How can the following essay be improved? Our teacher asked us to have a look at this essay. Thanks to whoever answers. It's about David Almond's Skellig, and the themes of magic and realism.

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I want to highlight the important of choosing short and specific quotations that are clearly linked to the point that you are trying to make. This is of course a vital part of writing essays and clearly making your point with good evidence. The temptation for many students is to include quotations that are too long. You need to really choose your quotations carefully and make sure they are linked explicitly to the point you are trying to make.

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Overall, I find that I like your organization, but there are some things I would change and a few I would rethink.

In your essay on David Almond's novel, Skellig, the things I would change are some of your word choices and/or phrases. This is a tough call: I have taught 9th grade Honors English for several years. Not having you in class, I cannot fairly say that your choices are wrong, and they may be examples of writing that are very much in character with your writing. If this is the case, this concern would not apply to you, but to others who may see this answer.

It is important to write in your own voice, rather than trying to sound more sophisticated by using terms that are not generally a part of your vocabulary. If you do this, a teacher might believe you had help or cheated in some way. However, with this said, if this is your style, it will not cause any concern on the part of your teacher. You be the final judge.

My first reaction came with the use of "cogent" in the first paragraph. Also in the first paragraph is the use of the phrase: "consistency, understanding and value." This phrase seems rather vague to me. If you do not address these specific aspects in the rest of your essay, they really are not necessary.

The last sentence of the first paragraph raises some questions:

Three key themes of the text that present enduring significance are the use of wings, the cruelty and beauty of nature, and faith and love.

First, add a comma after "nature" for clarity; then, a theme can be "the repetition of a meaningful element," but I personally struggle with one word being a theme. The other two aspects of a theme are:

(1) the abstract concept explored in a literary work; (2) frequently recurring ideas, such as enjoy-life while-you-can...

I would relate to the aspect of flying: "flying is literally what an animal does with wings, but figuratively, it can also refer to one's elevated spirit." Birds and angels fly; your symbolic details are very good. However, what about Michael and Mina, who learn to fly without wings, but whose hearts also learn to soar in showing love and kindness to another being?

The last thing in the first paragraph talks about the cruelty of nature: see notes for third paragraph!!!

Second paragraph: "whose name remains unidentified" should read "who remains nameless" because she is identified as his mom.

(Every time you write the novel's title—not the creature's name—you need to italicize it: this is only done for novels, plays, movies, etc., NOT short stories, poems, songs—which go in quotation marks).

At the end of the second paragraph, "Due to these, wings..." should be replaced with "Wings..." and the end of the line would be better with "...the integrity of the plot development."

Third paragraph: in the first line, it should read "demonstrates the text's..." In your supporting information about nature, the parent birds are not cruel in protecting their children. We could say, "Nature is beautiful, but in the harsh light of reality, the survival of animals depends on their need to kill and eat other animals." I would go with "harsh," not "cruel." I don't think "Owl" should be capitalized—check it in the book. In the fourth sentence, remove "and their own egocentric purposes." It's not accurate. And ..."affix's with" are the wrong words—if used, it would be "affixes"—however, instead go with "supports both..."

Fourth paragraph: replace "values" with "elements." Next, "who was born prematurely..." should read "prematurely with a heart condition." Change the corresponding line to: "somehow survive." (Forget "miraculously...")  Correct your sentence to read: "This faith also applies to Mina, who with Michael..."

Your conclusion almost sounds like it came out of a book review. If you used another source, make sure you have changed the words enough that you are not plagiarizing. Changing a few words, but still maintaining the sentence structure, is still plagiarizing. You should see how you feel about these changes and then read your edited essay aloud.

Proofread several times to check for errors. If you are in a place that uses a single quotation mark instead of the double quotation mark used in the US, make those adjustments as needed.

Good luck.



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That is very detailed.  What I will add is that I think choosing the right evidence and presenting it in the right way is very important.  Choose specific, short quotations.  Put only one in a paragraph, possibly two.  Before using the quotation, explain the point.  Then put the quotation, then explain how the quotation proves your point.

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Using only what you have already provided in your essay, I will propose an open ended question from which you can easily write a more focused thesis statement:

In his novel Skellig, how does David Almond use three literary techniques to present two different yet complimentary tones (or one theme)?

A more specific version looks like:

In his novel Skellig, how does David Almond use symbollism, imagery, and plot details, to present the different yet complimentary tones of magic and realism (or theme of magic versus realism)?

When you answer this question using a complete sentence, or two, you will have a very focused thesis statement.  Then, each body paragraph topic sentence again answers this question, but in a more specific way.  You have an excellent start to what could easily become an outstanding essay.  Please feel free to come back to Enotes with any further and more specific questions.  I encourage you not to re-post your entire essay again, but perhaps instead, seek a peer review or guidance from another English teacher.  Great work so far, and good luck.

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When I sit down with students in a writer's workshop, I find it easiest to supply my feedback in the form of two lists: things the essay does particularly well and things that need work.  This way, feedback is unemotional and straightforward.  Permit me to do the same with you.

Things your essay does well:

  • Excellent overall organization: you have a clear introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
  • Key material in your body paragraphs is mostly present: each opens with a topic sentence and mostly maintains focus on one key subtopic; each makes excellent use of evidence from the text; each attempts to provide explanation or commentary for the textual evidence.

Things your essay could improve upon:

  • Thesis statement: present, but weak, in response to the prompt.
  • Topic Sentences: a bit weak; with a stronger thesis statement, your topic sentences could also be made stronger.
  • Commentary/explanation of ideas: often too universal or too suggestive of grand, lofty ideas, and doesn't actually explain what the paragraph sets out to prove; stronger topic sentences will guide stronger commentary; in short, be as specific as possible with how your textual evidence proves your topic sentence and ultimately, your thesis statement.

There is much to be revised in the way of content to your essay, but by making a key change to your thesis statement, I believe you can still use the same examples in your body paragraphs, but use them more effectively.  Consider the prompt:

Skellig’ by David Almond is based on the themes of ‘magic’ and ‘realism’. Supply three different themes, explaining their connection to ‘magic’ and ‘realism’, and elaborate on their significance.

Can I suggest that you manipulate this prompt a bit to make the purpose of your essay a bit more clear?  You are looking at a total of 5 elements here: [magic and realism] + [three additional themes].  Magic and realism is part one of your focus (main idea in your thesis statement) and [three additional themes] will each become a subtopic (or body paragraph, which you have already demonstrated).  May I first suggest that you choose different definitions (other than "theme") for each.  To me, "magic" and "realism" are two conflicting tones which are both present in the novel.  Or, if you like, "magic versus realism" could be a theme.  "Wings" (and birds) to me, is symbolism, not a theme.  "Cruelty and beauty of nature" could be considered a theme here, but I wonder if instead you could focus on the nature imagery and not necessarily further split it into "cruel" versus "beautiful."  You are almost getting too complex in this paragraph and losing your overall focus.  Your final body paragraph discusses themes of "faith," "love," "rejuvenation," and "fidelity."  Though each of these seems somewhat related to each other, I suggest you simplify your terms here so as not to lose focus.  Your examples both suggest your focus is actually on healing.  Perhaps healing here is not used as a theme but rather a plot detail.

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