Student Question

What arguments could critique The Professor's House?

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A critique essay of The Professor’s House would address the author’s handling of the key elements of the novel. To develop appropriate arguments, the essay writer must first identify the author’s goals, after which they can evaluate how successfully the author achieves those goals. Key elements usually include themes, structure, and characters. In a critique, the writer’s evaluation should incorporate both positive and negative features.

One argument could be developed about the novel’s central premise. Willa Cather suggests that there is a fundamental conflict between idealism and materialism. Does Cather show that materialist comforts always have a negative effect on a person’s ideals? Support for this idea could be developed by focusing on Professor St. Peter, who cannot reconcile his love of learning with the material benefits that his prize will bestow. In contrast, arguing that she does not successfully demonstrate this idea could be supported through the story of Tom Outland, who made money from a useful invention.

Another line of argumentation could address characterization and gender. An essay could analyze Cather’s assignment of gendered traits to male and female characters, either as conforming to or challenging widespread assumptions of her time.

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