Consider Jack and the young female narrator, and their relationship, in Elizabeth Tallent’s “No One’s a Mystery.”  How would you characterize Jack in the beginning of the story?  What about the narrator?  What kind of relationship do they seem to have in the beginning?  Does the reader’s perception of the characters and their relationship evolve as the story progresses?  If so, in what ways?  If not, what evidence would you give to argue that the characters remain static?  Be sure to formulate a clear thesis incorporating some or all of the ideas in this topic.

Essay 1 Instructions

  • Formatting requirements: Use standard MLA document formatting requirements.  Google “OWL Purdue MLA documentation style” and click on the first link for a sample and detailed information.
  • Length: 500 to 1,000 words, not including the Works Cited page
  • Due Date: See your syllabus.
  • Submission Directives: Submit your essay as an attachment to the Assignment dropbox in the designated Learning Unit.  (See your syllabus and the Learning Units).
  • Assignment Objectives:  Your goal is to apply a critical strategy to a work and to develop and support a specific thesis.  Your essay should be unified, developed, organized, and coherent, and should use sophisticated sentence style while meeting the demands of standard English.  I’ve given you specific topics to get you started thinking, along with plenty of handouts to help guide you, elsewhere in this Learning Unit. 
  • Rubric: Be sure to read the designated rubric carefully so that you have a clear idea of what criteria I will be using as I grade your essay.

Reviewing the assigned readings and examining the sample papers in your text is essential to helping you prepare for this writing assignment. 

Once you’ve reviewed the recommended readings, choose one of the stories assigned during the quarter.  Using what you have learned from your readings in your text, study and annotate the story you’ve chosen and prepare yourself for writing an essay.  Try to think about how you applied various critical approaches to the stories and what your classmates have said in the discussion forums.  Use those ideas to shape a thesis statement about your story.  Aim for a strong, specific thesis (claim) about the meaning of the story; a weak and vague thesis will lead to a weak and vague essay.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of this reading and preparation.  Studies indicate that most students who do poorly on writing assignments do so because they do not spend enough time generating and organizing ideas, diving instead headfirst into writing their papers with little genuine grasp of the story’s significance.

Once you feel you are prepared, write a double-spaced essay of 500 to 1,000 words using the MLA documentation style.  You should NOT use outside sources, and your ideas and writing should be your own.  You may want to take advantage of the on-campus tutors (Check under the Students tab at for more information).  Or you may want to submit your essay to the online tutors, if available.  

Your essay should have a title that includes your essay’s focus, the author’s name, and the name of the story.  For example, one might use a title like Feminism and Exploitation in John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums.”  Your paper should have a clear introduction and thesis statement, body paragraphs supporting your thesis, detailed evidence and argument supporting each topic sentence, and a conclusion.  Your paper should also have a Works Cited page.  Use the MLA style (specifically, a selection from an anthology or selection from a collection of works.

Finally, remember that you need to put quotation marks around any exact words that you use from the text as evidence to support your claims.  Also, remember that you should NOT be using other sources for this assignment.

You can also use the writing help on the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.  (For the Purdue site, type “OWL,” “Purdue,” and “Writing about Literature” into Google).  Again, be sure to follow all of the guidelines and suggestions discussed in your texts about writing a good, college-level essay.

You should use the help available under the Students tab at Click on the Students tab and then the Upswing link in the Web Tools and Support column.

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