Critical Reasoning; Fiction – New Historicism

English 101 – Critical Reasoning; Fiction
Paper 4 – Research Paper

Over the course of this semester we have worked on understanding the texts we have read from a myriad of
contexts – through different literary and critical frameworks. As we read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the
Sower, you will be asked to actively read and engage with the text and produce a research essay using a
specific critical lens (i.e. using Literary Theory). Each theory, identified below, has its own specific prompt
and will necessitate your reading of several secondary source texts to help you build your response. Choose
ONE of the prompts below to begin:
●New Historicism is concerned with connecting a work of literature with the time period/historical
context in which the work was produced and to identify the work with the cultural and political
movements of the time. New Historicists also recognize that a work of literature cannot be interpreted
outside of the reader’s present historical context and so BOTH are taken into consideration when
interpreting the meaning of the text. Build an argument about Butler’s intended message of the novel,
through the lens of New Historicism, using primary and secondary source evidence. I also encourage you
to consider both the allusions to slavery/racism as well as modern-day issues of disease, resource
allocation, and political unrest.
For this research paper, you will accomplish the following:
1. Choose a prompt and work on understanding the frame through which the critical lens builds its
a. While a critical lens asks you to read a text from the perspective of another, the true aim of a
research essay is to synthesize (combine) that perspective with your own.
b. It is important that you create an argument that is neither too broad to be researched nor too
narrow; for example, a paper about “the environment” would be enormous, but one about “the
environmental impact of water scarcity/drought in Los Angeles” probably wouldn’t yield
much research.
2. Conduct research about the history of the issue you are dissecting from the novel, the problems
surrounding the issue, solutions that people have discovered thus far, and the effects of the issue on
the community that it involves. Remember that this novel was written in 1993 (almost 30 years ago)
and plenty of progress has been made regarding the issues found therein.
3. Write a 7-10 page argumentative essay in which you detail the following:
a. The history of the issue identified through your chosen critical lens
b. The major issue that Butler is responding to
c. At least one legitimate solution to the issue that you believe will solve or help to solve the
problem and why you are advocating for this solution (consider this your response to Butler’s
call to action or overall purpose of her novel)
*Please note that each of these above steps, though influenced by your opinions, must be grounded in your
research. It is not enough to say, “I think ending the practice of capital punishment would probably save
many innocent people currently in jail.” Formal writing rules apply, so, although the prompt calls for your
opinion, you must NOT use first- or second-person pronouns (“I” or “you”) to express your views.
You MUST back up your opinions with evidence from your research that lends credibility to your argument
through the use of expert statements, statistics, or historical trends. More information on credible sources to
be discussed during class (Academic Databases & Peer-Reviewed Articles)

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