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How does Frederick Douglass’s slave narrative relate to Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”?

In preparing to write a critical analysis, you are to read the primary source in depth and repeatedly, if necessary. You are to discuss your ideas as well as relevant ideas of professional critics.

You must use a minimum of two sources in addition to your primary source. Cliffs Notes, Monarch, Masterplots, or other similar sources are not acceptable sources. Cite lines or passages from the primary source. You may not use an internet source.

The body of the paper should be at least eight pages in length plus a Works Cited page. Use MLA format. Remember that all information from a source must be cited, not just quotations. Each entry on the works cited list must be used in parenthetical documentation in the paper.


The Critical Paper is a brief research paper that combines your personal discoveries about a work or works with what you can cull from appropriate research sources. The Critical Paper focuses on YOUR analytical thinking, however, not the comments from those research sources; the voice of the paper must be overwhelmingly yours. In addition, the Critical Paper will NOT involve biography, as the focus is on the literature itself and not the author’s life; besides, narrator and author are two separate entities. 

You have two options in completing the Critical Paper—choosing a given topic or creating one of your own, within limitations; this will be discussed below. All of the following requirements listed below remain the same, regardless of the approach chosen:


  1. Use MLA format for this typed paper of eight full text pages. The work you choose to research is your primary source. You must cite lines from the primary source in order to supplement your analysis, to show the reader what you are explaining and to help specifically prove your point. You must also include a minimum of 3 additional critical sources. A critical source is one that comments upon or analyzes the text, the specific subject of your paper (be careful here!) and/or the writer’s techniques used in the text. On-line sources are acceptable if they are reliable; however, you may only use two online sources in your paper.

Finding Sources

You can use Research Navigator Other Resources on your navigation tree to help you find research material, Gale Databases are also useful, as are Masterfile and Academic Search Premier.

  1. Include a formal outline and works cited page in the same file as an attachment by the assignment’s due date; do not send separate files for each. No title page is desired for this assignment.
  2. Synthesis is crucial. Avoid merely copying what your sources express without paying attention to how the data works in your paper. This assignment is not a clustering of well-written quotes from critics. Keep citations to a minimum—15% – 20 % of your whole paper. The paper must remain yours, with your writing dominating the discussion—in third person (this is not a personal response essay).
  3. DO NOT summarize the plot of the piece. You can assume that your readers are already familiar with the text you chose. Summary should only be used BRIEFLY in the introduction as a way to remind the reader of the text(s). Save the rest of the paper for analysis.
  4. DO NOT give biographical information about the author.


  1. The Critical paper will be written in the third person. Yes, you are forming an opinion of the text you read, but you will present that opinion in terms of statements of fact, not prefaced by “I think”, “I believe”, or any other first-person statements. You are the authority in your own analysis, so simply state your analysis.
  2. All literary assignments are written in the present tense.


Option I: Choose one of the topics given below and follow the instructions for completing the assignment.

  1. Read some of the prose from Lincoln’s Specimen Days (included in your text). Compare/contrast his poetry with his prose.
  2. How reliable are the narrators in Poe’s, Irving’s, and Melville’s works (those assigned for this class only)? What do they have in common, and how does their reliability affect the works?
  3. Read the excerpt from William Gilmore Simms’ preface to The Yemassee. In this selection, he is writing about his novel; however, on a broader level, he is defining Romance in a more specific manner than we have done so this semester. Find those defining factors of Romance in his preface–for example, he says “[i]t approximates the poem . . . and “hurries [individuals] rapidly through crowding and exacting events, in a narrow space of time” (1211)–and use those factors to show how one of Poe’s short stories fits Simms’ definition of Romance. Use only one of Poe’s stories that appears within your text.
  4. Compare the depiction of Indians in earlier works by Mary Rowlandson, William Bradford, John Smith and others with how the Indians present themselves in the speeches and tales. How do you account for the different perspectives (beyond the obvious reasons)?
  5. Compare/contrast Franny Fern’s “The Working Girls of New York” with Rebecca Harding Davis’s “Life in the Iron-Mills.”
  6. What qualities must a Puritan woman have to survive? How do their WRITINGS reflect those particular qualities? Use Anne Bradstreet, Mary Rowlandson, and the seemingly un-Puritan Sarah Knight Kemble to discuss these qualities.Note: This is NOT a discussion of their personal lives. You are to show how their writing reflects the qualities of the Puritan woman, the role of the Puritan woman, etc. NO BIOGRAPHY is to be included.
  7. Examine point of view (narrator’s perspective- First person narrator, third person narrator, limited omniscient, objective, or others) in Rebecca Harding Davis’s work. This discussion is an analysis of the narration, NOT a retelling of the plot. Examine “why” and “how” the narration influences the reading of a particular reading. DO NOT RETELL THE PLOT.
  8. Discuss Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones (in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving) in the context of Emerson’s “The American Scholar.” Analyze the similarities and differences between what Irving shows in his characters and what Emerson discusses in his essay.
  9. Compare/contrast Margaret Fuller’s and Fanny Fern’s works included in your text. Consider tone, style, content, purpose, etc.
  10. How does Frederick Douglass’s slave narrative relate to Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”?

Option II: Choose your own source and create your own topic. Do a critical analysis of one of the texts listed below. All primary materials must come from the Perkins textbook (current edition) or novels I have selected. Keep in mind that not all of the authors’ works listed below are the most popular works from their careers; therefore, you need to budget your research time appropriately.

  1. Also, be aware that choosing your own topic does not give you free reign with the research assignment.

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