Checklist for Faulkner Essays
Does your essay
- have a specific argument, a main interpretive point it's trying to develop to a conclusion? i.e. if a friend
asks what you're writing your Faulkner paper about, could you complete the following sentence
in 25 words or less? "In my essay I'm going to show my reader that ____________________."
- have a title? Make sure you give your essay a title that lets your reader know that you know
exactly what the focus of your paper is. i.e. "Religion in The Sound and the Fury" in not a good
title, because it's so vague, and doesn't commit to a specific point; "'Down the long and lonely
light-rays': The Loss of Religion in The Sound and the Fury" is much better.
- have an organization? A good essay is organized around developing its main point, so once you know that —
what your last paragraph is going to say to answer the question you began with — think about the
best way to lead your reader to that conclusion. A good essay stays on target, knows where it's going
and how it will get there. A weak essay blurs its focus, or simply adds up a series of points (i.e. this and
this and this, rather than first this, then this, which leads to this, which in turn leads to this, and finally
this), or simply follows the storyline as Faulkner tells it, without having decided on the best way to develop
its own argument about Faulkner's story.
- have quotations from the text you're writing about in every paragraph? A good interpretive argument works
back and forth, between the text's words and your ideas about what it means. By quoting and analyzing
specific passages, phrases, details, you provide your reader with the evidence that makes your
interpretation clear and persuasive.
- include page numbers for all the quotations you use? Essays for this class probably won't need footnotes,
but I do need a way to check your quotations; you provide that by citing the page number(s) of
each quotation in parentheses in your text.
Here's an example: "Note how the narrator of Light in August changes verb tense, from the
past tense to the present, between two consecutive sentences describing how love emancipates
Byron Bunch from his past: 'He fell in love contrary to all the tradition of his austere and jealous
country raising . . . It happens on a Saturday afternoon' (49)."
Here's another: "Joe Christmas is called 'the stranger' when he first arrives in Jefferson (31).
When Brown arrives two years later he's identified as 'another stranger' (36). Hightower has lived
in Jefferson for twenty-five years as an 'outcast' (49). And even though she was born there,
and lived there all her life, Joanna Burden is characterized by the town with labels like 'stranger' (46)
and 'outlandish' (47)."
And if you quote from more than one text in your essay, use short titles to identify page numbers,
like this: "Before Light in August, Faulkner never specifically mentions slave cabins when he
describes the big plantation houses that dot Yoknapatawpha. The description of the Old Frenchman place
in Sanctuary, for example, mentions the 'house,' and the 'cotton fields and gardens and lawns'
(Sanctuary: 8), but the slaves who worked in those fields and maintained those lawns remain
invisible. When Hightower views the ruined plantation where Joanna Burden lived, on the other hand,
he imagines not only 'the ghosts of rich fields' but also the 'black life of the quarters,' the lives
of the slaves who once lived in the cabin where both Joe and Lena stay (Light: 407)."
- end by identifying the work(s) it cites, so that a reader will know what the page numbers refer to. Even
if you use the edition of a novel I ordered for the class, identifying the text you use in your written
work is a good habit to get into. So at the end of your essay put something like this:
William Faulkner, Light in August (New York: Vintage International, 1990)