I have been asked to write a 2000-word essay to discuss how an early twentieth-century city "may hold out the promise of anonymity, but equally offer the excitement and possibilities of social encounter." I need to draw from three separate texts (I have chosen "Eveline" from James Joyce's Dubliners, Claude McKay's "When Dawn Comes to the City," and Langston Hughes's "Harlem Night Song) and it has been suggested that the texts interweave throughout, but I have no idea how to approach/structure my essay plan. Is anyone able to offer any guidance on this?

To approach this assignment, think about structuring the essay around the multipart question and the three texts. The first part of the essay can address the promise of anonymity by discussing how all three works approach indistinct identity. The second part of the essay can talk about the excitement and possibilities of social encounters as they appear in the three texts.

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Consider structuring this essay around the texts and the multipart question. The first part of the essay can approach the first element of the question. It can discuss how the three texts reflect the “promise of anonymity.”

All three texts start with descriptions of unnamed people. In other words, they all start with a sense of anonymity. Perhaps weave the texts together by talking about how the beginnings of the pieces each demonstrate anonymity.

In James Joyce’s short story “Eveline,” there’s anonymity in the unnamed “she” sitting by the window. The anonymity continues in the next paragraph where she observes a “few people” passing by. These people don’t have names or identities. They’re anonymous.

Now, weave in Claude McKay’s poem “When Dawn Comes to the City.” Like Joyce’s short story, McKay’s poem starts with anonymity. He notes the “dark figures” heading to work.

Next, bring in Langston’s Hughes’s poem “Harlem Night Song.” In the first stanza of Hughes’s poem, there’s an “us.” As with the other two works, Hughes immediately calls attention to an undifferentiated group with the plural pronoun “us.”

Note, however, that not all of these calls to anonymity are so promising. To continue with the “interweaving” suggestion, weave back in McKay’s poem and Joyce’s short story, and show how their anonymity differs from Hughes’s anonymity. McKay’s dark figures are “sad.” Joyce’s anonymity appears melancholic; the main character remembers when there used to be a field. Conversely, Hughes’s anonymity comes across as exciting and jubilant; they’re about to sing.

With Hughes’s poem, the second part of the question can be addressed. Anonymity allows for social encounters. It allows for people to “roam the night together” and sing. Interweaving the other works might lead to different conclusions. In McKay’s poem, it’s not anonymity that brings excitement and social encounters, it’s specificity. It’s the specific “I” that gets to have encounters; although, these encounters aren’t with people, they’re with animals. Joyce’s short story can be connected to McKay’s poem. Once again, it’s not anonymity that offers excitement and social encounters in an early twentieth-century city, it’s specific people. It’s Frank who supplies Eveline with the chance to “escape.”

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