Realism Essay Assignment
Basically, your assignment is to research one of the four sub-categories we have studied within realism. You
will then integrate what you learn into a compare and contrast essay comparing and contrasting the two pieces
we read in class. Your research will serve as background knowledge. The main focus of the essay is to
compare and contrast.
Research essay options:
Slave narratives: Frederick Douglass’ narrative compared to Harriet Jacobs’ narrative or a movie about
Some research and reading suggestions: Research “slave narratives”. Who recorded them? Were they
popular reading at the time? Do we have many records? How were they published? What themes strike you
as important in the narratives you read about? Think of a thesis statement for your essay. What seems
important to you about this narrative and the work you are comparing it to?
Women writers: “A Pair of silk Stockings” (Chopin) compared to “A Wagner Matinee” (Cather) or a movie
about women in the 1800’s.
Some research and reading suggestions: What questions do you have about these author’s personal and
professional lives? Who are the most famous of the women writers of the 1800’s? Was there a common
theme to their writing? As you reread “A Pair of silk Stockings” in your textbook, what themes do you see
developed? What makes each unique? As you research, consider a thesis statement that you might defend in
an essay. What is interesting about these women writers and their work?
Grim Naturalism: “To Build a Fire” (London) compared to A Mystery of Heroism, the Open Boat, or a movie
about man vs. nature
Some research and reading suggestions: In “To Build a Fire”, nature was rather ambivalent or indifferent to
the fate of the man. Man did not have the instinct or humility (didn’t listen to the old timer) to survive. Why do
many who challeng nature fail? Is arrogance often a problem, or does nature seem cruel and fickle? There are
many man vs nature stories in which man survives. What characterizes those who survive? Think of a thesis
statement for your essay. What seems important to you about stories that involve man vs nature?
Civil War/Psychological realism: “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” (Bierce) compared to “A Mystery of
Heroism” (Crane)/movie about the civil war
Some research and reading suggestions: What percentage of the population of the US died in the civil war?
When did the field of psychology develop? What support was available for veterans of the civil war? As you
reread “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” what themes come to mind? In your comparison text is there irony –
like the ironic ending of the Bridge story? Why is irony often an element of Civil War/psych realism stories?
What attitude do your authors have about war? What are their similarities and differences? As you research,
think about a thesis statement that summarizes what you want to say about these writers and the civil war/war
Research and writing (35 points/ 5 each)
research questions to guide research
research notes (the answers to your research questions)
comparison Venn chart
works cited information for each research source
Five direct quotations from the stories and/or research to use in your essay (worksheet 2)
An essay outline
an essay draft
A final essay (100 points)
use MLA format
conclude with a works cited list
make use of at least 5 direct quotations from the stories and/or research
refer to standard essay evaluation guide for details (content, language usage, mechanics, process)
Some notes/reminders about plagiarism:
When you research a topic, it is important to cite your sources. Not all sources agree, so by citing your source
you tell the reader what you learned, and on what authority. Wikipedia is no longer considered a valid
academic source, so do not cite it in your research. See the library’s list of academic research sites for reliable
When you paraphrase research in your own words you must write a run in reference at the end of the section
that you paraphrased. For example, if I read that Ambrose Bierce was a naval captain, cook, and pirate at
various times in his life, I’d have to cite my source after stating this by following this information with a run in
reference. A run in reference (also called “parenthetical documentation”) looks like this (Bloom 4). It is the fist
word that appears in the works cited listing followed by a page number if a page number is available. So, if a
reader wants to know where you got this information, she/he can use the word “Bloom” to check your works
cited list for the source information.
When you copy words directly from your source, you must use quotations marks. “Bierce was a naval captain,
cook and pirate before he became an army man” (Bloom 4). (Note that the end of the sentence – the period –
is after the run in reference.)
Citing your sources not only protects you from charges of plagiarism, but also gives your work validity. Not too
many scholars are impressed with high school analysis, but when that high school analysis is backed up with
established research, then the high school writer looks pretty well informed and the research both valid and
If any portions of your essay are plagiarized, you will receive a 0% on your essay assignment, a penalty that
cannot be made up with a rewrite. When in doubt, cite your source.
Realism Essay Assignment