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editpaperMore Comments and Suggestions for Writing about Literature

Students requested that I provide models for your writing about literature. I’ve used the students’ written work as models and give detailed feedback and impressions. This is the second set of examples. Enjoy reading and learning! All examples are based on Shirley Jackson's story, "The Possibility of Evil."

 (November 19, 2005)

Group One (Question 1) on Irony

Miss Strangeworth’s attitude toward her town’s people appears to be very concerning and caring, however this contradicts with the way she acts. As a result, she unintentionally causes problems to the people. “It was Miss Strangeworth’s duty to keep her town alert” by sending anonymous letters; therefore, “many people seemed disturbed recently.” Shirley Jackson clearly thinks that Miss Strangeworth is truly evil and uses attitudinal irony to show her point.

Teacher Comment:

Use “concerned” as the adjective. Before “however” a semicolon is required and a change of wording (you’ve changed mine!): “; however, this is contradicted by . . .”

To say more simply and to avoid beginning on an unexplained quote try, “Miss Strangeworth sends anonymous letters “to keep her town alert . . .” I like the ending quote showing the result.

“show her point” could be expanded a bit: “to show us that, often, well meaning people neglect to notice the contradictions in their own behaviour. 


Group Two (Question 1) on Irony

Miss Strangeworth’s attitude,who thinks she is the only perfect person in her town, contradicts the reality. As a result, she has her garden being destroyed by the people in her town. “She was fond of doing things exactly right” which shows her perfectionist personality; therefore, she sends her letters to criticize other people which cause suffering, so someone sendletter to her which says, “LOOK OUT AT WHAT USED TO BE YOUR ROSES.” Shirley Jackson clearly thinks, nobody is perfect and as a result, it might cause trouble for others.

Teacher Comment:

You can more easily use an appositive phrase instead of “who.” Say, instead, “thinking she is the only perfect person . . .”

It is easier and simpler to say, “her garden is destroyed . . .”

Put your statement first: “She is a perfectionist who is “fond of doing things exactly right”; therefore . . .”

Be careful when you use “which” to set it off with commas: “. . .people, which causes suffering,  . . .

Be specific at the end: “it might” is unclear. Say instead, “an attitude like Miss Strangeworth’s may cause . . .” Where is your mention of attitudinal irony?

Overall: well chosen quotes; make clearer reference to literary terms; careful with phrasing (grammar)!


Group 3: Question 1 on Irony

Miss Strangeworth’s attitude,of acting like an old lady and criticizing the townspeople by sending secretive letters, contradicts reality because what she believes of her attitude is in reality the complete opposite. The result of her attitude is an unstable and unhappy town and the destruction of her roses. For example, Shirley Jackson writes, “the town where she lived had to be kept clean and sweet, but people everywhere were lustful and evil and degraded and needed to be watched”; furthermore, Miss Strangeworth ends up being hated and not accepted by the townspeople “Look out at what used to be your roses.” Shirley Jackson clearly thinks that people who care too much about others can sometimes hurt their feelings.

Teacher Comment:

I’m not sure whether “acting like an old lady” adds much to your ideas. Perhaps you could say, “acting like the town’s moral police” or something like that.

The rest of the first sentence is good. You could say instead, “Shirley Jackson uses attitudinal irony and shows us a lady “whose beliefs are opposite to reality.”

I like your second sentence. It is clear.

The longer sentence with quotations and a semicolon doesn’t quite work for me. The quotations need to be shortened and the writer needs to use more words than just “Jackson writes” to orient the reader. Try “Miss Strangeworth thinks “people everywhere were lustful and evil and degraded and needed to be watched”; however, because of her secret letters, her roses are destroyed.”

The final sentence sums up well, but I’m not sure whether I’d call Miss Strangeworth’s behaviour caring.


Group Two (Question 2) on Dramatic Irony

When Miss Strangeworth writes these letters, we know she is going to be in trouble. The effect this has on us is never ever try to be a perfect person and criticize people.Shirley Jackson has this idea in her mind that things that seem perfect outside doesn’t mean perfect inside as well.

Teacher Comment:

The beginning is good: clear and concise.

Try saying your second sentence like this: “to be warned about trying to be too perfect and criticizing people.”

I expect a mention of the term, dramatic irony, too, in this discussion. Your connection is made to theme and is valid, but may not be the best answer for a question on irony.


Group One (Question 2) on Dramatic Irony

When Miss Strangeworth drops a letter, we know that she will be discovered. The effect this has on us is one of suspense and excitement for what is going to happen to her. Shirley Jackson has used a dramatic irony to show us that what Miss Strangeworth believes is evil.

 Teacher Comment:

A very good answer! I’m pretty sure that is exactly Jackson’s intention here and you’ve put it succinctly.


Group 1: Question 3 on Use of Point of View

Shirley Jackson has chosen the omniscient point of view because she needs it for the purpose of her plot. In the story, we know Miss Strangeworth is respected: “The town belongs to her,” andtheir [the] parents never permit children to “mock” her. The effect on the reader is that we feel satisfied, for we know what happens in the story.

In the sentence that begins, “In the story,” a specific reference to narration would be even better: Because of the omniscient narrator, we are able to know, “The town . . .”

Be a bit more specific in your final sentence and refer back to plot: “The effect on the reader is to provide complete information to help us to judge what Miss Strangeworth does and the effect this has on her town.”


Group 3: Question 3 on Use of Point of View

Shirley Jackson has chosen the omniscient point of view because it gives us perspectiveof [on] the whole story. In the story, we know “the town was proud of Miss Strangeworth” and also she “liked writing” trashy letters to neighbours. The effect on the readers is that the readers understand what is really happening in the town so that we can easily see [the] irony.

As in Group 1’s answer, add a bit of detail about narration: “the narrator allows us to know . . .”

At the end, we could add, “the readers understand not only what Miss Strangeworth thinks but also other important details of what is happening in the town so. . .”

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