Structure: Works in Progress


Thus, large portions of Lévi-Strauss’s work can be read as attempts to establish the group as capable of almost unilaterally perpetuating a magical system’s validity. This conception seems particularly inconsistent, however, in light of an anecdote the reading provides about a boy on trial for witchcraft after his touch appeared to send a young girl into a seizure. Although the boy initially claimed his innocence of sorcery, he soon realized that providing a rich and detailed account of his supposed supernatural powers would prove a much more persuasive defense.  This approach is so successful because, in fact, the group is not capable of maintaining the validity of their magical system alone. The boy offers them complex detail and physical proof–a plume which he claims is the source of his power–and, in the process, transforms and solidifies the group’s magical beliefs which had previously constituted “a diffuse complex of poorly formulated sentiments and representations” (Lévi-Strauss 174). As Lévi-Strauss concludes, the group is desperate for the boy to confirm its system and ‘become the guardian of its spiritual coherence,’ meaning that the group is reliant on the supposed witch to validate its system (Lévi-Strauss 174). Therefore, when the boy is able to cure his ‘victim’ using a root it is at least less likely that he would have been successful had he not corroborated the system and even begun to ‘become the dupe of his own impersonation’ (Lévi-Strauss 174).


This excerpt comes from the draft of my first Writing Seminar paper. My professor provided my class with a text on magical beliefs by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and asked us to identify and respond to an inconsistency in his theories.  I argued that, based on Lévi-Strauss’s own evidence, he overemphasized the role of group-consensus in the perpetuation of magical beliefs and downplayed the key role played by witches and other magical practitioners. In taking a fresh look at my draft, I found it difficult to determine the function of the paragraph above and its relation to my thesis. A few revisions to the paragraph’s structure could make it much easier for the reader to follow my train of the thought. One easy tweak would be to move the current topic sentence to the next paragraph. That way, the new topic sentence would capture the main claim of the paragraph. The last sentences of the paragraph could also be revised. Right now, the paragraph ends with a quote. This means that the reader is left to interpret the significance of the quote herself. Adding a few sentences to analyze the quote and link the paragraph’s main claim back to my thesis would frame my ideas more clearly. In revising my drafts, I’ve found that minor revisions to paragraph structure can have a huge impact on the logical “flow” of a paper.

The author


Julia Johnstone ’16 is…