to it.

Prior to having GCSE English Literature lessons inflicted on me, I'd read shelves of books. I'd read A-level textbooks. I hadn't understood everything in them, but they were far more interesting than the crap we had to grind our way through for Lit. classes. You know what you get at the end of it, apart from a line on a certificate and a hatred of a small list of books? You get the ability to look at something, point at part of it and say: "This is an example of ________." Great. Congratulations. You can now edit pages on tvtropes.com, you lucky, talented person, you. Do try to make them more interesting than Titus Groan.
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Re: Help with a "research paper"

Postby Copper Bezel » Sat Feb 25, 2017 8:03 pm UTC

I'm not sure how much is universally "how literature is done" and how much is mostly pertinent to a particular system or program. I'm USian, and did a bachelor's and a master's degree in English (that is, primarily lit). I'm not fully convinced of the utility of much of what we were doing in those literature classes, either in terms of the kinds of texts most of the courses focused on or the methods. The most interesting literature course I ever took was one titled "The Victorian Tipping Point" that clustered a set of texts published in England in 1859 and included On the Origin of Species; probably second on my list was a samurai film course by the same instructor. I had numerous meaningless Shakespeare classes that treated the text as capital-L Literature and were mostly about bullshitting defenses of anachronistic meanings to project onto the plays and a (much better) Chaucer course that used The Canterbury Tales as a tour of history and linguistics and wasn't really arsed with any artificial apparatus.

TVTropes does fine work, and I appreciate the candor and the breadth of the connections drawn. I think it's still a limited and specific purpose it's serving that isn't fundamental, let alone an exhaustive method, to either enjoying or understanding literature or media (whichever term seems more appropriate; the broadest applicable senses are basically synonymous.) Color theory doesn't explain all of visual art, either. It's just ... one of the tools out there. Being able to say that you can list all the parts of a thing and that you have names for them is never a complete account of that thing. Some people can be misled or deluded to believe it is. At the same time, it is one useful tool.

I think another potential hazard is when "thinking critically" about media becomes "thinking like a critic", normative commentary on how sophisticated or original or whatnot a particular work is based on some particular set of criteria. A ranking things "from best to worst" impulse, really. I think that's a reflex reaction to things, to the point that it feels like an obsessive undercurrent in a lot of critical work. It's useful in film and book reviews because those things are product reviews of things that are commercial products.

Better examples to me of what can be done with those kinds of critical tools, particularly when they're a way of looking beyond the work into its role and context, would be things like Lindsay Ellis's Loose Canon series and PBS Idea Channel on YouTube. When you can really start to ask questions about a work or a social phenomenon that dig into why people engage with it and what role it plays, that's a pretty meaningful endeavour to me. I'd really defy anyone to claim that that kind of work doesn't allow for more meaningful engagement with the media in question. Sample.

I think the question of "what can I take away from this piece of media" can be an important one that can get lost in the process of any effort to study or define what a piece of media "is" or "does". A lot of things can be made more interesting by reading against the text or nurturing pet versions of fictional events, fanonizing and so on. That creative and interactive relationship to any piece of media can be a beautiful thing, and I can see preferring that kind of approach over one that, whether in a very naive way (intricately detailing in-universe realities like a Star Wars fan, or simplistically claiming single symbolic meanings to stories in the decoder-ring sort of way) or a comparatively sophisticated one (a pages-long thinkpiece on queerbaiting in popular television, or just Idea Channel again.) If you want to approach media really creatively as a space to play in and just ignore the directions on the box, I can understand and respect that approach. I have noticed (and I mean this entirely anecdotally and interpersonally) that precisely the people who tend to do so also tend to have a similar approach to their interpretation of reality, though.

On the other hand, if you'd prefer to just sort of soak in the construction and ignore the places where it breaks down, use media as just the consumable emotional back-scratcher it is and not think about it too hard - yeah, I don't have any sympathy for that at all. Not because it's an insufficient approach to literature, but because it's an insufficient approach to experience. I want to know how everything is constructed and where the clever tricks are. That's no more or less true of literature or art than it is history, electronics engineering, biology. Hell, science itself; individual facts about the cosmos or chemistry or paleobiology are of limited practical significance to me, and all the human narrative of how we come to know a thing is often at least as interesting as the fact itself.
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