English Composition 1
Diagnostic Essay: Analysis of Sarah Orne Jewett's "A White Heron"
Monday, August 21 (by the end of the class period)
The Diagnostic Essay Assignment
In an essay of at least 500 words, write an analysis and interpretation of Sarah Orne Jewett's short story "A White Heron" that will help readers understand and appreciate the story.
(Just click any of the links to "A White Heron" on this page to see the story.)
The specific approach to the story is up to you, but you should focus on analyzing and interpreting the story. That is, you should draw conclusions about the meaning of the story and then support those ideas with specific facts from the story.
You can assume that your audience has already read "A White Heron," so you should not just summarize it. Instead, try to focus on writing an analysis and interpretation of the story. Your essay should help readers understand and appreciate the meaning expressed by Jewett's story. Yes, we know what happens in the story, but what are we supposed to get out of it? What does the story seem to tell us about life?
Below are a few questions you could ask about the story to help you generate ideas to support and develop in your essay:
- How would you describe Sylvia? What characteristics about her stand out?
- How would you describe Sylvia's relationship with nature?
- How does Sylvia feel about the young man?
- What is the major conflict that Sylvia faces in the story?
- Is there any symbolism involved in Sylvia's climbing of the tree near the end of the story?
- Could the white heron be a symbol of Sylvia herself? How are the two similar?
- There are many references to darkness and light in the story. Is there some symbolism here?
Your essay should not just answer many questions, so it probably would not be a good idea to try to answer all of the questions above in your essay. Instead, decide on what you think is a major "theme" of the story, some idea about life that most of us can relate to, and then explain how the author uses the specifics of the story to develop this theme.
Please do not use any sources, such as interpretations of the story written by other scholars, as you write your essay. There is a good chance that your essay will include plagiarism if you use sources. We will use sources later in the course, but, for this essay, please rely only on your own ideas about the story. Do not type the title of the story into a search engine and read what other people say about the story!
Try for a length of at least 500 words.
The Diagnostic Essay: Purpose and Expectations
The diagnostic essay allows me to offer you feedback on your writing at the beginning of the course. Completing the diagnostic essay is a required part of the course (the essay counts toward the number of essays that students must write in the course), but the diagnostic essay will not receive a grade. However, I will collect and evaluate the diagnostic essay just as I will evaluate the other essays you will submit for the course, giving you suggestions that you can apply to your other essays. The diagnostic essay is a good way for you to receive feedback on your writing early in the semester without having to worry about a grade, and it also gives me an idea of how much you know about writing an essay at the beginning of the course. In fact, the essay is called "diagnostic" because it allows me to provide a "diagnosis" of your writing at the beginning of the course, a "diagnosis" being "a critical analysis of the nature of something."
You will have at least two weeks to work on each of your graded essays, plenty of time to plan, pre-write, write, revise, and proofread, major aspects of the writing process that are vital to writing a good essay. However, you do not have as much time to write your diagnostic essay. I don't expect any literary masterpieces, but I will be looking for the basics:
- an introduction and conclusion,
- a thesis statement,
- relevant topic sentences,
- body paragraphs focused on one main idea each,
- a logical progression of ideas,
- ideas developed and supported with specific details,
- a clear presentation of your ideas,
- a formal writing voice,
- sentences free or almost free from errors, and
- at least 500 words.
Don't worry if these expectations sound intimidating; just do the best that you can. You will read a lot of information about strengthening your writing throughout the semester, but if you feel you need to review the basics before you write the diagnostic essay, you could read the web page Evaluation and Grading Criteria for Essays.
Preparing Your Essay
Your essay should be word processed and double space, with 12-point Times New Roman fonts. Type your name, the instructor's name, your class, and the date in the upper left corner of the first page (as illustrated on The Proper Format for Essays web page), and give your essay a title (different from the title of Jewett's story).
Save your essay to disk or to your network drive.
When you are finished, please print your essay and turn it in.
Keep in mind that the Diagnostic Essay is supposed to demonstrate what you know about writing an essay at the beginning of the course, before you learn anything about writing in the course, but please just ask if you have any questions about the assignment.