How do I write a speculation paper for the novel The Old Gringo?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When students are assigned a speculative essay/paper, they are usually provided with a prompt. Assuming that this is the case, the student should find the "index," or focus, of this prompt. Analyzing this index is of paramount importance; for, if the student misunderstands where the focus of the paper should be, then the basic argument of the student's writing will be misguided from the beginning. A speculative paper, then, demands a prediction based upon the prompt. It then explains the prediction or "hypothesis and details."

Without knowing what the prompt is, general suggestions must be made here. For the purpose of explication, a quote from the novel can be used as the hypothetical prompt. For example,

“And the frontier in here?" the North American woman had asked, tapping her forehead. "And the frontier in hear?" General Arroyo had responded, touching his heart. "There's one frontier we only dare to cross at night," the old gringo said. "The frontier of our differences with others, of our battles with ourselves.” 

Like the protagonists of Melville, who wished to break through to the "other side" behind what Captain Ahab calls the "unreasoning mask," the "inscrutable thing" of metaphysical meaning, the fundamental nature of being. And, Colonel Garcia says that men have spent their lives "...crossing frontiers, theirs and those that belonged to others." Thus, the character representing Ambrose Bierce and the character of Harriet Winslow both cross frontiers in order to understand that "inscrutable thing" called the nature of being.

This concept can, then, be used as the hypothesis/prediction of the speculative paper.

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So, in tackling the writing of the speculative essay/paper after analyzing the prompt, the student, then, will need to gather his ideas and formulate them into what is, essentially, a narrative. It is advisable to remember to include the elements of narratives--

  • Characters [no more than 3 main characters, protagonist(s) and antagonist(s)Remember that "forces" can act as either protagonists or antagonists]
  • Narrator - It would probably be best to have a similar type of narrator as Fuentes does. 3rd person narrator, a person on the outside telling the story, or omniscient, all-knowing, narrator will work.
  • Setting - Focus as Fuentes does upon the historical period. Creating an atmosphere that provides readers with vivid mental pictures is essential; this can be accomplished through the use of details and strong word choices.
  • Plot - Deciding on a method of organization is crucial. Usually, using chronological order is best; however, some use of flashback, foreshadowing, or time lapse can be made.

These elements will develop the narrative to the resolution of the hypothesis. Therefore, the speculative essay that starts from a prompt, or brief scenario generates an original story by the student based upon the actual novel. For instance, with the example prompt given, the student could generate an original story of how and why the characters cross their individual "night frontiers." 

Here are some other pointers:

  • Plan out the narrative: What will be the Beginning (the exposition, or introduction of characters and the main conflict), Middle (where the climax comes), and the End (where the conflicts are resolved or finished).
  • Use strong word choices and vivid imagery that appeals to the senses of the reader. Employ figurative language such as similes, alliteration, and metaphor (certainly, "frontiers" is a metaphor in the quotation above).
  • Write an introduction (a short remark/response to the prompt, and then the thesis statement which contains the hypothesis)
  • After writing a thesis that forms a solid argument, the body of the essay should offer specific arguments/claims that support the position taken in the thesis. In doing this, cite indirectly or directly from the text, finding examples of passages, characterization, etc. that provide "evidence."
  • Unity is important: Be sure that all the supporting details and characterization. etc. are in "harmony" with one another; that is, all the claims of the argument should complement each other, not be contradictory.
  • Write a concluding paragraph that briefly restates the position of the thesis and a short summary of how each argument/claim supports it.

In addition, it never hurts to read criticisms of the work by professionals because often their critiques trigger ideas for the writer as well as providing deep insights. Below is one link that will connect to more critical evaluation of The Old Gringo in this Enotes site.

Sources:

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