Scope and Motive in “More Beautiful, More Terrible”: Finding Lexicon Terms in Class Readings

This semester I picked up a new technique of looking for lexicon terms in assigned readings in an attempt to make them a bit more entertaining. More importantly, this newfound habit has given me opportunity to see how lexicon terms are implemented in real scholarly writing.

To give just one example, one of the most interesting instances of motive I found from my readings for AAS235 was in More Beautiful, More Terrible, written by Princeton Professor of African American Studies, Imani Perry. Perry writes in her introductory chapter:

…the “postracial” discourse reflects both anxiety and confusion about what race means and doesn’t mean now. In order to answer these questions, we must approach the enterprise with great rigor and sophistication.

Those are tall orders. My ambition in this book is much smaller. This book seeks to pursue a very specific question, which nevertheless demands a complex body of information and analysis: how does a nation that proclaims racial equality create people who act in ways that sustain racial inequality? I suppose a second question is pursued, too: what can we do about it? (Perry, 2-3)

I particularly appreciated these two paragraphs from Perry’s introduction because they have very specific purposes in laying down the foundation for the rest of her work. In the first paragraph from the excerpt, Perry orients the reader by providing context on the goals of the broader field. In the second paragraph, Perry clearly introduces and explicitly states her motive for her research in question form.

The most critical move Perry makes in these two paragraphs is narrowing her scope. Instead of tackling the expansive question of “what race means and doesn’t mean”, a question that motivates an entire field of research, she chooses to focus in a more specific question: “how does a nation that proclaims racial equality create people who act in ways that sustain racial inequality?” Perry demonstrates that even a skilled writer, setting out to construct a text of significant length, has to think about the scope of his or her work and focus in on a specific relationship to explore. In the specific field of racial studies, Perry utilizes the same lexicon terms and techniques that we learn in Writing Seminar.

While applying Writing Seminar knowledge to your upper level classes may initially pose a challenge, the best way to overcome that challenge is to learn by example: read good writing and look for the ways in which leading scholars use lexicon terms in their own work. Conveniently, with an abundance of good writing at your disposal, assigned to you for your classes, why not start learning from more than just the content?

–Ellie Shapiro ’21

Works Cited

Perry, Imani. More Beautiful and More Terrible: the Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States. New York University Press, 2011.