Ishmael Essay

During the semester, you are to read the novel Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. It is a short book and is easy to read. At the same time, it is intended to prompt thought and deep reflection. It requires a good deal of time post-reading to let the ideas germinate – and you’ll probably want to re-read sections as you write your essay. And, the earlier you read it, the more it will enlighten other parts of this course. Do not procrastinate!

The Ishmael essay has two goals: The first is to ensure that you’ve read and fully understand the themes, ideas, and lessons of the book. The second, and more important, is to encourage you to think deeply and critically about its themes, ideas and lessons.

Assignment: Write a 5-7 page (double spaced) reflective essay that explores your reactions, emotions and thoughts about Ishmael. The assignment is somewhat vague, in order to give you room to explore thoughts and deeply reflect.

Some guidelines to help as you prepare your essay.

I do not what a summary of the book. If you need to summarize some main ideas in the book to make your argument, fine, but the summary should make a very small portion of our essay.

Your essay should contain a thesis in the beginning and the rest of the essay should be written in support of your thesis. This doesn’t mean it has to be a persuasive essay, but it does mean it needs to have a clear focus and organization. The thesis can be whatever you want it to be – as broad or narrow as you wish – but it must exist and your job is to develop and support it. Highlight your thesis statement at the beginning of the essay (in bold or red type), so that I can see how you are organizing your paper.

Your essay should clearly demonstrate that you have read and reflected on the entire book (reading and responding to just one chapter won’t cut it). It should not be a collection of your musings about life. The essay should be grounded in the broad themes of the book, or particular ideas that you find poignant, and your developed reactions to them.

Your essay can either be personal (e.g. “this book made me feel…”) or more academic (e.g., “Ishmael explored themes of ______, and when evaluated through the lens of ______, there are interesting connections to______.”) However, if you write in an academic style, I still want to know how the book affected you. It should not be wholly abstract. So, it is likely impossible to write an “A” paper without some statements in the first-person.

I am not going to grade you on your opinion; that’s impossible. You will be graded on a) your understanding of the text (broad themes, ideas, main messages) as you demonstrate it with your writing, b) the appropriateness, depth, and quality of your thesis, c) how well you support your thesis (organization, diction, grammar, eloquence, conciseness), and d) the depth of your analysis. You should be at a level of synthesis – taking the ideas of the book, combining them with your own ideas and knowledge to create novel ideas – and deep reflection, not mere description.

While reading the book, keep notes of the things you find interesting, poignant, mind-blowing, unconvincing, wrong, etc. Reading this book will prompt thoughts. If you are stumped in any way, come talk to me – I am happy to discuss and support your reflection.


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