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Short Story Essay

There are three possible topics for this essay:

  1. “The Lesson” and “How I Met My Husband” are both initiation stories in which the main character moves into a new stage of her life and becomes more aware of the world she is entering. Write an essay in which you show how Toni Cade Bambera and Alice Munro use point of view and character to show the painful awakenings of Sylvia and Edie.
  1. In “The Gift of the Magi” and “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”, O. Henry and Sherman Alexie use tone, irony, and setting to write stories that entertain and hold readers’ interest. Write an essay in which you show what these three elements contribute to these stories.
  1. In “A Pair of Tickets” and “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,” the main character makes a journey. Write an essay in which you explain how the journey is related to character, and how it advances the plot.

Whichever option you choose, include an analysis of the theme of the two stories you are writing about. What are we, as readers, to learn from each story? How is the story relevant to our lives?

If you think that one or both of the stories would work for one of the other options, you can use it/them there. If you would like to write about a different story from our textbook that I didn’t assign that you believe works for the topic, that’s okay too. Just be sure to write about two stories and follow the topic carefully.

You may include elements of fiction other than those I’ve asked for in each of the options as needed, but keep the focus on those in the topic, and on theme.


You should state the titles of the stories you’ve chosen and their writers’ full names within the first few sentences of your essay. Your introductory paragraph should make clear exactly what the focused subject of your essay is. Usually, you will want to include your thesis sentence in the first paragraph as well, though it might come at the end of the second paragraph.

Important: In your essay, do your full analysis of the first story before you move on to the second. Use as many body paragraphs as you need for each story.

Remember to state the theme as a full sentence rather than an abstract term or a phrase.

Things to help you with this essay

  1. Use the Check Lists to help you review elements you are writing about, and for theme.
  1. Be sure to include more than just one part of an element. For example, if you are writing about character, don’t just identify the protagonist. Explain why the character is the protagonist, using evidence from the story. And, don’t forget to write about flat and round characters, etc.

If you are writing about irony, remember that there is more than one type of irony. Which types of irony are used in the stories you’ve selected, and how do they help bring out the writers’ themes?

  1. Use quotations to support your statements, but avoid overly-long quotes. Be sure to include support from the stories for your ideas.

Do not summarize/retell too much of the stories. Stay focused on YOUR topic. Remember that we’ve all read the stories. (You should assume that your audience for this essay, and the rest of your essays, consists of educated people who have read the works you will be writing about.)

In addition, be SURE that you have read the assigned material in Chapter 41 and that you follow ALL directions from Chapter 42 (illustrated in the sample student papers there and throughout the fiction unit in the textbook) and noted the MLA method of citation within your essay and on the Works Cited page at the end of the papers. The first student paper on Poe’s story includes examples of how to quote from a story, and the entry on the Work Cited page for that essay (1919) is exactly how your entries about your stories should look, except that the authors of the stories and the titles of your stories and final page numbers will obviously be different. (The only change I would like you to make is to use page numbers in parentheses in the body of your essay, not paragraph numbers. Ignore this feature of the sample student essays. This is a useful feature when paragraphs are numbered and for short works, but obviously, many editions of literary works do not include numbered paragraphs. For example, the novel you are reading doesn’t, so it’s a good idea to stay with the standard practice of using page numbers.)

Your Works Cited page will probably have only two entries for this essay, but it should still be on a separate page.

Don’t forget to title your paper. The title should reflect something about your essay’s specific content or main point. It should not be “Essay Number One” or the title of the story you are writing about.

Length: 3-5 pages.


Your paper should be typed and double-spaced. Use a clear, readable font, size 12 or 14. No title pages or folders. Use a double-spaced, three-line heading in the upper left hand corner. Include your name, the title and section of the course, and the due date of the paper. Then double space and center your title in regular-sized letters: no caps, italics, bold fonts, etc., and no quotes or underlines unless you’re quoting the name of the story you’re writing about as part of your title, above the text of your essay. Double space, indent one half inch (usually ten spaces) for the first paragraph (and for all other paragraphs), and begin the text of your essay. No double-double spaces between paragraphs. Number your pages after the first one, starting with page two, in the upper right hand corner.

Because this is a formal essay, avoid using “you” when you mean “a person”, “people”, or “some people.” Remember, too, that this is not a personal response essay, but an analysis, so it should be written primarily in third person. This is an academic, text-based essay.

Literary works are written about in present tense, regardless of what tense they are written in or how old they are.

Since this is an academic essay, you should avoid overly casual language, slang, spelling you might use in texting, etc.

Use a justified left margin (other than the paragraph indentations) and a broken right margin.

Remember to proofread.

Remember to include your Reflection with your essay. Consider these questions as you think about your Reflection. What are your thoughts about this essay? Are you satisfied with it? Are there some parts that you think still need work? What do you think you might do differently for the next essay, if anything? What do you like best about your essay? (Do not tell me what grade you think you deserve on the essay.) Remember that the Reflection is about your writing, not about whether you liked the topic.

The Reflection should be on a separate page. It should be one or two paragraphs of good writing. It is a graded assignment.

We will discuss this assignment at length in class.

You already have the dates for this essay. Be sure to make appointments to see instructors at the Writing Center ahead of time.

Good luck! I’m looking forward to reading your essays!

P.S. I need first drift by this Sunday night.

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