My assignment in Comp II is to write a literary research paper about a story in our comp book. The story I chose is, "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin. I'm clueless as to what in fact I am...

My assignment in Comp II is to write a literary research paper about a story in our comp book. The story I chose is, "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin. I'm clueless as to what in fact I am researching regarding the story. I have no idea what to write about or where to begin. I haven't written a research paper in 15 or so years and have never written one about a story. Can someone suggest where I might start? I'm freaking out because I want to do well in this class, but I just need to know where I should start.

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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This is a great story for you to write about.  So, first, do not panic! There are at least a few research avenues you can explore, and then we can look at what you can do to organize an essay, weaving together what you find and your ideas about the story.

One kind of research you can do is to find out more about Kate Chopin's life. You can find out when and where she lived and what else she wrote. You might be able to find out some details about her personal life, details that might help explain her story. 

Another kind of research you could do is an exploration of the times in which this story took place.  This is a story about a woman who has no freedom at all in her marriage.  You can find out if that was typical of the time, which I believe was in the late 1800s.  Was Mrs. Mallard's life like that of other wives?  What rights or freedoms did wives have in those days? I know there is a great deal of material available on the lives of women in that time.

Still another avenue of research is to find literary analysis on this story in particular or on Kate Chopin's work in general.  You can find out what themes in her work the "experts" see. You can learn what elements the experts discuss, such as plot, character, setting, or point of view and how they think these elements contribute to the story.  This is another area in which you are likely to find a great deal of material.

Once you have done one, some, or all of the above, you might be wondering what you are supposed to do with all that you have found.  You are going to use your research materials to support your own thesis about this story.  What is the main idea you want the reader to take away after reading your essay?  For example, your main idea might be that this story represents women's lack of freedom in those times.  You can support this with your research about what life was like then.  Your main idea might be that Chopin's life story has something to do with this story. You can support that idea with your research.  You could write an essay about how times then and times now are very different for women, again, using your research to write about then and also what you know to contrast how life is for women now.  You could agree with one or some of the literary analysts that you read and use their opinions to support a thesis.  What is important is that you have your own main idea and then use the story, your research, and your own knowledge to support that idea. 

All of this needs to be put together in an organized essay.  First, write an introduction that lets the reader know what story and author you are writing about.  Give the reader a brief summary of the story, a sentence or two about what the story is about.  Then at the end of your introduction, you should have a thesis statement. The thesis statement should state your main idea and what your supporting points are going to be.  For example, I might have this as a thesis statement for an essay about "Sonny's Blues," another story you may have read:

"Sonny's Blues" is about the darkness of the lives of African-Americans, a darkness that we are aware of because of the story, because of what we know about Baldwin's life, and because of what we know about all that African-Americans endured during the period the story takes place. 

That states my main idea and three supporting points.  Each of my points I will develop into one body paragraph, in the order in which I list the points in my thesis statement. Each paragraph will stay focused on just that one point, and I can use my research, the story, and/or my own personal knowledge as evidence to support that point. This is what you will do, too, once you have that thesis statement.  Finally, you will write a conclusion in which you will remind the reader what your main idea is and review for the reader how you supported that idea. 

You can see that once you have a recipe for research and writing, it is not so difficult to do this. And these are just a few ideas. You could very well come up with even better ideas on your own, now that you know how this works.  Good luck to you!

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