Fictions of Identity

In unit 2 we analyze creative approaches to exploring identity: Anthony Asquith’s 1938 film Pygmalion, based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1914 play; Stacey Richter’s “Twin Study,” first published in 2004; and the first season of Justin Simien’s TV series Dear White People, released in 2017. In different ways, these fictions tackle issues of identity construction, in particular tensions between individual identity and social identity and ways in which people’s images of themselves are wrapped up in others’ ideas about who they are.

Over the course of the unit, we’ll practice close reading scenes and passages from our primary sources, focusing in particular on spotting patterns of detail and anomalies. In addition, we’ll continue discussing hallmarks of academic writing and read a variety of secondary sources.

Your written work for this unit will culminate in a 5-page interpretive argument: you’ll choose a specific element in one of the works, interpret it, and craft an argument to support your interpretation. In the course of your discussion, you’ll explain why the element or pattern of detail you’re discussing is surprising or puzzling; what it conveys; how it communicates that idea; how the detail contributes to the larger meaning of the movie, TV show, or short story; and perhaps what that detail of the work suggests about identity. You’ll ground your argument in close readings of specific passages or scenes.

Building on and continuing to practice the writing elements and skills we discussed in the last unit, in unit 2 we’ll focus on the skills outlined below.

Skills Focus for Unit 2


  • Set forth an arguable, provable, and interesting thesis of appropriate scope
  • Establish a motive for your essay (explain why you’re writing and why your essay is worth reading) by identifying the puzzle or anomaly you will discuss and by implicitly or explicitly articulating the question this puzzle raises—the question your essay seeks to answer
  • Attend to your audience by anticipating readers’ needs: orient readers who aren't experts on the topic by supplying any background information such readers would need in order to follow the discussion


  • Engage in close reading: analyze details, patterns, anomalies, and/or contrasts
  • Frame evidence: introduce quotations and follow up by analyzing their meaning and explaining their relevance to your discussion


  • Judiciously choose when and how much to quote, and smoothly integrate quotations


  • Incorporate topic sentences to sum up and clarify the main point of a ¶

Sentence Style

  • Edit to reduce wordiness: eliminate unnecessary words to enhance clarity