In a Tortoiseshell: In this close-reading paper written for the Humanities Sequence, Sandra Chen begins with a detailed analysis of a poem’s text to make larger arguments about its meaning.
In a Tortoiseshell: In her East Asian Studies essay on the Taiwanese film Terrorizer, Amy Cass uses close looking techniques to analyze how the film presents photography as a way of seeing and understanding urban reality. Amy uses her engagement with the visuals of the film through careful close looking to provide the evidence for her arguments, which stretch beyond description of the film and into bold, motivated claims.
In a Tortoiseshell: In her paper, Katherine McIntire analyzes the Disney World theme park “Frontierland,” arguing that by relying on the historically inaccurate concept of the lone cowboy it promotes problematic values that are antithetical to Walt Disney’s philosophy. Her incredibly clear introduction orients the reader to the analytic work she plans to do and to the many sources she plans to consult while constructing her argument. By giving herself space to tease out the specifics of her primary source and the various key terms relevant to her argument, Katherine effectively lays the groundwork for her motive and thesis. Continue reading
In a Tortoiseshell: In her Junior Paper for the English Department, Liana Cohen interweaves analysis and evidence in her writing through the utilization of eloquent close reading of the films Vertigo and Spirited Away. Indeed, placing her exercises of close-reading alongside richly contextualized analysis of film theorists and Freudian psychoanalysis, Liana crafts a compelling prose that explores how both films attempt to reanimate the past.
In a Tortoiseshell: Using various feminist thinkers as a scholarly lens, her own primary source material from an interview she conducted, and a close reading of multiple artistic mediums, Bes puts forward a thesis that is clear, original, and motivated. In addition to containing all of the key ingredients for a powerful argument, though, Bes’s thesis is an exemplar model due to the way she deepens and refines that thesis as the paper progresses and as she gradually exposes the reader to more key concepts, relevant scholars, and pieces of evidence. In this excerpt, which appears towards the end of Bes’s paper, we see her thesis in its full complexity and nuance and get a taste of how Bes strategically goes about uncovering that complexity in gradual stages. Continue reading
In a Tortoiseshell: In her paper, Debby Cheng utilizes her thesis to roadmap her text to explore the nuances surrounding the distribution of blame within the black community during the AIDS epidemic prior to the introduction of an effective treatment. Using enriching and creative sources to provide evidence to her claims, Debby efficiently asks the reader to question, just as she does, the role of the heterosexual black man as the “invisible” force that perpetuated the spread of HIV in the United States during the last two decades of the 20th century.
The eternal refrain goes like this: “What’s the thesis?” It’s as ubiquitous as “Where’s the beef?” But a thesis is not a call to action for a mundane fast-food restaurant. It’s much more important than that. It’s the argument. Or more eloquently, the Writing Lexicon defines the thesis as “an arguable claim—i.e., an assertion someone could reasonably argue against; as such, it provides unexpected insight, goes beyond superficial interpretations, or challenges, corrects, or extends other arguments.”
There’s a reason why a great deal of high school English teachers place an emphasis on the thesis. It functions as the raison d’etre. It lays out the terms of the argument—what the essay is analyzing, with what it is analyzing, and what it all means. Strong theses go above and beyond this, however, by explaining why all of that stuff is important.
The essay excerpts in this section were chosen for their strong theses, though they accomplish these arguments in different ways.
The thesis is tough. There are different kinds—some are tricky, and some are examples of how to make a simple framework sing. And don’t write more than one thesis in an eight-page paper. Read on, true believer—“What’s the thesis?”
For more details, refer to the Thesis Preface from our 2014 issue, available here.
In a Tortoiseshell: In his paper that investigates the role of faith based organizations in American anti- trafficking efforts, Nathnael Mengistie takes on the existing scholarly establishment through the use of an eloquent and compelling motive. By illustrating that the existing scholarly conversation, which focuses on whether faith-based organizations are effective in their work, overlooks the important fundamental question of why faith-based organizations are involved in anti-trafficking efforts to begin with, Nathnael produces a meaningful and needed reframing of the conversation surrounding the role of faith-based organizations in anti-trafficking efforts.
While previous issues of Tortoise have highlighted pieces with exemplary sections of “close reading,” none thus far have highlighted what in this issue we are calling “close looking.” Similar to close reading—a description of which can be found here—close looking is essentially the detailed analysis of the presentation of a primary source’s argument. In some instances, close reading and close looking are trying to reconstruct a creator’s intent from their creation itself. Both require the breaking down of individual elements of a piece in order to understand its whole. The trick is the ability to re-associate the reality of an object with the possibilities which existed prior to or during its creation. One must ask, “Why is this feature present? What else could have taken its place, and what effects does its presence have on the piece as a whole knowing what else could have been in its place?”
Despite their similar objectives and questions, close looking utilizes different types of media from close reading. Where the object of a close reading is grounded in text—poetry, novels, speeches—close looking focuses on the visual. From sculptures and photographs to films and even commercials, close looking analyzes those media whose evidence comes in the form of color, shape, size, materiality, and even time. It can be difficult to translate one’s experience with close reading to the act of close looking and vice versa, since one must readjust their expectations and relearn how to break down pieces into analyzable components. But understanding how to do so opens worlds of evidence to authors with the gusto to take them on.
This section features authors who have mastered the act of close looking. Pay attention to what parts they dissect their objects of analysis into and how they then reassemble those parts to create deeper meanings.
One of the most difficult sections of any paper is its beginning. The expectation of an opening that captures and holds readers’ attention while still communicating necessary set-up for an argument is certainly daunting. Nearly all the concepts from the Lexicon must find their way into the start of a paper in the exact right quantities; lots of motive in an introduction is usually desired, whereas very little analysis is wanted or needed so early on. Couple this with the fact that there are infinite possible ways to start a paper, and it may feel downright impossible to accomplish successfully at times.
Rather than focusing solely on thesis or motive, this section highlights papers that successfully incorporate these terms while also orienting the reader, introducing necessary sources, and defining key terms. Pay close attention to the relationships between ideas in sentences and clauses themselves, since it is at this level where the beginning of a paper can truly finds its greatness.