Essay Three

Two New York Cities Walk into an Essay… (Comparative Analysis)

For this essay, compare two texts we have read so far in this course with respect to some key element in both: a theme, literary or argumentative style, representation of place or experience, or something of your own choosing. Try to focus on something that interests you and seems inherently perplexing.

Possible Comparisons:

  • Choose your own adventure! You can write about any of the texts (visual or written) we have discussed in this class with the exception of Bright Lights, Big City.
  • “Privacy” in Jane Jacob’s Death and Life of Great American Cities and E. B. White’s This is New York: How do each of these writers define and think about/around privacy? Are these definitions more similar or more different than one might expect? What do those definitions tell us about how each of these authors define New York City life?
  • Interaction of police and civilians in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and the New York Times reporting on the Stonewall riots: Why and how do the police involve themselves in these events? How does the minority group respond to the police violence? How do the communities tell the story of the violence afterwards?
  • Representations of racism in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing and Ralph Ellison’s “New York, 1936”: How does the latter (post-civil rights era) compare to the former (pre-civil rights era) in terms of its portrayal of the racism each text’s protagonists face? From what point(s) of view is the racism portrayed, and how does that change the way we as readers understand and react to it?
  • Mediated Identities (e.g. masks and invisibility) in Ralph Ellison’s “New York, 1936” and Invisible Man: How do Ellison’s narrators understand their race, and how is that understanding shaped by their environment? Furthermore, how do they present themselves, racially or otherwise, to those around them?
  • Jane Jacob’s ideal New York City neighborhood and Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing: Is the BedStuy community the movie explores like the ideal city community Jacobs describes? If so, how does it complicate Jacob’s vision? And if not, what could be different and would that have helped?

Nuts and Bolts:

  • The assigned length for this essay is 1750 to 2100 words (approximately five to six pages long), not including your bibliography page. Your essay must include a bibliography.
  • As with all papers for this class, your paper should be written using MLA formatting. Refer to the Purdue OWL website or my MLA Mini-guide if you have any questions.
  • Here is the rubric by which you will be graded.
  • Here are the handouts you received on how to write a comparative analysis How to Write Comparative Analysis and the basics of integrating quotations into your essay.
  • The Draft Workshop will take place on Wednesday, November 12th. 
  • The final draft is due on Friday, November 14th by the beginning of class. Please submit it to as a word document, if possible.

What to do in a compare/contrast. . . This kind of paper tends to rely heavily on “close reading,” often with two close readings placed side by side and evaluated. Typically, in comparison/contrast studies, you will want to argue that there is a striking similarity between two texts that seem on the surface very different; or you want to show some startling contrast or difference between two texts that seem, on the surface, very similar. A third strategy would be to look at one work through the lens of the other.  In this case, you will really focus on an analysis of one text but will use terms, ideas, structures, or the like from a second text as a “lens” to look, in a new way, at the first text. In all cases, the goal of this kind of paper is not only a greater understanding of the two texts (though this is indeed one goal), but also a greater understanding of the ways we approach and understand the texts themselves. For example, comparing a work of fiction to a work of journalism might reveal that these two categories aren’t so different as one might think, with regard to how both come to terms with human propensities and desires.  Likewise, comparing a contemporary piece with an older one might suggest that there are many questions that have yet to be satisfactorily answered—certain issues that speak to us across and throughout the ages.

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