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Paper #3: Arguing Through Stories


We employ narratives to organize experience. We observed this in Assignment #1, when we saw how the anecdote--a simple form of discourse used in everyday life--transforms events into writing and speech. In Assignment #2, we worked with description: specifically with metaphoric and metonymic strategies for generating images with words.

In this unit, we have combined narration and description, developing what we have already studied. Our goal has been to learn how story-telling skills can serve argumentative aims. To that end, we have closely examined a particularly simple and adaptable form of literary argumentation: the fable. We have noticed that its roots are in antiquity. Jesus favored parables as a teaching tool; Aesop relied on fables. But boty parables and fables work inductively, miming a cognitive process that we associate with scientific reasoning (moving from specifics to generalizations). Additionally, we have read James Thurber's updated fables, and we have carefully studied Cynthia Ozick's "We Are the Crazy Lady and Other Feisty Feminist Fables," an essay that illustrates how the fable--whose roots are in antiquity--can be adapted for a modern audience. Ozick stages a complex, carefully supported argument. How does she do this? In fables, as in any other story that makes a point, an argument or lesson is dramatized when complicating action establishes a problem that is then resolved. Taken together, complicating action and resolution create a cause-effect connection.


In brief, write a schematic version of Ozick's "We Are the Crazy Lady and Other Feisty Feminist Fables." Which is to say, create an argumentative essay, to be displayed on the W3, that adapts the form of the fable for a contemporary audience of adult readers. To complete this task, follow these steps:

Step #1: Submit four anecdotes (modeled after those written by John Cage):
A. Rewrite your scar story (Paper #1),
B. Reproduce one "found" anecdote (document your source),
C. Recount a time when you learned a lesson about "everyday politics,"
D. Compose an anecdote that foregrounds your wit or sense of humor.

Step #2: Carefully read all of the anecdotes submitted by your peers (the cumulative result of everybody following Step #1).

Step #3: Single out three anecdotes that you find especially interesting, well written, and which, when taken together, seem to suggest one over-arching point. (It doesn't matter whether these anecdotes are yours or not.) Craft this point into a thesis statement that readers will find insightful or fresh.

Step #4: Write a title and a moral for each of the three anecdotes you identified in Step #3.

Step #5: Construct a homepage for your essay (actually a kind of frame with a title). It should introduce your topic, state your thesis, and provide the titles (and, perhaps, a brief description) of the three anecdotes you will use to illustrate and support your thesis.

Step #6: Hyperlink the basic parts of your essay. The homepage (or file) of introduction should allow readers to link to the three anecdotes that support and illustrate your thesis. From the anecdotes, readers should be able to hyperlink to commentary (if needed) and to a well-crafted moral. Carefully follow this template, saved to floppy disc, and you should be able to test your paper (view it by using Netscape as your browser) before submitting it.

Your grade on this assignment is determined by the quality of the anecdotes you contribute (half of your grade) and by the coherence and originality of the homepage that articulates your argument (the other half of your grade). Note: If you take up a topic that's somewhat conventional, push to grant readers a new perspective or to move the discussion towards clarity. Your argument shouldn't merely skate across the surface of three anecdotes. For example, a thesis that goes, "Don't drink and drive," supported by three stories and three morals about drinking and driving is, at best, low-average work. Why? It ignores the expectations of an adult audience!


This assignment is deceptive, harder than it at first appears. For one thing, it builds on lessons covered in your first two assignments. It's a kind of cumulative exam. Second, it thrusts you into a computer environment, requiring you to make a point that peers will find interesting, instructive, and entertaining. That's why Ozick's essay is so important. It's successful: full of detail and surprising insights. You should read it as a textbook--a set of instructions--detailing how to make an "A" on this assignment. Remember, the good argumentative paper may not solve the problem it tackles, but it always dramatizes that problem. It helps us better understand the problem. Or stated negatively, be cautious about creating a narrator who sounds pompous and presumptuous.

Models for Anecdotes

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