Essay 1 Assignment explanation and overview
Introduction and first steps
Your first major essay assignment will bring together a lot of what you’ve been working on over the course of this unit. The essay will focus on zombies themselves–making sense of their roles as monsters in film, and in society. In order to do this, you will first pick as your primary text one of the classic zombie films we’ve viewed for this class, either Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead. (You should choose only one film to write about, not both, as this will give you the best chance to develop a strong, thorough analysis.) After you’ve chosen a primary source, you also need to engage with a secondary source, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s “7 Theses” To engage with Cohen, we are going to focus on just one of his theses, “Thesis III: The Monster is the Harbinger of the Category Crisis.” Cohen’s third thesis will serve as a framework for your own argument about the role or function of zombies in the film you’ve chosen to to analyze.
Essay will focus on zombies themselves–making sense of their roles as monsters in film, and in society
After you’ve chosen one of Romero’s films as your primary source the next step is engage more fully with Cohen’s idea of the category crisis by picking a specific category you’d like to explore. The category crisis is an unusual idea, but at root it just means that monsters contain contagious contradictions–the are full of contradictions themselves, but they bring out contradictions in the world around them as well. If there are categories by which society is organized before a monster arrives in a horror film, those categories are inevitably going to fall into crisis once the monster arrives. There are no doubt a lot of categories that fall into crisis in Romero’s films as a result of zombies arriving–it can literally feel like the world is ending–but your job is to choose just one of these categories to focus on in your essay. That way, you’ll be able to trace Romero’s understanding of that one category through the whole film, and hopefully show how it becomes destabilized. If you are having some trouble coming up with a category to choose, I’ve started a list of possibilities below. You can choose one of these, or you can pick one that is not on this list if you have something else in mind:
Categories that fall into crisis in Romero’s films: Family, religion, media, information, gender identity, sex, race, class, economics (capitalism), military, policing, law, life, death, heroes, villains. nation, patriotism, science, community, parenthood, childhood, space–urban/suburban/rural. I’m sure there are more categories than just those that I’ve listed here, but this is a start. Remember that you need to choose one of these to really focus on in your paper.
How to formulate a prompt, and more on writing a strong thesis:
In this next section of the assignment, we’ll discuss how to put everything you’ve done so far together into a provocative, arguable thesis. First, you’ll need a prompt. Let’s imagine for instance that I want to write about Night of the Living Dead, and I want to choose to write about the category crisis of science. In this case, my thesis will be addressed to the following question: what is the category crisis of science in Night of the Living Dead? For you, the question will vary a little, depending on which category you choose to focus on but it’s going to be pretty much the same: “What is the category crisis of ________________ in Night of the Living Dead? That’s all there is to it. Start with that prompt, and fill in your own blank with whatever crisis you want to address, and then try to answer the question.
In my sample essay on science, here’s how I’ll try to answer that question in my thesis. First, I want to think about the representation of science in the film. There are a couple of major issues with science, in the way that it is presented in this film. First, in the tv footage, scientists are working intimately with the military, and this compromises what the scientists can say. Second, and maybe most importantly, the tv footage also shows that it is likely scientific experimentation with satellites that caused the radiation that has produced the zombies. Generally, we know science to be helpful to society and that is often true, but sometimes science has produced harmful things. In the sixties, a lot of people were specifically worried about the effects of nuclear radiation and atomic energy. Romero’s film has a pretty critical view of science, all around, and I think it’s tapping into that concern: it’s destabilizing the category of “science” by showing the dangerous underside of scientific discovery, especially when it’s connected to military power. Given all of this thinking, here’s my sample thesis:
“Advances in science can be valuable to a society, but they also often produce harmful effects. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is the first modern depiction of a zombie outbreak. Notably, that outbreak is revealed over the course of the film, to have been caused by a scientific experiment gone wrong. As the satellite crashed back to earth, it produced unintended radiation and zombies resulted. In his influential essay on monsters, “7 Theses,” Jeffrey Jerome Cohen argues that a fundamental feature of cinematic monsters is to bring about a “category crisis”–a crisis in the way that broader social categories are understood. Following on decades of social insecurity about the dangers of nuclear energy, Romero’s zombies are symptomatic of a broader breakdown in social trust regarding science and technology. These radioactive “zombies” are indeed symbolic of the broader mid-20th century crisis in social faith in science.”
Important features of this thesis (these are things you should aim to do with your own thesis, too):
- It is limited. It doesn’t try to cover everything in the film, but instead focuses on just one topic: the film’s depiction of science.
- It is arguable. A reasonable person can disagree with it. For instance, someone might say, “I see your point, but I don’t think science is really at issue here. The film rarely even mentions science, so I don’t think it should be seen as that central to the narrative.” It’s a fine critique. I don’t agree with it of course, but a thesis always needs to allow for disagreement. That’s how our ideas grown and change over time.
- It is more than one sentence. I know that some profs tell students to write a thesis in one sentence, but it usually needs more setup than that. Feel free to write a thesis of 3, 5, even 7 sentences if you find it necessary.
- It mentions Romero’s film, as well as Cohen’s writing. The primary and secondary source are both present. These are both central elements of the paper and they should both be featured in the thesis.
One other point about thesis statements: they typically occurs at the bottom of the first paragraph, as this allows you to state your main argument early in the paper, and then to have plenty of time to develop and support it later in the paper. Make sure that you put your thesis at the bottom of your first paragraph. That’s where I’ll be looking for it in your draft.
Putting together body paragraphs, and a little bit on conducting research:
Once you’ve finished your first paragraph and included your thesis, the rest of the essay is really written with the main purpose of supporting the thesis. You’ve already made your argument in the thesis, but the reader still needs to see you “prove” it or support it with citation of scenes in the film, careful reasoning/analysis and Once you’ve finished your first paragraph and included your thesis, the rest of the essay is really written with the main purpose of supporting the thesis. You’ve already made your argument in the thesis, but the reader still needs to see you “prove” it or support it with citation of scenes in the film, research or citation of secondary sources, and careful reasoning and independent research. Specifically, this essay assignment also requires that you conduct research, and include or cite in your paper at least one secondary source that you’ve found yourself. For the purposes of this class, your research should be done using the HCC library website and/or a physical visit to the library itself. Academic research does not include sources like Wikipedia or other information easily available on Google. You need to use the library, and learn how to use it effectively. (You will have a tutorial on how to do research in this module, so don’t worry if right now this task seems unclear).
As you develop your argument and you do your research, remember to cite your research to help you make your argument. This material MUST be quoted or cited within your essay. You can’t just do research to know more, you have to show the reader what you’ve learned by citing and quoting the research that you’ve done, IN YOUR PAPER. Usually, you should cite secondary material in the middle of a paragraph. This way, your voice leads and guides the paragraph, and you have the opportunity to comment on or elaborate on the quotation after you’ve cited it. Quotes at the beginning or ending of paragraphs detract from the development of your own voice as a writer and should be avoided.
For this paper, I think it’s best that you do research on the “category” crisis that you’ve chosen to focus on. So, for instance, taking my earlier example of the role of science in Night of the Living Dead, I would probably focus my research on science in American culture, especially probably on science in the 1950s and 1960s, since this is the time period most relevant to the film. I might be more specific and focus on the representation of nuclear energy in American culture, since Night of the Living Dead is mostly concerned with nuclear energy and radiation. Your topic is going to be different, but you can apply the same template. Do the research about the category you’re most interested in. If you don’t find anything about that category, you can also do research about zombies themselves, as monsters, or about the film itself, since there is some published scholarship about Night of the Living Dead available.
I’ve written this assignment to give you a good sense of what you’ll need to do in order to write a strong first draft. The focus has been on setting you up with a good topic, a strong argument and effective citation of research. I know that’s not all there is to writing a paper, though, so I’m going to add a couple of major resources to this module. One is focused on doing library research and one is focused on reviewing key elements of an academic essay. These are both very important, and they will help you put together your paper effectively. I do expect first drafts to be near-complete, and to contain the citation/research required in the final.
Nuts and bolts:
These are the requirements for the essay: it should be 1500 words in length (1200 for the draft is fine, but not less); it should be submitted as a Word document; it should contain a thesis in the first paragraph, and should support the thesis throughout; it should cite several times from the film you’re analyzing, at least twice from Cohen’s essay, and it should include citation of at least one other source that you’ve found through your own independent research using the HCC library database; it should use MLA style formatting, include a Works cited page, with the film, the Cohen essay and the secondary source (or sources) that you’ve found on your own.