This comparative essay should compare/contrast two texts of your choice from the course (MAUS, Persepolis, The Book of Negroes, Monkey Beach). The essay should begin with an introduction and a clear thesis statement. The thesis statement is your argument or central point; it should be a statement that someone could agree or disagree with. While you may consult secondary sources, it is not necessary; your essay should consist primarily of your own analysis and insights. It should be typed, double-spaced and follow the standard MLA documentation format.
You may write on the same book you analysed in Essay 1; however, be sure to bring new ideas to the essay. Do not import entire sections from essay 1 – believe me, your TA will notice!
The essay will be graded on the basis of originality, engagement with the texts and flow of the argument. It will also be graded on style, diction, spelling, and grammar.
Choose ONE of the following essay questions:
1) How to accurately represent histories of loss, tragedy, and violence, such as that of slavery (Hill), the Jewish Holocaust (Spiegelman), the Iranian revolution and Iran-Iraq war (Satrapi), or Indigenous genocide (Robinson), without recirculating stereotypical depictions of victimhood? How to honestly document the violence associated with these events without sensationalizing that violence and adding to its power? Analyse the ethical and/or aesthetic strategies that two texts of your choice use to document and potentially transform these histories of loss, tragedy, and violence.
2) In The Book of Negroes, an important theme is how literacy, the ability to read and write, enabled Aminata’s survival. On the other hand, written documents, like the original “Book of Negroes” (1783), the “bills of sale” that document transactions of human beings, the advertisements for runaway slaves, or even the initials “G.O.” branded onto Aminata’s breast, suggest that writing can also disempower, dehumanize, and legitimize crimes against humanity. A similar dynamic is detectable in MAUS, Monkey Beach, and Persepolis. Analyse the double-edged power of writing and written documents in two texts of your choice.
3) Both Monkey Beach and Persepolis are filled with references to popular music, fashion, books, films, celebrities, and teen culture. Analyse the pop culture references in Persepolis and Monkey Beach. What is their function? How do they interact with the more serious story lines in these texts?
4) Both The Book of Negroes and MAUS use narrative frames to tell their stories. Analyse how and why these narrative frames are used in two texts of your choice. What is their function? How do they affect your reception of the story?
5) In The Book of Negroes, Aminata frequently recalls her parents’ love, care, and wisdom; her sense of cultural rootedness as a Bamana and Fula is a source of her strength. In Monkey Beach, Lisa Marie not only vows to learn one Haisla word a day for the rest of her life, but in many other ways engages in a process of cultural reclamation and affirmation. Analyse the role of cultural resurgence in two texts of your choice.
6) The construction of identity is a central issue in the texts we’ve read in this course. Many characters assert their own particular identity: for example, Aminata is pleased that she is likely the only person on that has her particular accent due to her bilingual/bicultural origins in Bayo, combined with the many places she has lived. At the same time, many of the characters are subjected to the imposition of an identity—Aminata is named “Mary” on the ship and an “African” when she arrives in the Americas, a word she has never heard before. Interesting parallels could be made between Aminata’s sense of identity and Marji’s as she moves between Iran and Austria. The use of masks in MAUS could also be connected. Discuss the navigation of identity in two texts of your choice.
7) Many of the books we’ve read this term focus on characters who show fierce resistance against oppression (Vladek, Marji, Uncle Anosh, Aminata, Lisa Marie…). However, in between the oppressors and the resisters are many characters whose actions and choices show their complicity with the oppressive systems they live within (Vladek, Marji, the Abolitionists, Lindo, Karaoke….). Examine how characters navigate the interlocking relationships between oppression, resistance, and complicity in two texts of your choice.
8) Many of the protagonists in the texts we have read this term play key roles as cultural translators that connect across differences. Characters like Marji, Aminata, and Lisa Marie often act as a bridge across generations, races, cultures, social classes, or languages. Analyse the challenges and opportunities that these characters face in their roles of working in the space of the “in-between” in two texts of your choice.
9) A topic of your own choosing, as long as it is a comparative essay and it engages with the course readings. Be sure to clear your topic with your instructor (your T.A. or me) before you begin writing. You should have a proposal to show your instructor by Week 9 or earlier (minimum 1 week before the first draft is due).