Interpretive Argument

5-page essay
draft due Friday, April 12
revision due Friday, April 26

For essay 4, you’ll write an argumentative essay whose principal aim is to deepen your readers’ appreciation of a work of fiction you’ve chosen to analyze, a work that offers a thought-provoking take on some aspect of digital technology and its impact on identity.

The assignment for this final essay combines elements of the second and third essay assignments. Like your exploratory essay, your fourth essay will grapple with issues involving technology and identity. But instead of writing a question-driven essay involving synthesis of secondary sources, for essay 4 you’ll craft an argument based on analysis of a primary source. And as in essay 2, the primary source you’ll analyze will be an imaginative work—a short story, film, or episode of a TV show.

Choose as your focus a single movie, TV episode, or short story. Below are listed some possibilities to consider, but you’re welcome to propose a different film, short story, or TV episode, provided you run it by me first.
  • An episode of Black Mirror, created by Charlie Brooker—dvd at O’Neill Library & Netflix
    • ”The Entire History of You,” Black Mirror Season 1, Episode 3 (2011)
    • ”Nosedive,” Black Mirror Season 3, Episode 1 (2016)
    • ”Arkangel,” Black Mirror Season 4, Episode 2 (2017)
    • ”Hang the DJ,” Black Mirror Season 4, Episode 4 (2017)
  • The Circle, dir. James Ponsoldt, screenplay by Dave Eggers (2017)—Amazon Prime
  • Eighth Grade, dir. Bo Burnham (2018)—a coming of age story—Amazon Prime
  • Her, dir. Spike Jonze (2013)—a science fiction drama/love story—Netflix
  • Love Simon, dir. Greg Berlanti (2018)—a teen drama/romantic comedy—dvd at O’Neill Library & HBO
  • ”Mika Model,” by Paolo Bacigalupi (2016)—a short story involving a robot and a murder
  • Minority Report, dir. Steven Spielberg (2002)—dvd at O’Neill Library & for rent on Amazon Prime
  • Nerve, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (2016)—a techno teen thriller—Amazon Prime & Hulu
  • ”Thoughts and Prayers,” by Ken Liu (2019)—a short story about online trolls attacking a family in mourning after a mass shooting

Here are some guidelines:
  1. Go narrow rather than broad
    • Find an angle and a focus for your interpretation—a set of details or feature of the movie, TV episode, or story that you can analyze in depth.
  2. Watch the movie or episode or read the short story more than once. On a second viewing/reading, you’ll probably spot additional evidence to enrich or complicate your argument
  3. Attend to details
    • Cite specific passages or scenes to illustrate and support your claims.
    • If you’re writing about a TV episode or film, in addition to analyzing the plot and dialogue, consider how scenes convey meaning through visual details, sounds, and music
  4. Establish a context for your argument
    • Sketch the conversation you’re contributing to and articulate the view you’re responding to
      • This could be a “preliminary understanding” of what the show, story, or movie has to say about technology and identity. You can use this “baseline” interpretation as a starting point or foil, so that you can present your own idea as a deeper understanding or more fully developed interpretation.
    • Present the view you’re responding to before presenting your thesis
  5. Orient your readers
    • Address your essay to readers who may be unfamiliar with the movie, short story, or TV show you’re discussing.
    • To enable such readers to follow your argument, early in the essay briefly summarize the movie or episode
    • As your discussion unfolds, keep your readers in mind, and provide background information as needed so your readers can make sense of your remarks. For instance, if you refer to a character you haven’t yet mentioned, indicate the character’s relationship to the protagonist(s), or if you refer to a scene you haven’t yet discussed, briefly describe that scene and its place in the larger movie, story, or episode.