I have been asked to write a 2000-word essay to discuss how the 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: Claude McKay's "The Tropics in New York," Langston Hughes's "Harlem Night Song," and Eveline from James Joyce's Dubliners), 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?

An essay about the simultaneous anonymity and social excitement of a city that draws its evidence from the poems of Claude McKay and Langston Hughes and from James Joyce's story should begin with an introduction containing the thesis and reference to the texts. The essay's body should focus on one half of the thesis at a time, quoting and explaining the supporting evidence from each applicable text in turn. The essay's final paragraph will be a conclusion.

Expert Answers

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An essay like this one will be fairly easy to organize logically, so let's look at a possible structure. The first paragraph will contain a thesis and an introduction to the supporting texts. The essay prompt provides the thesis, something to the effect of the early twentieth-century city offering both the promise of anonymity and the possibility of exciting social encounters. The supporting texts are clear as well with the two poems and the selection from Dubliners.

The body of the essay will contain evidence drawn from the three texts to support both halves of the thesis. Begin with the claim mentioned in the first half of the thesis, anonymity, and cover it thoroughly before moving on to the second half. This will likely require several paragraphs, and it will involve intertwining the at least two of the three texts. Evidence and explanation might begin with Claude McKay's poem “The Tropics in New York” as the speaker looks at plants in a window and calls to mind the past. He longs for the old ways, but he now seems to be separated from them, caught up in the middle of the vast city of New York and away from his homeland. His separation from his past and the implied unfamiliar ways of his current life suggest a lack of connection in the city, a separation that may make him feel like an anonymous person. He, however, would not view it as a promise but rather as an occasion of sadness.

The discussion might then move on to Eveline's story in Dubliners and focus on her isolation, how she feels cut off in the midst of the city and how she ends up choosing to remain detached rather than going with Frank to start a new life. The analysis should also reflect on Eveline's reasons for her actions.

The next part of the essay will transition into the second claim of the thesis and focus on what the texts have to say about social encounters and the excitement of the city. The discussion might begin with Eveline and focus on how her memories bring out the social aspects of her life. These are now lost in reality but not in her mind, and they can also support the idea of opportunities within a city and community for connection with others. This part of the essay might also talk about Eveline's relationship with Frank and how it is connected with her urban life.

Langston Hughes's poem “Harlem Night Song” heightens the idea of connection as the speaker roams the city with the person he loves, singing, looking at the moon and stars, and listening to a band play. They are united in excitement as the city night spreads out before them with all its possibilities.

The last paragraph of the essay will be a conclusion that restates the thesis (using different words) and sums up the evidence. The essay might end with a note of reflection, perhaps inviting readers to think about their own experiences with the anonymity and social opportunity of a city.

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