Where should I focus when choosing a good article? How exactly am I to compare/analyse when I cannot refer to circumstances/events in the literature?The purpose of this paper is to discuss how a...

Where should I focus when choosing a good article? How exactly am I to compare/analyse when I cannot refer to circumstances/events in the literature?

The purpose of this paper is to discuss how a theme in early American literature (colonial days through mid 19th century) is still extent in American life today--as evidenced by a newspaper article published during the past 2 years.  I must select a reading from the textbook (Anthology of American Literature) to use as the basis of the paper.  The focus is on theme, NOT a comparison of events and/or circumstances in the literature/article.


As an anthropology student, I find it impossible to ignore cultural context.  The element of theme very much ties into the writer's cultural, historical and personal ideologies.

How on earth can I compare a reading selection from my book with a newspaper article and not focus on the underlying context?  I understand that theme is the message and/or purpose of the literary work; it embodies purpose.

My brain is flying in too many directions.  Should my first step be finding a newspaper article? Should I look for a specific type of article?  I have been focusing on theme, but forgetting that I need a reading to serve as the basis of my paper.

I am considering Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Nature", but cannot seem to narrow my focus much further until i find a newspaper article.

If anyone could give me some tips on where to start or help me focus my ideas I would appreciate it.  I have read, interpreted and over-analyzed to the point where my thoughts have been lost in the shuffle, so to speak.  Any assistance at all is welcome!! :) :)

Expert Answers
clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wow.  You have a lot of ideas going on at once.  You are right about not ignoring the social/historical context.  Do not confuse "context" with summarizing event details.  It seems your thinking is in line with the assignment (to me).  Your professor likely wants to discourage those students who tend to stay focused on surface details from only looking at what happened, and not why they happened, or the results.  Context here will be important.

I think there are two approaches to this assignment that would be equally easy, it will depend mostly on how your brain works best.  From the above, it sounds like your biggest problem is landing on a focus for this paper:

Approach #1: choose a piece from your literature book that you either like really well, or simply understand really well.  Either way, it will be easier if it is something familiar.  Identify 2-4 themes, lessons, underlying principles/purposes that the author intended to convey in the piece.  Then, choose a current event that seems to speak to at least one of the same themes, lessons, or underlying principles.  I think it will be difficult to find the newspaper article without a theme idea in place already.

Approach #2: think of a common theme of early American literature (delightfully they tend to follow historical patterns which literature books outline for you) that seems to still be common today.  Select something from your literature book and a current event which both illustrate this theme.  Again, in order to find a newspaper article, I really think your best approach is figure out the event first.  It is only likely that certain events would be written about with certain underlying themes attached.  Unless of course you happen to be very familiar with certain popular journalists today.  Again, many authors of non-fiction tend to stay focused on the same themes and take them from the same angles.  If you knew of a political writer and his/her typical viewpoint, you could look for an author rather than an event.

When it comes to writing the actual paper, clearly the warning in your assignment is not to compare and contrast the events.  Instead, focus on the presentation of the events (or the theme) and perhaps the reaction to them as well.

I hope this helps.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first thing that occurred to me is that we still single out groups for abuse and discrimination.  In colonial America it might be endentured servants or people accused of being witches.  We still focus on scapegoats and we still take advantage of the less fortunate.