How do I write a argumentive essay on "Big Black Good Man" by Richard Wright?I have read the short story, but I don't understand what I am suppose to argue about.

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kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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"Argue" is part of the vernacular of academic language that it sometimes takes a little time for students to understand. Think of "argue" in terms of an academic conversation that occurs on paper. It works like this: You have an Idea about something you read, perhaps you think the big black man, Jim by name, turns at the end and says, "Daddy-O, drop dead" to Jensen because it broke Jim's heart to find out that all this time Jenson was afraid of him and feeling like his life was in danger. In the academic conversation that occurs on paper, you want to express your Idea, because you are excited about it, and you want to prove that your Idea is correct by mentioning the quotes or symbolism etc. from the story that made you think of your Idea. This process is called "arguing": It is presenting an Idea you have that you "prove" by "arguing" its truthfulness, correctness and/or importance by pointing out words, lines, passages, concepts, and ideas in the story that indicate--or "support"--your Idea.

You'll start your academic conversation, or argument, with an Introduction that tells the people you're "conversing" with the Who or What you're talking about ("Big Black Good Man," a 1958 short story by Richard Wright; the character named Jim), the When and Where of what you're talking about (August 1958, Denmark, Copenhagen), and the Why of your reason/purpose/aim in writing about your Idea (e.g., "to illuminate a psychological aspect of the story"), and the How of the paper conversation you're writing, which for literary papers may often be an analysis or a comparative essay (e.g., "an analysis of the text shows that..."). Finally your Introduction will contain the statement of your Idea, which in academic terminology is called your Thesis Statement, which is short for Hypothesis Statement, a concept you are probably already familiar with from science classes.

Your paper academic conversation--called your argumentative essay--will present at least three (three is a generally recommended number) well chosen quotes, discussions of symbolism, discussion of vocabulary, or any other literary device that makes it clear that your Idea is a sound one that comes from what you read in the story and that other people can also find in the story after reading your contribution to the academic conversation--which of course is your argumentative essay.

You'll follow this with a Conclusion that reflects back at what you have done to establish the truth etc. of your Idea and then suggests what other research might be interesting in terms of adding more understanding to the topic (e.g., Jim) that you're discussing. Once you've done these things, you have "argued" your point in the essay that is your contribution to the ongoing academic conversation about "Big Black Good Man" or whatever other work of literature you discuss in future.

lynnebh's profile pic

lynnebh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Like much of Richard Wright’s writing, this story is about race, but it has a much deeper level of meaning. So, perhaps you could argue that race is not the main conflict. In the beginning of the story, Olaf is contemplating his birthday. He is about to turn 60. He works in a run-down, seedy hotel frequented by prostitutes and low-lifes. His life has not amounted to much. He had been a sailor, he is married, he has a home but not much money to live on as he gets old. He does not have any children, so there could be some sexual reason why not – perhaps he is impotent? It would fit in with the story, because the Black Man that visits the hotel is huge, muscular, and extremely masculine. Plus, he wants a prostitute for each night that he stays in the hotel.

At the end of the story when the Black man returns to the hotel, we learn that he has been in contact with the prostitute, Lena, and that he is going over to her house. Obviously, Lena has not been afraid of him, and she must like him because he is about to go to her house, as opposed to Olaf, who wet his pants when the Black Man touched his neck, measuring for his shirt size (Olaf believes the Black man is going to strangle him). You could argue that this story is more about men and competitiveness, or perhaps argue that these elements are just as important as the race issue. If the sailor were not a “Good Big Black Man” there still would be enough conflicts to have an interesting story. The fact that the sailor is black, however, is a springboard to Olaf’s incorrect assumptions. He assumes things because he is a racist, but is that the most important part of the story?

What do you think?

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