Long Essay Topics/Guidelines:



Short Essay Questions: [choose one of three]

  • 1500-2500 words (use your word processor’s word count)
  • Compose on a word processor (Google Docs is great, but anything will do) and email to me ( by class time on 3/18
  • No outside research required, though feel free to do so, especially including the secondary readings assigned in class
  • Format in MLA style, with parenthetical citation and works cited page at the end
  • Refer to my tipsheet for help in how to structure a good essay, my Four Noble Truths of writing, and also my example of a properly formatted paper in MLA style
  1. Marx argues that industrial workers are “alienated” from their work: in capitalist production, “the object that labor produces, its product, stands opposed to it as something alien, as a power independent of the producer” and, moreover, that the process of labor is itself “estranged” from workers, out of their control, meaningless, and despised (see the original for the full cite if you’re interested).  What are some ways that the books we’ve read represent this dynamic?  What glimpses do they provide of less “alienated” modes of work?  Of strategies for coping with this alienation?
  2. Why is work so hard to write about?  What happens when writers attempt to use the “raw materials” of industrial work—be it the furious pace of the laundryman, the dangerous and dirty work of the mason, or the din and awesome scale of those “on the line—to construct a novel (or story cycle), a genre that traditionally focuses on an individual protagonist who “rises” and “develops”?  What are some strategies that writers have used to reshape the novel genre, better to suit this new social “material”?
  3. A central theme in the works we’ve been has been the impact of labor on the body.  Work can maim or kill, of course, but it also manifests in the body in more subtle ways, marking some bodies as visible members of the “working class,” forming bonds between workers though embodied bonding rituals, or raising awareness of the permeable boundary between body and mind as labor shapes the very capacity of bodies for imagination and thought.  In a well-argued essay, use any two of the books we’ve read to show how these texts forge unexpected links between labor and the body.

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