In January 2018, I took my senior capstone English class, which was my last requirement before graduation. English 495, Senior Writing Seminar, focused specifically on in-depth analysis and discussion of major literary works. While my other English classes had focused on similar skills, English 495 took it to a graduate level studying and writing in order to prepare students for full-time work and post-undergraduate schooling afterward. We as the students were told this class would push us farther and harder than any of our other English classes had done, and if we wanted to succeed, we had to work harder than before for our grade and diploma.
Our final paper would be an 18-20 page graduate-level literary analysis paper, complete with 8 or more scholarly sources to support our work and argument.
Project Responsibilities and Plan
At the beginning of the semester, we were given minimal details about the final paper but were told to examine our readings carefully and pick the ones we wanted to eventually focus on in our final paper. Initially, I had thought about focusing either on “Bartleby, the Scrivener” by Herman Melville or “Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka and examining the themes of humanity and working in those short stories. However, later in the semester, Canadian author Alice Munro’s work caught my attention, specifically her short story “Passion”.
Once we had made it to the middle of the semester as a class, my professor gave us the details about what we needed to do. In order to make sure we had a solid basis for an 18-20 page literary analysis paper, we first had to create a thesis statement with an introduction and three supporting pieces of evidence for that thesis. The thesis had to present a theme, symbol, or motif in the story that was important, ask a question about what the author intended to do or why this was included in the story, and why should the reader care about this or how did it apply to their life. If our thesis was not supported by evidence enough, or if it was not a strong enough argument for 20 pages, then it had to be revised or we had to create an entirely new thesis.
Our thesis and supporting evidence were revised three different times by my professor; each time, we had to expand on each paragraph and add in new elements (such as author and historical background of the text) to help bolster our argument. I chose to focus on the unique quality of time in Munro’s short stories, and how her non-linear way of telling a story affected how we see the main characters, Grace and Neil. With a few adjustments, my thesis was accepted and I was then able to work on expanding it and turning into my full paper.
Along with my professor reviewing and revising our drafts, they were subjected to peer review each time. With each review, we had to examine a different aspect of the paper and try and examine it for weaknesses or parts that need to be expanded upon. These reviews proved to be extremely helpful in preparing us for the professor’s review; we could use those peer reviews to strengthen the paper before turning it in.
Along with drafting and meeting with the professor and students, we were required to turn a schedule into our professor with a detailed list of how we were going to complete the project and on what days we wanted to accomplish certain milestones.
As the culmination of my senior year and my 4-year experience as an English major, the 18-page paper was the largest writing paper I had ever worked on, and required more hours and more work than before. I spent 10+ hours weekly trying to work on my sources and “polish” my paper to it’s best while trying to fit in a part-time job, job-hunting after college, and 4 other classes’ worth of homework into my schedule. Outside of class and peer-reviews, I had fellow English majors read it and examine it for more flaws that might not have been seen before.
My final grade on the paper was a B, and I now consider it the crowning achievement of my college experience. It is the most detailed, most cohesive paper I’ve ever written, and succinctly achieved its goal of pushing me to work harder and write better before graduating.